Thursday, May 2, 2013

Goodbye, Down Under!

By Coby Moss

G’day everyone!

This is the final blog of the 2013 Australia program and I have to say it is bitter sweet. I am left to write about the final day in Australia, which in my opinion was very surreal. The day started with waking up at the Sapphire Resort (where we were currently staying) and applying for classes for the following semester. I had realized that I needed to get last minute shopping done so I went out to walk and headed to downtown Brisbane. While I was walking down Melbourne I couldn't help but feel that the program wasn’t over. The day felt almost natural as if I was doing my normal routine and that I would be seeing the same people the following day. It was there that I began to conceptualize everything that I did while in Australia. I began to think of all the experiences we had in Sydney, and then all of the tours and sites. Everything felt like it just happened yesterday. It was as if we went to Bondi the previous day and there was yet another adventure ahead of us. It was then that I couldn’t help but think about how awesome the program was, the group who represented Australia 2013, and all of the people we met along the way.

As I walked down Melbourne Street and crossed the Victoria Bridge, I finally reached Queen Street. This is a bustling part of Brisbane that is a center of shopping, bars, and food. The street was packed with people all in their work attire who all had a destination they were trying to reach. As a result, I had to do some weaving through the crowd. I eventually found a store that had all the merchandise I was looking for. It was a typical tourist shop that had everything Australia. Of course I had to buy an “Australia” sports jacket and a couple for the family so I went along with the purchase. It was there that I also bought a flag that I knew I was going to hang up the following semester.

Queen Street
Photo courtesy of
After these purchases I walked back to the resort. I found it a bit humorous that I was walking along the same path that I did to go to school while I was in Brisbane. It brought me back to the month that I stayed with my host family (who were very generous and caring I might add). This triggered my memory of taking the City Cat to school each and every day. I am pretty spoiled for being able to take a boat to school every day. After this thought I began to think about the group. I had an epiphany of how each individual had grown. I was impressed with the fact that many came out of their shell and that each grew in a their own particular manner. I truly believe that the Australia program had a positive effect on everyone. Whether it was some small effect or one that was large, every individual had changed.

I eventually made it to the GED building. When I saw those steps I couldn’t help to think of all the lectures we had and then of all the days we decided to hit up the Archive after school. The Archive is an awesome bar that is just a few blocks from the GED building. The inside, with pages of comic books covering the walls, looks like something that came out of Portland, Oregon. Essentially it was like walking through a portal, and I have to add it definitely helped out with the homesickness.

After ruminating about out lectures I finally made my way back to the resort. Feeling a bit anxious about the next day I started to pack as soon as I returned to my room. Not long after I got back some of the homies walked in to sit and chat. Eventually, it was just Justin Eubanks and I talking about the questionnaire as he was filling his out. We talked about the question “What three ways could this program be improved” and realized that we were having trouble trying to think of some good ones. In a way this made me realize how good the program was. I then realized that I had to fill out my own questionnaire and that there wasn’t much time before our final dinner to finish it. With only 30 minutes to spare I had to get ready for dinner and give my honest opinion on the questionnaire.
Yueping and baby Mira
Photo courtesy of Rachit Malhotra
I must admit I was only slightly late to dinner but it was a great sight to see everyone at the table sitting down together and having a wonderful time. I looked around to see the faces I was going to miss. As I looked around I saw a family. While we all had our own differences, we were a mob who did their best to understand each other. This occasion brought me back to our first real sit down dinner at the Blue Mountains. At this time the family wasn’t tightly knit. It is great to see how a group of people came together over a short period of time. While everyone may have not clicked or become close friends, we still made ties that were substantial enough. And of course, like the one in the Blue Mountains, the meal we were having at the Punjabi Palace was perfect. While it was sad to think about our last dinner together, the joyous vibe I got from the crowd truly made the night.

After finishing our dinners it was time to return to the resort. It was sad to say goodbye to Nat (the individual who led and organized our program) and to her family, Yueping, and of course Julie who were all responsible for helping ensure that we had a wonderful educational experience. Once we said our farewells and walked out of the restaurant, the program truly felt like it was over. Our study abroad program to Australia was a journey that I hope other Lewis & Clark students have the opportunity to enjoy. It was an experience that I will never forget for it really changed my life. To put it all together, a lyric from Macklemore comes to mind, “We laughed… we cried…. And we had a really really good time.” 
The Australia Family, 2013
Photo courtesy of Kyla Covey

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Fraser Island

By Kyla Covey

Day One: Travel Day
We had a long day of traveling from Heron Island. A late ferry, a long bus ride, a rushed dinner, another ferry ride, and finally a short bus ride up to our wilderness lodges. Everyone was for the most part eager to get to bed though some decided to have some new found spurt of energy that I could not understand. In any case, I was tired enough I fell asleep easily for the long day of studying up ahead.

Day Two: Study Day!
We did after all come to this island to study and take an exam, so the entirety of today was enveloped with said studying. After a tasty brekkie at the Dingo Bar the group split ways and settled around different parts of the resort to study for the day. The weather was thankfully dismal and not appealing which helped me stay concentrated; if it had been a beautiful sunny day, consumption of information would have easily been compromised due to the sunshine. Jasper and I decided to work in the loft of the reception building. It’s a beautiful open building with big windows, high ceilings, and places to sit everywhere with a mellow elevator-trance soundtrack playing the whole time. The loft was pleasantly removed from the rest of the building, but not too quiet to help keep other senses besides thinking stimulated.
Midmorning I decided that I could not go on studying before acquiring a cup of coffee, or more accurately an iced latte. I went to the café across the street from the main building. It was a tedious process, as I’ve learned that my drink must be ordered by ingredient and process rather than just the name of my drink.  Regardless, in the ordeal I chatted with an older couple who lives right across in mainland QLD who had just come over to have lunch on the island. Apparently if you own property (like they did) you can take the ferry for free.
I returned with a hot mocha for Jasper and we continued studying with little distraction. Occasionally a gaggle of young boys found their way up to our suspended study room. But, boys being boys quickly found something much cooler to run to and yell about. Coby, India, David, and Rachit were studying near a table down below. Occasionally our rhythm of productivity was distracted during snack time when Jasper’s sour skittles and my mixed nuts were instead used as projectiles to throw at Coby. I did not participate in this endeavor, for the record.
We continued going over every lecture until lunch, which occurred at the Sand Bar at some point between studying and studying. We had burgers of different sorts. Studying continued for everyone until 5:30pm when Jasper and I decided a break was necessary until after dinner where we’d be rejuvenated for another couple of hours.
We caught the next available shuttle up to the Dingo Bar, which didn’t offer its services until 6:15pm. So we figured we’d be a little late for dinner, and showing up at 6:30, no one was eating and we feared we had missed dinner entirely. Jasper asked Yueping who deceptively explained to us that we had missed dinner. We weren’t fooled for too long, dinner was at 6:30pm, phew! The group and I happily ate whatever was put in front of us. Different curry dishes satiated my palate and I was feeling revitalized and ready for studying round three. Most people retreated back to the room to relax for the rest of the night or group study there, but Jasper and I wandered back to reception and worked down in the main lobby area between the two restaurants for the last few hours. Having internet served to be a little distracting as we frequently found ourselves wanting to be productive in other topics. Along with studying, I also managed to continue the complicated process of planning my thesis for next semester and preparing for my senior year. Jasper likewise organized his future, schemed over fantasy baseball, and looked at silly videos. Eventually, we finished studying by 10pm for our efforts were no longer productive and the responses towards study questions were cynical, sarcastic, goofy, or just plainly unrelated; “What are characteristics of echinoderms?” I ask, “What’s it to you?” Jasper retorts.
I slept very well that night falling asleep to a lullaby of zooxanthallae, marsupials, and geologic evolution.

Day Three: Test Day!
This morning I had a nice hearty breakfast (cereal and peanut butter toast). We were then accidentally abandoned by our shuttle service and got to start our test day off with romping down to the conference center. The conference room was nice but the best part was giving us bottled water, it felt like a really official sort of shindig.
We took the marine exam first, having our tutor John’s knowledge and genuine soul still fresh in our minds. Everyone finished that exam with a sigh of relief and positivity, feeling confident with the way the exam went. We had an hour break where I sought out another cup o’ latte. Three espresso shots this time. Most people retreated poolside to soak up some rays while the sun was out between spurts of absolute downpours.
I did some more email work and itinerary planning for the following days after my trip in the hour break we had between the two exams. I know its not really relevant to the Fraser island criteria of my blog post, but at the same time, this blog is from my perspective and the only thing on my mind at Fraser was everything I’d be doing after the program. So, I will tell you my plans in a syncopated and non-exhaustive way; in one of those all-in-one-breath descriptions: Brisbane to Melbourne, there for a few days; then Hobart for a few days, and then Adelaide for a few days. Then I fly to Manila and explore the Philippines with a different group of twenty-somethings for a week and a bit. Then I fly back to Australia, meet my Grandpa in Darwin and over the next two weeks we drive down the west coast to Perth. After that, I fly back up to Singapore, meet my family there where we travel about Singapore and Indonesia. We settle though in Bali where I conclude my epic travels in the southern/eastern hemispheres before returning to the beautiful city of San Francisco in early June.
Anyways, let’s leave my dreamland for the time being, it’s time for exam number two. The next exam went smoothly enough though most of those I talked to agreed that the first exam had a cleaner feeling from start to finish. Regardless, we were done with the semester at that point!! (Minus the fact that I still had to write a blog post, harrumph.)
We had a celebratory Mexican buffet lunch. Though the attempt was thoughtful, and Mexican is after all my feel-good soul food, the buffet was mediocre to acceptable at best. I bought myself a glass of champagne to celebrate; others split some pints of beers, all of which was followed by a warm afternoon of do-nothings.
The sun was thoughtful enough to come out for the rest of the day. I skyped my parents which was another wonderful touch to the pleasantness of the day, and I ultimately ended up in the pool playing catch with a stolen foam ball with Jasper, Justin Gallen, and David. The ball, never fear, was indeed returned to its rightful owner.
This morning’s misfortunate happenstance with the shuttle resulted with our group being offered a free drink down at The Jetty, and free Segway rides. I watched the Segway riders from The Jetty and appreciated the sunset while chatting with my dear friends from the trip with a lingering bittersweet taste to the approaching end to the program. As the sun concluded its glow on this side of the world, we went back up the Dingo Bar for some pasta and pizza. After dinner our group celebrated in our lodge with some poker, music, laughter, wrestling, and love.

Day four: Tour Day and Return to Brizzy
Today was our day of departure, but prior to leaving this lovely island we needed to actually see it first. The inside of our resort’s reception and conference room hardly counts as visiting the beautiful and unique island (the largest sand island in the world!). Our 4x4 tour picked us up after breakfast. The name of the tour, however, should be loosely interpreted for we were merely in a bus with large wheels. The vehicle, despite its size was impressive in the rough terrain of the sandy roads. When we were told that the roads were rough, I don’t think anyone quite understood what roughness really implied. If you’ve been on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, it is sort of like that but far more exciting.

We left the paved roads of the resort and had a wild ride from there on out. Our first stop was at an absolutely beautiful perched lake in the midst of the island. One of twelve in the world, this lake had purifying freshwater. I relaxed on the soft sand with some enormous gold ants while much of the group played in the water. Throwing one another, chasing each other, and treading water made for an entertaining sight form my perspective. After an hour or so, we hustled back onto our radical rides, a little fearful of what roads lay ahead.

Our driver told us the interesting story of the local aboriginal people, the Butchulla’s origin story of the island and the dreaming importance that goes along with it. Despite his inaccuracies about the geologic formation of Australia, its ice ages, and the continent’s arrival to its current latitude, he did at least tell the aboriginal story quite well, (though giving his misinformation on other matters, who knows what the true case of the story is). The dreaming goes that a female spirit arrived to mainland Australia across from Fraser Island long ago and was so infatuated with the perfection of the country’s oasis that she wished to forever stay. However, a greater spirit explained that she cannot live in the human world for she was a spirit and must return to the spirit world. Using her womanly charm however, she convinced this greater spirit that she must stay. He agreed, but told her that she may not stay in spirit form and instead had to exist as something that exists in the human world. He told her to lie down in the water facing towards mainland Australia and he would turn her into an island. The lakes being her eyes, and the rivers to give her a voice (though, the driver pointed out that she must have been a soft spoken spirit for the creeks and rivers lack rocks and are therefore silent), the spirit blissfully now lays forever admiring the warm waters and gives her life to Fraser Island even today.

His story occupied us until our next stop, “Central Station”. A clearing within an oasis of rainforest foliage where a small town used to exist during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century logging days. No buildings exist due to the value of the timber the houses had been made out and everyone dismantled their houses and took them with to resell them as floorboards in mainland Australia. Our driver directed us towards our rainforest walk that we’d be taking along a silent freshwater river. We were warned of leeches and mozzies, but thankfully didn’t come across any. The walk was pleasant and only took about a half hour. On the other side, the buses were there to swoop us up and take us on another wild adventure to our next destination—lunch.

We arrived at another resort that was prepared to serve hundreds of people a tasty buffet style lunch. Our two buses were the first of many to arrive. We all ate eagerly for it seems that such rough roads work up quite the appetite. From there, we headed out to the official highway of Fraser Island, a 70 kilometer stretch of beach that runs all the way from north to south, the smoothest road we had been on too. The packed sand allowed us to cruise at an easy 80km and hour. We drove out until we had a brief advertising campaign sponsored by Tiger, a local pilot offering us a flight to the next stop rather than another bus ride. Eventually an old couple agreed, probably due to guilt of no one else accepting the $70 offer. They left the bus and we continued on our way to the Maheno shipwreck. 

We learned about the inept Captain Fraser, who was not only not a captain, but also had an impressive four shipwrecks on his résumé.  A few crewmates and his wife were stranded on the island on the way back from a rum drop in Sydney when he naively decided to navigate these northern seas at night and crashed into a reef. He tried to convince his crewmates to row 100km or so towards mainland Australia with his wife and himself in tow. Not long into their venture back towards Queensland, mutiny rightfully happened and Fraser and his wife were forced back to the island, promised to be rescued later on. The poor souls were unfortunately not very observant and didn’t realize the creeks and lakes in Fraser Island were freshwater and instead attempted to drink the salt water thus dehydrating and making themselves sick. They were forced to trade items with aboriginal inhabitants on the island to avoid being enslaved or killed. Eventually though, they ran out of bargain items and were taken in as slaves to a local mob. Fraser died there due to age and salt-water sickness where his wife was then essentially enslaved for a few months before a rescue crew sought to find her. Once rescued she quickly learned of her adventures were profitable, and being easily malleable due to no one else being able to verify her stories, they quickly became overly extravagant for a better story.

After visiting the colorfully rusted shipwreck, we retraced our path along the highway back to Eli’s Creek. We had a pleasant half hour to float down the creek multiple times and drink the freshwater straight from the creek. The water was swift and carried me easily above the sandy bottom. Our group eventually reunited for a family photo in the bright sun and warm water of Fraser Island. From there, we had a long bumpy ride back to the resort. Thankful for the seatbelts, certain parts of the road occasionally caused such extreme bouncing that we all sprung from our seats and hopped into the air, in the sitting position, repetitively. Perhaps fun, but only if one does not need to go to the bathroom, that certainly makes a bus ride like that much longer.

We were taken back to the main part of the resort where we had a little less than an hour before needing to board the ferry. We finished our time at Fraser by The Jetty bar again before loading ourselves onto the ferry for a sunset trip across the sandy strait towards Gladstone, Queensland.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Addicted to Heron

By Marc Steiner

The catamaran we took to Heron Island floated easily over soft waters affording us the opportunity to enjoy the ocean on the front deck at high speeds with the full force of the wind. Birds flew alongside the boat and there was occasionally something visible in the water as we waited in anticipation to hit the beach. When we arrived at the jetty the island awaiting looked like a postcard-perfect destination. The beach had white sands and the ocean water was shallow and clear. Schools that must have contained over a thousand fish were swimming below uniformly and would move as a bulk to avoid the slow swimming sharks that followed and cleared paths between the fish. We were greeted by staff of the island’s resort and a person in a rabbit costume handing out chocolate, reminding me that it was Easter. I never thought I would spend Easter on an island amidst Australia’s Great Barrier Reef with the sun shining so brightly. I’m certain it was a different Easter experience to what my family and friends back home were seeing.
Welcome to Heron Island!
Photos courtesy of Julie Peterson
Immediately after setting down our backpacks and gear into our accommodations and after the regular claiming of bunk beds we made our way to the beach. The white sand felt soft and hot underneath our feet and we swam into the shallow waters. The clarity of the ocean allowed us to be able to witness what interesting creatures rested in the sand and made it easier to not step on any of the poisonous coneshells. Fortunately for all of us we would be spending so much time exploring in the ocean and having fun on the beach. It was interesting to be at the beach and in the ocean water without waves crashing upon the shore. The waves were halted by the coral reef that lay beyond where we swam. It was a peaceful atmosphere being able to float in settled waters as the tide slowly moved past us.

We were all able to go out snorkeling nearly every day at various points along the reef. Suited up in wetsuits, fins, and masks we took little power boats to the edge of the reef and swam along the surface of the water to watch and interact with the life that lived and moved beneath us. We were able to dive down and swim up close to look at the fish in close proximity. The ocean was bright with coral and many glimmering and reflective fish. I swam with my hands out in front of me and their color looked foreign to the landscape below. We saw starfish, parrotfish, damselfish, sea turtles and occasionally manta rays, none of which were swimming too far away from us. It was unsettling to be swimming and to see a shark swim so nearby for the first time, but was also exhilarating to watch such large marine life that are feared by so many. If you submerged your ears into the water you could hear many muted pops and cracks coming from every direction that was actually the fish eating off of the surface of the coral. Looking around underwater it was interesting to keep in mind that all the fish, the coral, and the algae covering the coral were living. The sand that everything grew out of was composed of dead broken down coral. Everything in the water was either alive or was at one point living. At one spot there was a sunken ship that rose out of the water. Despite the fact that it was not originally part of the environment, the years it had spent in the water led to life to inhabit the rusted disintegrating body. I wondered how the boat would look after 100 more years if it were already almost completely covered in algae. It was great to watch the lives of animals I won’t see in any other place on the planet.

Although sunsets on the beach seem like an overused cliché for a beautiful setting, we were able to watch what I could only guess were some of the most gorgeous sights in the world. During one sunset we were able to watch a sea turtle hatchling slowly traverse the beach and fearlessly fight to make it to the ocean. We all watched the young little turtle struggle for a long time with seagulls overhead for a chance at surviving past the first day of life. It was interesting to see a lone turtle reach the ocean for the first time and figure out how to swim. It was a sobering reminder of how few turtles actually survive and make it into the ocean and survive the attack of various ocean predators. A couple of days later while snorkeling and conducting research near the jetty, after taking notes on my waterproof slate, I was shocked to see a sea turtle that was easily over six feet long and was bigger than me swim right by me. I might have screamed into my snorkel, but it was muffled by the water around me. The large turtle reminded me of the young turtle a couple days prior and made me think how every cute little turtle can grow into a large startling beast, and hopefully will.
Said sunset
Baby turtle, affectionately called Kevin
Oh yeah, we learned and conducted research on marine life of the Great Barrier Reef during our stay at Heron Island. It was truly great and was a unique school experience and I am fortunate I was able to learn about these fish while swimming in the ocean as opposed to from a textbook while sitting in the library (as much as I love our school’s library). Research felt like vacation and it made me think that research isn’t too bad and that maybe professors lead interesting lives after all.
Striking a pose on the reef flat


When at Dude Ranch, Do as Dudes Do (AKA David is Stubborn)

By David Mayberry

Greetings Dear Reader, and let me spin you a tale. Today’s story is about Biloela, a land of cattle and other stuff, but mostly cattle. Before coming to Biloela, I have to admit that I was not looking forward to it much. I mean, sure, it’d probably be amazing like the rest of this trip, but when you see a location between Carnarvon Gorge and Heron Island where the day’s activities are “Learn about life on a working cattle station,” and “Outback recreation,” you’re not gonna be too thrilled. Oh boy guys, I get to write about a cattle station! Woopee! Yeah, so you might be able to tell that there was nothing in the way of expectations for these two days. Did they live up to it Dear Reader? Well, I’m going to spoil the next blog entry and say that Heron Island lived up to expectations. As for Biloela, you’ll have to read on. Yeah, I’m a jerk like that.

Our story begins probably where the last blog post left off. I say probably because I haven’t read the previous blog posts. You should though, because I’m sure they’re much more informative than mine. Anyway, the heroes of our story were last seen at Carnarvon Gorge, land of the Creeping Kookaburra. We woke up in our tents, as usual and set about tearing the campsite down. This time seemed to go much better than the last time, in part because we didn’t have to worry as much about the community and food tents, but also because we had a much better idea of how to work our Tetris Magic and fit the tents in the teeny bags that they go in. It was all sunny and stuff and some of the guys went shirtless as they are want to do. But then, we were done putting stuff away, and it was time to board the bus for our 479th and ½ several-hour long bus trip. We really have done a bunch of those. It makes me glad I flew up to Brisbane initially for independent week just to break the bus monotony. Onwards we went.
We will miss you, creeping kookaburra.
The bus ride proved to be a rather dull one. That is, until we stopped for a rest/lunch. At first glance, we were out in the boonies next to a gas station. But low and behold, within this gas station they were selling chocolate bars at 2 for $2.50. Now, that might seem pretty terrible at first, but in Australia, for chocolate bars of that size it’s a steal. They were also selling ice cream bars 2 for $6, which while not as good was still a decent value. A few blocks away from the gas station, there was even a lovely park with a playground featuring a hollow rocket ship which was tragically closed, a small zipline, one of those rope jungle gyms that are really awesome, and swings. It was a wonderful time for all involved as we played a bit on that playground. I was sad to see it go, but after more monotonous bussing we arrived in Biloela. It was a small town that we didn’t get much time to look at, because we drove right though it on our way to our actual stop 30km outside of Biloela, Kroombit. With a name like that, you have to remember that it’s pronounced, Krom-Bit, not Kroom-Bit. Or so I hear. But yes, our bus pulled up to what was the dudeiest of dude ranches to ever dude dudeiness and dudes dude. People wore hats and bandanas and it looked like the old west except we were in a bit of a forest and there was a bit less dust, and because we were on the east coast of Australia.
Yup, that screams "Wild West" to me.
As we got off the bus we were directed to our rooms by a friendly lady in hat and bandana to our rooms, located in log cabin-type housing. The beds were comfy and the group split into small gender groups to decide who slept with whom. Standard procedure at this point for our group. Deciding to go for a wander, I looked around our new home for the next few days and observed what was there. The main dining area was an open-walled shack, called “The Shack”. The floor was made of dust. Past The Shack there was a gift shop, then a volleyball court next to a pool. It was an odd transition. Some people went to check out the pool, including myself, and it seemed cold to me. Other people ended up swimming in it later, and it was probably refreshing. There was also an outdoor bar area next to the gift shop, which a number of our group quickly found themselves entering. To get in, you had to push through two saloon-style doors like one would expect, except they were hanging from 2 trees and you could just walk around them and ignore any sense of playing the part and submerging yourself in the atmosphere. I went through the doors once, and then walked around them subsequently. It turns out that the doors were kind of heavy or just rather difficult to get open without some force applied. I’m surprised more saloon doors in Westerns don’t slam back into the guy who just barged through them. Maybe the guys in Westerns rush through the doors fast enough to dodge the back swing. All in all, first glance was a resounding, “Alrightish” on the thrill-O-meter, with a definite yearning to go back to the playground from earlier.
Pictured: The black dog named "Puppy."  Not pictured: The brown dog named "Dog."
Upon entering the bar, one often noticed that the prices set up were listed for both “Ringers” and “City slickers” with Ringers having a discount. To be a Ringer, one needed to wear a cowboy hat and bandana. So began attempts from our group to locate hats and bandanas among our possessions, because that’s how it goes. (Fun fact: a “Ringer” is the Australian equivalent to a cowboy. You don’t call them Cowboys at all.) We, being the group that we are, started up a poker game, because really, what else were we gonna do? Things were different this time around. Some of the players, having discerned my primary goal of obtaining all of the different colors of chip rather than winning the whole game, decided to do use a strategy I like to call, “Being rude”. Basically, instead of playing nice and normally, some players deliberately folded early on before they had to put chips in the pot specifically to ruin my day. I’m not making this up; they actually said that they were doing this to mess with me. And while they mocked my differing poker mindset I plotted my vengeance upon their evil ways. And I knew that poker would never be fun again, not while they were still playing.
Pictured: Some of the faces of pure evil, not including the ringer in the background.  He was cool.
Also in the bar area was a large metal can that acted like a recycling bin for cans. There was a sort of fun challenge to throw your empty soda/beer can into the big can for glory. We’ll come back to that. There was also a gong above the bar that you could try to launch champagne corks at in order to succeed at something. I believe that you got the bottle free if you hit the gong with the cork, but I didn’t see it successfully done. Also, you could throw your wine bottles into a chamber to try and break them. No prize, but very cathartic. Also, there was an inflatable mechanical bull pen in the bar area. We’ll get to that later. After a long afternoon of poker with pricks, dinner began. Soup and such was served first, but many of us were still hanging out in the bar area and were thus a bit late for that. The server was very gruff, and did not improve my mood at all. Then we had the main course, some meat and veggies. As we went down the line of servers with food I obtained meat and potatoes as I like to do. When I got to the end of the line of servers, there were two things left, pumpkin and green beans. The man serving asked me if I wanted pumpkin, to which I said no, as I don’t like pumpkin. He talked about how it was grown here, but I insisted that he not give me any. When I moved over to the green beans station and repeated my not wanting any, the server put some on my plate anyway. I walked back to my seat at one of the long tables in The Shack, cursing that man and the gruff server from before. I know what you’re thinking at this point, Dear Reader. “But David, it’s just green beans! Veggies don’t hurt, right? You eat some vegetables.” Well, yes, I do eat some vegetables. But let me tell you, among those veggies that I have found to be the most repulsive and disgusting things I have consumed, green beans are pretty high up the list. Specifically, canned green beans that have the texture of Styrofoam and squeak like it when you chew them. The repulsive liquid that they spend their canned life in doesn’t help, sucking out any flavor the beans might have had in favor of nothing but sadness. I tried to eat some of the beans. They squeaked like Styrofoam and had the taste of sadness. Their presence in my mouth made me want to vomit. In the end, I couldn’t eat them all, and the ones that I could stomach hurt me on some deep level. But hey, they’re just vegetables, right? They’re harmless. They weren’t.
The faces of those who have not just suffered.
So after a day of travel, arriving at what seemed to be a rather dull place, an afternoon of poker with players who deliberately screwed with me for the funzies, and a gruff server and a guy who forced what tasted like canned green beans upon me, what happened next was only natural. My mind wandered, it found a dark place, and life was a nightmare. I saw visions of home in front of me. I looked around, and my brain knew that there was only happiness back home, not in this horrid land. I looked around and saw strange people that I was forced to stay with and talk to because everyone that I held close was across an ocean, playing and talking and interacting with each other, having a good time without me. My mind took all this in and presented me with a thought, the only one I could think at the time: My friends are getting by, thriving even, without me. Do they even notice me being gone anymore? Surely they’ve filled in the void left by my presence by other things, like my other friends. I mean, didn’t I remember that improv show video I watched a few weeks back? My friends were putting on a hilarious show, one that made me laugh much more than I ever have during a show I was in. Did anyone still need me (Outside of my family of course, although they did get a new dog while I was gone…)? Bad thoughts turned to worse, feelings of inadequacy and loneliness set in, and I started to drown in my despair. All around me was the sound of people talking, enjoying themselves, enjoying life. How were they able to do that? How was it possible? I was stuck, feeling homesick and crushing darkness weighing me down, until something happened.

Newton’s first law states that an object in motion stays in motion until acted upon by another force. My mind was sinking down farther and farther, and it wasn’t likely that I was going to be able to pull myself out of it until I was able to sleep or something. But then an outside force by the name of Julie, our alumni assistant to our faculty trip leader, arrived to ask me what was wrong. Most people, when asked what’s wrong at any given moment, will reply with a firmly stated “Nothing”. Others try to avoid the question in other ways and still others actually describe their problems, often in too much detail. I don’t remember the exact transcript of the conversation, but I’m reasonably certain it had an “Oh, you know…” somewhere in the beginning. I told about my homesickness, I described my rather confusing mental state, I talked about my feelings of isolation, I elaborated on the lack of hugs on this freaking trip. I was either crying a bit beforehand, or I started somewhere in the middle of my talking to Julie, but there were definitely tears. And after all was said and done, there were some inspiring words and a hug or two and a reminder that people in our group don’t hate me, even when they were pricks in poker, but actually thought I was a funny and friendly person. Eventually, the homesickness went away, at least for the moment, and it was time to continue the evening, because this was still only the first night of two at Kroombit, and stuff was about to go down.

Following dinner was a sort of party in the bar area, during which our group and some of the many other people staying at Kroombit interacted and engaged in ringer activities. Before that, the head of the cattle ranch came up and gave a talk to the other group of guests that we would later hear the second night. I didn’t listen too much, but there was definitely a short lesson on what Echidnas were and why they were special. I did try to hear the rest, I swear, but he was talking to other group and not us and outdoor acoustics suck. After he talked, he demonstrated his skill in cracking a whip, which he described as being pretty simple (Fun fact: the crack of a whip has nothing to do with the whip, but is actually the sonic boom created when the whip-tip moves really quickly around). Then, the other group was led away to engage in some whip-cracking while our group had nothing to do. Being us, some of the fellows started to engage in arm wrestling. It was a sight watching liberal arts majors heave their arm muscles for glory, but it’s never been my thing. Therefore, I soon joined the shenanigans, and it turned out that I wasn’t a complete pushover. In fact, when it comes to arm-wrestling, not being a pushover is about the only thing I can do sort of well. Having an arm comprised mostly of bone and skin probably helps with the sturdiness, but I was able to hold my own in preventing either side from gaining an advantage while arm-wrestling. The one problem was winning matches, something that I’ve never really learned, so there was a lot of standoffs that didn’t go anywhere fast. All in all, ‘twas a fun diversion.

Soon enough, other people outside our group joined in and things got to be about the same as they were. Following the whip cracking was some bush dancing, aka line dancing, because it was about the same as the line dancing I learned in middle school. The guy leading the group would demonstrate steps, and the other dancers would attempt to follow. With half of the backpackers being drunk, it was a mixed bag. I joined in for the last of the dances, and it proved to be pretty freaking easy after a couple repetitions. Good times all around. After that was bull riding, which I didn’t pay much attention to as it was only done by people in the other tourist groups. I was too busy occupied with throwing cans in the can. You see, I had been spending the entire evening throwing cans at the can only to miss each time. Anytime one of our group members finished a can of a drink, I’d obtain the can, go behind the marked line, line up a throw, toss the can, and it went in one of two directions: in line with the can, but not quite far enough, or far enough to get in the can, but just a bit to the left of it. It proved to be a task I could latch onto and keep trying over and over. The problem was that I was limited in the number of cans I could throw, since you weren’t allowed to pick up missed cans from around the big can and throw them again. I kept thinking to myself “It’s just a physics problem, there has to be a solution.” That solution did not present itself to me that night, and I eventually retired to the room and slept. The beds were actually quite comfy, much better than the too short and back pain-causing cots that we slept on at Carnarvon.

I was tragically woken up in the morning by the sounds children talking to each other. It was some small British sounding kids hanging out. I’m sure they must have been adorable, but I kind of hated them a little at the time. Attempts to return to sleep were thwarted by the girls next door waking up and beginning to talk, their voices projecting through the thin log wall and invading my ears. By that point, the other guys in my room had woken up, and being the mature and sensible people that they were, decided to protest the loud voices by farting really loudly at them, because farts are funny or something. How I did not descend into madness at that point is something I will never know.
After… that, it was time to begin the day with a nice breakfast, now that the other groups of tourists had left to go tour other places or something. The food was good, and we were keen to begin the day’s adventures. We started off the morning by hopping into the back of a truck and a ute (aka pickup) so that the leader of the ranch and one of the other workers could give us a tour of the countryside and tell us about things. Our first stop on the tour was at the recently constructed sanitation facility for recycling water and such. That was all well and go-PUPPIES!!!
And here you thought there weren't going to be any more photos in this blog post.
Indeed, next to the sanitary facility was a pen with PUPPIES!!! in it. These puppies were eventually going to grow up and become big white guard dogs to protect the ranch’s goats. At this stage though, they were cute and fluffy and wonderful.  Having received a good dose of aaawwwwwwww, we carried on with the tour. We were taught about invasive grasses, about some lovely ferns, about cattle theft, where brands needed to be placed on cattle for effective money-making, bottle trees, fossils, and other things about ranch life. It was all very informative.
A bottle tree.  Not pictured: Other stuff.
We arrived back at the ranch, ready for lunch. After lunch, we were presented with a choice. Yueping, our illustrious faculty leader had paid for the group to go out horseback riding and goat mustering. It promised to be a fun and exciting trip on horseback. Julie and I were the only ones to say no thanks. I don’t know why Julie said no, but I’ve ridden horses before and it really didn’t sound too thrilling. Plus, after an incident in my childhood I have a deep-ridden hatred of goats. So I didn’t go horseback riding. Apparently it was nice, slow walking, with some nice views. I have no idea about the goat-mustering, nor did I really care all that much. While they were gone, I had played a bit of cards with Julie, and learned once again that trying to teach the game Village Idiot to someone one on one just never worked out. Golf was received much more favorably, and we played a fair bit of that. Julie then went swimming. I forgot what I did at the time, but it was probably monotonous. When the group got back, there was an additional opportunity to do an activity, in this case, shooting at targets. I decided not to do it because it was kind of expensive, but a handful of people went. Apparently they were shooting actual shotguns at targets. Coby got the best score, hitting four out of five targets, so good job him. Yet again after that, it was time for dinner once more. It was much quieter this time since the other tourists had left. The gruff server seemed a bit less gruff, and nobody placed unwanted vegetables on my plate, so all in all, it was much better than the first night. Towards the end of dinner, Yueping announced that she would pay for all of us to get a chance to ride the mechanical bull, because it’s something fun to do.
That's our Yueping!
Everyone in the group agreed to give it a try, including myself, because sure, why not? I mean, what could go wrong?

At this point I should give you an update of how my quest to throw a can into the can was going. It was going poorly. No matter how I threw the can, it always continued to end up in the same spots next to the can. I was getting rather frustrated at this point, since it should be an easy physics problem and other people had managed it with ease. Throughout the night, I tried, again and again and again. It got to the point where me and some of the others in the group decided to screw the rules and just picked up the missed cans by the target can and just keep throwing them at the can. I threw something akin to 50 cans over those two days. I kept trying and trying, getting angrier with each failed toss. Finally, one that I threw went in. I breathed a sigh of relief and felt a tiny sense of accomplishment when I realized that I had spent close to 2 days throwing cans at a can and had only succeeded once. There was no taste of victory after that.

But anyway, we were then told the same talk by the ranch head that he had told to the other group the day before. It was full of fun facts about the area, some that we had learned that morning, along with other things like some basic echidna facts that I had known for years (Fun fact: Echidnas are monotremes, the group of mammals that lays eggs. They share that group with only the platypus). After the talk, it was time for whip cracking, and we were lead over to an area where we could try our hand at whip cracking. Groups of four or five of us would stand on stumps away from each other and each participant would be handed a whip to try cracking (After putting on eye protection of course. That’s the only part of the body that the whips can actually injure). The first few groups proved to be quite competent at whipping after trying a few times, and soon the night was filled with mini sonic booms all around. After successfully cracking the whip with their dominant hand, a participant would be asked to try it in their other hand, and if that proved to be a simple task, they would be given another whip to try cracking two at once. I received my whip thinking, “Man, this is gonna suck.” The first few tries supported my initial thought, as I ended up whipping myself several times in the foot, leg, and on the hand holding the whip, a feat that confuses me still. Eventually though, something clicked, or rather, cracked. To my good fortune, it was the whip that cracked and not some vital part of me, and after a few more tries the motions began to come together. I had discovered a rhythm of sorts to whip cracking, a beat that fit the up and down motions involved. Soon after I was instructed to switch over to my right hand (Lefty power!). This proved to be difficult at first, as I wasn’t used to using my right arm, but soon enough the pattern became similar and the beat returned. I was then given two long whips. This proved to be even more difficult than the last change, as success required both whips to crack together. The angle of your whipping was also important, and I managed to whip myself on the back with both whips at one point. Soon enough, the rhythm returned, and cracks were sounding. It actually became rather simple after a bit of practice, and though the cracks did not seem loud to me, others in the group reported that I was making some serious noise. So good times all around for whip-cracking. Even Yueping eventually got the crack to happen, though it took a fair bit of time.
It was then time for dancing, except this time with only our group. We did a number of different line dances and they were all really easy to do. It really did remind me of middle school PE, what with the dancing and some moves being shared. I think our dance instructor at the ranch was a bit drunk himself, at least when he taught only our group.

Then, finally, after all the waiting and other activities it was time. It was time for the mechanical bull riding to happen. The pen was inflated, lights were turned on, and the final activity presented itself.
Let's get ready to ruuuuuuuuuuummmmmmbuuuuuulllll! (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
One at a time, everybody in the group removed their socks and shoes, along with anything in our pockets and any corrective lenses, and awkwardly flopped across the bouncy pen over to the bull. It was probably made of plastic, had no horns, and had glowing red LED lights for eyes. It looked pretty silly. The rules for bull riding are pretty simple: you must wear a hat and bandana along with some dorky ringer chaps while on the bull, you sit on the bull and hold onto a tiny rope on the back with one hand, and keep your other hand off the bull and your hat at all times. Each round lasts 8 seconds, and if you make it through the first two rounds you get to wait till everybody else has done their tries at the first two before you and anybody else who made it can try round three and maybe higher. Yueping offered a small reward to whoever rode it the longest.

As the riding began, some proved to be up to the challenge. Among them was Justin G., the apparent Glowdeo bull-riding champ back at campus, or at least I heard. He made it past the first two rounds with ease, so I don’t doubt the statement. Others proved to not be up to the challenge, but their runs were probably funnier than the victorious runs. I was one of the last to go, and soon enough, it was my turn. I slowly removed my personal belongings, donned the chaps, hat, and bandana, and prepared to do battle with the physics-filled mechanical representation of a particularly stubborn animal. As I approached it, nervousness filled my gut. Everybody in the group was cheering, waiting to see me show my stuff. Could I do it? In my head, I saw visions of me holding on for dear life, fighting to the last. I could do this. I had seen other people in round 1. Round 1 was the easy one. I could do it. Others may have failed, but I could do it.

I clambered on top of the bull with ease, unlike some of the more height-challenged people in the group. I could do this. The bull had some leather sidings to give it some texture. If I reached my legs forward I could probably wrap them around the front, which would likely be against the rules. I took hold of the tiny rope. At first glance you’d think to hold on with your dominant hand. However, your dominant hand also probably works better as a balancing hand, so I decided to use my right hand to hold on, hoping for the best. And then, it was time. I took a breath, adjusted my cowboy hat and signaled my readiness. It was time to go. And then, the bull began moving. This was not a feeling I was familiar with, and immediately I was working to try and stay on. It’s turning too fast, grip is slipping, don’t overcompensate, need to loosen up, right hand was not good ide-

I fell off at the tail end of round 1, lying on my back with my legs propped up on the bull. It kind of sucked. I felt a fair bit of pain, but it wasn’t that bad. I shook off the chaps and made my way out of the pen and retrieved my shoes. I had failed. Not just riding the bull, that wasn’t so bad, but I felt as if I had failed to live up to my own expectations. I had disappointed myself. Others said “Good job,” and such, but I didn’t feel all that good. I sat down and thought for a bit. What went wrong? For one thing, left hand>right hand for holding on. There had to be some other way to improve. I could at least have fallen off in a spectacular fashion like some people had.

Regardless, my one chance to turn out to be somehow good at bull-riding and I wasted it. Alas. With the initial rounds over, it was time for the people who actually could do this sort of thing to keep going. In the end, Coby ended up lasting the longest, so good on him. With the actual competitive part over, the people running the bull-riding presented us with a question: “Who wants another go?”
I was very surprised to find myself firmly raising my hand. Cheering started soon after, and my legs carried me back to the pen. This time, we didn’t have to waste time with the chaps, but I donned the hat and bandana anyway, and strode over to the bull, hopping on with no hesitation. I could do this. This time, success would be mine. And I’d make sure to hold on to the tiny rope with my left hand. You have to slide up on the bull to keep the rope in what is essentially your crotch area to keep it near your center of gravity, and I did so. A hat adjustment and I was ready. The man running the bull asked what round I had fallen off in, and I said round 1. He told me that he was going to set the bull for round 2. Alright, I could still do this, I knew what to expect. The bull started, I held on tight, grip was steel, hand was slipping, falling sideways, gotta hang o-

Well, that didn’t go well. Once again, still no amusing dismount, but it had to work to get me off. There was a lot more pain this time around, in both hand and inner leg areas. I struggled to my feet and made my way out again, once more feeling the disappointment. I sat down at a table and expressed my frustration by sighing. Others mentioned that it was good enough that I tried again, but after a few more people had gone, something reignited inside me, and I made my way to the pen once more. This time, we would make it past a round. This time, we were going to succeed, and this bull wouldn’t stop us. Hat and bandana on, shoes off, on the bull, left hand gripping the rope, hat adjustment, round 2 again. Go. Holding on, falling to side, holding on, readjust, falling more, gotta keep goin-

Le sigh. Curses, this just isn’t worki- oh, we made the 8 seconds before falling off? Yay. Round 3, let’s go! We got this. Just hold on for dear life again. Hat adjust, start it up. Hold on, hold on, falling, DON’T LET GO, aaaararrarararaarrggghhhhh-

Hmm. In addition to even more pain in legs and hand, there appears to be back pain as well. I made my way back to the picnic table and sighed. Encouraging words are said. At this point, I’m reasonably certain I was getting kind of crazy. I kept on mumbling, “I can do it, I can keep going” over and over, leaving my companions wondering what I was trying to prove. I had no answer for them, just the assurance that I could do it. I had passed round 2, I could keep going, I was ready again, and I entered the pen once more. I can do this, I can do this, I will do this and this bull won’t stop me, I’m tougher than it, it’s made of metal and plastic and leather, I have the stubbornness to do it. I hop on, adjust my hat and go. The ride goes well, until it spins in an unexpected way, tossing me around the front of it.

I hop back on immediately, I can keep going, and this pain is nothing. Hop on, hat adjust, go, going well, unexpected spin again, how do I deal with thi-

I lie there for a bit, pondering. I get back up and Yueping tells me that I should stop. I begrudgingly accept and exit the pen. My hand is burning, my legs are in great pain (and bruised as I soon found out), and my back is sore, but I know that I could have hopped back on and kept going as long as it took to beat it. It’s only because of the others being concerned that I stopped. As I put on my shoes once more, I wondered to myself just what I had been doing. Why the heck was I trying to ride the bull that much? There was no longer a reward to be earned, I had improved my standing and done better than a lot of others, yet I still felt compelled to try. What the heck was wrong with me? I had accomplished my goal of throwing a can into the can, I was too good for bush dancing, and whips came naturally. Maybe I wanted to be good at all of the things? But why would that be?
Eh, maybe I am way too stubborn for my own good. But I at least proved to be much more stubborn than that mechanical bull, so that counted. People started heading to bed, while others in the group went back to cracking whips. As for myself, I bought another can of Coke™ and, after drinking it, went over to the big can and lined up a shot to summarize this chapter of the trip. One last try to get an actual legitimate shot at throwing a can into the can. I prepared my shot, wound up, and let fly.
It missed.
After sleeping and grabbing bags in the morning, it was off to bus to Heron Island. Yay!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Carnarvon Gorge

By Justin Eubanks

After a wonderful spring break spent at the beach town of Byron, our now well-tanned group reconnected in Brisbane to complete the last leg of our travels. The first stop was several hours northwest of Brisbane at the Jondaryan sheep station. We spent the afternoon learning about the history of sheep shearing in the region, and learned that in its heyday Jondaryan had been one of the largest sheep stations and wool producers in Australia, but it now consists of about 300 acres with camping and guest accommodations and hosts many visitors each year. Our guide walked us through the process of shearing a sheep, from the original hand shearing method to more modern mechanical shearers. The highlight of the afternoon may have been when our guide was demonstrating his sheep shearing prowess onstage for us. The sheep in the pen behind him responded to the distressed calls of his sheep friend being sheared and made a desperate leap of freedom over the retaining wall, promptly panicked and froze as he realized the room was full of people as our guide herded him back into the pen. After our sheep shearing experience we learned how to make damper, a simple type of Australian bread made of flower and water and cooked in the hot coals of a fire. The pure beauty and simplicity of this delicacy inspired me to invest more time in simple and delicious culinary creations, and I plan on putting it to use during future camping endeavors. We ended the evening with a yarn by a local historian who talked about the history of sheep farming in the region as well as the story behind the unofficial Australian national anthem, Waltzing Matilda. The song itself was written by Banjo Patterson, one of the famous Australian songwriters and bush poets of the late 19th century, and is heard all around Australia, at events such as rugby and cricket matches and was even sung at the 2000 Olympics by the iconic country singer Slim Dusty. Although the song itself is quintessentially Australian, the lyrics were actually added to an old Scottish song. Our historian went over the song line by line and deciphered what some of the words meant-each line contained at least one word that is particular to Australia, mostly centered around sheep farming and shearing. The story is about a traveling swag man (basically an Australian hobo) who discovers a sheep at a water hole and kills and eats the sheep. When he is confronted by the ranchers he jumps into the water hole to escape and drowns. It is funny when this song is mentioned around Australians because most people take some kind of humorous pride from their unofficial anthem being about a stolen sheep. No yarn by an old Australian man would be complete without a good tangent, so in the middle of deciphering the song John told us all about how he was one of the first people to cross one of the great deserts of Australia to the west, as part of a team of explorers on an expedition for the Jeep factory in Brisbane to see what the vehicle could handle. After hearing about his epic exploits in the desert he returned to the subject of Waltzing Matilda and finished deciphering the song for us. After his yarn we spent the rest of the evening playing poker and battling against insects of every kind (but primarily mosquitoes and flying earwigs by the thousands).

The next morning we loaded up and continued our journey on to Carnarvon Gorge. Located in the middle of dry, flat cattle ranch property, Carnarvon proved to be a beautiful and vibrant oasis of eucalyptus forests, swimming holes, and more kangaroos than you could shake a stick at. 
A whiptail or pretty face wallaby
Photos courtesy of Julie Peterson
We arrived in the early afternoon and spent the afternoon setting up our camp, reading by the river and exploring the area of Takarakka. We met our guide for the week, a biologist and conservationist who contains a wealth of knowledge about the biological makeup of Carnarvon Gorge and the surrounding areas. The next morning we woke up just after sunrise and prepared for a 14 kilometer hike throughout some of the scenic trails that Takarakka has to offer. The hike was a full-on 8 hours of river crossings and weaving trails, with occasional stops to point out particular plants, animal, or geologic features.
The moss gardens
One of the more incredible stops of the hike is called the Art Gallery, a section of the gorge wall that is covered in Aboriginal art. All of the art is made of red ochre paint which was produced in Western Australia, and was either traded for or acquired through great expeditions through different Aboriginal nations across Australia thousands of years ago. Most of the art consisted of hand stencils, as well as stencils of boomerangs, emu claw (made with the tips of boomerangs) and net patterns. Our guide gave us a detailed history of the region’s Aboriginal mobs and explained the significance of some of the symbols on the wall. 
The art gallery
Our next stop was at the bottom of a canyon called the Amphitheatre. The Amphitheatre consists of a beautiful moss covered slot in between two massive canyon walls with a bit of sunlight filtering through. We took several minutes of absolute silence to get a feel of the Amphitheatre and it was one of the most quiet and most still places I’ve ever been. After the Amphitheatre we started making the trek back towards base camp and made a stop at the rock pool swimming hole which was to become one of our favorite spots over the next couple days.  

Our second day at Carnarvon started with breakfast and a lecture on the surrounding flora of the region, which consists primarily of eucalypt forest and fire tolerant trees. Naturally, the region would burn every couple years, clearing ground cover and dead trees and helping eucalypts and other fire-tolerant trees to spread but since the park has been built up they rely more and more on controlled burns with fewer time in between, which has changed the make up of the forest to some extent, as well as the risk of ground cover building up and fueling future fires. After learning about some of the species that benefit from fires in the area and some of the plant species that thrive more in the absence of fire we split into groups and designed experiments to test hypotheses based on two sections of forest, one that is subject to control burns every two to three years and another section across the road that hadn’t burned in a decade. The different hypotheses dealt mainly with the abundance and diversity of certain species based on the fire rate, as well as other factors such as ground cover and leaf litter. After several hours of data collection we combined our information into presentations and headed to the swimming hole for an afternoon cool off before spotlighting. At dusk we went on a hike to look for nocturnal marsupials, primarily different types of gliders, which can usually be spotted in the trees at night with a strong spotlight. We didn’t have much luck with the gliders but found a few possums before returning to camp for dinner and an evening of poker and playing music with a guitar and a ukelele.

Our third day at Carnarvon started with an early breakfast followed by a lecture on animal behavior and some of the local animals in the area, which consist largely of marsupials, and birds (particularly birds that liked to swoop in and steal food, a growing problem in the park). Once again we split into groups and designed different observational experiments to test different aspects of animal behavior, including socialization patterns, defense mechanisms and feeding patterns. My group decided to test hypotheses about fish, and whether or not fish respond differently to a repeated threat or if they eventually get used to disturbances and stop viewing them as a threat. We discovered that fish are constantly wary creatures and tend to view every disturbance as a possible predator and don’t tend to habituate to disturbances. We also discovered that it is especially nice to have an experiment that involves being in the water all day when it is at least a hundred degrees in the shade. Once again we spent the afternoon testing our hypotheses in various areas before coming back together and making sense of all the data we collected before enjoying a great camp dinner by our resident cook and coach driver (known as the Combat Wombat by his employees, but none of us were sure about his personal feelings on the name so we kept quiet rather than risk losing dinner for the week).

Our last day at Carnarvon consisted of waking up right before five in the morning (for those of us who were up to it) and going on a fairly intense hour-long hike to the top of the bluff to see the sunrise. Although those of us who made it were pretty tired and bleary eyed as we stumbled our way up to the top of the gorge, the magnificent sunrise was enough to wake us up and make us glad that we hadn’t stayed in our tents with the other half of the group. The morning was fairly cloudy but as the sky got lighter it painted the clouds a myriad of colors before the sun began to peak over the opposite side of the gorge and drove the clouds away to reveal one of the most awe-inspiring views I’ve ever seen.
Sunrise on the bluff

After watching the sun crawl farther and farther above the bluffs we returned to camp for breakfast and copious amounts of coffee before beginning our presentations. After presentations we had the afternoon free and Ken led a group of us on what was one of the more extreme outings of the whole program. We hiked up to a slot canyon about a meter or two across in most places and about ten of us followed this narrow canyon for about two hours. Navigating this canyon consisted of wading and swimming through neck deep water, climbing over boulders and fallen tree trunks, and dodging spiders bigger than our hands (which lined the walls on both sides, most of us had at least one encounter with our hands and the enormous spiders). A few of the rock crossings were particularly tricky and we relied on each other to boost each other up and help get everyone through, and it ended up being an incredible experience for all of us.

Photos courtesy of Justin Gallen

After about two hours we turned back, most of us eager to see the sun after wading through freezing water for the past two hours. We ended the day with a swim before building a bonfire at the campsite to dry our wet shoes and reflect on the incredible experiences the past few days had to offer. One by one we all drifted off to bed, ready to hit the road and see what the next leg of the journey had to offer but I’m sure other folks felt the same sadness as I did about leaving such a beautiful and majestic place. It was a wonderful experience and I learned a lot about life, but more importantly I learned a lot about myself. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Jondaryan Woolshed

By India Meyers
On Saturday, March 23rd, we met up in Brisbane after our week of independent travel to begin the rest of our field studies.  Our first stop was at the Jondaryan wool station.  For a few of us who had travelled to cooler areas such as Tasmania for independent travel, hopping off the bus into the heat was a surprise.  Midday we arrived at Jondaryan and ate lunch.  The surroundings had a countryside feel that was warm and welcoming.  Our hosts showed us to cabins that used to be the original quarters of the Jondaryan shearers.  The room I was in included a bunk bed, fan, mini-fridge, and free shampoo! 

After settling in to our rooms we walked over to the Jondaryan woolshed where our tour guide gave us an introduction to the history of the wool industry.  He explained the use of sheep for not only wool but also lanolin oil and meat.  In the 1800s, wool was exported from Newcastle, Australia to London, England.  In 1839, 70 workers began work on Jondaryan.  Our tour guide described an average shearer’s workday as a “run” that lasted from six am to six pm!  Workers would earn five pounds for every twenty sheep they sheared.  Our guide also told us that there are different types of wool, including coarse, fine, medium, and extra fine.  Whereas in the 1800s shearers could only cut off 1.9 pounds of wool per sheep, today with enhanced shearing practices, shearers are able to attain sixteen pounds of wool from one sheep.  In addition, there are various percentages of fleece on different parts of a sheep’s body.  Our guide demonstrated this by showing us how to shear a sheep.  It was surprising to see how quickly he cut the wool, and even more exciting when one of the sheep that was standing behind the shearing area jumped over the wooden gate right at us!  While the shearer was preparing to shear one of the sheep, there was constant communication between the sheep about to be sheared and the one behind the gate.
Photos courtesy of Julie Peterson
"Pulling the wool over your eyes" in action!
It was amazing to see how much wool was cut off, especially the process of shearing.  For the rest of the afternoon, we got a tour of the property of Jondaryan.  Besides the woolshed, Jondaryan also included a historic schoolhouse and blacksmith workstation.  As part of the tour we were able to make damper, which consisted of one cup of self-rising flour and a bit of water.  Our hosts gave us pieces of chocolate and dried fruit that we could mix into the dough.  The damper was put onto hot coals in a cast iron pot to bake.  Once they were done, about twenty minutes later, we got to enjoy the warm, soft, delicious bread.  Many of us were pleasantly surprised to find out how good it tasted!

After making damper, we had free time until dinner to explore more of Jondaryan.  On the property, in addition to sheep, there were also chickens, horses, peacocks, and an assortment of other birds such as cockatoos and parrots.  We were given food to feed the goats and sheep, who were more than excited to be fed.  A few times they attempted to jump on us but for the most part were only eager to get food.  Some of the chickens were also loose from their pens and enjoyed running around.
Soon after visiting the animals we walked back to the cabins and relaxed on the grass.  It was the perfect time to read, chat about the day, or in my case, drink tea on a warm day.  Because it was pretty hot outside, a friend and I walked over near the dining area and bought mango popsicles.  Earlier in the day, other people bought ice cream and cold drinks to cool off.

In the evening, as it slowly became darker, the light from the setting sun made for a beautiful view of the countryside.  At this time, dinner was ready to be served.  That night, we had a choice of cooked pumpkin, vegetables, pork, and lamb covered in juicy gravy.  The dining house almost resembled a restaurant neatly set with white tablecloths and silverware.  It was a nice change to the days of camping we had done two weeks before in Lamington.  During dinner we were introduced to a local historian, who later that evening talked to us about his interest in the history of Jondaryan.

In an outdoor kitchen building next to the cabins, we set up a fire and this historian began by talking about his specialty in Australian native plants.  He explained that he has traveled around Australia to places many people have never been to.  For example, he told the tale of when he ventured from East to West across the Simpson Desert in 1969.  According to the indigenous people, this desert was thought to be inhabited by the rainbow serpent.  According to our host, “Life is full of interesting things.  All you have to do is find them.”  Listening to his story prompted a lot of questions about the expedition and his participation in many other adventures.

He also talked about Australia’s unofficial national anthem, “Waltzing Matilda,” and its connection to the shearers who worked in Australia during the colonial period.  In the song, the word “swag” represents the gear/ bundle carried on the back of workers as they journeyed to find work.  The anthem describes the “waltzing” of men who walked between wool stations for work.  “Matilda” was what they called their bundle of swag.  The shearers did everything with their Matilda from sleeping to eating to travelling.

The historian told us that the first union to be formed in Australia was initiated through the strike by the Shearer’s Union of Australia.  Shearers demonstrated for better working conditions and pay.  There was a bad feeling between the shearers and landholders who held power over their employees.  According to him, there was “little true justice for the average living person.”   The first shearer’s strike was at the Jondaryan station.
At the end of the night, everyone had time to settle down for bed.  While some played a round of poker next to the fire, others were surprised by the huge amount of earwigs in the bathroom!  Showering and brushing our teeth was definitely a difficulty but by the morning, they were all gone.  I fell asleep quickly but suffered from multiple mosquito bites on both of my feet.  Others also had to spray off the mozzies before bedtime…not to mention the multitude of insects that had taken over the bathroom, because they then began to appear in our rooms, too!

We woke up to a nice breakfast and condiments laid out to make sandwiches for lunch.  Before leaving, we thanked our hosts and packed up the bus to head off to Carnarvon National Park.  Even though we only spent one day at Jondaryan, it was still a nice experience.  The people there were generous and kind, the animals cute and sometimes hilarious and, it had a history that sparked curiosity and interest.  After independent travel time, Jondaryan was just the beginning to the rest of our travels in Australia.