Columns

Soak it up while it lasts

THE DAYS HAVE been short, and the landscape has been at perhaps its most hydrated.

The sky seems drab, but quite literally, soak it up while it lasts!

Before you know it, we’ll be back to dust and searing heat.

For the naturalist in mid-winter, things can seem uninteresting.

Many animals are tucked away in hollows and burrows and the “higher” plants (trees, grasses, flowers, etc) are at a standstill.

However, a whole different slice of biodiversity has been doing its thing this month.

The trick is just knowing how to spot them.

The large “flushes” of mushrooms may have passed, but the fungi are by no means silent.

Turning a clump of soil or leaf litter may reveal fine white hairs — hyphae — the roots of the fungi.

As these are highly sensitive to drying out, winter is their time to break down all of last season’s organic matter and cycle it back into soil.

Springing from the soil after a good drink are the ferns.

Their fronds emerge as coiled bundles known as fiddle heads, for their resemblance to the end of a classical string instrument.

Thriving in low temperatures, there is a clear connection between ferns and trees.

The canopy trees shield out the harsh sunlight of midday, whilst allowing the gentle, angled light of dawn and dusk to nourish the fern.

Often at sunrise and sunset, you will see a small beam of light, with a fern waiting in just the right spot to take full advantage.

The mosses and lichens too revel in the wet, and those fuzzy banks of moss play host to other species with their high moisture content, whilst simultaneously smothering out the weeds.

These will continue to drip out water for many months to come, helping those heavy rain periods nourish the landscape for a longer period.

With water so widespread, life is good for our amphibious friends, the frogs.

Their habitat is at its greatest extent at this time of year.

Small dams and even dips/trenches in the landscape may be full of water now, but not so in summer time.

As the summertime grasses are drowned by water, a host of macro-invertebrates — water bugs — move in to feed on the decaying grass, triggering the beginnings of the freshwater food chain.

Without fish to eat their tadpoles, and nice small, tadpole sized meals swimming about, these little puddles are the perfect place for frogs to complete their life cycle.

Such water logged soils, when combined with high winds prove the down fall of many trees at this time of year.

Some healthy giants, but also many smaller dead trees that lost the race for top spot.

If you’ve had such an event at your house/your local bit of park, look out for weeds that may germinate in these areas come spring.

As if this didn’t make life hard enough for the poor possums, with very few moths about, many possums subsist only on the odd gum leaf in winter.

Our wildlife doesn’t truly hibernate like bears; however, many possums enter a low energy state or “torpor”, sleeping deeply but still waking nightly for a little snack and a stretch.

Winter is when a hollow in a dead tree becomes prized real estate.

As the inside of the tree rots it releases heat, much like a compost heap, just enough to keep a hollow a little warmer than the outside world.

The first few acacia flowers signal an explosion just around the corner.

More subtle signs of spring appear in the form of orchid leaves appearing on the ground surface, and various lilies putting out some foliage ready for the spring time delight.

So, chuck on your favourite trench coat, some good boots and get out in the bush while it is still full of life’s most precious element — water.

Ian Hawkins is a local ecologist, operating his own small business, Magpie Ecology.

When will I receive my 2019 tax assessment?

THERE ARE two significant changes this year that may delay the time when your tax return can be processed and assessed.
If you are anticipating a tax refund, then be prepared for the refund to hit your bank account later than you may be expecting.

The Impact of Single Touch Payroll Reporting (STP)

Commencing  July  1 , 2018 , employers with 20  or  more employees have been required to report their payroll details to the ATO on a real time basis each pay period.
Employers with less than 20 employees may have voluntarily elected to adopt this real time reporting system.
Employers will have until July 31, 2019 to finalise their STP data for the 2018/19 financial year, with that date to change back to July 14 each year subsequently.
So how might this change affect you?
If your employer has been reporting under STP you will no longer receive a Payment Summary (also previously known as a Group Certificate) but instead will be replaced by an Income Statement that you will need to access through your myGov account or your tax agent.
For the current year only, you may not be able to access this information until as late as July 31. Furthermore, consistent with prior
years, other pre-fill data including dividends, interest, share disposals, and private health insurance cover details are progressively uploaded on to the ATO systems and may take time to be finalised.
If you receive income from trust funds this information is often not available until late September.
From July 1, 2019 STP reporting will be extended to include all businesses with employees other than family businesses comprising only family members as employees, who may report on a quarterly basis together with the lodgment of their quarterly BAS.
Furthermore, if proposed measures announced in the 2019/20 Federal Budget become law, from July 1, 2020, STP data collected by the ATO will be expanded and shared with other Commonwealth agencies to ensure individuals receiving Government benefits are paid their
correct entitlements.

The Low and Middle Income Tax Offset (LAMITO)

Taxpayers with taxable incomes below $37,000 have for many years been entitled to a non-refundable Low Income Tax Offset (LITO) of $445 phasing out to zero at a taxable income of $66,666.
In the April 2019 Federal Budget t h e C o a l i t i o n G o v e r n m e n t foreshadowed the introduction of a new additional tax offset (LAMITO) to provide additional temporary nonrefundable tax relief to low income earners and also encompassing a new level of temporary tax relief to middle income earners to be available for the 2019 to 2022 income years.
At the time of writing this column, this foreshadowed legislation is yet to go before Parliament, but current undertakings from the Opposition suggest that the legislation will be supported.
N e v e r t h e l e s s , t h e b u d g e t proposal could be subject to some amendments in order to pass through both Houses of Parliament.
Should the legislation as outlined in the budget pass unchanged then individuals with a taxable income under $37,000 can expect an additional non-refundable LAMITO of $255 making a total LITO and LAMITO of $700.
The amount of the L AMITO increases for taxable incomes above $37,000 to reach a maximum of $1080 at a taxable income of $90,000, thereafter reducing at the rate of 3% of the excess taxable income over $90,000.
If your tax return is processed and assessed prior to the proposed LAMITO legislation passing through both Houses and receiving Royal Assent, your tax return would subsequently need to be amended by the ATO to accommodate the impact of the LAMITO on your 2019 assessment.
This therefore is the second reason you may choose to delay lodging your tax return until after July 31 or later until the LAMITO tax offset becomes law and ATO systems are updated to accommodate any changes from the proposed legislation as outlined in the Budget.
Please remember both of the tax offsets explained above are nonrefundable.
This means that you must have incurred a tax liability and either paid PAYG tax instalments through the year or your employer has withheld PAYG tax from your wage or salary during the year.
If not, then the tax offsets will be an offset against your unpaid tax liability reducing the tax payable on your tax assessment.
If your employer has withheld tax sufficient to cover your tax liability, the tax offsets will reduce (offset) your tax liability thus producing a tax refund.
If you use a tax agent to prepare your tax return, the above factors may explain why your tax agent chooses to delay lodging your tax return this year until all relevant pre-fill tax information is available to download into your tax return and thus avoid the added expense of having to lodge an amended return.

The content of this article is not intended to be used as professional advice and should not be used as such.
B r i a n S p u r r e l l F C PA , C TA ,
Registered Tax Agent, is Director
o f Personalised Taxation & Accounting Services Pty Ltd.
PO
Box 143 Warrandyte 3113.
Mobile: 0412 011 946

bspurrell@ptasaccountants.com.au,
www.ptasaccountants.com.au

The season of insects, moths and fungi

PERHAPS MY favourite cyclic event of the naturalist calendar was the mass emergence of the rain moths.

It was usually an April phenomenon after the late summer storms had swept across the city and began to break the drought of summer.

Mists returned to the river valley and the steadier rainfall of March and April would refresh the earth and kick start the ecological processes that had laid dormant over Summer.

It was then that the rain moths would appear at an outside light that had been left on.

Hundreds of them, in a display of dazzling diversity.

There were heliotrope moths, twin emeralds, Clara’s satin moths, geometrids, white satin moths, granny’s cloak moths and many, many species, big and small that I could not put a name to.

The mass emergence of the rain moths provided a guaranteed food supply, a rich source of protein for the local birds essential for their late winter breeding cycle.

This critical food resource would give them an advantage over the spring/ summer migrating birds coming to the Yarra Valley.

Sometimes there would be the huge wattle goat moths that were as big as small birds.

Moths, whose caterpillars would chew their way through black wattle trees before entering the ground to emerge when the rains softened the earth enough for them to dig their way out.

Sometimes there would be great numbers of Bogong moths that would be blown off course on their trek to the mountains of the Great Divide where they historically were gathered and eaten by the local First Nations Peoples.

However, I haven’t experienced the rain moth emergence now since 2010, the year the Millennium drought broke.

Before that I recorded it in 1997, the year the Millennium Drought begun.

Twice in over 22 years instead of something that was an every-year event.

The drop in rainfall across the Yarra Valley has curtailed these critical ecological events.

It is not just moth numbers that are reduced, it is across the whole spectrum of insects.

The fall in insect presence gets mentioned in Field Naturalist Club newsletters.

People notice their car windows don’t get covered in insects on long summer drives.

Entomologists worry about it.

The fall in average rainfall that we are experiencing is also affecting the prevalence of fungi which — like the rain moths — would generally begin showing on mass around April in the old rainfall patterns.

Fungi are important to all life on many levels.

The majority of plants require a mycorrhizal relationship with fungi by which the fungi facilitate plant growth by breaking down nutrients in the soil and making them available to plants.

They influence the well-being of human populations on a large scale because they are part of the nutrient cycle in ecosystems.

They naturally produce antibiotics to kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria, limiting their competition in the natural environment.

Important antibiotics for human use can also be isolated from fungi.

When we talk of biodiversity, the numbers of species are dominated by insects and fungi.

Of all the known species in the world, vertebrates have 2 per cent of the species, plants 11 per cent, insects and invertebrates 43 per cent and fungi 44 per cent of the total species.

Species diversity is one of the greatest stabilizing influences on our planet.

A diverse ecosystem is a stable ecosystem.

The protection of biodiversity is one of the three core objectives of the Australian National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Future.

Conserving biodiversity is vital for maintaining our quality of life and our standard of living in the long term.

“So important are insects and other land-dwelling arthropods that if all were to disappear, humanity would not last more than a few months.

Most of the amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals would crash to extinction about the same time.

Next would go the bulk of flowering plants and with them the physical structure of most forests and other terrestrial habitats of the world. The land surface would literally rot.”

—Wilson-The Diversity of Life

Let’s Celebrate Simon Wonga Day on May 24

I HAVE WRITTEN before about how Simon Wonga developed a plan for the survival of the Kulin people in the 1840s.
This was for them to learn agricultural and stock mustering skills in order to establish an economic base in the new world they faced.
Wonga organised the last ever Kulin Nation corroboree in 1852 and gave his people the opportunity to play all their traditional games and thereby say goodbye to tribal life.

I have also told the story of how Wonga Park got its name, in tribute to Wonga’s stock mustering skills and charismatic leadership.
He was a great man, and to me Simon Wonga stands alongside Sir John Monash as the two greatest Victorians in our State’s history.
Perhaps you might agree with me when you hear a brief account of how he secured a government grant of land to establish Coranderrk Station at Healesville in 1863.
It was an achievement against all odds that showed his strategic brilliance.

Wonga’s father Billibelleri was Headman of the five Kulin tribes from 1836 until he died in 1846.
Wonga was then 25 and had been groomed for leadership.
Not because he was Billibilleri’s son, but because his innate ability, character and knowledge made him the standout choice.
However, Wonga did not feel he was ready, so in 1846 the leadership passed to Billibelleri’s younger brother Berberry.
When the government approved the establishment of an Aboriginal Reserve at Pound Bend in October 1850, Wonga decided he was ready for leadership.
Berberry willingly stepped aside and Wonga then began activating his plan.
Unfortunately, gold was discovered at Warrandyte in 1851 which compromised the viability of the Reserve at Pound Bend.
A new Reserve was consequently declared at Woori-Yallock, only for gold to be found there as well.
However, the meagre gold at Warrandyte and Woori Yallock was soon vastly overshadowed by the discoveries at Ballarat and Bendigo.
Curiously, the Ballarat and Bendigo gold discoveries turned out to be an advantage to Wonga’s plans.
With workers deserting their employment and flooding to the goldfields, it inadvertently drove up Aboriginal work opportunities and wages.
Wonga was therefore able to get contract work for Aboriginal people on farms up the Plenty and Yarra valleys.
Wonga in fact won the contract to build the first public house in Warrandyte.
It is a pity his name is not commemorated in some way at the present day Warrandyte pub.
With the disbandment of the Native Police in 1853, William Barak joined Wonga at Wonga Park, where they met the Reverend John Green who had arrived in 1858.
The three of them were to develop a most fruitful relationship over the next sixteen years.

In February 1859, Wonga received information that a settler in the Upper Goulburn had abandoned his run.
Wonga knew it was prime land, so he led a deputation of Elders to see the Aboriginal Protector William Thomas.
The deputation also included my great-great-grandfather’s friend, Murrum-Murrum.
Thomas got approval for them to claim the land, so Wonga, Barak and others left Melbourne, to establish Acheron Station in March 1859.
They were later joined by Reverend Green and others from Woori Yallock.

Over the next two years, Wonga and the Kulin people made a great success of the venture, but they were ultimately cheated out of the land by neighbouring squatters Hugh Glass and Peter Snodgrass.
Glass, a land speculator, was the richest man in Victoria and Snodgrass a Parliamentarian, so draw your own conclusions.
The Kulin were forced onto bleak and inhospitable land near Cathedral Mountain, where people started dying like flies.
So in early 1863, Wonga, Barak and Green led the remnants of their group across the Great Dividing Range, via the Black’s Spur Songline, to present day Healesville where they claimed land there.
Wonga had learned his lessons well.

The demise of Pound Bend, Woori-Yallock and Acheron had shown him he would get nothing from the parliamentarians.
So he went over their heads. On May 24, 1863, which was Queen Victoria’s birthday, Wonga led an Aboriginal deputation to Government House.
They presented gifts of woven baskets, artefacts and possum skin rugs to Sir Henry Barkley for ‘The Good Queen Mother’ and the just married Prince of Wales.
Then Wonga presented a petition for the land at Coranderrk.
Immediately afterward Sir Henry summoned the government leader and told him in no uncertain terms that if the grant of land was not made immediately, ‘the Queen would not be happy’.
The result was that a month later the land grant at Coranderrk was duly approved.
Over the next decade Coranderrk became socially and economically the most successful Mission in Australian history, until Wonga died in 1874.

So to me, May 24 is not Empire Day, it is Wonga Day and it should be fittingly celebrated as the start of Reconciliation Week each year.

On being the last one left at the movies

Films take us places we have never been, even if it’s for just a few moments, offering us a window into the wider world, opening our eyes to new wonders.

They entertain us, they offer hope and inspire us, they challenge us and broaden our perspective.

Films take us inside the lives of people different from ourselves and take us to places different from our everyday surroundings.

Why, only recently, I was flying over rooftops in London, transported back to 1935.

I had been dropped into a world of beautiful costumes, fabulous music and dance and some clever lines delivered by handsome actors at just the right moment.

Along with the beautiful sets and a chance to revisit a classic, watching Dick Van Dyke dance up a storm again at aged 91 was sheer brilliance.

Going to the cinema, sitting in a darkened theatre, we are left alone to travel to those places, until often, all too soon, it’s over.

The transition is often abrupt as lights come on and people start to move.

They murmur and stretch and turn on their phones, they scratch around in bags looking for keys and stand up, dusting the popcorn from their laps and loudly share their opinions.

Meanwhile, the music invites us to linger on the edge of where we have been, and the long list of names and acknowledgments continues down the screen.

First, of course, are the names of the stars of the show, appearing in a fancy font, one by one, as does the director’s name and a few other special people.

Then the long list of names with job titles rolls while the music continues and the theatre empties.

But I stay seated, often to the frustration of my other half.

I am not quite ready to go back to my ordinary, I like to stay and I like to read that long list of names.

To find out where it was filmed, and how many units were set up in different locations and which townsfolk need to be thanked.

To see just how many people worked in the art department, on costume design and make-up, and how many stunt performers, camera crew and lighting technicians made the leads look so good and by the way, what even is a ‘grip’?

And then there’s the production babies.

In the credits of Toy Story, Pixar began the custom of listing the names of babies born to anyone involved in the film during production, paying homage to the length of time a crew spends together and the personal relationships established over the period of production.

What we consume in under 120 minutes takes years and a multitude of people to produce, and the credits are the signifier.

Let’s go back to Mary Poppins.

It took over 500 people to bring us that single opportunity of simple escapism.

There were the usual stars and of course a few street urchins, 26 leeries (lamplighters) and one ‘handsome man’, there were 32 in the make-up department, over 130 in the art department and I lost count on the camera and lighting crew.

And though filmmakers often add in a little reward for those that choose to watch the credits, I know that as I read those names I am, in just one small way, acknowledging the work of a large group of talented artists and craftspeople.