October 29, 2005

Mars closes in

Today, the planet Mars will be 69 million km from Earth — the closest it will be for the next 13 years.

Shevill Mathers, Leatherwood Online’s sky guru writes:

Astronomers around the world will be making the most of this close approach of the planet Mars.

The term ‘planet’ is not a scientific or astronomical term but has been used since early times to describe a ‘wandering star’.

Continued …

October 26, 2005

Boneyard toll increases

The Boneyard’s toll climbed again when a third pod of 130 pilot whales, a species of dolphin, became stranded on a remote beach late yeserday.

Two groups of long finned pilot whales beached themselves near Marion Bay on the southern island state of Tasmania, according to Liz Wren, a spokeswoman for the state’s parks and wildlife service.

A fisherman first reported seeing the whales swimming ashore early Tuesday, but Wren said it took wildlife officials several hours to reach the site, which is accessible only by boat.


Nearly 60 whales died and about 10 had been rescued with the help of scores of volunteers and wildlife officials by nightfall Tuesday.

But a third pod began beaching at dusk. For safety reasons, the rescue effort did not resume until this morning, Wren said, when rescuers found about 70 of the latest arrivals dead and 14 still alive. Volunteers battled onshore winds and rough surf to return eight survivors to the sea by late morning. Another eight died.

Wren said exact numbers of deaths and survivors were not available because the beachings were spread over more than two kilometres of beach.

October 25, 2005

Boneyard lives up to its name


Writing in The Age, Andrew Darby, sums up another sad day for Tasmanian wildlife:

Another season, another row of streamlined whales, stiff and lifeless beside a surf break known as Boneyard. And there’s still little understanding why.

A herd of about 70 pilot whales came to grief on a rocky shore near Marion Bay, east of Hobart, yesterday. About 10 that were still alive were rescued.

The stranding confirmed the area’s reputation as a trouble spot for pilot whales, which are normally deep ocean dwellers.

Last December at nearby Maria Island, 53 of the animals beached - one of three mass strandings within 24 hours in Tasmania and New Zealand that killed 160.

Seven years ago to the week, 204 pilot whales stranded at Marion Bay, and 110 died.

Photo: Peter Mathew

October 23, 2005

Dinosaur pines a winner

Desperate to claim a share of the ancient “dinosaur” native — the Wollemi pine — bidders held up their hands for more than $1.5 million yesterday at a Sydney auction.

They were after 292 “first generation” saplings grown from cuttings of rare parent pines in the Wollemi National Park, New South Wales.

And we can now appreciate why Hobart’s own Wollemi pine is secured in its circular security cage at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens.

The historic trees, once the food of dinosaurs, were thought to be extinct until a park ranger stumbled across them while canyoning.

Snatching the chance to recreate the now-secret grove, more than 200 bidders flocked to the Sydney Botanic Gardens for the Sotheby’s auction.

The largest and most coveted lot, the Sir Joseph Banks collection of 15 trees, was snapped up for $149,000, well in excess of the $50,000 auction house estimate.

Single trees, from tiny saplings to 2m trees, fetched between $2000 and $7000.

September 16, 2005

Southern Aurora — high alert

Photographed today, the giant sunspots shown above, are good indications that there could be some interesting Southern Aurora displays tonight or tomorrow night.

Shevill Mathers. our resident planetary expert, suggests not being deterred by the presence of the moon high in the sky.

“It will reduce the effects somewhat, but this should not stop you from looking to the south during the evening,” he says. “If it is a big display then we would expect to see various levels of activity extending perhaps from east to west and maybe overhead.”

He took this close-up two days ago.

Continued …

September 15, 2005

Snow captures fox paw print

A paw print in snow has been photographed near Arthurs Lake in the state’s Central Highlands just moments after five people watched what they believed to be a fox run across a road in front of their car.

Snow was patchy on the ground, and only one print was visible.

A spokesman for the Fox Taskforce, Warwick Brennan, said it was not yet confirmed that the print photograph, taken earlier this week, was that of a fox, but said the taskforce was investigating the sighting.

The report was one of the highest quality yet received because the animal was thought to have been just 30m from the car as it ran across the road before disappearing.

Report fox sightings and other evidence to the Fox Hotline 1300 369 688. Here’s a handy paw print comparison chart.

September 13, 2005

Another day in Paradise

Regular contributor Shevill Mathers captured this delightful scene on the Sorell side of the Pittwater Causeway, once again demonstrating the value of always carrying a camera with you.

We will shortly be introducing a Reader’s Gallery as a showcase for photographs of our island state. You can email them to us by

In the meantime, we just have to share an early morning shot taken by our front page webcam.

Update: A reader pointed us to this photograph in the collection of the Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery by J W Beattie [c1880] which shows a similar snow coverage — and a much busier harbour.

September 12, 2005

A grounded captive

Tasmania’s lone Wollemi Pine, grounded in its sturdy cage at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Garden, has grown in stature — and value — since arriving here a few years ago.

More than 10 years after they were discovered in a national park west of Sydney, the first Wollemi Pines will go on sale to the public at the Sydney Botanical Gardens.

On October 23, auction house Sotheby’s will sell 292 “first generation” trees, propagated from cuttings of dinosaur-age conifers that, until 1994, were known only through fossils.

There will be 148 lots ranging from single trees to an avenues of 20. Prices will start at $1,500 for a single tree and climb to $15,000 for a grove. “They almost have a Jurassic look about them,” said Barbara McGeoch, of Wollemi Pine International.

The location of the wild pines is a closely-guarded secret. Conservationists hope commercialising the pines will protect them from extinction, vandalism, theft and introduced diseases.


The Editor's Notebook is a platform for communicating with Leatherwood Online's readers wordwide, and for sharing items of interest from this delightful corner of the world.

Here's where you will find quirky tidbits about island life, extracts from the lively ongoing conversations about politics and poetry and, hopefully, lots of reader-contributed photographs to share.

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