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He was curled up asleep in the lidless wheelie bin, possibly a little drunk on the rotting pears inside on which he'd been feasting. The bin was tipped on its side and he was ushered out, bleary eyed, into the afternoon sunshine.
The small ringtail possum made his way into the safety of the bushes to resume his slumber but not before casting a reproachful glance my way as I wheeled his temporary lodging up the driveway to the kerb.
It had been a busy day for wildlife encounters.
As well as the regular kangaroos, there were a couple of echidnas, plenty of skinks, a hawk, boisterous cockatoos foraging in the seeding grass and the square-shaped evidence of wombats everywhere.
And at night, it was noisy. The frogs performed their nightly concert, the flying foxes chirruped and squabbled in the flowering gums and the possum - pretty sure it was the same one - got his revenge by scampering over the tin roof, setting off the dog.
It would be all too easy to imagine Australia is a haven for all native creatures great and small but, sadly, it isn't.
Australia has the worst extinction rate for mammals in the world. Its sorry record will no doubt be aired as environment ministers meet in Montreal this week for COP15, a UN summit on biodiversity. The summit will aim to set a framework to halt and reverse the loss of habitat around the world.
It's too late for many of our unique species, lost since European colonisation. More than 10 per cent of the 320 land mammals known to have lived in Australia in 1788 are now extinct.
On the same day of my intense wildlife encounters came news of the discovery of the remains of the last known thylacine hidden away in the depths of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.
It was heartbreaking to once again gaze in wonder at the grainy black-and-white footage of this strange beast as it paced in its enclosure back in the 1930s.
Tears well as I write this.
We're only 14 years from the centenary of the thylacine's extinction. The new federal Environment Minister has launched a biodiversity council, comprised of leading experts and Indigenous leaders. Its aim is to find solutions to Australia's diminishing unique animal and plant species and ecosystems. After years of inaction and wheelspin, one hopes it can help reverse our extinction crisis.
Habitat loss and degradation are a chief culprits in our worsening biodiversity. It's also something I've seen up close in my neighbourhood, where new subdivisions have been clear-felled for housing estates and more are planned. It's the same story up and down the eastern seaboard.
Add to that the effects of climate change we've seen over the past few years - fires that claimed the lives of an estimated three billion animals and floods whose damage is yet to be measured - and things are looking grim for our native species.
It's a horrible thought that not too long after I've gone, echidnas, possums, wombats and koalas and the other treasured creatures of this ancient land will be known only in books and videos, just like the thylacine.
That's why I'll treasure every moment I cross paths with the creatures that were here first. And why I'll order a new wheelie bin.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Will we be able to reverse our record of species extinction? How can we do it? Are governments doing enough? What's your most memorable wildlife encounter? Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
- Donald Trump's real estate company has been convicted of carrying out a more-than-15-year-long criminal scheme to defraud tax authorities, adding to the legal woes facing the former US president as he campaigns for the office again in 2024. The Trump Organisation - which operates hotels, golf courses, and other real estate around the world - faces fines over Tuesday's conviction. The exact amount will be determined by the judge overseeing the trial in New York State court at a later date. The company pleaded not guilty. Trump himself was not charged in the case.
- Australian scientists have uncovered what's being described as a "shark graveyard" during a research mission to the depths of the Indian Ocean. A cluster of 750 fossilised teeth was found on the ocean floor more than five kilometres below the surface of the remote Cocos (Keeling) Islands Marine Park. The teeth came from a range of species, including one that appears to have been more than 12 metres long and was likely an ancestor of the giant megalodon shark.
- Julian Assange's family wants supporters of the imprisoned WikiLeaks founder to politely advocate for his release, rather than "disparaging" the Australian government. Endorsing the approach of "quiet diplomacy" and thanking Prime Minister Anthony Albanese for a supportive statement in Parliament last week, Assange's mother Christine called on backers to unite in their support of the government's efforts to bring her son home. Assange is facing espionage charges in the United States and remains in London's Belmarsh prison, where he's been since 2019 while fighting extradition.
THEY SAID IT: "I want my children and my grandchildren to live in a world with clean air, pure drinking water, and an abundance of wildlife, so I've chosen to dedicate my life to wildlife conservation so I can make the world just a little bit better." - Bindi Irwin
YOU SAID IT: Multiculturalism and the happy evolution of Australian cuisine from meat and three boiled veg to food that tastes good.
Bob has a foot in both camps: "I'm a nutcase Indian cook these days, but I still treasure the memories of Sunday lunch: roast lamb, three veg and Laugh Till You Cry on the radio. It was the only fight-free meal of the week. And lamb sambos for school lunch on Mondays did it for me too."
Kathy says: "Talking about a Thai noodle dish and not providing a recipe - that's just plain wrong." Sorry, Kathy, but some secrets are tightly held.
Laurie shares (and shouts) bad memories: "HATE CHOKOS and overcooked grey beans. Boarding school was just too much."
Peter says: "Great piece. My childhood food recollections were also not great - overcooked meat and three (intensely boiled) vegetables were the norm. My father sometimes made a curry that he learned while serving in the army during World War II - a stew of tinned corned beef with a teaspoon of Keen's Curry Powder added, plus a handful of sultanas. And soggy boiled white rice. We kids thought that was pretty exotic back then. As an afterthought to your story, I maintain that ScoMo's demise was guaranteed when he made a curry containing raw chicken on national television. Regardless of ethnicity, most Australians recognised this culinary atrocity as an attack on our perception of being a sophisticated nation. Keep up the good work."
Arthur plays the contrarian: "I hate ethnic foods and consider many ethnic dishes a destruction of good wholesome food. Steak and vegetables for me please with lamb roast for Sunday dinner."
Brad says: "I don't get to frequent the restaurant scene but our culinary conversion is much deeper. While food shopping, we think nothing of zucchini, artichoke, varieties of cucumber, tomato and lettuce, swapping out potato for rice and pasta. Oh, there's the fact we actually know spices and herbs other than salt and mint. I still like meat and three veg, but which ones this week?"
David says exotic food led to an awakening: "Growing up in meat and three veg Gunnedah in the 1970s I was transported into the 'new world' by my Malay brother-in-law's chapatis, goat curry and beef rendang. Visits from my sister and brother-in-law gave mum no respite from dad's nightly rigid routine of boiling vegetables and meat with fat attached. This new and mouthwatering introduction to different foods also triggered a wanderlust to travel the world from the bland confines to Western NSW. My father never left Gunnedah and his meat and three veg."
Samantha says: "My dad was the meat and potatoes man. Every day! When he took off on business trips, Mum would make the spaghetti, the stir fry, anything other than meat and potatoes. Funnily enough, as he got older, he began trying new things and I became the meat and potatoes lady. Now I eat a lot of different foods but still lean towards the general favourites, Chinese, Indian, etc. The worst thing I was ever asked to eat was fried zucchini on toast. I must have been six and still remember it 45 years later. Never again!"
Erike recalls his upbringing: "As a Dutch family living in Australia in the '60s, we had a lot of Indonesian influences in the household. Dad always had a jar of sambal oelek (chilli paste) on the table. But then I lived in Indonesia for seven years and fell in love with the 'real' version of the food. Soto ayam, rendang (different from the Malaysian version) and, of course, sate. Yum."
Chris says: "To paraphrase a Rowan Atkinson skit character - 'I'm not a racist, I'm not. I like curry. But, but, we've got the recipe.'"
"I don't eat spicy food," says Lee. "It makes my face numb. Pepper is a no no in anything I make. When we travel, hubby has to test the food because when people tell me 'not hot' it often is still too much. I will never ever, as long as I lives eat lambs fry and bacon. My mother loved it. Vomit worthy. COVID cooking for me didn't change. Hubby and I were essential workers so we just kept doing what we always did. Apart from going to trivia during the week."
Tony shares a horror story: "Last night I attended an end-of-year break-up. Two types of overdone roast meats, roast potatoes cooked to a crisp so they shattered when you applied the knife, blackened sweet potato, pavlova and cheese with apricots in it. As an ex cordon bleu chef I was horrified. I like to make Sri Lankan curries. I make my own roasted curry powder, a delightfully aromatic process. I never want to go back to 1970s food again! We have so many delightful ingredients now, we ought to be grateful and make the most of them."
Mary, who says she's very old and still enjoys coffee, adds: "Thank you for a wonderful article about the diversity of Australian food. I am very old and remember the horror and astonishment of my father when Italian and Greek cuisine arrived in Australia. There was garlic, olive oil, macaroni that was not made into a pudding, coffee from a strange machine rather than from a bottle of Coffee Essence. (And who would want to drink coffee rather than tea?) I was a university student in Melbourne in the early 1950s and was delighted to discover the pleasures of eating Italian food in Lygon Street and at Pellegrini's at the top of Bourke Street. We should be forever grateful for all those immigrants who transformed our eating habits!" Too true, Mary, too true.