Enjoy a sampling of print media featuring Dr. Nichols' efforts collected on ISSUU.
Canberrans instinctively bustle away to the coast at this time of year. Oodles of you rapturously reading this column are probably lolling on beaches at this very moment.
But have you ever wondered why the coast has such an allure? Why have you gone there, to Dolphins' Playground, to Mollymook, to Pornography Point? Why choose to forsake the metropolitan paradise (though landlocked) of the national capital? What has lured you away, to the seaside?
In his 2014 book Blue Mind, marine biologist and oceans enthusiast Wallace J. Nichols examines "why our brains love the ocean". He wanted to "consider a fundamental question: what happens when our most complex organ - the brain - meets the planet's largest feature - water?"
"There's something about water that draws and fascinates us," Nichols marvels.
"No wonder: it's the most omnipresent substance on Earth and, along with air, the primary ingredient for supporting life as we know it. Water covers more than 70 per cent of Earth's surface. From one million miles away our planet resembles a small blue marble. 'How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean,' author Arthur C. Clarke once astutely commented."
"That simple blue marble metaphor is a powerful reminder that ours is an aqueous planet," Nichols bubbles on.
"We have an innate relationship with water. Our ancient ancestors came out of the water and evolved from swimming to crawling to walking. Human foetuses still have "gill-slit" structures in their early stages of development, and we spend our first nine months of life immersed in the "watery" environment of our mother's womb. When we're born, our bodies are approximately 78 per cent water. The human body as a whole is almost the same density as water...
"We are inspired by water ... you see our deep connection to water described in art, literature, and poetry."
So that's why, dear readers, you have beetled to the beach.
I used to share this sentimental enthusiasm for the tedious coast. What cured me of it were summer spells down the coast as a newspaper reporter with nothing to report on. Our Canberra Timesmasters deployed us down there, reasoning that with so many Canberrans at the coast we should try to appeal to them by writing about what was going on, where they were.
But alas the essence of the coast in summer is that nothing happens there, other than the irritating tide, unable to make up its mind, always coming in and going out. This was, for trained newsgatherers, frustrating work. My inner newshound moped. I daydreamed of happenings that would give us something to report.
Thrilling shark attacks (preferably with people's near-miss escapes) loomed large in my dreams. So did escapes of huge boa constrictors from Mogo Zoo and their swallowings whole of holidaymakers' beloved Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
Driven to desperation I once made a story up. In my sensational blockbuster, Canberra holidaymaker Nigel, from Yarralumla, was abducted by nymphomaniacal mermaids as he took his dawn dip at Broulee. He gave me a bedside interview as, bruised and chafed, he recovered in hospital from the exhausting ordeal of a weekend of being forced to meet the mermaids' loathsome sexual demands. He had been held prisoner in their Underwater Kingdom.
I tapped out the story. My finger hovered, quivering, above the "send" button. But then a pang of professional conscience (for journalists have a sacred obligation to tell something resembling the truth) stopped me in the nick of time.
Mention of shark attacks reminds me of the famous 2002 political science paper Blind Retrospection – Electoral Responses to Drought, Flu and Shark Attacks.
US political scientists Chris Achen and Larry Bartels traced the electoral impact of a dramatic series of shark attacks in New Jersey in 1916. They showed how voters in the affected communities then significantly punished the incumbent president, Woodrow Wilson, at the polls.
These voters somehow blamed the president for what the sharks had done. The paper is famous now as a classic proof (since augmented by American voters' choice of a moron as their president) of just how dumb and irrational voters can be. The authors have reproduced the famous paper in a sobering new book, Democracy For Realists.
These thoughts are timely. For even as you read this (reclining on a beach somewhere beside mermaid-infested waters) there is discussion of our trying again to become a republic. There are dreams of a 2020 referendum.
At the 1999 referendum, the No vote, choreographed by that simpering monarchist toady PM John Howard, duly triumphed.
Malcolm Turnbull (for in those days he had heartfelt convictions) had led the Yes case and of the No triumph he seethed that Howard was "the prime minister who broke a nation's heart".
Yes, those of us whose hearts were left in smithereens by 1999's referendum result will have mixed feelings about this week's calls for another referendum on the subject. What if our hearts are smashed again? Are Australian voters rational enough and patriotic enough, now, at last, to vote Yes?
Or will cunning monarchists be able again to persuade them that everything that's got them disgruntled - drought, flu, shark attacks, loss of libido, hair loss, everything - is the fault of the republican movement?
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