Chief Defence Scientist and Defence Science and Technology Organisation head Dr Alex Zelinsky. Photo: Supplied
The Defence Science and Technology Organisation, facing some of the biggest cuts in its history, is looking for new recruits to Australia’s cyber army – a task that promises to be an uphill battle as Australia struggles to produce enough computer science engineers.
A cool $120 million is to be cut from the organisation responsible for some of the development of the country’s cyber defences. Chief Defence scientist Dr Alex Zelinsky said, however, that savings were already under way through retirement programs and cuts to non-priority programs.
In a new push, Dr Zelinsky’s lecture, on Friday at the University of Canberra, will attempt to brush away the cobwebs of mystery around DSTO and attract some of Australia’s top computer scientists and engineers.
The DSTO is looking for new recuits into Australia’s cyber army.
The DSTO is looking for new recuits into Australia’s cyber army. Photo: Illustration: Karl Hilzinger
Cyber-army low on recruits
But highly skilled computer science graduates are increasingly in demand in the private sector and many industry experts say there are not enough cyber security soldiers popping out of the nation’s universities.
“Having strong cyber security is critical to having a strong economy. It’s not something you want to outsource,” said Simon Kaplan, director of skills and industry transformation at National ICT Australia (NICTA).
Mr Kaplan said graduates were divided between IT support workers and network engineers, the latter of which are taught to build new network defence and critical enterprise systems – the type Australia lacks.
Australia’s chief scientist Ian Chubb warned in February that school leavers’ lagging interest in information technology degrees is fuelling a possible skills shortage.
The NICTA has previously warned that “Australia could miss the chance to build an internationally competitive cyber security industry if it doesn’t … create market opportunities and challenging careers for our best computer scientists and software engineers.”
Cyber wars heating up
DSTO will be partly responsible for supporting the new $24 billion joint strike fighters and the research and development of the nation’s cyber security.
Dr Zelinsky said funding from priority areas such as cyber security would not be cut. But many academics fear Australia’s investment into cyber security is leaving the nation vulnerable to unknown threats.
“The next war that Australia is involved in will start in cyber space and we won’t realise we are under attack until we have real problems,” warned Tom Worthington, a lecturer at the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology and former IT adviser to Defence.
He added that it took years to train people in cyber security.
The new ADFA “cyber range” training centre has begun schooling Australian defence forces in network security but it is understood the new cyber security centre announced under the Gillard government is yet to open.
“We need much larger investment in cyber security or we will be sitting ducks for an attack,” Mr Worthington said.
Already under attack
Late last year a cyber strike brought down the Australian Federal Police website, part of a series of attacks on the organisation. The group believed to be responsible is also suspected of cyber attacks against the Royal Australian Air Force, the Reserve Bank of Australia and the spy agencies ASIO and ASIS.
RMIT lecturer in cyber security Dr Jidong Wang said “no countries invest enough [in cyber security], it’s a very important area”, and that countries who do not invest enough are forced to rely on expertise of the major powers.
Respected “ethical hacker” Jonathan Brossard stated in April that he believed the United States spies on Australia.
Cuts are nothing new to the defence scientists. At least 200 staff have left without replacements over the past two years. The latest budget will see DSTO’s operating budget tumble from an anticipated $456 million by 2016-17 to less than $410 million.
Southern right whales journey to the Great Australian Bight each year to breed. Photo / Getty Images
The countryside is full of the promise of spring as we head out of Adelaide for the short drive to the Fleurieu Peninsula. McLaren Vale’s almond trees are in full bloom, standing out like beacons among the sleeping vines. This is the heart of South Australia’s wine country.
I’m joining the Heysen Trail, one of the world’s great walks, stretching 1200km from the Flinders Ranges in the north to Cape Jervis on the southern point of the peninsula.
The wonderful thing about this trail is its diversity, passing through farmland, over golden beaches, gum and pine forests, up rocky escarpments, waterfalls and major peaks – Mt Lofty, Mt Remarkable and Mt Magnificent. (You can almost hear those early pioneers marvelling at the sheer grandeur of the landscape.) There’s a real sense of history as you camp in tiny stone shepherd’s huts and pass by the remains of old gold mines. The walk also climbs along some of the most spectacular coastal cliffs you’re likely to experience.
I’m mesmerised – but there’s walking to be done. We’re heading for the cliffs at Waitpinga. Spring is whale-watching season, when the female southern right whales journey through the Southern Ocean from Antarctica to the Great Australian Bight, where they will give birth and raise their calves.
Our sense of anticipation builds as we near the coast at Middleton, a tiny beachside town with a cranking surf break at the eastern end of the cliffs, where we hope to spot the whales from the shore.
And there they are. At least five giant females rolling in the bay’s deep, clear waters, their babies by their sides. Lazily arching and turning, their blowholes are like fountains reaching for the sky. It’s a remarkable sight.
A handful of locals are watching, happily sharing their wonderment with us. The whales are a couple of hundred metres offshore, side by side with a group of surfers keeping a wary eye on them. The whales will stay here for several months until their young are old enough to avoid falling victim to hungry seals and other predators, and then they’ll return to the ice.
One of the things I love about travel is the people you meet along the way and, if you’re lucky, on this clifftop section of the trail you may chance upon a petite bundle of energy by the name of Elizabeth Steele-Collins.
Elizabeth’s property, Sea-wings, borders the Waitpinga Cliffs. She’s a gifted photographer, whale watcher, researcher and conservationist. She is also a committed member of the Friends of the Heysen Trail, an organisation of around 800 volunteers who administer and maintain the trail.
Elizabeth is often to be found on the track photographing the glorious birdlife as it swoops and dives in the swirling currents above the cliffs. This area is home to the only pair of white-bellied sea eagles on the South Australian coast – and planes now fly high over here so the eagles are undisturbed. There are brash, brightly coloured parrots, too, and laughing kookaburras, delicate firetails and new holland honeyeaters.
Also special is the vegetation. Mostly native, its biodiversity boasts a number of rare plants. Come in spring and you’ll enjoy the display of the wildflowers.
The trail is named after South Australia’s landscape artist Sir Hans Heysen, which is fitting as it was Sir Hans who introduced the world to the beauty of the gum tree, capturing its glowing trunk and graceful limbs. He also painted prodigiously in the Flinders Ranges.
The trail passes through the picturesque town of Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills, where Sir Hans lived and painted. You can visit his Arts and Crafts bungalow set in a lush country garden.
He welcomed artists and musicians from all over the world. Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova apparently danced in his living room and coveted the still-life painting above the fireplace in the drawing room, but Sir Hans refused to part with it. The house is much the same as it was in his day and his descendants still use it as a weekend retreat.
Also just off the track, at Kuitpo, you’ll find Geoff Hardy’s K1 winery. A fifth-generation member of the famous Australian wine family, Geoff moved to the Adelaide Hills in search of a cooler climate to grow his new Gruner Veltliner and Arneis grapes. He and his delightful family have turned the estate into an award winner, taking out both the Australian winemaker of the year and the Australian wine company of the year awards. (If wine’s your passion, a section of the trail passes through the Barossa Valley.)
The Heysen Trail is graded easy to strenuous. Some basic navigation skills would be handy on the long stretches. To walk it in one hit would take two to three months – most people do it in stages.
The best walking season for the trail is April to November. Outside those times it’s considered dangerous because of the threat of bush fires, snakes and dehydration.
I didn’t see any snakes – too cold at this time of year – but I did see kangaroos and wallabies. Echidnas are common, too.
They say the Heysen Trail is a South Australian treasure. Now I know why.
Where to lay your head
The many options for accommodation on a wonderful nature walk
• South Australia has a wide variety of accommodation options, from hotels and motels to self-contained apartments, holiday homes, bed and breakfasts, camping grounds or even quiet vineyard cottages.
• Hahndorf is a small town in the Adelaide Hills and Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement. During World War I, the South Australian Government changed many German place names and Hahndorf’s was altered to Ambleside. This name remained until the late 1930s, when it reverted to Hahndorf.
• From Adelaide Hills you can reach the wine regions of Barossa and Clare Valley, houseboat or cruise the Murray River, enjoy the coastlines of Fleurieu and York Peninsulas and the wildlife on Kangaroo Island.
• You can choose to walk a half-day or a full-day section of the 1200km Heysen Trail … or to hike it from end to end.
• Walking the entire trail would take between 50 and 60 days.
• The southern section, from Cape Jervis to Spalding in the Mid North, is ideal for beginners and people walking with children, and follows the Mount Lofty Ranges. The northern section, from Spalding to Parachilna Gorge, is more isolated and can be rugged at times. It is more suited to experienced walkers.
• Up to four litres of water a day is needed if you’re walking the track.
Getting there: Air New Zealand flies direct from Auckland to Adelaide four to seven days a week. Pick up a rental car and make your way to one of the many sections along the Heysen Trail.
Driving holidays are one of the best ways to experience the wide-open spaces and unique landscapes of Western Australia. Rental cars and motorhomes are readily available. See suggested itineraries at westernaustralia.com.
Indian Ocean Drive
WA’s new coastal road has opened, and with it new beaches, natural wonders, fun, adventures and new places to visit, stay and live. Experience the wealth of flowers and wildlife you haven’t been able to get near. Or simply hop in the car for a leisurely drive and enjoy the hospitality of towns along the way like Lancelin, Seabird, Guilderton,Ledge Point, Cervantes and Jurien Bay.
In the beautiful southwest of Western Australia, 280km or a three-hour drive south of Perth, the Margaret River region offers a huge selection of world-class wineries, gourmet food and boutique accommodation.
An aerial view of the beautiful Lord Howe Island. Photo / Tourism New South Wales
We passed each other like strangers on a city street, the shark heading back out to sea, me finning through a gap in the coral reef towards the beach.
It wasn’t a big shark, but it wasn’t exactly small either, I reflected, glancing back nervously.
Big enough to add a bit of an edge to snorkelling over the small but beautiful reef at Neds Beach on Lord Howe Island.
But not big enough to frighten me away altogether.
Sharks usually have food on their mind, and this specimen was no doubt drawn to the beach by the fish that gather in thigh-deep water each day to be hand-fed by visitors.
Some of these scavengers aren’t so small either, and there are a few nervous moments as you wade into the ocean to scatter bread to the waiting shoals of fish.
Top of the pecking order clamouring for a feed are kingfish, up to 1m long. They glide around you, occasionally breaking the surface and opening their cavernous mouths to catch lumps of bread.
Smaller fish hang in the shallower water, or between your legs, shyly picking up the scraps.
Close encounters with wildlife are just one of the many charms of Lord Howe, a World Heritage-listed groups of islands in the Pacific, 700km north-east of Sydney.
Scenically spectacular, Lord Howe teems with important animal and plant species – many found nowhere else in the world.
The coral reefs, the world’s most southerly, are an unexpected wonder, considering Lord Howe is part of New South Wales and is just two hours’ flight from Sydney.
Lord Howe and its surrounding islands reputedly have some of the world’s best scuba diving, but even first-time snorkellers can enjoy the stunning coral in its shallow lagoon.
Drop off the side of a glass-bottomed tour boat and you can glide over colourful coral that matches much of what’s easily accessible on Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef.
Bright yellow fish hang in curtains, daintily speckled moray eels poke pugnaciously out of coral caves and stingrays doze on the floor of the lagoon. Easy to spot is one fish that is unique to Lord Howe – the doubleheaded wrasse – so named because of the Elephant Man-like bump on its forehead.
Ashore, Lord Howe bristles with birdlife and you don’t have to be a birdwatcher with binoculars around your neck to appreciate the wonder and drama of the summer breeding season.
Many migratory seabirds return each year to Lord Howe from Asia, or from the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean, to breed on the island’s beaches, trees or mountain cliffs.
Fluffy baby white terns perch precariously on the bare branches of the Norfolk Island pines that line Lord Howe’s lagoon, waiting patiently for their parents to bring home supplies of tiny fish.
Sometimes storms or strong winds blow the young terns to the ground below, where they may be abandoned and starve.
After one recent storm, the Wilson family from Lord Howe’s bicycle hire shop rescued several baby terns, put them on a perch and played mother, feeding the helpless youngsters scraps of fish between renting out bikes.
Whether all the fluffy orphans would survive was doubtful, but at least one mother that had lost her chick was persuaded to take another lost baby under her wing.
Lord Howe’s fledgling sooty terns have their feet more safely on the ground.
They sit among the sand dunes at North Bay, watching the skies for the return of their parents with fish, which is regurgitated and passed from beak to beak.
High on the 777m Mt Lidgbird, one of the two imposing volcanic peaks that dominate Lord Howe, baby red-tailed tropic birds sit safely in caves that dot its cliffs.
Beneath the peak, tropic bird adults ride the winds or swoop back and forth to the ocean far below, their long, streamer-like tails behind them. You don’t have to scale a cliff to see the flesh-footed shearwater, more commonly known as the muttonbird. In fact, watching muttonbirds come home at the end of the day is one of Lord Howe’s must-see evening attractions.
An odd mixture of grace and clumsiness, muttonbirds nest in burrows on the forest floors of Lord Howe.
During the day they swoop majestically over the ocean and dive as far as 70m deep in the ocean in search of squid and other marine life, recent research has revealed.
As darkness falls over Lord Howe, they return to land to feed their young.
But muttonbirds don’t so much land, as crash to earth. All their aerial grace is lost as they thump into the ground and then trip and stumble into the forest to the same burrows they inhabit year after year. The birds freeze in the spotlight of tourists’ torches.
It’s a little comical, although the muttonbirds’ awkwardness on the ground can be costly.
They are sometimes run over by cars on the roads of Lord Howe. Eight were killed after one recent evening function at Neds Beach, islanders were told in a notice that appealed for more care. Some islanders wondered out loud if all the bird deaths were accidental.
One Lord Howe resident nearly driven to extinction since a British ship discovered the island in 1788 is the woodhen, or Lord Howe Island rail.
Unique to Lord Howe, this unspectacular, flightless and curious little bird can be seen poking around in the undergrowth of the island’s kentia palm forests, displaying little fear of humans.
They also have an unhealthy tendency to emerge from hiding to investigate unusual noises. Humans and the dogs, cats and pigs they brought to Lord Howe had a terrible impact on the little woodhen, one of the world’s rarest birds.
Rampaging feral pigs drove the woodhen higher and higher on Lord Howe’s twin peaks until finally in 1975 just 26 birds remained.
Their only refuge was on the cloud-shrouded upper slopes of Mt Gower, veteran island guide Jack Shick says during the nine-hour hike to the top of Lord Howe’s highest peak.
The woodhen were safe there because the top of the 875m mountain was too steep for the wild pigs, Shick explains at a spot – nicknamed the “get-up place” – where walkers must pull themselves up by rope.
The island eventually got rid of the feral pigs and launched a captive breeding programme that has helped woodhen numbers rebound to around 220 today.
Woodhen now inhabit the lower forests on Lord Howe but those that remain on Mt Gower still emerge to greet climbers who scale the peak three or four times a week to enjoy the amazing views – clouds permitting.
Those clouds create a damp, mysterious, moss-covered forest atop Mt Gower that is also one of the world’s last breeding strongholds for the endangered providence petrel.
Shick once guided TV naturalist Sir David Attenborough to the peak to film the rare seabird. For Attenborough and his film crew the arduous climb was worth it, because a wild petrel flopped down from the sky, sat on his hand and then crawled up his neck.
“It’s a fully wild bird – we see it flying away into the distance. Why does it come so close? We have no idea,” a stunned Attenborough told viewers of his TV series The Life of Birds.
Attenborough, who has seen many of the world’s greatest natural wonders, once declared Lord Howe to be “so extraordinary it is almost unbelievable”.
For Antipodeans, Lord Howe is so close and so accessible that to not go there, at least once in your life, would also be “almost unbelievable”.
With warm, clear waters, teeming with marine life, spectacular shipwrecks and the world’s largest coral reef, Queensland is a scuba divers’ paradise. Some top diving spots on the Great Barrier Reef, from north to south: