Monthly Archives: August 2019

TG #51

TG #51 : Wildfires + Tiny Pictures + Magic Hexafoils  + Avian Eggs


Well, it has been a while since our last issue, but we have been busy with projects and learning many new things.

Shortly after Issue #50 in January 2019,  Tasmania experienced a rather terrifying new weather pattern. Normally, our lightning storms originate from the northeastern waters, but this time we were hit with dry lightning storms coming in from the western ocean.

The resulting fires have scorched or burnt many significant forest areas, including the Earth’s tallest known flowering plant, three of the contenders for Earth’s largest flowering plant, and many billions or trillions more plants of several species. Loss of life and built property was thankfully minimal, but we’ve seen the forest landscape change in a way that will resonate through the centuries. We’ve got some photos, for you, of course.

In other news, glad to report that Giant Tree Expeditions has launched and we’ve been running tours into some beautiful areas on ancient forest.  Come join us! It’s at

So, with apologies for the delay, and many thanks to the contributors who have been waiting patiently, here let’s embark on our 51st episode to explore our beautiful island.

We’ll gain some insights into Kiara L’Herpiniere’s amazing work on egg shape diversity. Not only do birds themselves come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but so do their eggs.

The Tasmanian Magic Project will help us to learn how to identify supernatural marks left by previous generations, and give us a way of connecting the superstitions of the British Isles with the colonial architecture.

And, finally, there’s a tiny little set of pictorial masterpieces awaiting you from an old stamp collection picked up at a flea market sale. Each one is a little window into another time and another place.

Before you launch into it, do also take a look at the upcoming Hobart Writer’s Festival  ( happening from 13-15 September here in our fair capitol city. It will be an amazing event built upon a strong sense of place… Enjoy!

All the best,

The Editor

A Forest Burnt – Images of the Southern Forest

Photographs of Tasmania often show the thick emerald greens, the blanketing moss, and the ancient green trees. But fire-singed landscapes are also part of the natural scenery. You could think of Tasmania’s natural vegetation as careening between the unburnt Southern Hemisphere rainforests and the fire-loving Australian bush. And as traumatising as the recent fires were, it helps to remember that blackened landscapes of charred trees have been part of the Tasmanian landscape for millions of years. Fires are also a conscious and careful part of human land management over many thousands of years.

For photographers, the changes have brought in a new, inkier colour palette, and an opportunity to see the forest develop after a major disturbance. If you’re keen on seeing the changes yourself, the best way to do it is to travel up to the Hartz Mountains National Park west of Geeveston. Let’s take a closer look…



Unexpected Colours – A Diversity of Eggs

Why do birds lay eggs that vary in colours and patterns? This question has been asked time and time again with no clear evolutionary explanation. Many hypotheses have been suggested, mainly focussing on the role of these attributes working towards camouflage, personal signatures to recognise each egg from brood parasites, or as a means to strengthen the shell itself. Within Australia, some iconic species such as the Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) make us speculate that dark green eggs must be coloured to protect the embryos from cooking in the harsh desert, but this is just one theory amongst many.

The science around bird eggs (oölogy) has become more popularised in recent years, resulting in a small flock of scientists dedicated to discovering the nature and purpose of this captivating ancient trait. Something widely understood is that traits associated with egg colouring tend to be similar within closely related groups of species, with little variation within the same species. However, variation within a species is observed in some cases, and this is the interest of my own research.

We made use of eggs collected by early naturalists and placed in museum collections to ask the eternal question of what is driving variation. We focused on the iconic Australian Magpie (Cracticus tibicen), a species whose range covers almost seven million square km of Australia, half of which is parasitised by a cuckoo. The range also includes the extremes of environmental parameters, ranging from the Tasmanian forests to the arid outback to the humid tropics. These variables allowed us to ask questions about why the same species of bird would lay such variable eggs. Is it due to the pressure and arms race with the cuckoo? Is it to do with climate? Or perhaps a combination of multiple factors?

In this study, we found considerable variation in background colour, with eggs varying from blue to white to brown to red; an unusual trait within a bird species. We also found extensive variation in patterning, some eggs being fully clear of marks, others were completely covered in patterns. Our results were mixed, and inconclusive about the cuckoo’s influence on the appearance of these eggs. We showed that environmental measures contributed to this variation, however it was not even nearly as simple as we were hoping. We were eager for results to indicate that all subspecies would be similar, or perhaps all environment types would house similar eggs, and it was not the case.

While not fully shedding light on our question, we have partly explained the reasoning for such amazing variation in our renowned Australian magpies. Climatic factors explain a small variation; the principal driver behind such unusual variability, however, remains unaccounted for. These birds are common around the land, and yet no one knows about this mysterious laying habit; hopefully this will allow people to see our swooping friends in a new light- they are protecting their precious and enigmatic eggs.

Tiny Images – A Collection of Stamps

IIt’s strange to think how quickly we are leaving behind tried-and-true communications methods. For many decades, an international system of correspondence – pieces of paper carried around the world – relied on tiny little pictures as proofs of payments. Postage stamps, of course, are one of the quintessential collecting hobbies, and they bring little bits of foreign lands.

Now, I don’t collect stamps, but I do have a stamp collection. In the 1930s, one Betty Avent began her stamp collection prompted by ETA Foods, the Victorian producers of peanut butter and mustard. She kept at it for several years, and then eighty years later I purchased her stamp book at a Hobart flea market.

Inside, tiny little portraits of people, buildings, and landscapes filled the pages. Painfully obsolete descriptions of now-disappeared countries show how mysterious distant lands were to the Victorian authors, but also bring back some of the magic of the exotic postage stamp.

Have a careful look at the small selection of images and some of the text that comes with it- you won’t be disappointed. You will discover Jamaican beauty queens, Bulgarian Soviet cosmonauts, Sri Lanka when it was Ceylon, the pyramids of Egypt, the Queen of Hong Kong, Czech chicory, a one-hundred thousand mark stamp from the hyperinflation of interwar- Germany, knights of Hungary (Magyar), the westernmost point of France (Pointe du Raz), a Finnish woodcutter, and a few other treasures besides. Enjoy!

The Hidden Hexafoils: The Tasmanian Magic Project


You can learn more by contacting Dr Ian Evan via Facebook at


The Project has been established to find and record evidence of the material culture of magic in the State during the nineteenth century.

Magic left no contemporary documentary record but its role in the lives of Tasmanians is evident in the evil-averting (apotropaic) marks on their houses and other structures and in objects concealed in buildings. Concealed objects including shoes and garments have been found in houses and other buildings in many locations throughout Tasmania.

Apotropaic marks have been found at Shene, Pontville, at Woodbury, Antill Ponds, at Redlands, Plenty, in the Courthouse at Richmond, at the former Rose and Crown Inn at Lewisham, at Dysart and Lonsdale at Kempton, and at Narynna, Battery Point, Hobart.

Marks found to date include hexafoils, merels, a consecration cross, concentric circles and burn marks. Numerous caches of concealed shoes and other objects have been found throughout Tasmania. The most notable discovery, that of 39 concealed shoes and a variety of other objects, occurred at Woodbury, north of Oatlands.

The use of magic appears to have been an aspect of cultural practices brought from England by settlers, convicts, the military, and members of the Colonial administration. The fear of attacks by escaped convicts, bushrangers and Indigenous Australians may have played a part in the use of protective magic.

The Project’s survey of Tasmania is expected to produce results that will be applicable Australia-wide and of international significance. Several international scholars with expertise in this field have expressed their support for the Tasmanian Magic Project. These include Professor Ronald Hutton of the University of Bristol and Professor Owen Davies of the University of Hertfordshire. The Project has the endorsement of the Government of Tasmania.

The Tasmanian Magic Project is the first of its kind in the world and will provide a template for similar surveys both in Australia and overseas. The Project is open to participation and/or affiliation with University schools and departments. Places will be available for senior students in history, archaeology, architecture or anthropology.

The Project will be based near Oatlands in the Midlands and will carry out a survey of historic houses and associated outbuildings in areas between Hobart and Launceston. Teams of researchers will visit houses by arrangement with their owners. Houses and outbuildings will be carefully examined and any identified magic marks will be photographed and recorded.