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Gang-gang: Interview techniques gone to the dogs

The ABC's Sarah Ferguson, in strife for her ankle-biting belligerence while interviewing Treasurer Joe Hockey, could have learned a lot from watching and listening, on Tuesday, to this seasoned columnist's interviewing technique.

For Wednesday's exuberant, tail-wagging, frisbee-catching column was based on the previous day's in-depth interviews with two English springer spaniels, Bolt and Tom. I treated them with deference and respect (after all each of them has millions more olfactory receptors than I have) and rough-and-tumble fondness, giving their ears a playful ruffle and tug. I commend this reverent but playful approach to Ms Ferguson, for when she is interviewing her betters. 

And, yes, as you read today's column, detector dogs Bolt and Tom are busily at work out at Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary, near Forde. They are looking for, using their amazing senses of smell that passeth all human understanding, the sanctuary's remaining stubborn bunnies. Those rabbits have defied all the more orthodox ways of finding and removing them.

We interviewed, too, the dogs' owner and trainer Steve Austin and in passing he mentioned all sorts of detection work that other English springers of his are doing. In the truck with Bolt and Tom on Tuesday was a female trained specifically for koala detection. Another springer with a highly-specialised nose is away detecting the chillingly endangered Eastern Bristlebird (there might be only 50 left in the world), and, Austin reports proudly, she found one on almost the first day she was out looking (with her nose). Then there's another springer "on Philip island, protecting penguins from foxes".

Then there's another, Reggie, deployed at Kununurra in the north of  Western Australia.

"There are 10 million cane toads at Kununurra", Austin estimates, and Reggie is a specialist trained to sniff out territorially ambitious cane toads (which for you and I have no distinctive perfume whatsoever) so that they do not hitch rides south to Perth in lorryloads of produce. 


Magpies Not Guilty After All. Needless to say there were magpies at Mulligans Flat on Tuesday and lots of you enjoyed and were amused by Monday's column's composite picture (made of seven sequential snaps) of a young magpie doing perfect somersaults in a Downer park. Scientists assure us that in animals "play" always serves some serious purpose but it's part of the extreme charm of magpies that so much of their play at least seems like play for its own sake; for the joy it gives.

Then, playing tennis at Old Parliament House on Sunday evening with my 19-year-old Kyrgiosesque hitting partner, we were approached by a family of play-seeking magpies. My young partner hurried to court-side to gather up and put out of harm's way his keys and his mobile phone, because, he said, magpies were known to pick up and run off with anything that fascinated them. I assured him that while some European magpies are famous for stealing anything that glitters, our magpies are a totally different species, and never burgle.

But facts can seriously spoil a good story (which is why we use them so very sparingly in this column), and readers distressed by the truth should stop reading now.

For it emerges that the whole, centuries-old European folkoric notion of The Thieving Magpie (Gioacchino Rossini's famous and catchy overture of that name is playing in my mind as I write) might be based on nothing. In newish research biologists at the University of Exeter have shown that Europe's magpies not only don't steal glittering things but, actually are frightened by them (perhaps because they are so novel and might be dangerous), avoid them like the plague.  

Anzac Porn.  And let's hope that Australians avoid, like the plague, the sorts of Anzac brand T-shirts whose existence we reported, in horror (and with a horrifying picture), a few columns ago.

To remind you, the worst of these is the Anzac Pin-Up Girl T-shirt.  It feature a balloon-boobed brazen hussy posed, leering lubriciously, in front of the famous and semi-sacred Rising Sun emblem. Needless to say it is from the USA, via

Historian Carolyn Holbrook, a keen monitor of our ongoing Great War commemoration gaucheries (isn't she going to be busy!) calls the T-shirt "Anzac porn - a new low in the commercialisation of Anzac".

It  emerges that Honest History (much commended here) has provided information about the T-shirt and other Anzac brand items to the Department of Veterans' Affairs. DVA administers the regulations which control the use of the word Anzac.

DVA sounds as keen as mustard to stop this kind of thing, but it has told Honest History "The Protection of Word "Anzac" Regulations do not apply overseas, meaning there is no legal obligation for the American websites ...  to remove these items from sale. However, most websites of this nature are used to intellectual property claims and will remove offending items quickly if they are contacted. The department has also successfully taken down products from a similar website by informing them of the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations, which do not allow the import of Anzac Goods into Australia without a permit.

"DVA will contact the offending companies to inform them of the legislation and make intellectual property claims around the word 'Anzac' and the Anzac Centenary Logo."

But at the time of writing a visit to Zazzle reveals the brazen hussy shirt still on sale and one of a range of dozens of "Anzac" shirts of varying degrees of crassness. And, obscene as they are, perhaps they will be outdone in obscenity by the jingoistic, historically dishonest uses our politicians will be making of their Gallipoli opportunities.