Farewell classmates, hello friends and family

Yesterday was full of frustration, melancholy, intrigue and absolute joy. At three a.m. I was awoken by classmates and professors preparing to leave on the four a.m shuttle. Most were quiet but one failed to pack and decided the best way to do so was with a flashlight. Now if the room was completely dark I would be slightly more forgiving, however the room was lit relatively brightly with exit signs..so by four a.m I was wide awake and very cranky. Hence the frustration.

The absolutely fabulous Jacquie Berting, and Misty Brawner walked to my hotel where we did laundry, kibitzed and saw tv for the first time in nine days. Then it was time to go…herein lies the melancholy. I have traveled with Misty for the past two years and she has made every trip delightful. She is an amazing human being, and I take great joy from knowing that she is in this world. Jacquie, is one of the nicest human beings I have ever known. I instantly developed a high level of respect for this fun and gentle spirit..she’s pretty darned cool. Saying goodbye to these women is particularly difficult.

With saying goodbye comes a special hello. I was able to spend the day with Katie Grenchik…one of my Maryland Zoo buddies, who is studying for her Master’s degree at James Cook University. We spent the whole day together seeing her lab (jealous) and then enjoying a lovely snack and some incredible gelato on the strand. I really see why she came here to JCU. It is one of the loveliest places I have ever seen combined with some of the nicest people on Earth. This is the perfect place for Katie. I am very happy for her and a little envious. Tomorrow, she is taking Travis and I to Billabong Sanctuary. I am so looking forward to spending another day with her.

And then the happiest moment of my day. Travis and I finally met up!!! I am so happy to be able to sleep next to him again. Although I did wake up in the middle of the night thinking someon had snuck onto my air mattress with me. I was very relieved to realize that I was no longer sleeping on the floor and that the person next to me was supposed to be there.

Today, after enjoying some much deserved sleep in time, Travis and I went to the Queensland tropical museum, and had a great time. Our favorite exhibit was the human body exhibit where they exhibit body functions through interactive game type exhibits. One that we couldn’t believe was the, “pull my finger game” about gas. Just as predicted it seems that that exhibit was frequented by boys and their fathers.

Following our time at the museum, we went to Molly Malones for a very deep fried lunch, I had crumbed steak and Trav had fish and chips…we also sampled the Aussie treat chips with sweet chili sauce and sour cream…pretty yummy…but too much deep fried for us. Food is unbelievably expensive here..one lunch was about $45.00 aussie dollars.

Off to improve our health and spirit we walked the strand and gazed out on picnic bay watching ibises, mynas, lorikeets, sea gulls, pigeons, and the truly awesome black cockatoos who repeatedly tried to drop palm seeds on our heads. There are a lot of dogs that get walked along the strand, and it really made me miss home. Every smiley dog that walked by I couldn’t help but think of my Ginger girl…every little old dog made me think of my Harvey, and every friendly dog made me think of my Katie. I miss my Norman too, but I don’t see many cats getting walked on leashes. 3 more days and I will be home having Dixon pile-ons with everyone. can’t wait!

I miss my husband

It has been a bit under a week since I have seen Travis. I miss him a lot. I had my master plan reviewed by an advisory team today and I am on track to graduate in December. It was a l-o-n-g advisory session. 20 students in this class and each one of us had to go before our tribunal and explain our master’s plan and how it related to our professional lives, our personal lives, and how we represent the university. We also had to get feedback from our peers and develop out Inquiry Action Plans for the semester. Oy vey! I was told that mine is right on course and I am ahead of the pack…so that is a good thing. I just have to keep the motivation going until the end. I hope I can do it.

After our advisory session we were released to the town. Of course many of us had to get laundry done, so we walked about 2.5 miles to Uncle Sam’s laundry and had mass de-funking of our clothing. We watched the power boat races as we walked the strand…very cool! Much laughter always ensues when you have a room full of dorky science teachers trying to figure out the best and cheapest ways to do laundry. I have to say we have a good group of people here. I have caught up with a bunch of existing friends and made a few new ones. My sides still hurt from all of our field work laughter. It is impossible to keep a straight face when we are all slogging through mud looking our for snakes, crocs, and spiders. It is also impossible to keep a straight face when we try new food such as green ant abdomens (yum). Let’s just say there are a few classroom teachers here that do not have the same adventurous spirit as I do. I have less than 24 hours with these wonderful people…and who knows what the future may bring. We are all tossing around the idea of a Christmas dive in the keys…might be a possibility, as long as I bring my own dive buddy!

Off to throw down a few pints and enjoy some real Aussie food. (not lasagna or triangle sandwiches). Cheers!

I’m happiest covered in mud

I have a bit of a moment to reflect on the events of yesterday. We spent the day with Tony and Jai of kookaburra tours. Jai is a traditional land owner-translation aboriginal of the lizard tribe. I feel bad as I can’t remember his people’s name. So he has contact and permission from tribal members to show us white folk about their ways. This was probably the most stimulating adventure of our trip.

Jai took us to Mungalla about 60 miles north of Townsville. This is a rich valley bordered by rain forest mountains, and the coral sea. Traditional land owners here tell us of the history of the carpet snake tribe, which only had about 150 miles of land in their nation, but didn’t
want or need more because the land was so rich. Here at Mungalla today, they raise Brahman cattle…and I was blown away by their husbandry techniques. They import bull semen from the states from some of the finest stock and use eggs extracted from their brahman cows, but then implant the fertilized eggs into retired dairy cows. How incredible is that?!? It’s a genius technique that provides the calf with a first class milked and the nutrients it needs for a good start yet keeps the genetic lines pure. I was totally blown away by this. It utilizes dairy cows a few more years in their lives and gets first rate stock out of it. Good stuff. Good stuff.

Part of the reason Mungalla was started was so that the traditional land owners, who have become complacent in the welfare system, could once again learn to utilize the land and become productive citizens again, while still paying homage to their forefathers.

At Mungalla we were taught how to throw boomerangs..(I hope my video turns out). We didn’t kill anyone but we came darn near close. One person had Teheran bejeezus scared out of them. From there we were taken to the original homestead sight where James Cassidy, an Irish immigrant built his beautiful estate and housed hundreds of aboriginals to keep them safe from the mass killings and assimilation attempts of the white settlers. To this day many aboriginals use the last name Cassidy to pay homage to him. Our visit ended with a heart breaking look at how circuses in the states would kidnap aboriginals and exploit them. I left heavy hearted and ashamed of my cultural past. Especially when I learned their first stop in the states was Baltimore.

After purchasing some art, which will look great in our red room, we were off to an Italian lunch. We all groaned as we were convinced that this would be our 5th night of lasagna, but we were pleasantly surprised. We had tapas served to us from traditional land owners learning the hospitality trade. It was yummy! And more importantly it was not Lasagna! Hotel Noola, you win on so many levels! (side note: did you know that northern Australia has a huge Italian influence and had a mafia that lurked about called the dark hand?)

We couldn’t rest much following lunch so we were tossed back in the van and on to Kennedy beach where we met with another one of big Jake’s kinsmen…Gary Cassidy. Gary took us on an awesome mangrove tour where I was able to get hip deep in the mud in search of crabs and mudskippers. We were covered in mud, I even had to be pulled out once, and we were absolutely in heaven. (I should have video)

We needed to clean off so we ran intro the most beautiful surf you could imagine. I loved this. First after a week of slogging around and being mentally and physically engaged it was good just to have the spiritual moment of just being. It was joyous. The water was cool, and clear, and filled every pore of our beings. I was truly happy.

On the way home we listened to Jai give us a lesson on the yiigiiyiigii or the didgereedoo to us white folk. apparently, it isn’t an Aussie instrument. It came to the aussies from the island people, and during the time of “black birding”, the slavery trade here, it was picked up by the tribals. It is forbidden for women to play the didgereedo as the tribals believe that it will play havoc on our reproductive system. If you want to be pregnant, you will be barren, if you don’t want to be pregnant you will get pregnant…given that we don’t want to go that route, I respected their wishes and didn’t try, but the concept is very much the same as the tuba so I suspect I would do better than our men who tried.

Back at reef hq, I presented my research with my group, and we rocked. Two more nights to sleep on the floor…I can’t wait to back at the holiday inn and I can’t wait to see Travis again, and meet up with Katie Grenchik, so we can explore the world on our own. Today we will be observing the education facilities, and assessing the messaging here at the aquarium. Not totally psyched for it but maybe I can bring back some unique interpretive ideas for the zoo. No worries!

My experience down under

This is my 7th day in Aussieland. I have travelled to magnetic island, where I encountered wallabies, koalas, death adders, kookaburras, cockatoos, lorrikeets, magpies, curlews, giant orb weaver spiders, brown tree snakes, spotted pythons, and a whole lot of creepy crawlies.

Bungalow Bay was lovely…a bit touristy but the owner,Tony, was absolutely a hoot and a half. He lead us on more mountain hikes than any normal man his age could do and colored our world the Aussie way. Maggie is a beautiful Island and I really enjoyed the conservation work we did on the island.

We have spent three nights so far on the floor of Reef HQ sucking the knowledge out of our hosts of the great barrier reef marine park agency, the government organization that monitors and conserves the reef. For the most part the people are unbelievable. Lots of amazing research taking place with sharks, corals, barrimundi, and climate change. There is lots of opportunity for partnership here so I am completely psyched about that.

I just returned from a two day live aboard trip on board the research vessel Kalinda. She floats. That is about the most kind thing I could say. I slept in a berth that was 4 cots squished together on each side with a small aisle in between. Let’s just say I spooned with two others. The berth was just next to the engine room, was full of mildew, wreaked of diesel fuel, and we listened to the bilge run all night. The plus was, since we were at the bottom of the boat we didn’t feel the toss nearly as much as the rest of the boat. My dive buddy had initial problems with buoyancy, so it was a miserable dive and we cut it short. I bailed on the three subsequent dives for fear of my life. The report came back that he had a faulty BCD so I felt like I would trust him on the next dive. He asked to go to the anchor even though we were in very deep water with low vis and we discussed the rules, no getting too far ahead of me, always check to see if the depth is OK, always check back…at 50 feet I was experiencing bad mask squeeze and I needed a moment to fiddle…I signaled and flailed and signaled and my buddy disappeared. I darted after to 60 feet, and couldn’t find him. Now I needed to ascend…but I had to dive my computer, alone, in the dark, and oh, I was overweighted…so every 10 feet, I would stop, and I would start to sink back….not fun! I took about 4 minutes to surface where my buddy was way on the other side of the cove. We met back up. We went down on the bommies and saw a few decent fish, nothing to write home about. I missed my reef assessment that I was supposed to do and then I made my decision to stop diving. I said I didn’t want the surface swim (which is slightly true). And stood watch. Where I did see a manta from the surface…kind of cool…

Today, we went up the coast and spent the day in the mangroves with the aborigines. Absolutely amazing. The topography here is very different lots of green lots of cattle and lots of sugar cane. I am very, very tired, and quite filthy. Tonight, I present my reef conservation with my group. I hope we get it together. I miss everyone! G’day!

More notes on Down Under

Some other observations:

– the weather has been, for me, absolutely perfect. The locals seem to think its rather cold, especially at night though. Mid 70’s days, and just a bit chilly at night. Perfect!

– it’s bloody expensive here. Meals, especially, have been higher than expected. Some of this I suspect is the normal boost due to being in somewhat of a tourist area, but mainly it’s due to the front Aussie dollar. Unfortunately here on the island, there aren’t many cheaper options, unless I want to add water to something prepackaged.

– a hammock is the perfect place to spend the afternoon. Or morning. Or whenever.

Tomorrow we all head back to the mainland. Kim is back tomreef HQ, and hopefully the liveaboard so they can get their dives in. I hop a bus north to cairns to start that leg of the trip.