Cristy Burne

Author, editor, science writer

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Dogs of the Rich and Famous: Noodle…and Meg McKinlay

Megsynoodle.jpgToday’s (arthritic and entirely gorgeous) Dog of the Rich and Famous supplies dopamine on demand and belongs to…

…International Author Of Mystery Meg McKinlay.

About Noodle

Age: 10 years

Breed (or best guess): “A spaniel/poodle cross,” says Meg, “which means she’s a spoodle but I can’t bring myself to call her that because it’s a ridiculous word, though thankfully slightly less ridiculous than cockapoo which is apparently what they’re called in the US.”

duck_cover.jpgAssistant to: Meg McKinlay, the author of fifteen books, from picture books and young adult fiction through to poetry for adults. Meg’s novel A Single Stone won the 2015 Prime Minister’s Literary Award and her latest titles include picture books for both older and younger readers: Once Upon A Small Rhinoceros, Drawn Onwardand Duck! 

Raised in a TV-free household, Meg was a bookish kid, in love with words and excited by dictionaries. Meg lives near the ocean in Fremantle, where she is always busy cooking up more books.

You can find Meg online at her webpageFacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Help or hindrance? “Definitely helpful!” says Meg. “Examples include, but are not limited to:

i) Reminds me that I’m not an illustrator every time I try to sketch her

ii) Gets me up and moving early in the morning, which wakes up my brain cells for the day

iii) Demands to immediately be on the other side of any door which is closed to her, which gets me up and moving at regular intervals throughout the day. This sometimes feels like a hindrance as it interrupts me at the desk, but I’m someone who needs to be interrupted at the desk and reminded to move, so it’s actually excellent.

iv) Looks at me with her happy, uncomplicated face, which gives me jolts of pure dopamine – an essential drug for any writer in the weeds of the WIP.”

Fave toy: Her favourite toy is… “tennis balls of all kinds, colours, and states of dilapidation, most of which she finds just outside the tennis courts at the park where we walk and brings home to deposit in places that will cause humans to roll their ankles after stepping on them,” says Meg.

Fave game: “Her favourite game is chasing tennis balls until she drops flat from exhaustion or requires expensive veterinary intervention to reconstruct her ligaments,” says Meg, adding: “I am not even slightly joking.”


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Entries closing soon: 2018 Shaun Tan Award for Young Artists

From an oncoming aeroplane to a more loving planet Earth, the winning artwork from the 2017 Shaun Tan Award for Young Artists was awesome. What will 2018 hold?

Which young artists will be brave enough to enter? Whose artwork will spark our imaginations and capture our hearts?

2018 is the 16th annual Shaun Tan Award for Young Artists. If you’re in Years 1 to 12 and go to school in Western Australia, you’re in with a chance! Entry is free, but you need to get your pencils out quick-smart: entries close 4pm on Monday 21 May.

Interview with last year’s winners…

1. My Earth Dream by Rishitha Venkatesh.jpg

My Earth Dream, by Rishitha Venkatesh

Rishitha Venkatesh, 11, won 2017’s Upper Primary category. She says her pen-and-watercolour artwork, ‘My Earth Dream’, is one of her most outstanding achievements.

“It is mainly about how I want the Earth to be right now, and for the future generations,” she explains.

“I knew that the message behind the artwork was very important, and that I really like animals.

“The message I am trying to communicate through the artwork is that, after what we have done to our planet, it is up to us to save the animals and plants of Earth. We need to rewrite our wrongs,” she says.

Don’t be intimidated….

Intimidation by Cameron Bills.jpg

Intimidation, by Cameron Bills

Cameron Bills, 9, won the 2017 Middle Primary category with his piece, called ‘Intimidation.’

“It’s an Airbus A380 passenger aircraft thundering down the runway ready for takeoff,” Cameron explains. “My picture gives the viewer an experience of seeing the aircraft head-on…

“[It] was more dramatic than I had expected, and became more than just a picture of an aircraft. I was proud of myself when I showed my parents.”

Cameron was inspired to try drawing an aeroplane after flying in one during a holiday. “I really like vehicles, and the only vehicle I had not drawn was an aircraft.”

Artistic process

Rishitha and Cameron both knew what they wanted to create, but it didn’t always come easy.

“I had a rough idea how I wanted it to turn out,” Rishitha says. “In my first attempt, I wasn’t too satisfied… so I tried again.”

Cameron agrees: “I drew the picture once, but used an eraser lots,” he says. “I planned some of it, because I knew that some of the wing would not fit on to the paper.”

The Young Artist awards are designed to inspire creativity and imagination, and Rishitha says they certainly achieve their aim: “Just participating in this amazing event is a privilege. Everyone should have a go!”

The awards are run by the City of Subiaco. This story first appeared in Crinkling News.

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Dogs of the Rich and Famous: Hecta…and Julia Lawrinson

Hecta Annie and Julia.jpg

Dogs of the Rich and Famous is back, this time starring the carrot-loving scoundral Hecta, assistant to Julia Lawrinson, Australian author of literature for young adults.

I actually laughed out loud while reading about Hecta. All I can say is, he’s one lucky dog to have found such a loving (and understanding) home.

About Hecta

Age: 10.5 years

Breed (or best guess): Broken coat Jack Russell Terrier

beforeyouforget_final-cover-1.jpegAssistant to: Julia Lawrinson, who has written more than a dozen books for children and young adults, many of them award-winning. She writes about friendship, family and the occasional Jack Russell. She loves the ocean, reading, and the word serendipity.

Her latest book for younger readers is The Flyaway Girls (Penguin Random House 2015) and her latest young adult novel is Before You Forget (Penguin Random House 2017). You can read about her here.

Annie Lawrinson and Hecta.jpgAnd a special mention to: Annie Lawrinson, Julia’s daughter and incredible portrait artist, also puts up with Hecta and his antics and dietary choices (can they be called choices?).

Help or hindrance? “On balance I’d have to say he’s helped,” says Julia, “seeing as he has featured in my latest novel, Before You Forget, as himself.

“However, his habit of courting near-death experiences, such as escaping onto busy roads and eating whatever he can find (including thumbtacks and discarded chicken bones, requiring panicked vet visits), has shortened my life, I’m sure.”

Fave toy: “Doesn’t have one,” says Julia. “Destroys them all.”

Fave game: “Raiding the bins at the nursing home he visits each weekend,” says Julia. “And chowing down on crusts, eggshells, and whatever other delights he can find in the moments between raid and detection.”



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Robotic drones help protect koalas

If you could design your own robot, what would it be? Would you create something to tidy the house? Drive the car? Or hand you flat whites while you luxuriate on the couch with a great book? (Clearly, I vote for option 3.)

But there is another option: use modern technology for something really worthwhile. Like koala conservation…

drones help find koalas.jpg

Image: Queensland University of Technology

Flying robots with heat-sensing eyes can find koalas, even in thick bush.

The unmanned robots, called drones, look like giant flying spiders, and they’re part of an effort to help save koalas in the wild.

Researchers on the ground control the drones, which fly high above the bushland to find and count koalas much faster than humans can.

“I’m pretty good at spotting koalas,” grins Associate Professor Felipe Gonzalez, who leads the Queensland University of Technology project. “But I’m nowhere near as good as a drone.”

Where a team of experts might take two hours to search for koalas in an area of forest, a drone can cover the same area in just 20 minutes.

“When we have a better idea of where koalas are, and how many we have, we can use that information to plan conservation efforts and make decisions,” says Associate Professor Gonzalez.

Eyes in the sky

QUT koala researcher.jpg

Image: Associate Professor Felipe Gonzalez, QUT

The helicopter-style drones are programmed to fly over forests “in a lawnmowing pattern”, so they don’t miss a single tree.

They can spot a koala from 20 metres away, so they don’t scare the animals either.

Each drone carries a camera that can sense the heat produced by a koala’s warm body. Remotely controlled, the cameras can twist and turn to offer researchers the best view.

Unmanned flying drones have been around for years, but Associate Professor Gonzalez says the ones being developed at QUT are “unique”.

“They use artificial intelligence,” he explains. “They’ve learned to tell the difference between a koala and other animals by the size and shape of the hot spot.”

Artificial intelligence, or AI, is a form of machine learning. It means the computers on-board the drone can train themselves—by trying and failing and learning from their failures—to correctly identify koalas.

Maths meets environment

An aerospace engineer by training, Associate Professor Gonzalez says making flying robots is a natural combination of his skills in maths and engineering and his life-long love of the environment.

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been interested in animals and ecology,” he says.

He wants to use the drones to monitor other animals in the wild.

“We’re hoping to use this technology to track dingoes, on Fraser Island,” he says.

“We can also use it for wild dogs and feral cats.”

Orphaned joey.jpg

Image: Dr Viviana Gonzalez 

Koala conservation

The number of koalas in the wild is decreasing: the Australian Koala Foundation estimates there are only between 43,000 and 100,000 wild koalas left.

Koalas live in woodland and suburban areas in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, and are classified as endangered in Queensland.

The drones are being trialled in South East Queensland, where wild koalas must share their habitat with a growing human population.

This story first appeared in Crinkling News.


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Dogs of the Rich and Famous: Banjo…and Mark Greenwood

3.JPGWelcome back to my new favourite feature: Dogs of the Rich and Famous!!

Today’s canine muse is Banjo, assistant to Australian author Mark Greenwood.

“Banjo came into our lives after four years without a dog,” says Mark. “He arrived after a long flight from Queensland, a tiny ball of smiling fluff. And he never stopped smiling. Banjo is always happy.”


About Banjo

Age: 2 years

Breed (or best guess): Border Collie

Assistant to: Author Mark Greenwood.

Mark’s books include The Legend of Lasseter’s Reef, Moondyne Joe, Simpson and His Donkey, Jandamarra and Boomerang and Bat.

HappinessBox.jpegMark often teams with his wife, illustrator Frané Lessac, to produce books that promote an understanding of multicultural issues, such as Drummer Boy of John John, Magic Boomerang, Outback Adventure, and Our Big Island. Their other books include Ned Kelly & The Green Sash, The Mayflower, The Greatest Liar on Earth and Midnight – the story of a light horse.

Mark’s recent chapter book series delves into some of Australia’s most baffling History Mysteries. In 2018, he will celebrate the publication of a new picture book, The Happiness Box, illustrated by Andrew McLean.

Help or hindrance? “[Banjo’s] instinctive skills as an editor…took me by surprise,” Mark says.

“The first thing he did, after he sniffed his new home, was to waddle into my studio and plonk himself down on my latest manuscript.

“Then, sentence by sentence, he began to eat the sections that needed work. One day he devoured my entire story – Banjo’s way of letting me know it needed a rewrite.”

Fave toy: Justin Beaver (a soft toy) and a bouncy blue diamond.

Fave game: “Banjo never passes up a ride with the wind in his face,” says Mark. “Chasing waves make him happy. And being with Banjo makes me happy too!”

Instagram account!? That’s right. Banjo’s so hip, he’s on Instagram.


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How does carbon dating work?

Next time you discover a mummified corpse, you’ll know who to call…

Ever wonder how carbon dating works? Or how scientists can tell how old something is, just by testing the dirt they found it in?

Well, wonder no more. Below is my article on carbon detective Dr Stewart Fallon, an ANU expert on carbon dating. It first appeared in the magnificent Crinkling News.

Carbon sleuths solve 5,000-year-old crimes

Dr Stewart Fallon is a carbon detective. By measuring how much carbon is in a once-living thing—whether it’s charcoal, shellfish, coral or bone—Dr Fallon can work out when that thing was last alive.

“We can measure back to about 50,000 years,” says Dr Fallon, who works with a team at the Australian National University.

The method is called carbon dating, and Dr Fallon uses it to help solve mysteries, fight crime, and better understand our environment.

Mysterious bones

In 2016, a human jaw bone, leg bone and arm bone were found in a Brisbane park. The police asked Dr Fallon to carbon-date the jaw bone.

Carbon levels in the bone showed it wasn’t a recent murder: the person probably died between 1800 and 1899.

Corals and ivory

Dr Fallon also uses carbon dating on coral reefs. “Corals can live for several hundred years, and have growth rings, just like trees do,” he says. “We’ve dated some deep sea black corals that have been living for 4500 years.”

Horns and tusks can also be dated, helping police work out when the animal died. “We do a lot of work with police on wildlife forensics, trying to help prevent the illegal trade in rhino horn and ivory,” says Dr Fallon.

Ötzi the Iceman

In 1991, after a warm summer melted mountain ice, hikers discovered the mummified remains of a human body, now nicknamed Ötzi the Iceman.

Carbon dating showed Ötzi died more than 5000 years ago. “He was almost perfectly preserved, he’d been covered with ice for a long time,” says Dr Fallon. “They were able to date food in his stomach, and the grass his shoes were made from.”

Carbon dating Crinkling News.jpgWhat are carbon atoms?

Everything is built of tiny packages, called atoms. And every living (or once-living) thing—whether it’s your lunch, your goldfish, or your bones—contains atoms of carbon. Even the air we breathe contains carbon atoms, bound up in carbon dioxide gas. But not all carbon atoms are the same:

12C: More than 98% of carbon atoms contain 12 particles in their central nucleus. We call this carbon-12.

13C: Nearly 1.1% of carbon atoms are slightly heavier than carbon-12. They’re called carbon-13, because their nucleus contains 13 particles.

14C: A teensy-tiny percentage of carbon atoms are heavier still, with 14 particles in their nucleus. These carbon-14 atoms are so heavy, they sometimes fall apart. When this happens, they ‘disappear’, decaying into nitrogen atoms instead.

How does carbon dating work?

The number of 14C atoms compared to 12C atoms is called the 14C to 12C ratio.

  • While you’re alive: The 14C to 12C ratio in your body is the same as in the air. You add some 14C when you eat and breathe, and you lose some 14C when it decays, so the overall level stays the same.
  • Once you’re dead: You can’t add more 14C (because you’re dead, so you can’t eat or breathe). But the 14C in your body can still decay. We know it takes 5730 years for half of your 14C to disappear. This means we can use 14C levels as a kind of clock
  • The deadly difference: Because your 14C has been disappearing, the 14C to 12C ratio in your dead body will be different to the ratio in the air. This difference allows Dr Fallon to work out how long you’ve been dead.

History in the air

The ratio of 14C to 12C in the air is always changing. For example, the nuclear weapons tests that happened from 1955–1963 temporarily doubled 14C levels.

On the other hand, burning fossil fuels releases loads of carbon, but hardly any of it is 14C. Fossil fuels are so old that all of their 14C has decayed, Dr Fallon says.

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Dogs of the Rich and Famous: Pippa…and N L King

Pippa2.jpegWelcome back to my new favourite feature: Dogs of the Rich and Famous!!

Today’s adorably photogenic furry friend is Pippa, assistant to Australian author, N L King

About Pippa

Age: 6 years

Breed (or best guess): British Labrador Retriever

Assistant to: Australian author, N L King. Nadia was born in Dublin, Ireland and is a young adult author and short story writer.

JennasTruth.jpgNadia’s first book, Jenna’s Truth, is a teen novella which tackles cyberbullying, attempted suicide, and what it means to be true to yourself. A second edition of Jenna’s Truth is published by Western Australian independent press, Serenity Press.

Kirkus Review has described the book as “a deeply affecting, valuable story and educational tool.”

Nadia is passionate about using stories to reflect a diversity of realities in order to positively impact teen lives. ​

Nadia loves to read. She is a particularly hopeless horse rider, although she enjoyed that one time she rode an ostrich. She also loves riding camels, and hopes to one day ride an elephant.

You can find Nadia on Facebook, TwitterInstagram or LinkedIn

Help or hindrance? “Pippa helps me write by dragging me away from the desk which I would happily never leave,” says Nadia. “She helps me to maintain a balanced approach to life, mainly because she requires a walk everyday. Also when things aren’t going so well, she’s a great listener and loves to cuddle me until I feel better.”

Fave toy: “Good old-fashioned sticks, which must be thrown in the river for retrieval,” says Nadia. “Pippa is happy to share her sticks with any dogs she meets along the way.”

Fave game: Anything involving food. “Eating toast in the morning, sandwiches at lunch, and helping out at dinner are her favourite pastimes,” says Nada. “She’s happy to snack all day, too. Basically, just feed her ALL the time and she’ll be happy. Consequently, she is on a 24/7 diet to keep her weight down.”