Comment: WikiLeaks and the senate candidate who isn’t here

By Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Julian Assange faces many challenges as a senate hopeful.


AAP/Kerim Okten

One of the most interesting aspects of Julian Assange’s bid for a Victorian Senate seat is who will be his running mate.

If Assange happened to fluke a win – which electoral experts say is a very long shot – and then survived any legal challenge to his eligibility, he would face an intractable problem, assuming he was still ensconced in the Ecuadorian embassy when the new Senate met some time after July 1 next year.

The constitution provides that a senator loses his or her place if they don’t turn up for two consecutive months, unless a vote of the upper house gives them leave. Historically, only one senator has forfeited his place (in 1903, through illness). Leave periods have been granted, but never indefinite leave.

While the WikiLeaks party was unrepresented on the floor, the conservative side of politics would benefit in the senate numbers.

When there is a casual vacancy, the ex-senator’s party nominates a replacement, who is formally appointed by the parliament of the relevant state.

John Shipton, Assange’s father, who is getting together the WikiLeaks party, to be launched in Melbourne on Saturday, says he is negotiating with a potential running mate, keeping in mind this person could become the accidental senator.

Assange’s bid has ramped up to another level with the appointment of the politically-experienced Greg Barns and the party’s formal launch. Barns will run the campaign while Shipton, 68, concentrates on building the party.

Barns, who now works as a barrister, was an adviser to John Fahey, former finance minister in the Howard government. He was campaign director for the Australian Republic Movement’s 1999 referendum campaign. Later he was disendorsed as a state Liberal candidate in Tasmania after he criticised the Howard government’s tough policy on boat people.

He became interested in the Assange issue through his involvement in the progressive-oriented Australian Lawyers Alliance; he was then approached for the campaign. “I think Julian’s values are pretty consistent with mine, [in terms of] the rights of the individual vis-a-vis the state”. He will be fulltime on the campaign from June.

UMR polling in September asked people how likely they would be to vote for Assange for a Senate seat – in Victoria he polled 30 per cent.

New polling is about to be done, which will provide a more realistic test now the Assange candidacy is firm and the election closer.

While Assange’s stellar support in UMR polling (including an earlier survey it did) won’t be reflected in a real life vote, it would seem to put him at least in the mix for the sixth Senate place, given that tiny votes have elected former Victorian senator Steve Fielding (although he was installed by a preference deal with Labor) and current DLP senator John Madigan, also from Victoria.

But ABC election expert Antony Green rates Assange’s chances as minimal. He will be competing with the Greens for the last seat. “If Labor and the Greens have 43 per cent of the vote, there’s no room for Assange to be elected”, Green says.

“His best chance of getting elected would be if Labor gave him preferences ahead of the Greens”.

But, despite the falling out between the ALP and the Greens, why would they? The government has been highly critical of Assange.

In practical terms, says Green, “the only way he could get elected is to get the preferences of a lot of [micro] right-of-centre parties”.

This would appear difficult, although the Wikileaks party’s negotiating power on preferences would be boosted if the new polling found his support still high. Barns said he would be disappointed if Assange couldn’t pull in 6 per cent to 7 per cent of the vote in the election adding, on the question of preferences, “I’d be surprised if people didn’t come and have a talk”.

Barns says Assange draws support from across the political spectrum; yesterday he had offers of help from a former Liberal staffer and a former Nationals staffer. But in terms of primary votes, Assange obviously would need to attract some Green and left Labor voters.

The issues on which the Wikileaks party will campaign will include accountability, greater transparency in decision making and the role of the Senate as a house of review, as well as the increase of security powers since September 11, 2001.

The party, which will also run a Senate team at least in NSW and possibly elsewhere, will make some decisions about tactics at its meeting in Melbourne on Saturday. One is how much to use online versus old media for campaigning. For Assange personally, holed up in the embassy, video and online campaigning is obviously the only way to go. Shipton estimates that the campaign will need $100,000 per candidate to run.

Apart from other points of attack, Assange’s opponents will have an obvious killer argument against him: “Why think of voting for a man who won’t be able to take his seat?”

If ever there was a tilting-at-windmills bid, Assange’s is surely it. But then the Senate does see some strange contests – and a few unexpected results.

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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Dark days spurring Souths skipper Sutton

On the cusp of delivering South Sydney their first major trophy in more than 40 years, Rabbitohs captain John Sutton hasn’t forgotten the dark times when wooden spoons were the norm.


Souths will battle it out with arch-rivals Sydney Roosters for the minor premiership on Friday night – an honour the Rabbitohs have not earned since 1989 – when Sutton was just four.

There was no prize to show for the minor premiership back then, with the JJ Giltinan Shield only awarded to the regular season champion from 1997.

Prior to that the massive shield was handed over to the premiers – an image only the oldest of Souths fans can recall with any fondness.

Through good times and bad, the Rabbitohs have been judged on the run of outs since 1971 – Sutton desperate for the current crop to leave their mark.

“We’re just trying to create our own little history here by just wining games,” Sutton said.

“It’s great to be a part of the club at the moment.”

Great times indeed, with the Rabbitohs set to compete in back to back finals series for the first time since 1986-87.

But things didn’t always look this good for the Rabbitohs, or Sutton.

The club collected the wooden spoon in two of his first three seasons.

He played one finals game in his first eight seasons with the club.

By contrast, halves partner Adam Reynolds has known nothing but success since bursting onto the scene last year, having won 35 of the 50 top grade games he has played.

It took Sutton 105 games – almost six seasons – to win his 35th game.

“To be captain and winning games – when I first started there were a couple of wooden spoons here and there, it wasn’t the best of years,” Sutton recalled.

“But since Madge (coach Michael Maguire) has come along, he’s changed the culture around and it’s just great to be a part of this.

“I’m just looking forward to the next few weeks of footy – it’s going to be exciting.”

Asked if he had to remind some of his newer teammates about just how far the club has come, Sutton said:

“Most of the boys who’ve been around footy a long time sort of know where the club’s been and how it used to be.

“Since Madge has come along it’s pretty much done a full 180.”

Even Reynolds, who wasn’t even born the last time the Rabbitohs were minor premiers, is aware of the journey the club has been on.

“The club wasn’t going too well at a stage there,” Reynolds said.

“The fans stuck loyal, it’s just good to reward them these days.”

And the players too, but Sutton isn’t getting caught up in the hype.

He knows the JJ Giltinan Shield would be nice, but it is the newly renamed Provan-Summons premiership trophy the club really wants.

“It is a big game, we’re not going to deny that,” Sutton said of Friday night’s ANZ Stadium blockbuster.

“But like we’ve been doing all year, we just have to concentrate on what we have to do here at Souths.

“Our preparation has to be spot on this week – the Roosters have had a couple of losses lately, I’m sure they’re going to be coming out fired up.”

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Yothu Yindi and the Yolngu culture: dreaming of a brighter day

By Samuel Curkpatrick

Only a few decades after radio, popular music and electric guitars spread through Arnhem Land in the 1960s, Yothu Yindi rose to take a prominent and celebrated place in Australian culture.


Forming in 1986, the band was soon making a number of international tours and their hit songs Treaty from 1991, blazed its way up the Australian pop charts.

Treaty not only became the first song in an Indigenous Australian language, Gumatj, to gain widespread attention but it also became the unofficial anthem for the reconciliation movement: “Now two rivers run their course, separated for so long. I’m dreaming of a brighter day when the waters will be one.”

Composed in collaboration with Paul Kelly and Midnight Oil, this song protested the lack of action taken by then Prime Minster Bob Hawke’s on his 1988 promise of a treaty with Indigenous Australia.

Two halves

Yet the significance of Yothu Yindi goes much deeper than the band’s phenomenal success as a popular music group. The very name of the band asserts a fundamental tenet of indigenous ancestral law. This principle of yothu-yindi or “child-mother” underpins the entire Yolngu world, the cultural and linguistic group to which the band and its musicians belong.

The Yolngu world is divided into two halves, or two moieties, known as Dhuwa and Yirritja. Everything in nature, society, language and ceremony belongs to either one of these two halves. To anyone born in the Yolngu world, your mother always belongs to the side opposite yourself: if you are Dhuwa, your mother will be Yirritja and vice versa.

This system governs important rights such as land ownership, shapes regional parliamentary gatherings and determines the particular songs and dances that are your duty to sing and maintain.

Yothu-yindi is an expression of unity in diversity, a relationship of difference (child-mother) out of which stems good society. Yothu-yindi is about the reciprocal responsibilities of caring for country and family.

Yothu Yindi’s recently deceased lead singer, who was also the first Aboriginal school principal in Australia, carried the notion of yothu-yindi into his tireless advocacy for a “two-ways” bi-cultural approach.

His 1993 Boyer lectures advocated relative autonomy, where Yolngu people, law and culture exist side by side with the rest of Australia. He was also named Australian of the Year in 1992.

Just as salt water meets fresh to create brackish water, yothu-yindi concerns productivity amid difference. This ancestral law extends into the very music that Yothu Yindi plays. As the singer told Rolling Stone magazine: “I’m using white man’s skills, Yolngu skills and putting them together for a new beginning.”

Narratives from public Yolngu ceremonies and tradition are carried by the new musical forms, contexts and instruments of Yothu Yindi. Like the colourful artwork that comes out of Arnhem Land, popular music continues to be used as a means of telling ancestral stories in the present.

Sunset dreaming

Another ARIA winning Yothu Yindi song, Djäpana: Sunset Dreaming, imagines the red sinking sun that, as the vocalist sings, “takes my mind back to my homeland, far away.” It is a song of worry and homesickness sung at funeral ceremonies. The design being painted onto the chest of a boy in the film clip shows clouds on the horizon forming out to sea. The sunset glows, reflected on the clouds and water.

Like other Yothu Yindi songs, Djäpana: Sunset Dreaming uses lyrics taken directly from the age-old ceremonial repertoires belonging to the Gumatj and Rirratjingu clans. The characteristic sound of the didjeridu (yidaki) and clapsticks (bilma) that can be heard in rock music from Arnhem Land also stem from tradition. These instruments are at the heart of ceremonial dance (bunggul) and complement the band’s rock style, creating rhythmic drive and groove.

Yothu Yindi’s performances across the country and globe are, first and foremost, an assertion of the relevance of Yolngu law today. They are a demonstration of the Yolngu ability to bring their ancestral narratives into contemporary expressions, asserting their legitimacy as they share them in an ever-changing world.

Truly Australian music

Touring through the 1990s and into the 2000s, Yothu Yindi have continued to achieve success as a widely recognised group representative of truly Australian music. Embracing popular sounds and media, they have given Australians a fresh and positive perspective on Indigenous culture. Their music exudes hope for a brighter future.

The band’s high profile gigs, such as the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, are matched by their workshops with Indigenous bands across Arnhem Land. The Yothu Yindi Foundation’s annual Garma Festival at the homeland Gulkula, continues what Yothu Yindi started, bringing people together to discuss ideas of reconciliation and to share traditional culture.

With great energy and colour, Yothu Yindi sing in celebration of the great traditions of their ancestral homelands, allowing their voices to merge with mainstream Australia in hope for our shared future.

The lead singer of Yothu Yindi has not been named or depicted in this article out of respect for Yolngu cultural protocols.

Samuel Curkpatrick does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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Paddington house reveals a ‘time capsule’

The suburb of Paddington in Sydney’s east is probably best known for its Victorian terrace homes.


But when agents were called to sell one, they had no idea they would be taking a step back in time. Julia Calixto has more.

The suburb of Paddington in Sydney’s east is probably best known for its Victorian terrace homes. But when agents were called to sell one, they had no idea they would be taking a step back in time.

“As soon as I walked in the door, I saw what we see today, which is nothing short of amazing.” said Marc Marano of Oxford Residential.

Most of the house in Brown Street had been locked up 39 years and accessed only for the occasional dusting of furniture.

In the corner of the sitting room is an old Astor television. There’s also a Healing Golden Voice Radiogram, a drinks cabinet, an antique Singer sewing machine and a portrait of a young Queen Elizabeth II.

And all the items have been virtually untouched for decades.

On a buffet cabinet sits a silver tray with six tumblers and a decanter. The silver tray around the glasses is tarnished. But underneath the tumblers, it’s shiny and new.

The terrace was bought in 1960 for 2300 pounds. It was then bequeathed to her nephew in 1974.

But he found the three bedroom corner terrace too big and lived in the back two rooms – the kitchen and an adjoining room – which he accessed from Glenmore road.

The agents were called in by relatives of the most recent resident, who has moved to an aged-care home.

Local historian, Janet Morice, has lived in the neighbourhood for years.

She says a lot has changed in Paddington since the 1960s – when people were moving away from the city.

“Out to the new, smart suburbs of Strathfield and Burwood where there were detached houses with gardens and Paddington terraces were regarded as rather dark and dingy.” Janet said.

The house is going to auction in July and expected to fetch 1.8 million dollars.

Although the furniture isn’t being sold with the house, it will stay for inspections so people can see what life was like in mid-century Sydney.

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Stalking: Are we doing enough to protect victims?

[Trigger warning: This article contains content on violent assaults]

Nanette was parking her car one night after work when she was suddenly ambushed by a man.


He had been waiting for her outside her garage in the alleyway. He sliced her face, beat her several times, and strangled her so forcefully she nearly died.

In many ways, Nanette knew this attack would happen sooner or later.

The man was no stranger to her, but a former partner who had been harassing and stalking her since their relationship ended many years ago. Nanette had been fearful for her life ever since.

“One of the threats from years before was: ‘If I can’t have your eyes and your mouth then no one can have them,’” she tells SBS’s Insight.

Prior to that attack, Nanette says he repeatedly phoned and followed her and had broken into her bank accounts. And despite having a restraining order against him, she says the police didn’t take her reports of stalking seriously.

“I was also ignored and basically patronised,” she adds, “I had made tapes of the answering machine and I had all my emails, but they just weren’t interested… It was absolutely awful.”

WATCH: “Audrey”, Nanette and “Sarah” on being stalked.

It was only after she was ambushed and brutally attacked that police took notice of Nanette’s situation. The police later made a training video featuring Nanette’s story to teach officers how to better handle such cases.

“We’ve really got to listen to what victims have got to say,” says Superintendent Peter Lennon from NSW Police. “When they first walk into the police station, or make a phone call to say that they’re in fear of something, they’ve gone a long way to get to that point.”

Stalking is repeated, unwanted contact that causes fear, anxiety or stress. It’s a criminal offence in every state and territory in Australia.

[Related: The five types of stalking]

Psychologist Rosemary Purcell is an associate professor at the University of Melbourne who specialises in assessing and treating stalkers and their victim. She believes the laws are inadequate in protecting stalking victims.

“For those of us who work in this area we can understand the frustration because the police will often say get an intervention order and if he she breaches it, we can have intention to prove there,” she tells Insight.

“But it would be so much better if… we started taking stalking as a serious form of violence.

“You can have your life devastated without a finger ever being laid on you from this crime and we need to start treating stalking as the offence here.”


Are we doing enough to protect victims of stalking? Catch the full discussion tonight at 8.30pm on SBS ONE. The program will also be streamed live here.

Join the discussion by using the #insightsbs hashtag on Twitter or by commenting on Insight’s Facebook page.



“John” began stalking his ex-partner after they separated. He says he was driven by “obsession” and would call her 30 times a day, hoping to rekindle the relationship. He has since gone through counselling and men’s behavioural change courses. In this clip, John is reflecting on his past stalking.

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Giants win baseball World Series

At long last, generations of legendary San Francisco baseball stars have a championship to celebrate, thanks to the young Giants squad that finished off Texas on Monday in the 106th World Series.


From Willie Mays to Barry Bonds and Willie McCovey to Will Clark, those who found glory but no crown in a Giants uniform cheered a 3-1 victory that gave San Francisco a 4-1 triumph in Major League Baseball’s best-of-seven final.

The Giants had not won a World Series title since 1954, four years before they moved the San Francisco, where supporters took to the streets in celebration just as past and present stars reveled in Texas.

“It’s amazing,” said Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum, who won the first and last games. “A lot of guys have been waiting for this day. All these Giant greats, they’re saying thank you to us. That’s awesome.”

Giants manager Bruce Bochy welcomed heroes from bygone days into the locker room during the championship quest, adding a sense of purpose from the past for a young team that proudly wore such labels as “castoffs” and “misfits”.

“I’m living a dream,” Bochy said. “It’s so hard to describe. It has never been done there for all our great teams.

“They were in the clubhouse. They were pulling for these guys. They wanted them to win. That support meant a lot to these guys.”

Putting himself among the legends of the sport was Edgar Renteria, the 35-year-old Colombian shortstop who in 1997 singled in the Series-winning run for the Florida Marlins in the 11th inning of the seventh game.

Renteria’s three-run home run in the seventh inning off Texas ace southpaw Cliff Lee provided all the San Francisco scoring. Only legends Lou Gehrig, Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio had driven in title-winning runs in two Series.

“This year, I think nobody believed what we could do and that’s so amazing. It’s unbelievable,” Renteria said.

An injury-marred season for Renteria ended in celebration, heroics that the South American star says comne from extra concentration with a title at stake.

“Maybe I am more in focus,” Renteria said of his World Series feats. “I know it’s a different game because if you make a mistake, you’re going to pay. That’s why my focus is different, my level is different, and I just want to be the guy to do something. I can’t explain that.”

Bochy explains it by saying he could not envision leaving Renteria out of the lineup.

“I know how bad Edgar wanted it,” Bochy said. “I couldn’t be prouder for him. It’s pretty incredible what he’s done in his career.”

Texas star Lee entered the World Series undefeated in eight playoff starts and left with two defeats.

“We had to beat Lee twice,” Bochy said. “A lot of people probably figured that wasn’t going to happen. But we did it.”

The Giants pitchers, who made the Rangers the first team to be shut out twice in a World Series since 1966, earned Lee’s respect as much as their hitters.

“They flat out beat us and their pitching was a huge part of it,” Lee said. “The way (Matt) Cain pitched, (Madison Bumgarner) and Lincecum, those are three unbelievable outings on the biggest stage.”

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Toyota to pay record fines

‘Toyota will pay the maximum fines allowable under the law,’ Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.


‘16,375 million dollars in one case and 16,050 million in the other in response to the department’s assertion that it failed to comply with the requirements of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act for reporting safety defects to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA),’ LaHood added.

The two penalties come on top of Toyota’s record 16.4 million dollar fine assessed in April to settle claims the automaker hid accelerator pedal defects blamed for dozens of deaths.

Toyota issued a series of mass recalls of around 10 million vehicles worldwide in late 2009 and early 2010 that undermined the company’s once stellar reputation and triggered US congressional investigations.

‘Safety is our top priority and we take our responsibility to protect consumers seriously… I am pleased that Toyota agreed to pay the maximum possible penalty and I expect Toyota to work cooperatively in the future to ensure consumers’ safety.’ said LaHood.

The 16.375-million-dollar fine was tied to an investigation completed Monday over Toyota’s recall of nearly five million vehicles with accelerator pedals that can become entrapped by floor mats, the Department of Transportation said.

‘NHTSA’s investigation led the agency to believe that Toyota had not fulfilled its obligation to report a known safety defect within five days, as is required under the law,’ it added.

The 16.05 million dollar fine stems from an NHTSA probe into whether the automaker properly notified the agency of a safety defect in several Toyota models in 2004 and 2005 that could result in the loss of steering control.

The defect led to a 2004 recall in Japan for Hilux trucks that Toyota initially said did not extend to US models. In 2005, Toyota informed NHTSA that the steering relay rod defect was present in several models sold in the United States and conducted a recall for nearly one million vehicles.

NHTSA said it learned in May of complaints from US consumers and others that Toyota had not disclosed additional information.

‘Automakers are required to report any safety defects to NHTSA swiftly, and we expect them to do so,’ said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.

Both fines levied against Toyota are the maximum in civil penalties for each of the two violations stemming from the pedal entrapment and steering relay rod recalls.

In 2008, Toyota ended the 77-year reign of General Motors as the world’s largest automaker but the road has been a bumpy one for the Japanese giant, facing the impact of the economic crisis, recalls and recently a strong yen.

Sales are falling in the United States, with the automaker slipping from second to third place this year behind reviving giants Ford and market leader GM.

Toyota reported a 7.3 percent sales drop in November and its market share could fall by 17 percent to just over 15 percent in 2010, according to IHS Automotive.

To stem the bleeding, the automaker has added an extra four weeks to new vehicle testing, sped up its decision-making process and appointed regional quality control officers.

Analysts say Toyota has become more aggressive in catching possible defects as part of a campaign to improve its consumer image, but warn that continued frequent recalls damage its branding as a quality carmaker.

Only a week ago, Toyota recalled some 94,000 of its 2011 Sienna minivans in the United States to replace a brake bracket that could get stuck.

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Looking at women beats being gay: Berlusconi

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi attempted to laugh off a potentially damaging sex scandal with a homophobic joke, as Italy’s political crisis deepens and his popularity ratings plunge.


“I’m always working flat out and sometimes I look at beautiful women…. It’s better to be passionate about beautiful women than to be gay,” Berlusconi said in a speech at the opening of a motorcycle show in Milan.

Prosecutors have opened an inquiry into allegations by a girl that she was paid to attend raunchy parties hosted by Berlusconi at his villa last year when she was under 18, Italian newspapers reported in recent days.

Berlusconi is also accused of making a call to a police station in Milan when the girl was arrested for theft in order to have her released.

In his speech, Berlusconi said he acted out of “solidarity” with the girl.

Berlusconi’s lawyers have strongly denied any sexual relationship between the Italian leader and the girl, Karima El Mahroug, who turned 18 on Tuesday.

His comments were “not just homophobic but also a miserable attempt to distract attention away from the latest scandal involving an underage girl,” said Donatella Ferranti, a leader of the main opposition Democratic Party.

Marc Lazar, a French academic specialising in Italian politics, agreed.

The joke was “an implicit wink to Italian machos to hide something far more serious: using his power as head of the government to get a young girl out of jail despite her having been detained for theft,” said Lazar, a professor of politics at Luiss University in Rome.

The bad-taste quip itself also caused widespread offence.

The gay rights group Arcigay said that Berlusconi’s remarks were “gratuitous and vulgar and offensive not just to homosexuals but also to women.”

Former anti-corruption judge Antonio Di Pietro, who heads the Italy of Values opposition party, said Berlusconi “still lives in the Stone Age.”

Even Berlusconi loyalist Mara Carfagna, Italy’s equal opportunities minister, said the Italian leader should “refrain” from such comments.

Pierluigi Bersani, who is the leader of the Democratic Party, said there had been a “moral regression in the country” under Berlusconi.

Bersani has already called for Berlusconi’s resignation but most experts agreed that this was unlikely to happen despite the scandal falling at a time when Berlusconi’s ruling coalition is being riven by infighting.

At Tuesday’s motorcycle show, Berlusconi said he was sure the government “has a majority and will go ahead until the next parliament” in 2013.

On Monday, Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party challenged the Italian prime minister’s arch-rival Gianfranco Fini, the speaker of parliament, to either stop supporting the government and trigger new elections or stop criticising it.

“No one wants early elections,” Lazar said. But he added that the current impasse was “one of the gravest political crises in Italian history.”

Stefano Folli, a columnist for business daily Il Sole 24 Ore, said: “Berlusconi’s personal crisis has not yet become a political crisis.”

“One point is sure. The Berlusconi government is paralysed. Virtually dead, one could say, because of the loss of its leadership credibility,” he added.

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Why mammals stopped getting big

Land mammals kept getting larger for 35 million years after the dinosaurs were wiped off the planet, then hit a plateau of 15 tonnes around 30 million years ago.


The first comprehensive study to compare the maximum size of fossils around the world shows how the extinction triggered a growth spurt in the mammals that were left to take over the continents. It reveals that land mammals around the world responded the same way to the death of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

There has been a long-running debate over how mammals grew from the tiny shrew-like creatures that hid from dinosaurs to the much larger sizes of recently extinct behemoths such as the woolly mammoth. A decade ago, John Alroy, now at the University of California, Santa Barbara, reported that North American mammals had grown steadily larger for 65 million years after the mass extinction that marked the end of the dinosaurs’ reign.

Now Felisa Smith of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, and 19 colleagues have looked at mammalian fossils from Africa, Eurasia and South America to see how maximum body size changed with time. The pattern they found “is replicated across space and time, which is just amazing”, says Smith.

Giant herbivore

The fossils show how mammals – which initially weighed in at only 10 to 100 grams – ballooned and eventually reached a maximum of 17 tonnes some 25 million years later. The largest one, Indricotherium transouralicum – which is also the largest mammal to ever walk the earth – was a hornless rhinoceros-like herbivore that stood about 5.5 metres tall at shoulder level.

“Basically, the dinosaurs disappear and all of a sudden there is nobody else eating the vegetation,” says co-author Jessica Theodor of the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

All of the largest mammals were plant-eaters. “It’s more efficient to be a herbivore when you’re big,” says Theodor.

Mammalian predators never grew to much more than a tonne, about the size of a modern polar bear. Size can be a problem for predators, says Smith, as it makes it easy for potential prey to spot and elude them.

Smith thinks temperature and energy set the upper limits, because massive mammals have a hard time dissipating body heat in warm climates. Even the largest megafauna were not as big as large dinosaurs, and Smith believes dinosaurs could grow much larger because they generated less internal heat.

Others are not convinced. “I don’t think we really know why we have larger animals at given times,” says palaeontologist Donald Prothero of Occidental College in Los Angeles. Alroy says that evolutionary trends are better revealed by changes in lineages than by looking only at the largest species.

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England pile on runs at the Gabba

Alastair Cook continued to taunt Australia’s bowlers by scoring his first double ton as England helped set up a potentially tense finish to the first Ashes Test.


Australia’s bowlers again lacked punch at the Gabba as England added 130 runs without loss in the morning session to reach 1-439.

England hold a lead of more than 200 hundred runs with nine wickets in hand and two sessions to play on day five.

Milestones ticked over at regular intervals for the tourists with number three Jonathan Trott making scoring a century just before lunch.

The 25-year-old Cook becomes only the fourth England batsman to score a double hundred in a Test in Australia.

Misses opportunities

Australia had the perfect opportunity to break the successful partnership.

Michael Clarke, who had grassed a diving chance at point from Trott’s blade, gave the right-hander another life on 75 when he fumbled a waist-high catch at first slip off the bowling of Shane Watson.

“You couldn’t get an easier catch. It was a shocker,” ABC Radio commentator Damien Fleming said.

Australia had dropped three catches on Sunday, offering chances to Strauss on 69, Cook on 103 and Trott on 34.

The Cook-Trott stand of 251 is the best partnership for any wicket by any touring team in a Gabba Test, beating the 224 by New Zealand’s John Reid and Martin Crowe in 1985-86.

Cook’s opening stand of 188 with Strauss (110) is England’s best first-wicket partnership in a Gabba Test.

It’s also the first time since 1924 England’s top three batsmen have scored centuries in a Test innings.

A declaration by England could set up a tense finish, however as the Ashes holders it’s debatable whether skipper Andrew Strauss would want to risk an Australian comeback win on a flat batting track.

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