Category Archives: journalism

Today I am Charlie

I’m not sure who I’ll be tomorrow but today, whether I like it or not, I’m Charlie. I continue to have some non-Charlie thoughts: My snapdragons in the garden out the front are failing to launch. They’re long and spindly, browned off in the heat, producing just the odd flower here and there. I was expecting them to look colourful and lush by now. Last night on ABC TV, Professor Brian Cox, the anointed  successor to Sir David Attenborough, celebrated the extraordinary, audacious human race, the species that went from the obsidian-headed axe to outer space in the blink of an eye, geologically speaking. We’re better than these guys, he said, smugly indicating the baboons in the background.

Sitting in the back of a van on the way to meet the returning crew of the International Space Station, he used a marker pen to write out the formula for gravity. Which is:

gravity formula

Retrieved from


Knowledge of this formula allowed the astronauts to apply the brakes at exactly the right time to achieve exactly the right speed to allow their vehicle to drop out of orbit and land on earth.

Racing over the frozen landscape of Kazakhstan to meet the returning spaceship, Brian Cox said he was glad Newton published his formula back in 1687 because it meant people didn’t have to start from scratch every time they wanted to get into outer space. By writing these things down, humanity has been able to info-share across the ages and gee, we just keep getting smarter and smarter!

But this morning I’m Charlie, and I feel it’s barely warranted to crow over our superiority to the baboons. I’m Charlie today because yesterday, men in balaclavas, armed with kalashnikovs and a rocket launcher, gate-crashed an editorial meeting in the offices of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Cartoonists and journalists were mowed down. You know the story. In the aftermath, people expressed their solidarity by saying “I am Charlie” all over social media and in rallies in Paris and London.

I know what it’s like to sit in an editorial meeting; to liaise with cartoonists; to go about a day in the life of a working journalist. Having it all explode in blood and carnage is, as the perpetrators intended, truly terrifying.

I’m also a white person with #firstworldproblems, living in the West, in a house with snapdragons out the front in a quiet street where the most egregious noise I’ll hear is the howl of a Malamute as it joins in with a distant ambulance, or the thumping of music when the neighbours clean their house on a Saturday morning. I expect to go about in peace, without being caught in crossfire or gunned down because I’ve turned up for work. I’m not personally responsible for the cycles of violence in the world. But I am Charlie, and Charlie, to some minds, represents the West and all the liberal freedoms and privileges available therein. A West that conquered, colonised and controlled the world and now expects to get a latte in peace.

It could be me in the firing line. Because I’m Charlie.

There’s no telling what might happen on account of one thing leading to another. You find a sharp sliver of obsidian and think it might add some oomph to your club. The next thing you know, you’re on the moon. You plunder and colonise the world in the name of God, and find yourself fighting the locals who are defending themselves in the name of God. There are reasons why murderous nutters get a hearing in certain circles. Those reasons can be found in history. As far as we know, it’s a law-governed universe; gravity works both here and in outer space. On this earth, the law of history is that if you’re the top dog you’ll be challenged, sooner or later, by the dog under you. It’s all there in writing.

But we prefer hubris over history lessons. We’ll study Newton on gravity but on conflict resolution, we’ll take our cues from the baboons.

A pause. A bit of a Google. I just found a review of a book about a herd of peace-loving baboons that turned their backs on violence.
If they can do it, maybe we can do it.

The hot lap

Last night the moon was blood red. This morning, six planes did a loop de loop in the blue spring sky. Now it sounds like a giant swarm of bees is coming over the horizon. Yes, it’s the Bathurst 1000, our yearly orgy of noise, beer, fossil fuel and bonfires. When I worked at the Western Advocate, it was always rich pickings in the days afterwards, when all the chickens of drunkenness and hoonery would come home to roost in the magistrate’s court. The burning mattresses! The antics on top of moving vehicles! The punches thrown! The slabs consumed!

Anyway, here’s a hot lap of Mount Pan from Fango Fables. Fango Fables, a series by Jock Alexander, was always the best bit of our WARP TV Show, made here in Bathurst and screened on community television in Sydney.

Meanwhile, I have dusted off my column-writing hat to submit this piece to the Advocate on behalf of Bathurst Community Climate Action Network. Here, I get back on my yearly hobby horse, which is to plead for an electric car race on Mount Pan. It’d be slightly eerie to have a quiet race, with just the sound of the wheels on the tarmac and the air whooshing, but it’d be amazing, too.


The other side of the mountain

When I was a kid, we sang these words: The bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain. And what do you think he saw? The other side of the mountain! This week, it’s all about the car race up on Mount Panorama. This is the image that will be beamed around the world. It’s what puts Bathurst on the international map. But those of us who live here know the mountain for its other attributes as well: as a place to look out over the town and across to Windburndale, to take the dogs for a run, to fly through the air on a dirt bike, to park the car for a pash, to grow fruit and wine grapes, to see albino wallaroos, to graze sheep. It’s the highest point of land hereabouts, and for tens of thousands of years, it was known as Wahluu.

It’s a timeless ecosystem, as well as a place to have a good time. It’s a physical place, but it’s also a symbol. It symbolises what we value, how we see ourselves, how we want to present ourselves in the world and how we see the future.

The story of Mount Panorama is now widening to encompass the other side of the mountain. In the co-naming project, we acknowledge the long view of history; in the kangaroo project (a long-term ecological study led by the University of Technology), we acknowledge the ecosystem.

Another project that would express Mount Panorama’s history as well as its aspirations for the future would be an electric car race. It could include cars of all shapes and sizes, bringing to mind earlier incarnations of the great race. But, like the V8 race, it could be run between cars built just for speed. Serious, fast, expensive. An example is the ELMOFO car, which has possible top speeds of up to 300 kilometres an hour. The vehicle incorporates dual AC motors and a high power liquid cooled lithium battery pack. Its lap times are, according to a recent Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS) story, approaching those of petrol-powered cars.

We could start slowly, with a special race in the lead-up to the big race, or an event at some other time in the year. As the car-race capital of Australia, but also as a town committed to sustainability, we should be taking the lead.

A winning formula

Mount Panorama, Bathurst.

Bathurst’s Mount Panorama on a non-racing day. Could this be the site of an enviro-friendly electric car race?

When I was a small child, Dad told me about the Bluebird, the fastest car in the world. In 1964, driver Donald Campbell broke the land speed record when his sleek bright blue car zipped across Lake Eyre at 403.10 miles per hour (or 648.73 kilometres per hour). Donald Campbell died in a spectacular crash in 1967, but his extended family, based in Surrey in the UK, has not dropped its love of speed.

The Bluebird has now gone electric, and will compete in the Formula E (as in, Formula Electric) races that will begin in ten major cities around the world in 2014.

For many people, the idea of an electric car race is associated with the creeping speeds of the solar-powered cars cobbled together by university departments. But Formula E is a game-changer: it’s about serious speed in serious battery-powered cars. The Formula E championship will be held under the rules of the official Formula 1 governing body, the FIA. Sponsors include Michelin and Renault.

Meanwhile, a new land speed record for electric cars has just been set by the UK’s Lord Drayson, CEO of Drayson Racing Technologies and a former Labour government minister. He was behind the wheel of his Lola B12 69/EV, when he achieved a top speed of 204.2 miles per hour (328.603 kilometres per hour) on a racetrack at RAF Elvington in Yorkshire, on June 25. Drayson’s car is a modified Le Mans vehicle weighing less than 1000kg to conform to FIA standards.

Electric cars are getting faster and more popular. The technology is evolving fast, making this an exciting time for this particular motorsport. So what are we waiting for? Bathurst is on the international map as a car racing destination. We could have a flagship race that symbolises both tradition and the future. It goes without saying that it could be a major international tourist attraction and welcome boost to the regional economy.

The field is moving fast, with locations being scouted and sponsors being wooed. It may be that Formula E is not suitable for Bathurst – some other category could be more suitable, or, like the early days at Mt Panorama, an all-in race could be fun – but there must be something we can be doing in this space. If we don’t, we could be left behind in this particular race into the future.

Tracy Sorensen is the Treasurer of Bathurst Community Climate Action Network. This is the text of a column piece submitted to the Western Advocate, Bathurst’s daily newspaper.

More on the curious case of the nearby word

I’ve posted on this before & even tried to update the old post, but the computer went slow so I’m writing a new one. In this instance of the CC of the NW, a reporter tells us that Kate Middleton “extenuates her figure”. She obviously meant “accentuates”. Close, but no cigar.

On shopping

Ah, shopping. Where would we be without it? At this time above all others, we are being called upon to Shop. If we shirk our duty, consumer confidence – which needs constant boosting, like the self-esteem of a teenage girl – will plummet. If that goes, it doesn’t bear thinking about. So position yourself behind the biggest trolley you can find, and shop.

Only problem is, a lot of the stuff that will be bought over the next couple of weeks – including whole puppies and kittens – will be barely used, unloved, unwanted, stored at the back of the linen cupboard and/or discarded. Young dogs will eventually turn up at animal shelters, garbage will pour into landfill and atoms of carbon dioxide will float off into the atmosphere to wreak havoc on our atmosphere.

So what are we to do, when it’s good to spend but bad to consume? One cheap and easy thing we can do is refuse to buy things that are just silly. Anti-bacterial hand gel, for example. Here it is, spreading across the land in its own plastic bottles and pump-action lids, offering convenience and cleanliness and the solution to problems we didn’t realise we even had until just a little while ago. But the anti-bacterial obsession doesn’t stop there. I recently saw a TV ad that showed how the wall above a baby’s bed was crawling with germs. The idea was to terrify parents into buying a particular anti-bacterial spray. Being clean is no longer good enough; people are now encouraged to go for hospital-grade sterility in their own hands and homes. This is unnecessary and may even be harmful – our immune systems need something to work on to keep them functioning properly.

If you’re blessed with spare cash, another path to sustainability is to go off in the other direction and spend a lot of money. Rather than buy cheap junk that will need to be replaced in six month’s time, buy more expensive items that will last a long time and can even be repaired. A hand-crafted dining table made to last for generations is far less damaging than a new, cheap imported table marinated in industrial chemicals that will need to be replaced in five years’ time. So whether you spend a little or a lot, there’s always some way you can show the environment that you care. Tracy Sorensen is the publicity officer for Bathurst Community Climate Action Network (BCCAN). Visit

First published in the Western Advocate (Bathurst, NSW, Australia) on Saturday, 18 December 2010.