Melbourne is a bustling metropolitan, and not unlike Toronto in terms of its amenities, culture and pace. The shopping was amazing and I took full advantage of that opportunity, putting a dent into what little room I had left on the credit card.

Fortune shone down on me – Opa!!! There was a Greek Festival on the weekend I arrived just 1/2 block down from my hotel on Lonsdale Street. Live entertainment and a colourful array of rides, crowds and tasty food – a feast for the eyes, ears and tastebuds! The area in and around Melbourne’s CBD is heavily populated with Asian, Greek and Middle Eastern restaurants and I found the fare quite reasonably priced. The trams run along a main line which was just a few blocks away as well. One can get virtually anywhere in Melbourne through a well-connected public transportation system that includes buses, trams and trains.

My first day, I went about 10 km on foot exploring much of the CBD. The Victorian State Library is quite impressive (thanks for bringing it to my attention, Richard!). One of the neatest little shops I came across was “Underkammer: scientifics, curiosities and ephemera”. I must have spent 45 minutes in there, poking through its queer menagerie of fossils, dioramas and other oddities including antique – no, ANCIENT – bottles of nameless fluids, goops and ‘magic’ powders. The shop’s murky depths revealed treasure after weird treasure. Very cool experience. The owner/manager reminded me of Gandalf, without the beard. Further up the street, an exclusively ‘romance’ book store that was appropriately named “Rendevous”, was an interesting find as well. Helloooooo bodice rippers!

Joan and Richard G are in Australia; Richard spending part of his year-long sabbatical there. I joined Joan and Richard for a wonderful dinner at a beach-front restaurant in Port Melbourne. The views were spectacular! We enjoyed the caramel-coloured warmth of an Australian sunset while we noshed on fresh salmon (which, by the way, was paired with a beautiful Borassa Shiraz). Mmmmmm….

The following night, my last night in Melbourne, Joan and Richard invited me and a couple of other colleagues over for dinner. I was introduced to Sparkling Shiraz which was SO delicious! This bubbly concoction is made at the vineyards from really old stocks of Shiraz. In my opinion, this is recycling at it’s best! Dinner was great, as was the company. And, after two trips to Australia, travelling from one end of the country to the other, I finally saw a kangaroo. Note: it was medium rare… Mmmmm!


March 2011

Just when I thought that the most interesting thing about Canberra was the beautifully rugged landscape that surrounded it…

B from GRDC offered up the ‘tour guide’ services of her husband, L, to ferry me around Canberra. B was still in Adelaide. And, after my late Friday afternoon meetings at GRDC, I was free!!

L and I headed directly to the National Art Gallery I was most interested in seeing the Ballet Russe exhibition, a collection of early 20th century ballet costumes. By the time we got there at the end of the day, there was only 30-40 minutes to take in the entire display. It was quick but the collection was brilliant! The evolution of the craftsmanship was evident in both in the materials used and how the costumes were constructed. Many were quite cumbersome which made me wonder how the dancers could actually navigate around the stage in such elaborate, heavy ensembles.

The Sidney Nolan collection – a montage of paintings that illustrate the story of Ned Kelly, Australian outlaw, was interesting. At first, I found Nolan’s style uncomfortably child-like and cartoonish — I was surprised that this artist and his works were so famous in Australia. But after I spent some time walking through the story-board style display and read the accompanying story-line, I found myself entranced by Nolan’s whimsical style. Nolan and Ned Kelly – together they grew on me.

Then, L took me into the spectacular display of aboriginal art. These colorful, detailed, and remarkably well preserved pieces are representative of art stylings by ‘families’ (as opposed to ‘tribes’) from all over Australia. Most pieces are painted on large pieces of eucalyptus bark. This artwork is quite impressive, especially on such a grand scale.

Jackson Pollock’s “Blue Poles” is a cornerstone piece in the Gallery’s collection. It was purchased in the early 70s from a collector in New York for well over the million dollar mark. Sadly, I was not able to get a glimpse of the Pollack. We just ran out of time. But we were able to view the Gallery’s gardens which were surprisingly breathtaking. When you first approach, they look rather plain and non-descript…but this first impression is so deceiving! A “yank” by the name of James Turrell came up with a remarkable design. It incorporates illusion water features, unique architectural elements as well as native plant materials. There are no words to describe this remarkable landscaping feat. Check it out here:

L and I then took a long walk along Canberra’s man-made lake, stopping at several of the “Australian of the Year” commemorative pedestals that lined the dock. We took advantage of ‘happy hour’ at the back of the Gallery and enjoyed a couple of Coopers Pale Ale as we listened to the rumble and rhythmic hum of recorded and live jazz music playing in the background. The ebony presence of Rodin’s life size gestural statues stood in silent-sentry contrast to the crowd of colorful, cotton-khaki folk that gathered around; abuzz with gossip, everyone celebrating the end of yet another Canberra work-week. The only downside to this otherwise pleasant day was that we were repeatedly dive-bombed by Australian mosquitoes as we sat in the grass in the Gallery’s rear gardens. The battle was a bit one-sided, though as I am a master at man-to-mosquito combat. And these buggers were small and relatively innocuous compared to their Canadian counterparts. Towanda!!!!

B did fly in from Adelaide later that evening so I was able to enjoy a late dinner, some good Australian wine and coffee in Manuka with both B and L. Prior to retiring, they gave me a night tour of the Parliament buildings. The collective design of the buildings, in context, is quite an engineering feat. And, if I recall, the overall civic design and planning was the brainchild of a Canadian couple, decades ago.

It was a short stay in Canberra. Sadly, there was so much I missed seeing. The National Portrait Gallery for one. A more in depth tour of the Parliament Buildings, a number of museums and the countryside.

Something to look forward to for the next trip??? *grin*

TOAST TO CANBERRA AIRPORT: you get full marks for having free Internet!

VIC AgriBiosciences Centre – – – amazing facility!

March 7, 2011

From the moment I walked in the door today at the Victorian AgriBiosciences Centre, I was treated with a warm and kind hospitality…

As for the presentation, it went off relatively well… Only three people out of an estimated 30 nodded off.  That’s a bit higher than my average 5% rate. I am not bothered.  I will chalk it up to the heat (+30C today) ’cause it certainly couldn’t have been because I was boring!  As is always the case, though, discussions after were more interesting. Excellent questions from an engaged audience.  I really enjoyed myself.  

Dr. Spangenberg and his associates also arranged a tour of the facilities for me while I was there.  I was blown away.  My being ‘blown away’ is a product of two things: The first is that AgriBio is, indeed, an amazing facility. The second one (and the one that hit me square between the eyes) is that things have changed.  Today was the first time I had been in lab facilities for well over 10 years.  The equipment is mind boggling (from a non-science perspective)…DNA sequencers, mass spectrometers, bioinformatics capabilities, etc.  These automizations have taken the science that I once knew and observed to whole new production levels.  Very, very impressive.  AgriBio and its employees will be moving to a new facility across the road by year end.  One can only imagine what that place will be like.  

I am on my way down to Port Melbourne to join colleague R and his wife J for dinner.  It is another busy day tomorrow, my last full day in Australia.  Site visit to University of Melbourne as well as meetings.  Also, a conference call with a plant breeder from CSIRO. 



It’s a small world…full of funny names

March 5 2011

I was waiting for a flat white to be brewed at a kiosk in Canberra airport.

“Is this yours?” I gesture towards a steaming cup of the Gods’ elixer that one of the apron-sporting, ‘how ya going?’ baristas set down on the counter. The tall, fair haired patron, looking a bit rumpled and rough, smiled.

“Nah, no… ‘on the juice today.” He shook a near empty bottle in my direction. “Rough night last night.”

Well, that certainly explains the bloodshot eyes, I thought to myself.

The young man grabs his order of a bacon ‘n egger. “What is it about greasy food and hangovers? They just seem to go together.”

“I think that it’s a universally accepted treatment of choice” I replied.

The two of us then launched into a discussion that started with ‘where ya from?’ and lead into a chat about, of all things – Davidson, Saskatchewan.

“Do you know a place called Davidson, Saskatchewan?” he queried.

“Sure I do!” Amazed that HE did. “It’s halfway between Saskatoon and Regina.”

“Yeah right,” The young Aussie grinned, “the city that rhymes with fun!”

[some things ARE universal]

Apparently this young man – Rick – did some seeding for a farmer near Davidson (whose name now escapes me). He and some buddies travelled across Canada in the late 90s, picking up work here and there and skiing and snowboarding (naturally).

When I asked him what he thought of the flatlands, he said it loved it.

“It’s like the family farm from home in Wogga Wogga.” A place that, according to Rick, is so great, “They had to name it twice!”

The City of Suits? #Canberra #Australia #GRDC #fb

March 4, 2011

If Adelaide is the City of Churches then Canberra has got to be the City of Suits.  If the quick-paced, carry-on-toting men and women at the airport are any indication. But Canberra IS  the Capitol of Australia. So I guess “suits” makes sense.

I happily settled into my hotel room and if you followed my escapades in Adelaide you will appreciate this – – – these accommodations are HEAPS better, my friends! Clean. Non-sketchy. And not a sphincter in sight! Not to mention, I have quick, reliable access to the internet (two thumbs WAY up). Enough with the ‘housekeeping’…

My meeting with Peter R., which was scheduled upon my arrival in Canberra, was phenomenal.  Peter is on his way out, administratively speaking, and is handing over the GRDC MD reigns to John H. ( who I also had the pleasure of meeting at the GRDC offices). Peter is animated, engaging and opinionated.  And I like it. You get entertained and informed all at the same time. I think that I kind of have a crush. Well, maybe that’s pushing it. Anyway, key take away of the day: “burning platform”.  The phrase is now embedded in my brain for life, Peter. 

On my way back to the hotel for the evening I picked up a beautiful bottle of Australian red – Berton Vineyard Reserve, Shiraz (Borassa) 2007.  Wonderful!  I ordered a proscuitto pizza from room service – which was not so wonderful.  The wine definitely made up for the pizza’s misgivings.

That was yesterday. Today, I spent most of the day responding to emails and finalizing and submitting a paper for publication.  This was the first day since I arrived in Australia that I have been able to sit down and attempt to organize information, sources, papers, interview data and my thoughts – as they relate to this trip.  My interview transcriber, K, kicks some serious transcribing @ss.She is over halfway through the 13 interviews that I have sent her and will likely have all of them done by the time I get home to Canada next week.  There will be blanks to fill in and she warned me of that.  K had trouble with the accent and, on more than one occasion, there was background noise (hammering, dishes rattling, crowds, etc) to contend with. When she conveyed the ‘accent’ problem to me, I spent some time observing the Aussies as they responded to my questions.  I thought, yes… I rely quite a bit on lip reading and body language when discerning certain things that the Aussies are saying.  I am at a considerable advantage sitting face to face with these folks.  

Speaking of accents… The Vietnamese taxi driver that ferried me from the airport to the hotel yesterday commented on my English accent.  

“I rike it! He said with a wide, animated grin. “‘Straalins speak from throat. You speak from da nose!”

I thought to myself, “‘Cause that is SOOOO much better!” [#TheNannyNamedFran #FranDrescher] ;o)

I am off to GRDC again today to meet with L to talk metrics.


Highlights: Borassa Shiraz and a non-scummy hotel/room.

Lowlights: Pigeon with a mohawk pecked at my foot.  B@stard. More on this story tomorrow.  






Adelaide, South Australia… the City of Churches.  I had only 36 hours in this place but my schedule was jam-packed!

I settled into what I can only refer to as the Canadian equivalent of “no-tell motel” accommodations.  Shabby.  No chic.  Its patron, a well-past-middle-aged woman, was pinched and terse.  I even tried to throw some Canadian-prairie-girl charm her way, but nothing could penetrate that harsh, sphincter-tight veneer. The one redeeming factor of this motel (and its owner for that matter) was that it is nestled in the boutique area of Hyde Park; close to shops, restaurants and cafes.  I have to believe that this is the only reason that this motel is the accommodation of choice for the plant breeders and agronomists.

Plant breeders and agronomists in Australia are an interesting lot; not unlike many of their aggie Canadian counterparts.  I had the distinction of being only woman amongst this crew as we made our way to the Hyde Park Hotel for dinner and a few pints.  These blokes were at times loud and opinionated, but I found them to have a humourous and healthy cynicism towards life and work.  They were witty, quick to tease and laugh – overall a really charming bunch that made me feel right at home (even as the lone ‘Sheila’ in the group).  We dined on seafood and lamb, exchanging animated quips on topics ranging from plant breeding techniques/strategies to politics to the finer points of cricket (admittedly, I am still a bit lost on this latter bit).  I was introduced to common Australian expressions such as “nick off!” and “its your shout!”.  ‘Its your shout’ resounded regularly… and I kept up with these chaps – beer after beer, glass of wine after glass of wine.  Then I topped all that off with two fingers of Talisker for good measure.  Oy.

The Pulse Breeding Australia meetings were held at the University of Adelaide, Waite Campus.  Needless to say, after a night of over-imbibing, my liver and my brain were both a bit sluggish the morning of the meetings. Despite this, the germplasm enhancement meetings at the Plant Research Centre were very enlightening.  I was the social science ‘thorn’ amongst the scientist/plant breeder ‘roses’; but quite happy to sit quietly and observe.

The Plant Research Centre (photos below) is headquarters to South Australia’s Research and Development Institute (SARDI).  It is a stunning facility, built several years ago for the wee cost of $30M AUS (rumoured, not verified – seems to me like it would have been more than that – can you verify @Atomeclectic?).  The greenhouses are situated on the top floor while the labs, phytotron, and other resources and facilities are below deck; the entire structure appears to be cut into the side of a rolling hill. 

My last night in Adelaide found me exploring new parts of the city, enjoying a wonderful sushi dinner in the good company of F of PBA and B of GRDC.  I had met up with and interviewed B at the Crop Updates meetings in Perth the previous week and we arranged to meet this week for dinner in Adelaide.  It was so good to sit down with these ladies, in less formal surroundings, and chat about family, travel and work.  The evening was finished off with all of us enjoying flat whites and gellato at a nearby coffee shop. What a great way to end my short stay in Adelaide.

Highlights of this leg of the journey: Good fun with plant breeders and agronomists. Seeing a world centre of excellence in ag research and development (University of Adelaide’s Waite Campus and all of its facilities)

Lowlights: Crappy internet connections at shabby, crap motel (thank you Plant Research Centre for letting me tap into your wireless). Missing the festivities of the Adelaide Film Festival and the Adelaide Fringe Festival both, of which, were on while I was there.  The slight hangover wasn’t that great either – but worth it… what the heck, the ‘hangover’ will go under “highlights”!

“Bean-stalker” heads ‘Down Under’

February 14, 2011

Several months ago, I applied for and was awarded Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (ASSA) funding to conduct research on private-public partnerships in pulse research in Australia and Canada.  This research proposal grew out of work we (Phillips, Boland and Ryan) conducted on global public-private pulse research networks (see related blog entry:  We discovered that of all countries in the world, Australia seems to be doing something right.  The network is well-connected and also well linked to global sources.  Canada, on the other hand, is a bit more fragmented.  So, what lessons can Canada learn from Australia?

The ASSA funding and my partnership with co-investigator, Dr. K. Siddique of the University of Western Australia, will enable me to explore this Australian pulse network a bit more.  I leave Thursday for ‘Down Under’ where, for three weeks, I will have the opportunity to interview folks connected to various institutions conducting pulse research and breeding (lentil, chick peas, beans etc).  All in all, it looks to be an interesting ride!  I will spend the first leg of my journey in Perth, at the University of Western Australia where I will meet with folks and attend the Western Australia Agribusiness Crop Update meetings on the 23rd and 24th.  Then I will head to Adelaide where the Pulse Breeding Australia meetings are scheduled for March 1st to the 3rd.  Pulse breeders across Australia will be in attendance. I will head to Canberra on the 3rd for meetings there and, finally, will end my journey in Melbourne (which will include a stop at LaTrobe University).  I will head home to Alberta on the 9th.

I look forward to keeping you posted as to how things transpire.  I hear that the fires are a-burning in Perth and that I may witness some of the effects of recent floodings in the Melbourne area.  I guess we shall see…

Excerpt from our work:

“This system consists of the major export countries of Canada, the USA and Australia along with two Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research Centres (CGIAR), ICARDA and ICRISAT and some individual research centres in France, India and South Africa. Institutionally, this system is composed of 17 P3s (26%), 22 universities (33%) and 27 government research centres (41%). There is a discernable absence of private firms. With one notable exception P3s dominate the three measures of influence. There are three P3s with total degree centrality measures of two or more standard deviations above mean, the Crop Development Centre/Saskatchewan Pulse Growers (CDC/SPG) of Canada and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and the Centre for Legumes in a Mediterranean Area (CLIMA), both of Australia.This indicates that these organizations are engaged in a higher level of network activity than other network institutions. Both the GRDC and CLIMA are the top ranked eigenvector actors according to their measures of two standard deviations above average (see table: 6.2 below), suggesting these are the only two actors with significant power rankings in this network.  In table: 6.3, the CDC/SPG with a measure six standard deviations above mean and the US Government research centre at Pullman, Washington with a measure of two standard deviations above mean both act as gatekeepers, controlling the flow of information, while experiencing a level of independence  due to multiple sources of new information. The CDC/SPG in particular, due to the magnitude of its betweeness measure, may occupy a unique position in this network regarding its ability to structure the flow of new information.”





#GM #Canola #DownUnder; Demands for better #GM #testing / Crop Biotech Update


**Excerpts from Crop Biotech Update, dated July 9, 2010

***GM Canola Yield Triples in Western Australia*

The Australian Oilseeds Federation (AOF) estimates that national GM canola acreage more than tripled as a result of the commercialization of genetically modified (GM) canola in Western Australia. Despite having been grown for only a year in Western Australia, planting of GM canola is over 50 percent of total production. AOF projects that GM plantings will make up around 8 percent of the total canola crop of around 1.61 million hectares.

“This rapid uptake by technologically savvy Australian growers supports how useful the GM varieties can be in a production system to better manage weeds, reduce tillage, lower fuel use and provide alternatives to residual herbicides,” said Peter O’Keeffe, head of Monsanto Australia. He added that figures “clearly indicate that approved GM canola varieties are being embraced by farmers, and that the NSW, Victorian and Western Australian government’s decisions have benefited agriculture by enabling choice-based access to the technology.”

For the original article see…

*Demand Increasing for Suitable GM Testing and Approval Process*

The global and scientific challenge of GMO testing was discussed during the fourth EuroScience Open Forum in Turin last July 6, 2010. According to experts, the challenge includes choosing suitable sampling techniques and finding ways to come up with credible results. The development and adoption of GM crops continue to advance through the years. However, the approval processes for commercializing the GM crops vary from country to country, which affects the global food trade. Thus, it is difficult to come up with a consistent and similar testing and approval process.

Senior Scientist Claudia Paoletti of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said that extensive research is required on the genetic variations that can take place among the samples of particular GM products, which also need complex sampling procedures. “It is not only important to know how many samples are being tested but also how they have been taken,” Paoletti said. “We need to find the balance between good science and time and financial constraints.”

Visit to view the summary of the workshop.