Book reviews

Published 11/09/16 | by Brian Bainbridge

Mosses of dry forests in South Eastern Australia 

Cassia Read and Bernard Slattery
North Warrandyte Osborne Peninsula Landcare 

A HANDY pocket-sized book originally intended as a field guide for the mosses of the Castlemaine area, but it is much more than that. 

It contains a wealth of information about a little known area of the plant kingdom. 

A comprehensive alphabetical list of the mosses is enhanced by detailed photographs and line drawings. The language is clear with important features highlighted for emphasis. There is a well set out index and valuable appendices on liverworts, lichens and nomenclature. 

The Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests are to be congratulated on driving this community project. It is inspiring to see such a fine result. 

This delightful book with its attractive cover is a welcome addition to our Landcare library. 

around the issue. Changes in timing of nature’s seasonal markers provide some of the strongest evidence of climate change’s effects on ecology and agriculture. Most Indigenotes readers will be familiar with our many local winter-flowering wattles. Tim’s experience of being asked for expert opinion on whether ‘early’ flowering of wattles in winter signify climate change, reflects wider public confusion about our mismatched seasons. How can we recognise climate 

Sprinter and Sprummer. Australia’s Changing Seasons 

Timothy J Entwisle, CSIRO publishing 2014 

A MIXED bag of fact, folklore, conjecture and poetry, this book inspires us to think afresh about the seasons we inhabit. Tim is stimulated by his engagement with gardens and their seasons in various parts of the world including Sydney, Melbourne, and the region that has supplied us with ‘our’ conventional seasons: Europe. 

The effect of climate change on seasons generates new urgency 

change effects when our local seasons are so poorly understood and the familiar model of seasons is unfit for purpose? 

Tim gathers and compares many alternative seasonal models, including Aboriginal calendars from different parts of Australia and the Middle Yarra timelines published by Glen Jameson in the 1990s. Tim’s proposed system for southern Australia is a synthesis, with new seasonal lengths and our multi-phased spring split into ‘Sprinter and Sprummer’. It aims to be a practical compromise between the familiar calendar and the messier local reality as seen by an experienced observer of our natural world. 

Professor Entwisle describes the book as ‘…floating boats for others to board or sink’. Entwisle prepares us for a personal, less formal approach by including several dozen public reactions to an earlier article of his on this topic. While I appreciated the energetic and roving narrative, I found myself yearning at times for a more definitive treatment on the topic of seasons. My confidence in the editing and fact –checking was shaken by a glaring error early in the book where Aboriginal people are repeatedly identified as having occupied Australia for 60 million years. 

It is not what you expect from a botany professor and will not be to everyone’s taste but there is plenty in this book to stimulate discussion and spark new pathways for investigation.

The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy 

Michael McCarthy & John Murray (Pulblishers) 

SOMETIMES it feels like a book finds its reader. 

I recently learnt of the impending development of vacant land alongside my home. This will close a vista that for over twelve years has been my personal, live, 24-hour wildlife channel on the Merri Creek habitat corridor. While we can sometimes fight and occasionally win a reprieve for nearby nature, it seems inevitable we must also periodically endure the mourning provoked by untimely loss of natural areas. 

Despondent, I drifted into a bookstore where my gloom was pierced by a dustjacket description of an ‘…urgent book, full of joy, grief, rage and love.’ The reviewer, author Helen McDonald, went on to describe it as a ‘deeply affecting memoir and a heartbreaking account of ecological impoverishment.’ I seized the book like a life belt. 

English writer, Michael McCarthy’s thoughtful essays explore the changing role of nature in his life and those of his friends, family and acquaintances, and, ultimately, of our society. The therapeutic nature of nature is a recurring theme. 

McCarthy asks us to join him to gaze unblinking at the devastation of Saemangeum, a mudflat ecosystem 40,000 hectares in extent which has just been ‘snuffed out’ by Korea’s economic dreams, (among its other values it supported millions of Australia’s shorebirds during migration). But the book’s title comes from an ecological loss at the other end of the spectrum of visibility and drama. The author remembers that headlight beams during summer evening drives in the 1950s and 60s illuminated blizzards of moths. Comparing notes with contemporaries, McCarthy realizes that this ‘moth snowstorm’ phenomenon had vanished by the late 1960s; a virtually unremarked symptom of the insidious and all-pervading loss of biodiversity in the English countryside resulting from intensified agriculture and heavy chemical use. 

In reaching for the means to save nature, McCarthy acknowledges the value of accounting natures ‘environmental services’ and seeking ‘sustainable development’. However, the author ultimately rejects any accounting that cannot encompass our aesthetic and emotional response to nature. As our understanding grows about its role in our mental, physiological, social and spiritual health, McCarthy calls for a broader concept of the economy itself as one avenue for resolving the crisis facing our biodiversity. 

I commend this rambling and personal book to those who, like me, seek a deepened appreciation fo nature’s role in our lives and the price we pay for its loss.