THIS WEEK'S FEATURE ARTICLES
All articles are copyright, no reproduction in any format without permission.
If you must use our writers work at least contact us first.
Lab rats and guinea pigs
First, the special code was entered and I was escorted inside. Then I was given my mask, had my temperature taken, filled in and signed my declaration and produced my evidence of a flu vaccination. It was my first visit to an aged care home since the pandemic changed our lives and this was now, as they say, the new normal. And, even with all those precautions, social distancing was still to be observed. My group of residents was keen to take part in some social and mental stimulation which, in this case, took the form of poetry readings and discussion. It’s not easy to speak loudly enough, behind a mask and from a distance, to elderly people, many of whom don’t hear as well as they once did. But we managed and, coronavirus obliging, we will do it again.
My efficient GP had not only provided proof of my flu shot, but a list of my vaccination history over the last few years. It makes interesting reading, turning out to be a record of several nasty diseases that could have laid me low – or worse – over my lifetime, and some on the way to elimination as scientists make new vaccines available. My past immunisations include smallpox, considered eradicated now, but vaccination against it was essential when I left Australia in 1968 to work overseas as a young teacher. Travellers are always advised of what vaccinations are recommended or mandatory for different countries, and my list contains several of them. For instance, vaccination against yellow fever is obligatory when travelling to South America; without proof of this, I could be refused re-admittance to Australia. When a new baby was expected in the family, we updated our whooping cough shots. Recently a vaccine against shingles was made available, timely prevention – at least a reduction in severity – of an unpleasant condition.
Thank you Dr Jenner
Of all these preventatives, only smallpox was available to any of our forebears – but they needed to have been Chinese, Indian, or African. Records show that a primitive form of inoculation was practised among those peoples in the 16th century, with some sources considering this may even have existed as early as 200BC. Inoculation back then was by transferring the pus from a smallpox sufferer’s blisters onto the skin – sometimes into the nostril – of a healthy person, and many people apparently gained immunity. In the late 18th century, an English country doctor, Edward Jenner, created the world’s first modern vaccine against smallpox. The now famous pathway to the vaccine – the linking of the local milkmaids’ flawless complexions to their contracting the less disfiguring disease of cowpox, and thus gaining immunity – is legendary. Jenner’s discovery showed that preventing disease was possible. But, as we have been told frequently during this current pandemic, development of a vaccine is a slow business. It was not until nearly a century later that Louis Pasteur would discover the first laboratory-developed vaccine (against chicken cholera), and another thirty years until Ivar Wickman published his findings that polio could be caught from another person. In 1954 Thomas Peebles isolated the measles virus, paving the way for developing a vaccine. The world owes a huge debt of gratitude to American microbiologist, Maurice Hilleman (1919-2005). Hilleman specialised in vaccinology, developing over forty vaccines, including for measles, mumps, hepatitis A and B, chickenpox, meningitis and pneumonia. A hundred years ago, the infant mortality rate in America was around 20%; another 20% of children died before the age of five. Hilleman is rightly credited with saving more lives than any other medical scientist of the 20th century.
Science and scientists
With the benefits of hindsight and education, we might be tempted to look back on some of those early medical scientists with condescension, even horror, sometimes pity; after all, we know all about body-snatching, operations without anaesthesia, unhygienic practises, exploitation bordering on inhumanity, and an ignorance which is now incomprehensible to us. But they could only work with what they had and with what their enquiring minds could glean. Dr Jenner started as a keen naturalist, developing powers of observation and scientific methods of experimentation. His country practice furnished him with an example that his brain, sharpened by these disciplines, could seize on – and he grabbed his ‘Eureka’ moment. Today we wait as the world’s best scientific brains collaborate in searching for a vaccine against Covid-19. We hold our collective breath as they apply their skills to finding something that may even be impossible to find, pinning our hopes on ‘lab rats’ as our dedicated scientists are sometimes called, and the human guinea pigs volunteering their bodies to test out a variety of possibilities. Edward Jenner was often subjected to ridicule and public lampooning for his theories. We know, however, how lucky we are to live in this age and in this first-world country, but also that nature will keep us on our toes and that there is always another challenge awaiting us. Visit www.healthaffairs.org and www.historyofvaccines.org and the CSIRO and BBCNews websites for some fascinating reading.
Mums and Bubs: Betsy’s story continues
We left Betsy finishing her schooling and returning to live with her protector Rev Knopwood in the gentle loving atmosphere of Cottage Green. But Cupid had his bow out in the person of Henry Morrisby. They fell in love and became engaged. Knopwood at first seemed incredibly happy about the matter, although reluctant to part with his beloved companion, but he readily gave his consent to the match. He described Henry Morrisby as, “a young man of excellent character”, and busied himself with elaborate preparations for the marriage. He officiated at the wedding, which took place at the old St. David’s Church on 20th October 1824, and entertained the guests at breakfast at Cottage Green, and then took the happy pair in his boat across the Derwent to spend their honeymoon at the McCauley’s farm. But after it was all over the old man went back sadly to his empty house, overwhelmed by the realization of his loneliness and with gloomy forebodings for the future. “Very unwell” he confided to his diary “at the departure of my only comfort, my dear adopted daughter, E. Mack”.
In October the following year (1825) Cottage Green was to witness another interesting event, the birth of Betsy’s first child. It was a son, who was christened Robert Henry on 14th November. Knopwood gave a grand dinner party to celebrate the occasion, bringing up from his cellar, wine which, “had been in the house from 12 to 14 years”. For the next year or two things apparently went well with the young couple. Robert and his mother often came to Hobart Town to visit the old man, interestingly the boy was vaccinated with “Cow Pox”.
Knopwood was still occupying Cottage Green, but in 1829 that was sold. By April of that year he had packed up all his possessions and moved into his new home. He was most unhappy, and from time to time would walk up to the Bluff and gaze wistfully across the water, dreaming of the days that were no more.
And then, six months later, came the final, shattering blow. On October 19th, 1830, Betsy, who was expecting her second baby, invited him to dine with her next day, the anniversary of her wedding, but he was unwell and had to decline the invitation. The following morning, at nine o’clock, he was horrified to receive the news that she had died shortly after giving birth to a baby daughter. She, whom he loved more than anything in the world, had gone, at the age of 22 and left him to face the future alone! There is no account of the funeral in the diary, but on the 26th he says, “This morn early I visited the grave of my dear and ever-regretted late E. Morrisby.” Betsy’s children did survive and received everything that Knopwood left in his will of 1838.
Betsy’s fate was far from unusual for the time. But for the convict women and their children life was even tougher.
Rebecca Kippen wrote, “There are also strong parallels between the convict nurseries of Van Diemen’s Land and the workhouses of Britain, the conditions of which were amply documented by Dickens. In both, mothers and children were crowded together in unsanitary conditions with inadequate food, clothing and shelter, leading to infant mortality rates of around 35 to 40 per cent. Malnourished babies were more prone to infection, particularly diarrhoeal disease, which spread rapidly in confined conditions where it was impossible to keep the babies clean and there might be one flannel wipe and one feeding spoon between a dozen of them. Apart from the Indigenous population, the convict mothers in Van Diemen’s Land were probably the most disempowered and voiceless group in the colony, having no recourse for complaint. Half a world away from family and friends, they had nothing to negotiate with and were powerless to prevent the deaths of their children. There were people who fought for change, notably the medical officers attached to the nurseries. However, these men also had very little power. The punishment of the mothers, and preoccupation with economy, took precedence over the welfare of the mothers and their children.” (From And the Mortality Frightful: Infant and Child Mortality in the Convict Nurseries of Van Diemen’s Land.)
Correction from last week’s article, ‘Cottage Green’: the two Miss Bowens were daughters of John Bowen, not Collins.
The Kitchen Garden Guide August
July was terribly dry, with mild nights. Today it is forecast to snow almost to sea level, with plenty of rain elsewhere. This winter at the bottom of the world will test the plants and seeds in our gardens as they try to work out if it is time to grow or best to stay dormant a while longer. One thing we can be sure of is that it is time to sow tomatoes, as far off as a summer harvest seems.
I have written about sowing tomatoes many times. The gist of it is:
• They really do need bottom heat for good germination. Use a brewer’s mat or terrarium mat or silicone terrarium tube or lash out on a heated seed raising kit.
• Covering the seed tray with a sheet of glass before germination keeps moisture in and rodents out. This applies to all seed sowing.
• Once germinated, they need lots of sun plus the heat mat. Water sparingly. Use warm water. Water with a weak liquid feed every couple of weeks.
• Pay attention to how they look. Spindly means they need more sun. Yellow means too much water. Not growing means they need more warmth or food.
• When you pot up, add some blood and bone and sulphate of potash to the mix. Only pot up to tiny pots, then slightly bigger and so on, and only when they look too big for the pot they are in.
• In Cygnet, I plant mine out in late November or early December. They should then be strong, dark green and flowering.
• Make sure you prepare the soil now, in your garden, for planting out. Get all your supplies now, including this next suggestion.
• I make 750mm rounds of sturdy, 100mm-square, wire mesh, 900 to 1,200mm high. It comes in 30m lengths. Cut lengths of 2,400mm and you will get 12 rounds. Whites is the only brand I have found here. Chicken wire is too flimsy for this job.
• I now have 2 x 30m rolls. It’s a big outlay, but I put them around clusters of raspberries and any plants needing support. They will last forever and never get tangled or squashed. Helpful to reduce swearing in the garden!
• I plant my tomatoes 750mm apart and put a mesh circle over each one, joined one to the next, for strength. I bang in one stake at the edge of each, for more strength in our windy summers. In the centre, with each tomato plant, I put a twirly, metal stake (from Shiploads). I keep all the tomato growth within the circle. I have used this method forever and it is foolproof. You will find dozens of uses for these circles after the tomatoes finish, I assure you.
Annual, biennial, perennial – in the kitchen garden
Annual means the plant grows to maturity and sets seed in one year. This includes lettuce, basil, tomatoes and pumpkins. These plants readily self-sow if you allow the full life cycle to complete. It is easy to save the seeds (but some will cross).
Biennial means it takes two years for the whole plant life cycle to complete, for example, kale, sprouting broccoli, beetroot and celery. These will also re-sow, given time. Again, it is easy to save the seeds (but some will cross).
Perennial has two meanings:
• Always visible (but may be deciduous), doesn’t die down, and lives for many years. Examples include fruit trees, currants, wasabi, herbs like rosemary and bay. These are generally best propagated by cuttings or grafts.
• Grows, dies back to the ground then comes again next season from the same roots, for example, artichokes, asparagus, rhubarb and tarragon. This should be labelled herbaceous perennial. These are best propagated by division.
It is time to see that the early fungus that causes leaf curl on peaches, nectarines and related fruit trees does not get a hold, by spraying every nook and cranny of every branch, stem and bud with a copper spray. Peter Cundall recommends Burgundy mix, which you can make yourself, because it does not clog up the spray nozzle, like Bordeaux can.
• Dissolve 100g of washing soda (from supermarket) in 5 litres of warm water.
• Dissolve 100g copper sulphate in a separate 5 litres of water.
• Slowly pour the dissolved washing soda into the dissolved copper sulphate.
• This is Burgundy mixture. It is at its most effective strength when freshly mixed so must be used immediately or within a couple of days.
• Spray thoroughly over the bare branches of peach, nectarine and other stone fruit trees to help control leaf curl and brown rot disease. It is also useful when sprayed over raspberry canes in late July/early August for control of raspberry rust and on apple trees that had scab last year.
The mixture colours the sprayed plants blue. The spray can withstand light rain but should be re-applied after persistent rain and done at least twice before any buds open. Do not spray once the leaves and flowers open.
Plant and sow in August
Plant rhubarb, strawberry runners, raspberry canes, asparagus and get all deciduous trees and shrubs in before they leaf.
Start sowing summer vegetables with bottom heat:
• Eggplants... good luck!
And while you are waiting for them to mature, why not grow some sprouts in the kitchen for a nutritious and delicious treat for your taste buds and body – lentils, chickpeas, fenugreek
Sow now in trays to plant out later:
• Onions including red, salad, spring and most others
• Broad beans (it is not too late)
• Asian greens
• Peas to eat as pea shoot microgreens
Scroll to Top