AUNTY RAE’S STORIES

Aunty Rae and Reuben Allen (Great Nephew) 2013

Aunty Rae and Reuben Allen (Great Nephew)

My aunt died on the 4th October 2013. Here are a collection of stories about her life, sent from various relatives and friends.

AuntyRae1949

Aunty Rae ALLEN 1949

 

ALLEN REESE (EULOGY)  See attached this lengthy and delightful story from Allen Reese, the oldest of the ‘Allen’ cousins, who spent a great deal of his childhood under the care of our Aunt Rae. Allen_Eulogy_AuntyRae

 

 

GEORGE & ZOE WARING   Sth Australia

Thank you so much for contacting us- we are so sorry to hear of dear Rae’s death- she was unique wasn’t she?

We have kept in touch ever since the mid 1940′s when she and her lovely calm friend Cath McKay took their service discharge in Adelaide and made it their home for several years. This is because brother Bill, “Mick”, and his charge Pat Murphy-young and a bit feckless but irrepressible- were billeted with us when the Army was brought back from the Middle East to defend Australia from the Japanese. We loved having them here and so that was why the girls decided to come here. They stayed with us then got a flat, but this house was always home base in case of sickness and health- and so we have always kept in touch.

Rae and I shared the same birthdays 24/5. I am now 86.  We have all paid visits to Rae over the years, and Rae has been here too. It was so good to hear from you. She will be missed.

 

ANITA O’DONNELL Florida, USA

Your aunt was a special lady. My husband and I were in Cairns in 1988.  I attended the Baptist church the first Sunday of our stay that was about a month.  After the service, your aunt invited me to her home for a friendly lunch, so I took her up on it.  We were both very interest in Bible prophecy, therefore, we had much to chat about.  She also gave me a lot of interesting general information about Cairns, since it was our first visit I really appreciated that. Ever since then, we have been good friends, as much as distance permitted. When we returned to Florida, we kept up our acquaintance via Christmas cards.  I always looked forward to them with all her news of the world. She even sent me a cassette of Australian songs.  She loved people and was kind to everyone, I certainly missed the contact I had with her when her cards stopped coming. So, it was certainly nice to hear from you and to know of your dedication to her and to her memory. She was a special lady and I’m sure all who knew her agree that she deserves to be remembered.

Thank you for sending me your letter.  It was very good to hear from you and to know of your plans to honor your Aunty Rae. I will always honor her in my heart.

 

JOY SIDDANS  Dalby, Qld

I met Rae sometime in the ‘80s when my husband and I were in Cairns for some weeks, helping to build the Manse.I visited her some years later in her home. I always enjoyed her Christmas mail with the news of her many nieces and nephews etc. I am almost 91 so we are similar in age. We will meet again in our heavenly home. I trust the memorial service was a time of thanksgiving for a life well lived.

 

EVELYN LEWIS   Crescent Heads NSW

I have known Rae for 64 years and always kept in touch by sending a Christmas Card every year. Rae always sent a newsletter with her card. I would call in on her at her house whenever I was visiting Cairns. I met Rae when I started working for Armstrong Ledlie and Stillman. I was 13 years old and Rae was my boss. I left when I was 18 and joined the Airforce. I have since lived in NSW.

 

R & E MULLER  Proserpine, Qld

Aunty Rae came down with a lovely niece to our daughter’s wedding to Stan Larkin (1986). I caught up with her in 1997 as we left our car with her when we went overseas. I found her very gracious and wise and, of course, we corresponded every Christmas since 1986.  My sister in law is in Gordonvale and told me Rae went to the church, there, while she was in the retirement village (Pyramid). You were very fortunate to have an Auntie like her, she lived a very busy and interesting life.

 

GLORIA MELVIN  Cairns

I worked with Rae for many years until A.L. & S. was bought out by Waltons, who I continued to work with.  I am not a person who made a point of visiting others but always called in to see Rae for her birthday. She was so proud of her nieces and nephews.

 

MYRTLE AND ALAN DICKFOS   Highfields, Qld

She was an amazing lady. She always talked about the family on the Tableland and her “Japanese Children”. She was so hospitable and kind. Bess Roberts and Rae and I used to do hospital visits on Friday night, and Alan drove us there. As I am writing this, I am shedding tears, remembering Rae and the privilege it was to know her and be part of her life. She loved her Lord and is now rejoicing in His Presence. When we were in Cairns, years ago, we went to the base hospital to see her. She was sitting at a desk doing voluntary work.

Alan has cancer and has been in and out of hospital several times and now mostly bed-ridden, unable to walk. He will be 91 in December. I know Aunty Rae’s birthday is 24th May, the same day as my mother.

We extend our deepest sympathy to the family. Thanks you for sending the letter. What a lovley looking young woman she was (reference to the photo in the letter informing of her passing). Our loss is heaven’s gain.

 

JONNET PRICE  Gwynedd, Wales

I met Rae in Cairns in 1971 when I came to visit my Uncle Aweurin and he introduced me. I met her again when she visited Mum and I at Bontwewy DD, Caerwarfon in 2000 – 2001?, on her round world trip. She was so full of life. A very unique person and her Christmas letters were so interesting and fascinating.

 

KEVIN HANSEN  Rockhampton  Phone call:

I received your letter about Rae’s passing. I worked as a printer at Cairns Post and I married Jean who worked at AL&S. We moved to Rockhampton but Jean had a good friend, Dawn Parker, in Cairns, and whenever we came back to Cairns, we would visit Rae. Jean, herself, passed away 13 years ago.

 

FRANCES MCQUAKER  Shropshire, UK

As we grow older, each year sees more empty chairs at family gatherings, and I know the Allen family too will have a few absent members, some I met through knowing Rae. Rae came into my life in 1979. Whenever I visited Nth Queensland I had the pleasure of staying a few days with Rae who spared time from her busy and useful life by not only giving hospitality but acted as guide. It was a privilege to have known Rae, and I know how her last few years could not have been the easiest – she is at peace now. I am 95. We can’t stop the clock.

 

LARRY COLE  Woodstock, Ontario, Canada

 I just wanted to let you know that your letter to Dina Cole in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada was received.  Dina Cole, my mother, passed away this past April.  My father has advanced Alzheimers, thus we will not be able to pass on any stories about your aunt.  I live in the USA and am looking after her affairs.  (Thus the delay in my getting your letter.)  I trust all went well at her memorial service and pass on my condolences at her passing.

 

MELINDA R TAJINGWA  Rancho Cucamonga, California, USA

Thank you for the notice of Rae’s passing. It is hard for me to write because I cannot stop crying. She was an extraordinary woman who I thought would live forever because people as kind as she was deserve to live forever. She befriended me when I was traveling in Australia 27 years ago. We kept in touch for almost the majority of that time. I was in Cairns Base Hospital with blood poisoning 27 years ago and she visited me and took me into her home for several days and took care of me, a complete stranger traveling by herself. She asked nothing in return. She fed me, took care of me, took me to her doctor’s, and was my friend for all these years. She was a great lady with a no nonsense approach to life but the kindest person I have ever known. I had contracted blood poisoning on a rafting trip, cellulitis I think they called it. I think Rae saved my life. They discharged me way too soon but Rae took me into her  home. A few days later a staph infection set in from the hospital and since I was not getting any better and, in fact, worsening, she took me to her doctor to get on antibiotics for the staph infection. I think I would have died, I could not walk and was in a lot of pain.  I could not walk for several days and she helped with all my needs in her home. She was a lovely, lovely human being and the world is definitely a little less kinder place with her not here.

 

Hiro Seki   Saitama, Japan

Thank you for a letter. It was that I received the letter on October 12. Rae’s passing was a spiritual trying experience, but I know she goes to heaven, so I am relieved.

I had stayed with Rae for [of 1998] one year. She is my Australian Mother. She had also said me as the Japanese daughter. That time, she was 75 years old and I was 25years old. She taught me the life of Australians and the Christian life. Every morning, she fed little birds, planted water in the yard, prayed for happiness of her family and friends, read a bible. Well, breakfast is bread and avocado paste, fruit, and a cup of coffee.

Her last traveling abroad was Japan. It is for my wedding ceremony. She was 80 years old then. After ceremony, I and she went to see autumnal leaves, and went to Disney Sea. And she went to meet her friends who lived in Japan. It was very wonderful time.

Well, while I was sad and was crying, she said, “A tear makes the heart relax.” She taught me the important thing in life. I am thankful to her from the bottom of my heart. She was kind, wise, occasionally strict, and beneficent. I continue to love her.

 

MEGUMI SUGIHARA   Chiba-shi, Japan

I was very sorry to hear that Miss Rae Allen passed away on October 2013 aged 91years. I had the privilege of knowing her for the past decades. Please know that I share your sorrow at this sad time.

I am not sure you know about me, but I met her at Baptist church in Cairns about 19 years ago. I went to work and stayed at office in Cairns for a couple months from Tokyo. Unfortunately I didn’t have any friend there. I was afraid to be alone every weekend, so

I found the church might be safe and there was the one very closed to my apartment. Then I met her. I know I am her first Japanese friend. Since then we have been good friends each other. She taught me many things. And also sometime we had small arguments for very silly things such as we should clean up a percolator before using or what, maybe we were same stubborn type?! After I left Cairns, she wrote to me, and I also came to Cairns sometime. She also came to Japan twice, and stayed at our place.

However I am so sorry to hesitate to keep in touch with her since 2009. It was last time I met her when just couple weeks before she had left her place. I thought she was very proud of herself so I shouldn’t come to see her. I am not sure it’s right or not. Anyway she is always in my mind and tells me many things.

I know she loves flowers. So I would like to offer you about this donation. You might still remember we had huge earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. About 18,000 people’s lives lost. Then one of group is trying to plant cherry blossoms there with victims’ names and donor’s name for each baby trees. So I will donate with Rae’s name, because she loved cherry blossoms. Actually it is very difficult to find a place to plant because of confusing how to make city planning out there. So it might have still taken for a while to do that. But if they could start to do that, Rae might be glad for this, too. What do you think‘? If l will be able to do that, I will let you know what is going on later. I hope it is OK.

And also you might know about this, Rae had some her Japanese kids who were working holiday students from Japan. She accepted them her place. One of them is a mother of twins! She must get contact with you, her name is Hiroe SEKI. She will bring her kids to the place where their Australian grandmother sleeps. I think this is the real intemational relationship between ordinary people, not for by strategies of government or global companies. I hope Rae is also pleased with this.

Finally I would like to extend my deepest sympathy, my husband, Koh as well.

 

MARGARET FANNING (NEE TYSON)

I will always remember Auntie Rae when she used to stay with her whilst she had her teeth attended to.  Auntie Rae introduced me to reading the Mills and Boon series which I still read.  Morrie, Margaret, Deran (their daughter) and Mark appreciated Auntie Rae attending Deran’s wedding especially when she read a reading at the ceremony.

 

JILL SORENSON (NEE TYSON)

I always felt that Auntie Rae was the matriarch of the Allen and extended families.  She was proud to be named Great, Great, Great Aunt Rae. A true Christian who was always there for numerous people. I have a framed photo of her in her air force uniform – she really did not change over the years only like all of us just got older.

Thank you so much for contacting us- we are so sorry to hear of dear Rae’s death- she was unique wasn’t she.

 

PETER ALLEN.

Most of my memories are about her flat on The Esplanade and Ginger Beer Spiders, was just Ginger Beer and ice cream, but at Aunty Rae’s it seemed to have some magic involved.

 

MICHAEL ALLEN Adelaide, Australia

Some of my favorite memories involve Aunty Rae. Carrying me out to the car as a small sleepy child, the Boxing Day open house she used to hold on the Esplanade in Cairns where family from all over would visit, Sunday visits while at boarding school always had a supply of ginger beer, jelly babies and banana fritters.
Last but not least I think this quote sums up the open door and heart she always had.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
― “quote on the Statue of Liberty”

ROBYN BOUBIS (NEE LARKIN)  Melbourne, Australia

I personally remember Aunty Rae as always “just being there” as part of our childhood – the lovely flat on the Esplanade I remember probably better than the house at Aeroglen which she built later on.  I remember on our occasional visits to Cairns we were always served our choice of soft drink with ice cream in it – called a “spider” – to kids who got soft drink at Christmas only, this was a real treat.  Once I attained a driver licence I was able to visit her often and spend weekends with her – during this period I came to know her much better, love her much better and appreciate her greatly.  I always admired her intelligence and her wisdom.  She was one of the most hospitable and kind people you could ever meet and all nieces and nephews will remember her kindness, not only to us, but to all our friends and anyone who passed through her door.  She led a very full life and her love was absolutely unconditional always – her sense of family was very strong – something else to be very much admired and respected.  We have all been very fortunate to have a person such as this as probably a larger part of our lives than we consciously realised along our own life journey.  This is a day not only to feel sad about the loss we all feel, but also to celebrate her life as I’m certain she would like us to do.

 

Yvonne Rudd (nee Allen)

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Aunty Rae is the colour purple.  I used to love her purple bedroom. Aunty Rae always dressed so beautifully, everything matched and she had all these big clip on earrings and rings. I also remember watching her dress for a night out once when I was little and told her she was very, very beautiful. She often wore big wide belts too.

The flat on the esplanade, the amazing garden she grew on the balcony, her ability to fill such a small area with so much furniture and ‘stuff’ and of course, the bottles. I think most family and acquaintances would have stayed at her place and to sleep on the pull out sofa was an adventure for me (especially when Maureen was sharing!). I think she was the first person I knew to have a bean bag and don’t forget the lava lamp.

Christmas parties, the huge pile of presents, how she collected things throughout the whole year to make sure everyone had a present, even for people who just happened to drop in. It was certainly a great occasion for family to catch up. If Maureen and I were staying, we’d get to stuff the curried eggs, I thought curried eggs were so exotic. Can’t pass Christmas without an Aunty Rae Christmas letter. Cam couldn’t believe it when he first read one but then funnily enough, he actually looked forward to them every year, he liked the summary of world news whereas I just usually read the family section.

Of course, you always dropped in to see Aunty Rae if you were in Cairns. I remember spider drinks, such a treat for us because we got to not only have soft drink but it had ice cream in it, two treats we usually only had at Christmas. Then there were the jars of lollies I drooled over and we often got to have a couple of those too.

Maureen and I would have stayed at Aunty Rae’s fairly often, usually with the Great Aunts in residence as well. Of course, if you were there on a Sunday, there was the trip to church and quite often that was in the old Wolsey. We thought we were so hot riding in that car.

Most of our photos from earlier years were because of Aunty Rae, no one else seemed to own a camera. I know when Maureen was making up a book for my 21st (which I still have) she sourced the photos from Aunty Rae. I guess she was the family photographer which was handy as she was at nearly every family event, there’s probably very few family weddings that don’t include Aunty Rae.

I still have the little silver windmill brooch with ceramic clogs attached that she brought home from her world trip, amazing that, like Christmas, there was gifts for everyone.  She always thought of everyone which was evident in her open house policy, her generosity, her christianity and family orientation, she was the glue that kept the family in touch and informed. She may not have had children but she had the biggest family of anyone.

I guess our family in particular, owe a lot to Aunty Rae. During the last few years of Dad’s life he would sometimes start talking about his life like he’d never done when we were younger. One night he was telling me about how hard it was for him after the war and basically how depressed he had become, he was drinking a lot and was at a very low point, he even said he had thoughts of ending it all.  Then someone came along and saved his life.  He met his sister (Aunty Rae) for lunch, at the time she was working at AL&S in Atherton, and she brought a colleague with her. Dad said he found a reason to live – that colleague was our mother. I know that sounds rather soppy and people may not believe Dad could be capable of that sort of feeling, he always came across as being so strong and ruled by his head but there you go. So for that I will be eternally grateful to Aunty Rae for taking Mum to lunch that day.

TIM, Mihoko and Kei LARKIN  Japan

I visited the Tablelands with my wife in November 2008 so my mother could meet my wife, Mihoko.
Our plane was scheduled to depart Cairns early one morning so we asked Auntie Rae if it would be possible to combine spending a day with  her with also staying overnight in her house in Aeroglen to make getting to the airport simpler. Of course, Auntie Rae was more than happy with this plan. I’d like to say here that this simple act goes to the heart of Auntie Rae’s character in my mind. Most relatives would be happy to do as Auntie Rae did for us, but in her life Auntie Rae did much more than that. She opened her home to people outside her family too, to boarders and traveling friends and so on.  And she did so seemingly at all times of the day and year, without even a thought that it was an imposition to her . Far from it, she welcomed it, and that is because she was an incredibly giving person. I will always remember most conversations with Auntie Rae including some discussion of her work volunteering at the hospital or doing something for her church. ALWAYS giving giving giving. A remarkable attribute in today’s world so often dominated by a take take take mentality. And, as an aside, but an important one for kids, when I was a kid I always loved going there because she ALWAYS had sweets to give us! I especially liked the caramel ones!

On that day we spent with Auntie Rae she invited us to go on her evening walk. Now, I had some idea of what this would entail, as I knew Auntie Rae from my childhood. But bear in mind this was the first time my wife, Mihoko, had met Auntie Rae. Now Mihoko was aware that Auntie Rae was in her 80′s, and had already remarked quite a few times how lively she seemed for her age. Then began the walk, with Auntie Rae setting off at the pace of a teenager in a hurry and Mihoko initially struggling to keep up. She did catch up and remarked a few times words to the effect ”Rae, you are amazing”. Auntie Rae’s response was, in a very matter of fact tone, “Oh, I walk every day dear”, as if all 85 year olds did so. The walk was shorter than a “usual” walk as we had made a restaurant reservation, spent too long talking (Auntie Rae was good at that too), and Mihoko was getting tired. Seemingly sensing Mihoko’s tiredness, Auntie Rae, in her giving way, suggested returning home to get ready for dinner. Yet again – giving.

Auntie Rae will, as I have outlined above, live in my memory as an extremely active and giving person. May she now rest in peace with the God she so devotedly worshipped.
AMY REESE

Aunty Rae’s house was always our first stop on our trips up to far north Queensland. Her house full of collectables was fascinating for children. My favourites were all the bottles and the bobble-head figurines. I liked to peak in her bedroom, all done up in purple. I also remember staying in her spare room where she kept all her romance novels (and pretending not to read them!). I remember watching her brush her hair at night and being amazed at how long it was. Aunty Rae always remembered all our Birthdays and she knew each of us individually. She was a special member of our family and we will miss her. Goodbye Aunty Rae, Love Amy and family(deBruyn)

 

OWEN ALLEN (Eulogy)

Three qualities I most remember Aunty Rae.

From my earliest memories the first quality I remember her for is the joy and wonder and time she had with children. She was an excellent story reader and it might surprise some here to know that Aunt Rae probably told me my first HORROR story, the tale of “Who’s that knocking on My Door”.

The second quality was her great assertiveness in life. Aunty Rae was the only person I knew as a child who would return a meal in a restaurant. She expected that people meet a standard of honesty, service, and respect and kept them to that. This flowed through every aspect of her life. It was at the core of what she considered her greatest acknowledgement, being paid well above male salary for her accounting job with AL&S, long before equal pay gained political traction. And she was granted that salary because of the precise work and leadership in accountability that she brought to the firm.

The third quality was her service. Aunty Rae was devoted to the Christian message, to this Baptist Church, visiting the ill and aged especially in retirement through the Cairns base Hospital foundation and monthly visits to nursing homes. She was constantly contributing to the lives of people who passed through her life. In a Cairns Post interview with Alan Hudson several years ago she intimated how “‘kids’ (young workers) used to come to my place at night and I helped sort out their problems.” Even several international people stayed for a term in her house, and she went on to visit these in her retirement. Many of these I have recently sent a letter from a large box of Christmas Cards she received the last two years.

And I would invite you to consider, in remembrance of Aunty Rae, that memories of her best qualities and contributions, find a home in your own conversations and responses to life.

 

 

 

 

 

SCIENCE STUFF

With thanks to CSIRO Science by Email

GLOVE CONTROLLER

 In the world of Harry Potter, lights, machines and even castles are controlled by a flick of the wrist. Forget wands and wizards, soon you too could control the world around you.

 Jake Coppinger, from Gungahlin College in Canberra, has designed a glove that could change the way we use technology – and it is as easy as lifting a finger.

 The glove, branded ‘Swirlesque’, allows a person to control technology from a distance.  The master mitt can recognise hand gestures and control internet-connected devices such as computers, smart phones and music players. A small computer sewn into the glove – called a microcontroller – receives data from a motion sensor. The computer looks for specific patterns in the data. When it recognises a pattern, it sends instructions to the required device using wireless Bluetooth signals.

Glove Jake believes that while technology is becoming more powerful, keyboards, remotes, and other controllers have not changed much. The tech-savvy sixteen year old used his idea in a project for the CSIRO CREativity in Science and Technology (CREST) awards program. After spending 140 hours to design and program the glove, he won third place at the 2014 BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards.

 Jake hopes to develop his design further to make it smaller and more user friendly. He is looking forward to completing Year 11 and meeting like-minded people in his upcoming trip to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in California.

 From an early age, Jake has been interested in mechatronics and filmmaking. He has taught himself programming and design skills which have been very useful in the design of Swirlesque. Once a keen Science by Email reader, Jake’s mantra is: “Don’t be afraid to reach for your dreams!”

 

 INDIA’S THIRST FOR WATER

 97 million people in India do not have easy access to clean and safe water – that is more than four times the population of Australia. 

 Many water sources in India are heavily contaminated or impure. A number of diseases can be carried in the water, making it very unsafe to drink. Untreated sewage is one of the main sources of water pollution in India. Sewage seeps into rivers as there are not enough treatment facilities available. The build up of impurities in waterways can affect fish and food crops such as rice. People can become very sick from drinking water and eating food from polluted rivers.

 Having a safe water supply and understanding water sustainability is everyone’s business in a country where only 31% of rural households have access to tap water. But many children in India don’t get the chance to learn as they must help their parents earn money.

 CSIRO’s Dr Anu Kumar travelled to India with a team of researchers to help scientists develop ways to control the effect of contaminants, including sewage and industrial chemicals, on the environment. As an extension of the project, she organised a field trip for a group of rural children to the Ganga Aquarium in Lucknow. The children learnt about fish diversity and the effects of water pollution on fish and the environment. They also learnt about keeping clean and investigated ways to conserve water. Students were encouraged to share their experiences with their families when they went home.

 Projects like this help people to help themselves build a healthier life. Anu believes that “education and awareness is the key to improving conditions in India”. 

 

SPINELESS ORIGINS

 To be called faceless or lacking a backbone is a bit insulting, however, it might now be time to face up to our simple origins. 

 Scientists have known that jawed vertebrates evolved from ‘jaw-less’ ones, but just when and how it happened has remained a mystery until recently.

 A fossil fish discovery in China indicates that placoderms gave rise to all modern fishes and vertebrates, including us. Placoderms are an extinct group of armoured fish and are thought to be the first early vertebrates to develop a jaw. The fossil uncovered new clues that challenge the current theories about the origin of the vertebrate face.

 A team of French and Swedish researchers have built upon this discovery when they studied the skull of a fossilised Romundina – an ancient placoderm that lived over 400 million years ago.

Fossil Romundina The researchers were able to trace the development from ‘jaw-less’ to jawed vertebrates with the help of high energy x-rays. The images show that the ancient fish developed two nostrils and a very big upper lip that extended in front of the nose. Over time, this upper lip disappeared and gave way to the nose. The forehead began to grow and the face lengthened.

 The arrangement of facial features in Romundina appears to be very similar to that of a human face – suggesting that our face hasn’t changed all that much over time! Fossil findings reveal fascinating results. This discovery shows that vertebrate evolution is a little fishy and we should dig deeper!

 

DEEP SEA RESEARCH ROBOTS
Is it a fish? Is it a boat? No, it’s a robotic float – ready to dive deep and collect information about the ocean!

 The ocean covers more than 70% of the Earth’s surface and plays a big part in controlling global weather. The Indian Ocean is one of the main pathways by which warm water returns to the Northern hemisphere. It is also home to huge fisheries and mineral resources.

 Ocean-diving robots – known as Argo floats – have been plunging to the depths of the ocean to provide scientists with important data on underwater salinity and temperatures. Now, CSIRO scientists have teamed with leading marine scientists in India to take a closer look at the Indian Ocean climate and ecosystems. To do this, the team extended the robots’ capabilities – developing new ‘Bio Argo’ floats.

 These clever floats will collect data to help scientists understand what factors keep the Indian Ocean healthy. Over the next few years, dozens of floats will be released into the depths of the Indian Ocean.

 Undersea research robotTiny sensors on the floats measure a range of factors like ocean temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, and dissolved organic material. The floats will also collect information on phytoplankton cells – underwater ‘plants’ that fuel the ocean food web. This data will ultimately help scientists better understand and predict how carbon dioxide is processed by the ocean and how much food the Indian Ocean can produce.

 The floats will free drift in the ocean from anywhere between the surface and 1000m depth, collecting data along the way. When each robot’s memory is full, it will emerge at the surface and send data to scientists via satellites. The floats will then dive back down into the ocean, continuing their mission for months or even years at a time.

 With a new set of senses, these underwater allies are ready to embark on an exciting mission. We wish them the best of luck with their journey and hope they have a whale of a time!

PENGUINS SUIT UP

 Life has never been easy for penguins, and changing weather patterns are creating more challenges for some colonies.

 The coast of Argentina is home to the world’s largest breeding colony of Magellanic penguins. Scientists from the University of Washington have found that downy chicks are struggling to cope with increasing storm activity and rainfall in the region.  

 Downy chicks haven’t yet developed waterproof feathers and are too big to snuggle under their parents for warmth. Without this protection, water can easily seep into their down – or immature feathers – during periods of heavy rainfall. The wet down makes chicks very cold and sometimes leads to death.

 PenguinsFurther south on Ross Island in the Antarctic, Adelie penguin survival depends on the form and amount of sea ice. Over recent years, sea ice in the Ross Sea has become less predictable with more ice in some years and less in others. An international team found that it is easier for Adelie penguins to forage when sea ice is low. When sea ice is high, penguins are restricted from accessing prime foraging areas. Starvation and exposure are real dangers for chicks as the adult penguins must leave the colony for longer foraging trips.

 While coping with change is a challenge for some penguins, researchers from the University of Minnesota discovered that some Adelie penguin colonies may actually benefit. With increasing temperatures, glaciers melt and retreat – opening up new nesting sites for some populations.

 Environmental change offers both challenges and opportunities for species, especially for those living in extreme climates. Scientific monitoring can help to ensure these seabirds continue to waddle on.

SCIENCE STUFF

BACTERIA SPIKED BY BLACK SILICON

Dragonfly 03A number of diseases are caused by bacteria. They range in severity from mild, irritating infections or a bit of diarrhoea, to life-threatening illnesses such as bacterial meningitis. Killing harmful bacteria is important in both preventing and treating disease.

There are ways to stop bacteria before they even enter the body. Bacteria are mostly water, so boiling temperatures can cause enough damage to kill most types of bacterial cells. Boiling contaminated water is one way to make it safe for drinking. Some pieces of medical equipment are also treated with high-pressure steam to eliminate any nasties present. However, some bacteria can survive high temperatures.

Another way to kill bacteria is by chemical means. Examples include antibacterial hand soap, and cleaners such as bleach. Sometimes antibiotics – chemicals to treat bacterial disease or infection – are prescribed. However, an increasing problem is antibiotic resistance, where bacteria evolve that cannot be controlled or killed by conventional antibiotics.

Recent research indicates that some surfaces also have bacteria slaying abilities. Inspired by the surface of some insect wings with antibacterial properties, scientists studied a material called black silicon. While it feels smooth to human touch, the surface of black silicon consists of tiny spikes at the nanoscale. The antibacterial insect wings have a similar structure.

Black silicon’s spikes are able to kill bacteria, not through heat or a chemical process, but by impaling them. One advantage of black silicon is that it killed a range of bacteria in the study, while many antibiotics are only effective against particular types of bacteria. The discovery of black silicon’s properties could lead to new antibacterial surfaces, suitable for medical devices.

 

YOUR MICROBIOME

Your microbiome consists of a range of microbes that live in your body. Most of the microbes are bacteria, although it also includes other organisms, including fungi and bacteria-like organisms called archaea. There are a lot of these microbes inside you too: while the human body contains around 10 trillion human cells, the number of microbial cells is estimated to be about 10 times greater!

Most of the human microbiome is found in the intestines, although you can find microbes living in other places, such as in your mouth and on your skin. The fact that most of the microbes are found in the gut means you may also hear them referred to as gut flora. When you were born, you didn’t have a microbiome. Your gut would have been colonised by microbes pretty much as soon you entered the world. These microbes would have come from the environment and people around you.

It turns out that these microscopic buddies are pretty useful to their human hosts. They have been shown to help in the digestion of food, providing energy that would otherwise be unavailable. They also help produce some vitamins, and are also able to help keep harmful bacteria from growing out of control and making you sick.

Scientists are still learning a lot about the human microbiome and what it does. For one thing, most of the microbes are very hard to grow outside of the human body, meaning identifying individual microbe species is difficult. Advances in DNA technology now means that other identification techniques are possible, but there’s still a long way to go.

Your microbiome could have an even larger impact on health than first thought. Recent evidence suggests that the microbes in your body can affect things such as allergies, obesity and even mental health. You may not notice them, but it’s nice to know that every day you have a few trillion tiny friends looking out for you!

 

Cyclone 03SUPER STORMS

A massive storm called Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines earlier in November 2013. One of the largest storms ever observed, it has caused widespread destruction in the island nation.

Typhoons, cyclones and hurricanes are all different names for the same thing: a particularly violent type of tropical storm. Which name it is given depends on where such a storm starts. If it starts around the Americas in the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific ocean, it’s a hurricane. Around Asia, they’re called typhoons. If they form in the South Pacific or Indian ocean they’re referred to as tropical cyclones.

These huge storms start with tropical waters close to the Equator. The warm water heats the air above it. As the air heats it expands in volume and its density decreases, making it rise higher. This creates what is called a low-pressure system. 

The warm air cools as it rises. If it cools fast enough the low-pressure system encourages the formation of thunderstorms – a key cyclone ingredient. Still more things are needed, including the right amount of moisture in the air, and existing atmospheric disturbances. Sometimes, even when all these conditions are present, a cyclone still won’t form. The reasons why might not be obvious, and this makes predicting cyclones difficult. 

Tropical cyclones are given a category, usually based on how strong their winds are. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) uses five categories. The most dangerous tropical cyclones, called category 5, have wind gusts of more than 280 kilometres per hour. Other places will have slightly different systems.

Another thing about cyclones that sets them apart is the fact that they are given names. For Australian cyclones, BOM maintains a list of alternating male and female names. When a tropical cyclone forms, it is given the next name on the list. Other naming systems exist, which use things like animal and plant names as well. As cyclones move from one region to another, they might be given multiple names, based on the different systems.

Typhoon Haiyan, also known as Typhoon Yolanda, was a category 5 super typhoon – the worst category. Similarly powerful storms have also affected North America and Australia in recent years. No matter what you call them, cyclones have the potential to be devastating. 

 

SCORCHED EARTH NOT BARREN

Evidence of bushfires burning thousands of years before the arrival of Australia’s Indigenous people can be found in the form of ancient layers of charcoal. The size, severity and frequency of these blazes varied, depending on the climate at the time. The importance of fire to the Australian environment is seen in some plant species, including Banksia and Hakea species, whose seed pods only open under intense heat.

Australian Indigenous communities developed practices involving the intentional starting of controlled fires. Such fires were small, being restricted to patches of vegetation. These fires are called fire mosaics and formed an important part of Indigenous cultures.

Fire mosaics were used in hunting to reveal or flush out animals, but they had other uses as well. These small, controlled fires prevented vegetation from building up. This in turn prevented larger, uncontrolled fires down the track. The regular burning also encouraged a diversity of different types of vegetation.

Given the often destructive nature of fire, and the fact that it was used for hunting animals, it might seem logical to conclude that fire mosaics lead to reductions in animal populations. However, a study in Western Australia has revealed the opposite to be case.

Researchers investigated the fire practices of the Martu people, and counted the number of fresh burrows of a goanna species called the sand monitor. They found that the monitors are most common in the areas they were hunted the most. Rather than decreasing sand monitor populations, the researchers concluded that fire mosaics led to increased numbers of monitors over time.

The researchers suggest that the reason for this is that burning stimulates regrowth of vegetation, and promotes a diversity of niche environments. In turn, this increase in habitat diversity encourages the growth of sand monitor populations.

While this study only looked at one species of goanna, it may also apply to other animal species. At the very least, it highlights that fire is important for life on this hot, dry continent.


THE WORM THAT WANTS TO BE EATEN

Atop a blade of grass waits a baby worm. Sheep graze all around in the South Australian pasture, ripping up mouthfuls of juicy greenery. The worm quivers as a mouth nibbles nearby. Then finally, the moment arrives. In a flurry of teeth and gums the worm is swallowed. But not by a sheep. Instead, it’s eaten by a wild hare.

Introduced to Australia around the same time as rabbits, European hares are larger and have bigger ears to help cool them in hot weather. They are also carriers of the black scour worm commonly found in sheep, according to research by the University of Adelaide.

Parasitic worms are a major source of sheep disease, causing diarrhoea and even death. An adult worm in a sheep’s small intestine lays up to 200 eggs a day, which pass out in poo onto the field. Worms can be killed with a sheep drench – a dose of de-worming chemicals. But some worms will be more resistant to the drench than others. It only takes a few survivors to produce hundreds of eggs that will hatch into drench-resistant worms.

“It’s a major problem worldwide,” says Philip Stott, from the University of Adelaide. “Usually within five or so years of a new chemical drench being developed, somewhere in the world the worms are starting to show signs of resistance.”

Farmers can delay resistance by giving sheep the correct dose of medicine and keeping visiting rams in quarantine. But hares can move easily between paddocks, spreading worms around.

This can be good or bad depending on the circumstances, explains Philip. If the next door neighbour is saving money by only giving sheep half a dose of the drench, those worms will become resistant quickly. “Hares happily hopping from one property to another can spread resistance, grazing on the poorly drenched farm and defecating on the other.”

Hares can also be helpful. By providing a refuge for untreated worms, they can delay resistance. The young of untreated worms compete with drench-resistant worms and eventually outnumber them. When a sheep swallows the waiting baby worms, the parasites are more likely to be killed by the drench next time, making it easier for farmers manage the problem.

 

NOBEL PRIZE FOR CHEMISTRY

Three United States scientists shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry last week for creating powerful computer programs to simulate chemical reactions. Like flight simulators and climate modelling, these programs calculate and crunch numbers to replicate the real world as closely as possible.

The simulations by Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel straddle two ways of seeing the world: classical physics and quantum mechanics. Classical physics would describe an electron as a particle orbiting around the centre of an atom, like a tiny moon. Quantum mechanics would describe it as a packet of energy, with properties of a wave. 

Simulating quantum mechanics is tough work for computers, as calculating each electron is a huge and complex task. Classical models are easier, but less accurate at modelling areas where molecules ‘dance’ together in a reaction, swapping electrons and energy and atoms.

With these simulations scientists get the best of both worlds. Large chemicals contain lots of atoms, but not all of them are involved in a reaction. Those can be modelled using classical physics, saving the time-consuming quantum mechanics for just those few atoms at the site of the reaction. These models are important tools for chemists, whether they’re looking for new drugs or improving solar cells.

The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to François Englert and Peter Higgs for their theoretical mechanism that creates mass in the Universe, which was confirmed by experiments in the Large Hadron Collider that found a Higgs-like boson.

In Medicine, James Rothman, Randy Schekman and Thomas Südhof were recognised for their discovery of how key chemicals such as insulin are transported around cells, which improves our understanding of diabetes.

BRAVE ROVER

On 22 January 2014, Earth received a selfie from Mars Rover Opportunity – proving she is still going strong 10 years after she first landed on Mars!

The image from Opportunity was taken with her panoramic camera, and showed the rover covered in dust. When she landed on Mars in 2004, scientists thought she would survive no more than three months, and were amazed when they celebrated the 10th anniversary of Opportunity on Mars last week. CSIRO’s Dr Paulo de Souza, who worked with NASA on the rover design, said “she is way beyond ‘warranty’. Opportunity is older than many of the cars we drive on Earth and there’s no roadside assistance to help her out!”

Opportunity landed on Mars with her twin, Spirit, a decade ago. The rovers needed power to move and communicate with the Earth, so they were fitted with batteries and solar panels. Scientists thought that dust from Mars would settle on the solar panels – making it difficult for the batteries to recharge – destroying the rovers within 90 days of the mission.

To everyone’s surprise, dust devils or whirlwinds on Mars regularly cleaned the solar panels of any dust, making it possible for their batteries to recharge. Unfortunately, Spirit stopped working six years after she landed when her wheel got stuck in sand. But Opportunity is still trundling over the surface of the red planet, and frequently sends phenomenal findings and photos back to Earth – many of which are received by the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex in Australia.

Scientists have since sent a more modern rover, Curiosity, to study Mars’ environment and see if it could have supported small life forms in the past. Curiosity, about the size of a minivan, is the largest rover that has been sent to Mars, and her energy source is different to Opportunity. Curiosity gets energy from the radioactive decay of plutonium and scientists have estimated the reactor will last another seven months.

We need water to survive on Earth, and any signs of water on Mars could be a sign that Mars once supported life. The rovers have found evidence of past water in the rocks and minerals. Next steps in the Mars mission are to see if the planet really did have life on it. Opportunity continues to send astonishing images from Mars and – with a little help from the dust devils – could yet see another decade of exploration!

 

THE SCIENCE OF SHARKS

Following a fatal attack off New South Wales, sharks are once again in the spotlight. As tragic as these events are, shark attacks are so rare, scientists aren’t sure why humans are bitten at all

Sharks are found in oceans all around the world – some live near the coast, others in deeper water. Some can even live in freshwater. There are more than 400 species, ranging in size from 17 centimetres to more than 12 metres. Many species are apex predators, and play an important role in marine ecosystems by managing fish populations.

While shark attacks on humans can cause serious injury and even death, they are extremely rare. In Australia there have only been around 50 fatalities in the last 50 years. In 2012, there were only 14 unprovoked attacks. Given that Australians make a total of around 100 million trips to the beach each year, the chances of being bitten by a shark are extremely low.

Because attacks are so rare, marine scientists still aren’t exactly sure why sharks attack in the first place. Some species are more likely to attack than others. Three species – the tiger, white and bull shark – are responsible for most unprovoked attacks on humans. Theories explaining why sharks attack include mistaking humans for prey species such as seals or fish, defending their territory against perceived threats, or simply curiosity.

CSIRO captures, tags, and releases some sharks species, including white and tiger sharks. The tags allow scientists to track the sharks’ movements, and will hopefully lead to a better understanding of their behaviour and interactions with their environment. 

In Australia white sharks and a number of other threatened shark species are protected by law. They may be scary, but sharks are an important part of marine food chain – and losing them could have serious consequences to the ecosystem.

 

moon_centaurus.2GRAVITY CAVITY

Can you imagine a force so powerful that it can pull in light? It may seem unreal, but this force exists in our Universe as a black hole, and nothing can escape its pull! 

Black holes are one of the most powerful and exotic objects in our Universe. They have the ability to slow down time, and most fascinating of all, life may not have been possible without them.

A regular black hole is formed when a large star – at least 20 times heavier than our Sun – runs out of fuel. Without new energy pushing the star out, the star collapses in on itself, shrinking down to a very small size. Eventually the star explodes in a supernova, leaving behind the smallest, densest part of the star. This core keeps collapsing until it is so dense, not even light can escape. However, in the centre of many galaxies are supermassive black holes – more than a million times heavier than our Sun – that grow by drawing in nearby material.

Black holes can be very hard to spot, and astronomers need you to help locate them! Researchers at CSIRO are looking to locate supermassive black holes. They have worked with Zooniverse to develop Radio Galaxy Zoo, a website where you can be a citizen scientist and contribute to research. All you need is a computer with an internet connection, and you can begin your career in astronomy! The instructions are simple and you will quickly learn how to locate black holes by comparing images from infrared and radio telescopes. Satellites and telescopes move through space and take images for you to study. There are many images to explore, and you can talk to the scientists online about your discoveries. So far, 2400 people have helped to classify over 370 000 galaxies, and you can help find more!

There are millions of black holes in our Universe, but only one supermassive black hole in the Milky Way Galaxy. It lies at the centre of the galaxy and is four million times the mass of the Sun. But don’t worry about being pulled in – luckily it is still over 30 000 light years away! 

 

SpiderPHOBIAS

We have long thought that a phobia or fear is caused by a mix of personal experiences and the environment we live in. This idea was challenged recently in research which found that fears could be inherited. Chemical changes in our DNA could make it possible for emotional reactions to be passed on from our parents and grandparents. This means that our fears could be a result of our ancestors’ experiences.

Researchers from the Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, designed experiments to test this theory in mice. The mice were trained in the laboratory to fear the smell of cherry blossom. The mice were then bred, and the offspring studied. The young showed signs of fear immediately after their exposure to the smell of cherry blossom, even though they had not been trained to do so. But when the offspring were exposed to unscented cherry blossom, they showed no sign of fear. The experiment showed that the parent mice passed on the fear of the scent of cherry blossom to their offspring.

Fears may be present in an individual before they are even born, and inherited due to trauma experienced by their ancestors. While it’s still early days, these findings could help us understand how information is stored and passed on in the genome. So if you are afraid of heights or think spiders are scary, but don’t know why, maybe your grandparents could explain!

 

BEACH RIP CURRENTS

When waves break at the beach, they create currents. Currents flowing away from the shore are called rip currents, which are important as they allow water to return seaward. The speed and strength of rip currents can vary, and often weak swimmers are in greater danger. However, these currents have been recorded at speeds of 2.4 metres per second, which is faster than an Olympic swimmer!

These characteristics allow rips to quickly carry swimmers away from the shoreline out into the ocean, which can lead swimmers to extreme tiredness, panic, and in severe cases, drowning. Scientists have estimated that rip currents are the leading cause of natural hazard deaths, with approximately 21 human deaths in Australia per year. This figure is higher than the number of deaths caused by cyclones, bushfires, floods and shark attacks combined! 

It can be difficult to identify rip currents, making their presence dangerous for beachgoers. You can scan the beach for signs that help to identify these hazardous currents. Some of these clues include: paths of darker water heading out through the breaking waves, or sandy water, or seaweed and debris flowing out beyond the breakers. 

To prevent getting caught in a rip, always swim between the flags, have someone with you at all times, and look out for signs of a rip current. Should you get caught in a rip, it may be instinct to swim against the current to safety, but this can lead to exhaustion. The best thing to do is remain calm, signal for help, and float with the rip until it weakens enough for you to swim across it to safer water.

Arts, Dance, Science, Health

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Dancers 'spoofing' the science.

Dancers ‘spoofing’ the science.

Last year (2013), I had the privilege to attend two wonderful national events in the arts: The Inaugural DANscienCE Festival in Canberra hosted by the CSIRO Discovery Centre; and the 5th International Arts and Health Conference in Sydney.

The DANscienCE Festival in August 2013 was eight (8) days of presentations and demonstrations of: the science of dance; scientific ideas that can speak to dance and movement art; and dance speaking for science. Dance with ecological and ornithological themes; dance as sociological research tools; dance for healthy ageing; fluid dynamics; cognitive studies; and dancer’s health. I was asked to sit on a physiotherapy panel for an evening of presentations from 6 dance genres: ballet, hip hop, belly dance, hindu dance, african and contemporary (over 50s). The evening was, professionally, a great experience, especially as my co-panellist, Roz Penfold has previously held jobs with the Australian Triathlon Team and Australian Ballet. Evidence to that evening’s success, Glen Murray of MADEinTasmania, Australia’s best over 50s contemporary dance company, reported that he was using ideas from our discussion in his classes. The most ironical presentation of the week came from Deakin University’s Movement Studio who revealed that the Playstation NRL game was animated from the actions of dancers who can represent rugby moves better than rugby players (except the crunching tackles). As I now post this report, I am putting my support behind Liz Lea of Canberra Dance Theatre and organiser of the 2013 DANscienCE Festival, to organise another DANscienCE in 2015.

The International Arts and Health Conference focused on: creative ageing and mental health, which found me in workshops with Circus Mojo from the USA and clown doctor GP Mark Spitzer, Dancing with Poetry in the NSW Art gallery (among the Nolan’s); writing for resilience with Molly Carlille, palliative care manager; discussions on the design of nursing homes for happiness; conversations with the David Cutler,CEO Baring Foundation UK, Dominic Campbell Director Irish Beltaine Festival; UK Churchill fellow Paula Turner; Angela Lion of Arts Fusion, Singapore;and many delegates who brought a wealth of experience and aspiration to the place of the arts in the health industry, hospitals, and  community well-being. The conference coincided with public support from Federal Health Minister, the Hon Peter Dutton MP, and his State and Territory counterparts, who endorsed a National Arts and Health Framework that was initiated by the Standing Council of Health Ministers in November 2011. As Federal and State Governments realize that there are not the resources to care for ageing ‘baby boomers’ unless there is a far greater increase in health and community support for the older person, it is becoming clear that the arts have a HUGE contribution to make in all areas of health interventions and a healthy life.

Yaran-i-Iran address the Iranian President from prison.

The passing of Nelson Mandela, this month, reminded the world how one human being, choosing to be powerful in life, even while behind prison bars, can inspire a nation, and the world to a whole new game.
Photo of Iranian Baha'i Leaders before arrest
So imagine the impact that the world is yet to experience from the powerfulness of the seven imprisoned leaders of the Baha’i Faith in Iran.
The Yaran-i-Iran (The Friends of Iran) are men and women who were ‘accredited’ by the Iranian government to assist the affairs of the half million Baha’is of Iran, in a legal context in which the Baha’i Faith was banned. Five years ago the men and women were arrested, charged with espionage, and given a twenty year prison sentence. During that time, there is at least one incident of the authorities conspiring to murder one of the women, a  plot that failed when the assassin, another prisoner, found the Baha’i women involved in acts of kindness and care for other women prisoners including the American hiker, Sarah Shourd, who returned to write this piece for Huffington Post.  The Yaran, although in prison and separated, have managed to write a letter of power to the President of Iran.

The below is an English translation of a letter addressed to Iranian President, Dr. Hassan Rouhani, from the imprisoned Yaran-i-Iran, or Friends of Iran, the former seven member ad hoc leadership group of the Baha’is in Iran. A copy of the letter in Persian can be found online on the Jaras website, at http://www.rahesabz.net/story/78757/.  This letter was sent in response to the invitation that President Rouhani extended to the citizens of Iran, to comment on the draft Charter of Citizens’ Rights, the text of which is provided, in Persian only, on the president’s website, at president.ir/fa/72975.

Your Excellency, Dr. Hassan Rouhani,

In the life of every nation there are moments of profound significance, when seemingly simple actions can turn the tide of history, when age-old misunderstandings can begin to be resolved, and when a new chapter in the destiny of its people can begin.  Your Excellency’s recent public call for participation in a common discourse about the rights and responsibilities of citizens has kindled in hearts the light of hope that such a moment may have arrived for the people of Iran and for the destiny of this sacred land.  Appreciating this invitation, we are impelled by a moral duty towards our homeland, and especially by a deep concern for the youth of our country, to add our voice to this significant discourse.

We take this action from within our prison cell, notwithstanding the considerable obstacles in our path, as a band of law-abiding citizens who more than five years ago were arrested and have since suffered imprisonment simply for our efforts to manage the internal affairs of the Bahá’í community of Iran.  We write this letter at this critical and decisive juncture lest history should judge us harshly as having failed in our duty.

Dr. Rouhani, Your Excellency,

Although the sole fact of demonstrating an interest in reviewing and upholding the rights of the individual is in itself highly significant, we find it necessary here to state emphatically that, in our view, the oneness of all peoples and their fundamental liberty are not merely civil and legal constructs—they are spiritual principles whose source is the one Divine Creator, who made all humankind from the same stock.  The people of Iran, justifiably, wish to prosper and flourish in their individual and collective lives.  They wish to see their children advance, their youth tread the path of progress, and their nation enjoy a state of peace and tranquillity.  Yet, surely, none of these aspirations can be accomplished unless social and legal conditions make it possible for all the constituent elements of society to be treated equally and well, for all individuals to be accorded their basic human rights, and for no one to be subjugated and oppressed by reason of their ethnicity, gender, religious belief, or any other distinction.

The present discourse on the rights of citizens centres on a charter currently being drafted, yet we believe that, beyond seeking comment about the contents of that document, your invitation is an opportunity for us all to reflect on the state of our country and consider the character of the society in which we wish to live.  For such a reflection to be effective, it seems essential that we should first ask ourselves searching questions about the state of our society and the environment in which we wish to raise future generations.  We must look deep into our hearts.  Given that our land has suffered every kind of prejudice, discrimination, aggression, and social ill—a suffering whose consequences are apparent in all departments of our nation’s collective life—we must ask ourselves:  what are truly the most vital principles that would fulfil our highest aspirations for our nation, and what are the means to establish these principles?  How do we respect the nobility of every individual?  How will a constructive environment be fostered in which all the different constituent parts of society can thrive?  What are the necessary conditions that would enable women to contribute their full share?  How do we wish children to be treated?  How do we enable minorities—ethnic, religious, or other—to make their contribution to the betterment of society shoulder to shoulder with others?  What is to be done so that differences of views and beliefs are properly respected?  How do we eradicate violence from our society?  How do we guarantee the right to education for all?  These are among the thoughts that should inform us as we search for the principles that must guide our society and shape the formulation of the rights of its citizenry.

Your Excellency,

Seeking the views of the various elements of society about the future can, of course, represent a first step towards building a progressive country, but what is of foundational importance is that the nation’s school curriculums be reviewed to ensure that the soil is prepared in which a progressive culture may take root, a culture established upon fundamental principles such as the nobility of humankind and the equality of all before the law.

To document the citizens’ rights and enshrine them in a charter may well be an important initiative in the course of a country’s development, but if such a charter is not carefully drafted or, worse still, if it is deliberately crafted as a means to exclude, it could be used as a tool for justifying discrimination and perpetuating oppression.  Therefore, beyond the benefits that accrue from a free and open discourse and appropriate educational programmes, it is imperative for the protection of the people’s rights, first, to enact laws that explicitly protect these rights, and, second, to fashion the necessary structures that prevent an arbitrary interpretation of the law.  The dismissal of thousands of Bahá’í citizens from government posts, the execution of more than two hundred innocent Bahá’ís, the expulsion of thousands of students from universities, the sentences handed down during the past eight years to hundreds of Bahá’ís—indeed, what has happened in our own case, and the judicial process that led to a twenty-year jail sentence for each one of us—are all salutary lessons that illustrate our point and amply demonstrate the need for safeguards in how the law is applied.  In all the years that we had the honour to serve the Bahá’í community of Iran, the authorities had full knowledge of our involvement in this work.  Then, one day, as a result of warped thinking and on the whim of certain individuals in authority, it was decided that our service should be deemed illegal, and consequently, we have spent nearly six years behind bars.

Your Excellency,

If no effective solutions are devised, under conditions where individual rights can be trampled upon so arbitrarily, who can be certain that the fate that has befallen us today will not befall him tomorrow.

In closing, we wish Your Excellency every success in your sincere service to the great nation of Iran in the path of justice, freedom, and equality.

Respectfully,

Vahid Tizfahm, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Shahriari, Behrouz Azizi-Tavakkoli, Fariba Kamalabadi, Afif Naimi

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