Goodness it’s been a long time since I last wrote. Australians have this fun game they like to play with Internet access. The rules are pretty basic: they either have it and won’t give it to you (at least not free and not for any reasonable price) or they just don’t have it at all and can’t figure out why you would want it. I haven’t quite figured out why they like this game so much. Perhaps we need to send a Psychology or Sociology/Anthropology major over there.
Last we talked I was on midterm break after having just spent two weeks on Heron Island. Now, I’m back on campus and settling into something of a routine. After such a long time away (18 weeks, including winter break and spring break), I’m finding the adjustment to meetings, daily Frisbee and soccer practices, and having class inside to be a bit jarring, but the weather has been lovely, the flowers are blooming, and the bunnies are hopping, so I have nothing to complain about.
I thought I’d put up a quick post to fill you in on some of the more exciting details of my last month Down Under. So without further ado…
Midterm break was a wonderfully relaxing week. We had six days to do as we pleased, on the condition that we somehow make our way from Brisbane down to Sydney to meet back up with the group. Some of us went directly down to Sydney and explored the big city, some of us roadtripped and visited spectacular Australian National Parks on the way, and many of us spent the week relaxing in northern New South Wales. I was part of the last group; ten friends and I rented out a house in Byron Bay. The best way I’ve found to describe it is as the Santa Cruz of Australia. At one point in its past, it was a haven for Oz’s most dedicated hippie population, but throughout the years the subculture has dwindled and been overtaken by tourist shops, surf stores, and university students looking for a good time (ie, us). In Byron Bay, I spent my days walking around town, lazing on the beach, body surfing, taking hikes (a friend and I visited the Byron Bay lighthouse, which marks the easterly-most point in Australia), cooking dinner and reading. It was all quite lovely and exactly what I wanted to do with my week off.
On the sixth day, we left Byron Bay and, a twelve-hour train ride later, arrived in the magnificent city of Sydney. And it is truly magnificent. There is something about it – perhaps its youth, its energy, its hope – that gives it an entirely different feel than anywhere else I’ve been. It’s as if the city and its inhabitants are truly alive and moving and changing. We stayed in Sydney for just a few days, but each day was jam-packed with adventures, learning, and exploration. Up until this point, the program had revolved strictly around biology and ecology, but in addition to “Costal Marine Ecology” and “Methods of Field Research”, we were signed up to take a third class: “Culture in Australia”. And so Sydney marked the beginning of our dive into cultural studies. We received daily lectures by Aboriginal leaders, advocates and historians. We visited Aboriginal art galleries and were led on a really interesting Aboriginal walking tour where we sought to imagine what the land that is now called Sydney was like when Captain Cook’s First Fleet arrived there in 1887. In our free time, we explored museums, the Royal Botanical Garden, the local cuisine (we were on a meal stipend) and the local bars (it was the beginning of Sydney’s month-long gay pride celebration called Marti Gras). In an unlikely turn of events, several of us were able to acquire ridiculously cheap tickets to see Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the Sydney Opera House.
The lectures we received on Aboriginal culture and affairs were interesting, but only a brief prelude to the heart of our cultural studies: Aboriginal field camp. After being held up for two days because of flash flooding in the area and braving an Oregon Trail – style crossing of a swollen river, we arrived at camp and were introduced to the Uncles and Aunts in whose care we would be for the next few days. Out of respect for the future Carleton students who will visit the camp, I have been asked not to disclose too much about our activities there, but I can say this: after spending nearly a week immersed in Aboriginal culture – learning their dances, their songs, their crafts, their stories and their lore – I am left with a deeper, richer respect not only for the original inhabitants of the land that is now called Australia, but a more meaningful understanding and interest in the native owners of all places, especially America.
Our final destination was a plane-flight away in Victoria. We spent our final ten days in Queenscliff, a quaint little town right on the edge of Port Phillip Bay about an hour outside of Melbourne. There, we performed our final research projects on an ecosystem we hadn’t yet come across: the rocky intertidal zone. We snorkelled with fur seals in cold, rough waters, helped a PHD student with her starfish-identification data, learned all about algae from two wonderful (albeit algae-crazed) researchers.
I must admit, this last week was bittersweet. I’d been living with the same group of 25 people for nine weeks, and for them most part hadn’t had much contact with anyone else. As we rushed to finish up our last projects, papers and bits of reading, I think it struck us all that we had truly become a family. We had battled rainforest leeches together, swam with manta rays together, survived weeks without internet or phone service, barehanded sharks out of the water to save baby sea turtles together, forded swollen rivers together, and stepped outside our comfort zone and participated in Aboriginal rituals together. And I mean, that’s just the beginning of it.
Being back on campus now, it’s been wonderful to pass a fellow Australian and know that the memories that flood back to each of us are similar and that no one – not even the program that went two years ago or the program that will go next year – has these experiences.
Goodbye Oz. See you again someday?