Fertile Ground for Journalism Awards

Flinders In Touch | 1 March 2020

Dr Martin Breed assessing soil composition at a wilderness site (Randy Larcombe)

by Tania Bawden


Universities Australia has acknowledged a well-written feature article in Australian Geographic describing the innovative Healthy Urban Microbiome Initiative (HUMI) in South Australia.


Science journalist and former Cosmos editor Wilson da Silva, who wrote 'The Good Earth' article, was named the 2020 Higher Education Journalist of the Year at last week’s Higher Education Media Awards presentation at the National Press Club.


Professor Deborah Terry, Chair of Universities Australia, says the article explores the work of the HUMI based at the University of Adelaide and at Flinders University, where Dr Martin Breed is HUMI’s microbiome lead scientist.


HUMI has linked the higher rates off immune-related disorders and diseases in cities, compared to  country areas, to the degraded quality of soil in urban landscapes because of the prevalence of what might be called ‘bad’ bacteria.

“It shows the value of exploratory research in a university setting and how the freedom academics are given to probe questions that fascinate them can deliver real benefits to society.”

It has now begun a program to determine if restoring soils in urban landscapes – by cultivating greater soil microbial diversity to boost ‘good’ bacteria – can also boost human health outcomes, with the results already looking promising.

Wilson da Silva receiving the award (Carolina Camilo)

In his submission, Wilson da Silva said, “it shows the value of exploratory research in a university setting and how the freedom academics are given to probe questions that fascinate them can deliver real benefits to society.”


The judges said the story was an excellent example of the important work undertaken by  universities.


“It was the kind of story that only a writer with a real commitment to understanding the work and purpose of universities could pull off.”


HUMI has the backing of the United Nations and seeks to understand and recreate the immune-boosting power of high quality, biodiverse green spaces in our cities to maximise human health and bring significant savings to health budgets, while delivering gains for biodiversity.


The Keep it Clever University Research in Media Award went to News Ltd’s Roy Eccleston for his feature article ‘It’s a partner in crime … once the flu makes you sick, it takes the opportunity to attack’ in The Advertiser’s SA Weekend.


The objectives of the Higher Education Media Awards are to recognise quality journalism and commentary that informs deeper public understanding of the contribution that universities make to our society and importantly the Australian economy. The Higher Education Media Awards are supported by Universities Australia, the peak body representing Australia’s universities.


The Higher Education Journalist of the Year receives an international study tour to the value of $10,000 and the winner of the Keep it Clever University Research in Media category receives a cash prize of $2000.


Photo by Randy Larcombe

© 2019-20 Wilson da Silva. All rights reserved.