Category Archives: Australia and Oceania

Australia’s Wildfire Season Starts Early As 100 Fires Rage in the Southeast

Oz fire, 1

Bushfire in Tasmania state, Australia (photo from

Now that the wildfire danger here in the West has decreased somewhat with cooler weather (or at least that’s our hope), let’s not forget that the bushfire is just starting in Australia. And, unfortunately, indications are that it could be one of the worst on record with an early start to the fire season and a disturbing forecast for more hot and windy weather. Usually the Australian bushfire season reaches its peak in January and February, but at this writing there are already over 100 wildfires burning that have destroyed over 200 homes. Thousands of firefighters are on the lines, supported by some 90 aerial attack aircraft.

More background on Australian bushfires is here.

An interesting political take is that the new Prime Minister, Tony Abbot, is a global warming skeptic who has described climate change science as a “bunch of crap” and is determined to repeal much of Australia’s carbon emission control legislation. More on that topic is found here, from the Reuters news agency.

Oz fires, 2

A fire truck moves away from out of control flames in a fire 78 miles (125 kilometers)
west of Melbourne (AP Photo)

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Posted by on October 21, 2013 in Australia and Oceania


Australia’s New Prime Minister Proposes Harsh Refugee Policy

Kevin Rudd, Australia’s new Prime Minister, who regained the office in late June by displacing floundering fellow Labor Party member, Julia Gillard, announced recently that any refugees arriving by boat on Australia’s shores would be denied entry and, instead, sent off and resettled in Papua New Guinea (PNG), Australia’s nearest neighbor to the north and one of the region’s poorest countries. This policy is a dramatic change in Australia’s refugee policy and one that could be illegal according to the UN. Also important is that Mr. Rudd’s statement is a blatant election year ploy playing to unease about the increasing number of refugees seeking political asylum in Australia.Asylum seekers recused by Australia Navy

The controversial politics over asylum-seekers started in 2001 when refugees started arriving from Iraq, Iran, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and other strife-torn countries of Southwestern and South Asia. In response, John Howard, a conservative prime minister, opened refugee detention camps on nearby Nauru and on Manus Island in PNG. Later, in his first term as prime minister, Kevin Rudd closed this camps and instead processed boat people on Australia’s Christmas Island, near Indonesia (see map). More recently, Ms Gillard, facing public concern about the increasing number of refugees arriving on the shores of Australia, reopened the Manus Island and Nauru camps. However, even this move did not apparently assuage the Australian voters, opening the door to Mr Rudd’s reentry to the prime ministry, and, apparently, his new hardline views about resettling refugees in PNG in enlarged camps.Christmas Island and Australia

This new refugee policy is not sitting well with the UN, according to an article earlier today in the New York Times, which you can read here.

According to an article in the July 27, 2012 issue of The Economist, more than 16,000 asylum-seekers have arrived by boat in Australia this year, almost as many as in all of 2012.

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Posted by on July 26, 2013 in Australia and Oceania


What’s Happening at Mt Whaleback in Western Australia?

Mt Whaleback in Western Australia, located about 600 miles northeast of Perth, is no secret since it’s the site of the world’s largest iron mine, so how come it’s blacked out on Google Earth? It’s also no secret that Google Earth often blacks out military bases and other strategic sites around the world where satellite views may provide terrorists or hostile governments with useful information. Not that we know very much about how Google makes decisions on what to black out, yet assume it’s after governments contact them and make their case.  But, really now, an iron mine? Could it be that the mine’s owner, BHP Billilton wants to conceal something? Like just how large the mine is? Hardly, since those details are readily found on the Internet, such at this site

Google Map view of Mt Whaleback

UPDATE: the Mt Whaleback iron ore mine revealed! This screenshot came from Google Maps, satellite view, where the mine was not blacked out. Until yesterday, that is. Hmmm.

a Google Earth view of Mt Whaleback in western Australia

What’s going on at Mt Whaleback that would deserve blacking out in Google Earth?

Perhaps a clue comes from using the historical image slider in Google Earth to back up in time to see the mine’s evolution since 2005. Down below in this image from that year, the iron mine is just a small open pit on the southeastern flank of the 1500 foot high mountain.

Google Earth view of Mt Whaleback in 2005

Back in 2005 the iron ore mine was just a modest-sized pit on the southwestern flanks of Mt Whaleback

Back to the topic of what Google Earth blacks out for a moment,. First of all, “blacked out” (as Mt Whaleback is) is not quite the right term since there are several other ways Google Earth disguises whatever it is they want to hide. An airport, for example, might be whited out so that details of runways and tarmac blend together.Or, an area can be simply blurred to the point of making details visually inaccessible. Then there’s this camouflaging of the photo to obscure who-knows-what in southwestern Netherlands

google earth view of Netherlands

Evidently there are all sorts of ways Google Earth has of disguising strategic places that local governments ask to be hidden. Not sure what’s being hidden by the camouflage pattern in this harbor in southwestern Netherlands.

Finally, no surprise there’s all sorts of websites that discuss hidden Google Earth areas, as well as a plethora of conspiracy theories as to why a given area might be hidden, so make sure you check the comments section of these websites. Here’s a place to start.