The Great Ecologists

White Australians have tended to think of our First Nation peoples as intellectually inferior, and culturally backward. Well yes, they didn’t have written languages but nor did many tribes in Africa New Guinea and the Pacific when white men arrived from Europe or Asians arrived from SE Asia. What they did have and still retain is a methodology for passing on information to the young via song, dance, story telling and hand-on field experience.

Their understanding of their local ecology to me represents a science that is shared culturally. They did not need peer-group reviewed scientific papers to endorse their authority. It was just accepted at elder’s wisdom. Wisdom is the key word here, the wisdom pervading their approach to environmental stability, their moving around with the seasonal changes, the way to find tucker and water in the long dry periods. The sense of small clan groups being mobile.

We limit our understanding of Aboriginal science by our fixed view of what is science. We don’t engage enough. We think we know better but have made so many mistakes in opening up the Australian land to grazing and farming without understanding the environmental consequences it should be embarrassing. The Aboriginal approach has been to ‘live with nature’ not fight against. Our Ecologists and Agronomist are improving the field practices of farmers, but we have a long way to go, and by blending our approach with Aboriginal knowledge must surely bring even more benefits.

On the eve of 2018 Australia this is a very important message that needs to be spread — that our First Nation Peoples were great Ecologists! And educating them further through our modern systems of schooling and University must be of highest priority. Then we win and they win!

Robin Simson 25/1/18

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Dreaming with Dementia

Dreaming with Dementia

This week I listened to an ABC podcast from All In The Mind that dealt with sleep disorders and sleep depredation and I began wonder if my wife who is in a nursing home with advanced dementia still dreams while she lies there on her back alone during the night.

Throughout our married life I would often wake from a dream and capture its content in my mind, but the details would soon be lost unless I talked about it. Dorothy would not be interested saying she didn’t dream or didn’t remember a dream, and if it was a dream about the future she would totally rubbish me. So now I have these questions for All In The Mind:

Do patients with advanced dementia still dream?
Would such dreams take them back to their earlier active life and be a comfort for them?
Is it possible that a person who never remembers that they dream is very likely to develop dementia because the same area of the brain is being affected?
And therefore, is this non-dreaming-non-dream-remembering syndrome a diagnostic test — a predictor of the likelihood of dementia later in life?

I am hoping for answers on another All In The Mind podcast from the ABC.

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Australia Day date


It would seem that some of the heat could be taken out of the Australia Day date debate by suggesting a definitive alternative that has positive connotations for both the indigenous peoples and those humans who arrival of settlers from Europe with the so called First Fleet on 26 January 1788.

The proposal put forward here is for the date of the winter solstice in Australia, variable between 21 June or 22 June dependant on the year — a specific date, not tied to a weekend. Whether the 26 January is retained by the Indigenous Australians as their Invasion Day should have little bearing on a decision to adopt Solstice Day — or better still, call it Capricorn Uniting Day. It should be a day of celebrating the unity of all Australians, the First Nation peoples, European, Asian, American and African people coming together to “Call Australia Home”.

And with this the original Homos who arrived from 60,000 years ago must also understand the the drifting Australian continent was then without the Great Apes or any other Hominoid species, and that they were not long into modifying the environment to  suit their life style, including being responsible, in part, for many species extinction such as the megafauna species.

Here are some points in favour of the Solstice date and tying it accordingly to the 23.30° S. latitude of the Tropic of Capricorn are:

1.The Tropic of Cancer is situated across the centre of the Great South Land not separating, but tying tropical Northern Australia and sub-tropical and temperate Southern Australia.

2.It crosses close by or through Emerald, Longreach, the Channel Country, Alice Springs, the Larapinta area in the spectacular West MacDonnell Ranges, Hermannsberg with its Aboriginal Art history, and the Ningaloo Reefs on the West Coast, away from the major cities, with all sites of historical significance.

3. 17th century Dutch sailers came to grief on the Ningaloo coral reefs and the indigenous peoples suffered terrible loss in the frontier wars as graziers occupied the the Central Australian Brigalow lands near Emerald. It is the struggle of history uniting us through time with by all parties acknowledging the difficulties of the environment and insensitivities of invasion.

4. It highlights the importance of the sun as the fuel of life on Earth and the significance of the seasons in understanding ecological relationships, an aspect of knowledge for living successfully and sustainably in our Island continent. We should recognise the Science told in dance and song in the Aboriginal relationships with their land, and what our short-term White Australians have been loath to understand.

We don’t have to call it Australia Day to be our national day. Neither should it be Sorry Day, currently held on 26 May. However, whatever date and whatever the name, indigenous Australian must be part of the dialogue around the decision with a target to make the change when Australia declares itself the Great South Land Republic or The Australian Republic.

Robin Simson BA. MSc. OAM

Posted 26 Jan 2018


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Am I the Universe?


Today I ask myself am I my universe, am I all that is? I know this sounds absurd, but everything that is happening to me makes me feel this way. There are all the coincidences in my favour, all the care and love coming from family, friends and my Palliative Care team, my prostate cancer and recent trip to Canberra in December all satisfying experiences in their own way, and the books and podcasts that mysteriously arrive at the best time for me to appreciate their messages, the philosophy involved.

So is there a theory for this — my Theory of Everything?

Version 1
I am indeed the cosmos, there is nothing else but my mind. It is a dream. It has no origin, no God creating it. No super power behind in the wings. Just nebulous me. Dream time me.

Version 2
I am not exactly the cosmos but the conscious extent of it. The experience that gives it identity and memory. Everything else wraps around in an ecology of interacting events and thoughts.

Version 3
I am duped. This is all fake news. My thoughts, and indeed all my ‘life’ is being manipulated by some other power, what many will say is God and I will rather say is mystery, like an unfathomable cosmic Black Hole has been to scientists.

Perhaps all this will become clear when I am snuffed out? I doubt it.

Robin Simson 16 Jan 2018


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The Isolated Tree


Early morning on 4 Jan 2018 I listened to a podcast about the soul and sound of trees. It was an interview of the ABC’ Richard Fidler with bio-scientist, David George Haskell, who has written about his investigations into the life, sounds and environment of twelve individual trees each growing in a different environment, ranging from the Amazon rainforest to in a park in downtown New York.

He used sensitive sound recording equipment to study what sounds the trees generate, and what sounds, smells, sunlight, air movement they experience, including and stimulation and threats from other biological interactions with the unseen micro-species, other flora, fauna, and humans. In relation to the latter, Haskell says, like Australian environmentalist, Tim Low, that the concept of Wilderness should be debunked; that there is absolutely nowhere on this planet Earth where the human modification of the natural environment hasn’t happened to a considerable degree.

The interview prompted me to think about the present life of a particular isolated tree in the middle of a sheep grazing paddock near Borowa in New South Wales, that all three of us, myself, Neil, my son, and Jennifer, my daughter, commented on as Neil drove us towards Canberra for a family Christmas gathering.

It was a very hot sunny day close to midday and most of the sheep had gathered in tightly under the shade of this one sprawling eucalypt. What sounds and smells was that tree communicating to the sheep? What sounds, smells, sap essence, sunlight energy etc. was filtering through it as it stood there so far away from its cluster of cousin species and understory plants in the clumps of forest up hill or along the roadside, none nearer than 100m away? Was it feeling the loneliness or appreciating the sight, sounds, smells of the sheep?

Thanks to Haskell I’ll look at trees differently now, indeed as communities not just species. They are hosts and inter-actors in the ecology around them. Giving them a name is like shutting a captured insect in a shoebox. It diminishes them. They are so much more.

So now I have a short one kilometre walk in Toohey Forest in order to communicated with a selection of large trees that have personality and and history, and that represent a range of ecological communities, ones to observe and write about as things change with the weather and seasons. I trust they will be welcoming to me.

Rob Simson

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Into the Sunset — thoughts on dying

On Dying

I’d paid a social visit to friends, Les & Ursula, who live two doors down in Brookland Village and updated them on my health situation. Les has dementia, not too serious yet but progressing. He is quite sharp with words still and still loves a joke.

When I was leaving and Les came with me outside to wish me well, he said, ‘Find me a cloud.’ There had been storms threatening in our area for three days but they didn’t deliver any rain. He has an attractive garden full of colourful shrubs which will survive without water for weeks, but if it doesn’t rain he insists on watering them by hose. I suspect it is cathartic for him, like him believing while my garden plants live I’ll live.

So I thought the the request from Les was for me to wish up some rain, but of course it wasn’t, it was a wry request from Les for me, when I’m up there in heaven, to seek out a comfortable cloud as a resting place for him in the paradise of heaven. He was facing up to his own dying.

Now I am well and truly on that path with Les.

Granite shoreline Sawyers Bay Flinders Is.
It has become of great interest to me exactly how I and my family are dealing with the issues — Advanced Medical Directive, new Will, Power of Attorney, funeral planning etc. It is an intellectual as well as a deeply emotional experience, and strangely I am loving, while the palliative care medication is keeping me going on overdrive.

My palliative care nurse was frank in the prognosis — that I won’t see in 2019. My dear friend, Tim Apelt, who died three years ago, when on the same journey after a medical check up unexpectedly revealed he had aggressive small cell cancer and had just eighteen months to live. It seems my bone cancer has set me on the same course with a similar time line. When I last saw Tim alive he was in the final phase, about a month to go. He was very quiet, pensive, and resigned to the situation. He knew the love of family and friends were around supporting him, yet it was his own personal journey in his heart and mind. He may have been surmising what would be said in the eulogy, and wether his Catholic faith in God’s blessing was justified. Who knows?

Many people don’t have Tim’s and my opportunity to reflect for so long on death and dying. They are snapped away in car or plane crashes, in bizarre shootings, by drowning at sea, or sudden heart attacks, and are never given the chance to share that dying phase of life, the brilliance I am finding in the sunset, the fading light.






That is so sad for them and their families, while I am so grateful I can die with dignity and without fear.

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Rainy Nights

As a young boy during WWII I slept on a veranda room under the galvanised iron roof of my grandparent’s home in Hawthorne. When it rained, the sound of the drumming of raindrops on the roof would waken me up and I would lie there thinking about the bombings over Britain and what the civilians were suffering while the rain became heavier and the noise louder.

I recall this because over the last month my sleep has been disturbed by a pitter-patter dreamy niggles, building up to a crescendo of thoughts that force me fully awake. The benefit is that while lying in bed my mind at first meditates and then gets very active so sometimes I don’t get back to sleep for the remainder of the nighttime hours. I think about the things I still wish to do and what I and keen to write; also the bucket list of adventures still not addressed; then how the family could plan for the time after my departure with the implications of new will  and/or the responsibilities my children and grandchildren might take on as a legacy.

When I arrive at some really important ideas, some special things that should happen, I get up to sit at my desk and jot down lists, key words, and brief notes, so the following morning I can fill them out more fully. I find it all intellectually and emotionally rewarding and don’t appear to suffer from the lack of a longer, deeper sleep.

It is mystifying how it occurs night after night, but I have been so stimulated over these last two weeks on an excellent palliative care regime, that I love what is happening and am thoroughly thankful for this ‘rain soon the roof‘.


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Cancer Pain

It is three months since a bone scan showed I have serious bone cancer — the pelvic bones, the right and left femur, the shoulders, the ribs and down the spine. Devastating! The medical oncologist tried me on a new drug to suppress the tumours while keeping up the hormone therapy I’d been having on and off for seven years since my prostatectomy. The latest bone scans show the cancer tumours are still growing and spreading, so now my treatment is confined to pain control using Norspan slow release patches and Abstral tablets dissolved under the tongue as needed every three hours.

I have good days where I feel okay, bad days when I live in misery, and days of hope that lie in between. There appears at present to be a cycle, four bad days, two so-so days and the four good days. I call the bad days the Painstorm Days, the good days the Suncoated Days and the in betweens the Streuth Days. Painstorm Days are full of sudden lightning strikes and crashing thunder and persistent rumblings around my weakened body. Streuth Days may deliver a call of surprise and optimism, or a just a plea for diminished pain and hope. Either way it is at least 50% better than Painstorm. Suncoated Days are a joy in the context of the cycle allowing me to shop and cook, and the chance to write, Letters to Dorothy, my wife in the ARCARE nursing home, or the occasional philosophical Blog posts.,

Meanwhile I keep losing weight and apatite, and try my best to be calm and stoic. Pain is part of life and being a Homo Sapiens with a big brain and a conscience, I am able to make my condition worse or better according to attitude. It is time to stay positive and at the same time plan my funeral.

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Eating Nectarines as a child


The sweet smell of ripening fruit,
the first taste, tangy on the tongue,
the joy of the second bite
the juice running down my chin.

Each mouthful delicious, delectable,
an early summer pleasure,
Crop it down to the seed and suck a little,
then pitch the seed away.

The aftertaste remains —
tempting, alluring.
Should I eat another?
Give in to desire
before my siblings discover
and accuse me of greed.

Later in life I will understand the message
in the myth, the Garden of Eden.
And learn the Buddhist law of nature —
‘Suffering arises from craving.’

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Thoughts on Departing Life


What do you do when your Oncologist explains you have incurable bone cancer, not just in one location but in bones throughout the body, and in the lymph nodes as well?

At 81, why should you cry? I’ve had a lucky and happy life, full of achievements, with virtually no regrets. But it is a shock and demands a re-think about priorities — family responsibilities, personal estate issues, unfinished projects, bucket lists. What to keep doing, and what to give up.

And then there is an ethical question. Is it right that Australian taxpayers money is being allocated to keep me alive just one or two extra years. Every hormone therapy injection costs the Government over $1000; the new drugs I am on are also extremely expensive, and there are the regular bulk-billed appointments with the Radiation Oncologist, the Medical Oncologist and the Palliative Care doctors and nurses. Couldn’t this money be better spent on children with cancer, or indeed on education opportunities for the disadvantage?

Even given this treatment, the prognosis is that I will die before my wife, Dorothy, who is in a nursing home with dementia. How much time should I give to her? Can I justify going to my son in Canberra for Christmas leaving Dorothy behind in the nursing home, or going off the WA Kimberlies for that trip I always wanted to do? I don’t have a God I believe in whom I might ask. I have no faith in supernatural interference on my behalf. I have to fall back on my own ethical standards and values.

We all have to die. That is one of the outcomes of living. So much chance has led to our birth as humans on this remarkable planet, one of a hundred million or more in the Universe. I believe we have no status in this Cosmic system, no rights to immortality — not for us, not for our species, not for our Earth, not for our solar system. Existence itself is an absurd phenomenon — not guaranteed, just a strange occurrence in the space-time journey.

I must put aside this metaphysical musing. The immediacy of my life is with me. It dominates my everyday thoughts and all my current decision making. What to do first, what next? Do I keep eating, do I keep active in orienteering or bushwalking , do I sell my push bike, do I keep driving myself, and then what help do I need in the home? There are no right or wrong answers, simply conundrums. Teasers. It is tiring.

And what is more macabre in all this, should I plan my own funeral?

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