Wednesday, February 27, 2013

North Stradbroke Island

By Annabelle Mona

Greetings Friends! 

The group just returned from a lovely, rather rain-filled excursion to North Stradbroke Island; or as the locals have affectionately nick-named it, Straddie.  On Monday morning we packed our bags for a two-day venture across Moreton Bay. Our fearless leader and GED coordinator, Nat drove the bus from Brisbane to the vehicle ferry. It was raining as we drove further north so I took it as a sign that the rain was here to stay. We met a group of Aussie school children on our forty-five minute trip on the Big Red Cat (the ferry) that later challenged us to a spoon-wearing competition. When we got to the island the beachy, tropical beauty blew me away. Even in the rain, the landscape and setting looked like anybody’s dream vacation. Interestingly, Straddie is not just a tourist destination. We drove by the grade school that accommodates the local children of the island. There is also a fair amount of caravan parks where people can live on the island simply and cheaply.

It was about a thirty-minute drive to our resort hotel where we put our bags down and headed down the road another couple minutes to the local bowling club where we took our meals. In Australia they have outdoor bowling lawn clubs instead of golf clubs like we have in the states. After lunch we had our only formal lecture indoors on the island. The island has a depositional coastline where sediments are pushed by waves and prevailing winds to form the coastline. There are many islands in the area that are formed this way such as Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world.

Enjoying the environment despite the rain
Photo courtesy of Kyla Covey 
We enjoyed the pool at our hotel for the rest of the day and enjoyed dinner and dessert from our local bowls club. The next day we woke up early to get outfitted for booties. These fashionable black booties allowed us to walk around the mangroves without stepping on sharp rocks and crustaceans.  We found a mob of hermit crabs, one of which became my pet for a while and was named Hermie.
Along our mangrove walk
Photo courtesy of Kyla Covey
After learning about the nature of the mangrove ecosystem, we bussed over to a giant sand dune that we climbed. The view from the top was grand, almost like we were survivors of a plane crash that rendered us the only living humans for miles. Except for the telephone wires. The climb to the top was grueling but running down was a huge adrenaline rush, almost as if I could fly.
The climb to the top was grueling but running down was a huge adrenaline rush, almost as if I could fly.
Photo courtesy of Kyla Covey
After everybody got a chance to fly down the dune we bussed over to a perched lake for lunch and a swim. A perched lake is a lake that sits above the water table. We had sandwiches provided by our trusty bowls club. The lake is brown as a result of chemical reactions between the soil and water that gradually precipitate organic and inorganic matter into the soil profile. The precipitated matter eventually forms a layer that prevents water from percolating back down to the water table.
It looks like tea, but maybe don't drink it.
Photo courtesy of Kyla Covey
After a day in the rain and in the lake and mangroves Lucy and I decided to take advantage of the sauna provided by our hotel. We spent the rest of the afternoon alternating between the sauna and the pool. All in all it was a very wet but beautiful day. I will miss Straddie but I think we will get our fill of beautiful island adventures when we go to Heron and Fraser islands. I was glad to get back to my lovely host family in Auchenflower.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bloody Queensland, Mate!

By Elijah Probst

One of the first things I noticed aside from the humidity when I stepped off the plane here in Brisbane was how much more relaxed I felt almost instantaneously.  It almost felt like there was a chemical in the air that relieved all the mental and physical tension present in my body.  Whether that’s a good or a bad thing remains to be seen, but I’ve come to realize that there is a distinct lifestyle present here in Queensland.

So far my observations on this city have been scattered, but I’ll try to narrow them down into some coherent thoughts.
Me writing blog post
Photo courtesy of Marc Steiner
Some of you reading this may know that my academic interests lie in the realm of urban planning and alternative transportation, so I’ll start with my thoughts on getting around Brisbane.  The neighborhood that I’m staying in, Morningside, has a distinctly suburban feel.  The houses are all huge and sprawling, there’s trees and lawns everywhere and it takes forever to walk to places I need to get to.  In other words, car culture seems to be king here.  A couple eager motorists here have nearly hit me because I’ve made the assumption that pedestrians generally have right of way in a crosswalk!

Still, since we as students don’t have access to cars, I’ve been able to explore Brisbane’s multi-faceted mass transit system and it certainly isn’t something to be dismissed.  As Brisbane is a large city surrounding a river, there is a well-operated ferry service that takes passengers to different locations along the river.  It doesn’t seem likely that this is a practical commuting option for everyone, but it’s a nice service nonetheless.  Probably the more widely used options are the buses and trains.  I’ve had most experience on the buses here and they are very well maintained, but out here in the more residential areas the service isn’t very frequent.  I’d say the biggest problem, however, was what a couple of members of our group experienced last weekend—the buses don’t run late on Saturday nights!

Needless to say, all of us have been working very hard on the academic portion of this program.  Still, part of experiencing a country is engaging with its nightlife scene and so a few of us wanted to go out.  We were getting really excited about going to the Fortitude Valley neighborhood because we’d heard it was the classic nightclub neighborhood and a good time.  The only problem was getting there.  Not only was it across the river, but it was simply not within practical walking distance.  Public transport wasn’t an option because it didn’t run late enough.  Cabs weren’t an option either because, combined with inflated drink prices, our trip would be economically unfeasible.

As frustrated as I was as a public transport enthusiast, we decided to check out the local scene on Oxford St.  After a 30-45 minute walk rallying the troops at various points along the way (again frustrating the urban planner within me), we arrived.  To add insult to injury, the only nightlife spot on the entire block didn’t allow us to enter because they wouldn’t accept our state-licensed IDs.  While it seemed like the night was going to end in a less-than-satisfactory manner, we ended up stumbling in a smaller restaurant/bar that was much emptier, but had much more welcoming staff.  We ended up having a great night talking to the bartenders and wait-staff there, and I was happy that our group had the capacity to turn the less-than-ideal situation into a night that I wouldn’t have any other way.
The night after

On the long but cheerful walk home, I wound up talking to Marc, my home-stay partner about all the quirks and tendencies of our host family.

Our hosts are a wonderful family and we’ve really enjoyed our stay with them so far.  Saturday morning, our host dad took us and his son to the farmers market out in West End.  As with most of our conversations with our host dad, we ended up learning a lot and the drive was peppered with little tidbits here and there about current events in Queensland and facts about Brisbane neighborhoods.  During these past few days Marc and I couldn’t help noticing his propensity to intersperse sentences with the words “bloody” and “mate.”  While one might think that there wouldn’t be a language barrier between Americans and Australians because we both speak English, in my time here I’ve found that it takes a lot of careful listening if you want to understand what people here are saying.  Still, it’s been one of the best parts of the trip identifying the cultural intricacies that make us different.

The market was a really vibrant scene of all kinds of merchants peddling their products and it was a great place for people watching.  I’ve also noticed how often Queenslanders run into folks they know.  Our host family seem to know just about everyone in Brisbane, and when we were talking to a younger couple that recognized our host dad, we realized that we could sit there all day and just have conversations with people they knew.  One of our host’s adult sons is staying at the house now as well and whenever we watch TV is always commenting on the fact that he knows this and that rugby player.  Our host brother himself is a huge cricket fan, and there are countless pictures in his room of famous cricketers that he’s met along with autographs and paraphernalia.

Our host mother and her daughter have been gone these past couple of days because the daughter is moving into Uni (what the Aussies call University) up in Cairns.  Before she left however, we were going on a walk and ran into the former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.  The daughter didn’t want to bother him but mentioned how she had “awkwardly” beat his son in a game of tennis a while back!

The cultural exchange with the family has been really interesting as well.  It seems like the number one thing that Australians ask us Americans about is gun culture.  Australia has much stricter gun control measures than we do, and it seems they get a lot of exposure to news stories about gun violence in America.  Overall I think they may get a slightly warped view of America, but that’s just my opinion.  Our host brother was showing us some of his DVDs and the two movies of his that we’ve watched so far have been have been about gun violence and ridiculous partying in America.  I’ll leave it up to you to decide how accurately that depicts the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Sports too have been interesting.  The two most commonly viewed in our household are cricket and rugby, which I think of as Australian versions of baseball and football.  The whole family has been great about introducing us to the games and I have a much better understanding of both now.  Sport is a big part of Aussie culture and it’s been interesting to observe certain states here are defined by their sport preferences.  For example, Queensland is big on rugby whereas Victoria is much more keen on Aussie Rules Football.
Photo courtesy of Jason O'Brien
It’s been such a wonderful stay so far with our host family.  This post really only touches a bit on all the experiences we’ve had but it’s been a truly immersive week and a half in Aussie culture.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Beatitude in Brisbane

By Lucy Roberts
A view of the "cubby house" from the backyard veranda
            This week has consisted of new people, places, ideas, and experiences. We have all been placed with host families that, much to my delight, resonate with our interests and hobbies. The city of Brisbane has been warm, sunny, and very inviting. There are many elements here that are familiar and comforting to me; the river running through the city, the bicycle culture, the farmers markets, and the warmth of summer. Our lectures are starting to take a turn from sociology/ indigenous studies towards biology and natural history- subjects that I am eager to explore in the context of Australia. On top of all that, the agenda for our time in Brisbane is loaded with excursions that I know will be full of educational experiences plus the perfect amount of fun to balance out all the hard work we do!
            Annabelle and I are staying in a suburb called Auchenflower. We are located on the north side of the river- as opposed to the rest of the group, living on the south side of the river. My homestay parents are full of life and, much to my surprise, have the energy to keep up with two 20 year old Americans, which has made for the most wonderful time. The first weekend, we were up and ready to go by 8 am with a full agenda lined up for the day. On Saturday, we went to the farmers market early with the dog, Tillie, and explored all the tropical fruits and vegetables that are currently in season. I am still amazed that I can eat mangos (my favorite fruit) in February over here. We came home with mangos, dragonfruit, watermelon and pineapple- my arms are still sore from carrying around that huge watermelon. We spent the rest of the day hanging out in Brisbane and around the house. Fortunately, our host family’s daughter lives downstairs with other students in their 20’s, so we have been spending a fair amount of time with them, getting the insider’s perspective on Brisbane. On Sunday we basked in the sun on the Sunshine Coast, about an hour outside of the city. We first went to Noosa beach and hiked around, searching for Koalas in the gum trees and learning about the fauna from our host dad. After playing in the waves and sufficiently getting sunburn on my back, we went off to another beach! By the time we got home Sunday, we were all thoroughly exhausted and had to prepare for school the next morning. But that wasn’t all we had on Monday morning- our host dad is an artist and had to drop off his painted koala on the Gold Coast, and we got to ride along with the promise of a chance to jump in the ocean- all before lectures began on Monday at 11:30 am. With the Gold Coast being about 1 hour away, we were up and in the car at 7 am that day, bags packed with both school and beach necessities.
The painted "koalakeet"
Living the hard life at Surfer's Paradise on the Gold Coast
            This was undoubtedly the best way to start a long week of lectures, projects, and even our first exam. We spent this week wrapping up our lectures regarding indigenous Australians, in preparation for our exam on this topic. Not only did we have this exam on Thursday, but a few of us also have neighborhood tours to prepare for. These are group projects in which we have to explore a culturally and historically relevant neighborhood of Brisbane, and lead a guided tour to the group. We also have our research projects due in two weeks!
            But we never fail to manage time for fun and relaxation in our schedules- work hard play hard, right? Many of the students have homestays with swimming pools, beautiful patios and yards, so we congregated and hung out for a while post-exam at one of these homes. In addition to exploring each other’s homestays, we have also been hanging out in the city of Brisbane. We went out for dinner one night in West End, and it was reminiscent of hanging out in southeast Portland with folks playing music on the sidewalk, sleeve tattoos, small bookstores, and plenty of vegetarian options (just a few of my favorite things). Other areas of Brisbane include South Bank, which features a fake (man-made) beach, ferris wheel, beautiful gardens, and a ferry stop. Fortitude Valley consists of a few artistic alleyways, Chinatown, pricey boutique shopping, and the nightclub scene. One evening, our host family took us to the top of Mount Coot-tha. This lookout point was declared a reserve for public recreation in 1880, with the name “Coot-tha” taken from an Aboriginal word meaning honey, or the place of wild honey. Presently, bicyclists and pedestrians like to get their heart rates up by climbing up the steep incline, and get a rush from zooming down the hill after reveling in the “best view of Brisbane”. I recently read an article saying police are now concerned about the speeds at which the cyclists are descending the mountain, with speeds up to 80 km/hr!! Naturally, this means I can’t wait until I get to ride one of my host family’s bicycles up and down the mountain : )
The view from Mt. Coot-tha, depicting the sprawl of the city.
            This week was all over the map for me. It took all of about 5 minutes to get comfortable and adjusted to my homestay and the laid back Australian life and settle in to spending weekends at the beach. Then I had to get back in school mode, and listen to lectures and study for the exam. Luckily, the State Library here is a beautiful work of architectural art. I already feel well oriented in this city, which makes it easy to get out and around, and back home again. At first, I was anxious about living with a family, and I didn’t want things to feel like high school all over again. All my worries have subsided, and I love the feeling of coming home at the end of the day to spend the evenings with my host family and relaxing with all the pets and good company that resides at our home in Auchenflower. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

First Impressions of a New Place

By Marc Steiner

After a rewarding week of research and studying we all travelled through various means of transportation to arrive in Brisbane, a beautiful city where we will be spending about a month’s time. While most of the students flew on airplanes, a few of us took a 15-hour overnight train to reach our destination. Despite the fact that the duration of the train ride from Sydney to Brisbane was nearly the same amount of time for the flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, the train was a much more enjoyable experience. We were able to see more of the Australian countryside. Parts of the landscape looked familiar to the United States with rolling green pastoral hills that only had a few fences and cows to graze in between. At the same time the eucalyptus trees seemed out of place in the memory of open fields in the United States. The train rode through land that epitomized the natural country of Australia. At points we looked out the windows of the train to see only bushes as far as our eyes could see. The scenes beyond the window were very illustrative of why the world refers to Australia’s natural land as “the bush.” We were able to watch the sunset before we fell asleep. We also watched the sun rise because our stop was called out only a little after five in the morning.

When we arrived in Brisbane, we saw puddles and wet pavement from the windows so we knew it had been raining. I was in my short shorts with all of my warm clothes packed away. I guess I wasn’t expecting colder weather in Australia. The train rode over the river before coming to our stop. After leaving the train station we got to see a little bit of the city before having to check in to our school office in preparation for upcoming classes. After seeing the river, upon leaving the train station we could see the mist drifting toward the ground and falling against our skin. The river, mist, wet pavement, trees, and bike lanes (something that Sydney had never heard of) all seemed reminiscent of good ol’ Portland. As the day went on I could tell that I was going to enjoy Brisbane and that the time here would be less hectic than bustling Sydney. There were posters advertising the city’s bike share that contained what looked like knock off stereotypes of Portlanders. The target audience for these posters is definitely some of us on this trip. The familiarity present on the first day in Brisbane boded well for our stay here.

An exciting aspect of Brisbane is our new living situations. We are staying with different families to experience Australia while being immersed in regular home life. So far it has been awesome and presents a different dynamic from our previous dorm and hostel living or our camping trips. The family I am living with is very kind and has offered insight on the way Australians live. The surprising thing about the Australian house and home is that it really isn’t too different from home, despite being in a foreign place. I haven’t even witnessed water spinning around the drain in the opposite direction yet. I hope to before I leave the country though. The family is truly great; they are open-minded and have interesting things to say about both Australia and America. The family I am with loves to cook and prepare all of the food they eat, which means I am well fed. I am definitely eating healthier than I was while living with my friends at college. It is definitely multiple steps above the standard of living among college kids, which is very nice to experience. The family has four kids, the youngest of which being the same age as me. They are all very funny and offer good insight on what life is like in places other than the Pacific Northwest. So far we all seem to be falling into place with our host families as they generously let us live in their houses.
A view of Brisbane from a residential area
Before classes started on Monday, some of us spent the weekend exploring the city. We rode the city’s ferry to get to the central business district. The ferries here are a luxurious form of public transportation because we can sit outside in the sun as we travel to where we need to go. We walked through unfamiliar streets without knowing where we were headed while looking for nothing in particular. It was nice just to see a brand new place. We ended up passing historic sites on our way to the central business district. The business district was swamped with shopping people, but the entire atmosphere made it seem like the city was relaxed for such a large place. The people in the outdoor market were very friendly and some of them took the time to talk to us. One girl seemed genuinely interested in the fact that we were from the United States, which was a first. After buying some new things we left the central business district well fed and smiling. We moved on to find the botanical gardens along the river. The gardens had a wide array of flora, but most of all I liked to see the palm trees. There were people out lying in the grass enjoying another gorgeous day in Brisbane. There were large colorful spiders that I was glad to have never seen anywhere else. There were big ibises stalking around in the grass. It was nice to sit on the park bench with my friends, to look out at the beautiful gardens, and quickly feel comfortable in a brand new place. I’m already sure that Brisbane will be great.
Brisbane's Botanical Gardens
Photo courtesy of Rachit Malhotra

Monday, February 11, 2013

Independent Research

By Ashley Ermann

This past week of our program in Australia was set aside for independent study/travel. We were each given a generous stipend and sent on our way to wherever we wished to go in order to conduct independent research. As part of this program we each get to carry out an independent research project that we work on throughout the first part of the program and then present to the group. Our schedule while we are here keeps us fairly busy, so this free study week really gives us the opportunity to get a lot of work done before we head to Brisbane to stay with our host families. The two main guidelines that we were given were that our project had to incorporate the theme of people and the environment and it should utilize the resources that are only available to us while we are in Australia. These loose guidelines for the project leave plenty of room for each of our own personal interpretations of the project’s theme. Being that I am a bio-chem major, I chose to focus my study on traditional Aboriginal medicine and its use in modern day Australia.

Most of the places that I wanted to visit for my research were within an hour of Sydney, so I decided to stay in central Sydney for the week with several other LC students. I really wanted to take advantage of being here in Australia, so I tried my best to find unique ways of doing research and collecting information rather than just sitting in a library all day. The first day of my independent study I took a trip down to Sydney Harbour and spent the day touring the Royal Botanic Gardens. I walked through a gate off a bustling street in downtown Sydney, and the difference between the two sides of the gate was like night and day. The minute I walked through the gate the noise of the busy city was drowned out by the noises of the birds and other wildlife.

The first thing I saw when I walked into the gardens was a gorgeous view of the Sydney Opera House and the harbour bridge. I wish I could have spent all day walking around the harbour and admiring the scenery, but my main purpose for going to the gardens was to take a tour of the herb garden and the Cadi Jam Ora exhibit (a display about the Aboriginal people’s first contact with the white settlers) because I had been told that both gardens had information on plants used by the Cadigal people (the Aboriginal people that lived in Sydney before the First Fleet arrived) as medicine. The displays were not disappointing. Both were impressive gardens with an abundance of information not only about bush medicine, but also about traditional medicine from all around the world. It truly amazed me how something that I just see as beautiful is something that the Cadigal people saw as a cure for a cold or a stomachache. A few of the more interesting plants I found were the corkwood (left), which was used as a sedative, and the round-leaved mint bush (right), which was used as an antifungal, antibacterial, and as a cold and headache reliever.

After I left the gardens, I stopped by Karlangu Aboriginal Art Centre, a nearby art gallery where there was a painting on exhibit by Gloria Tamerre Petyarre. The painting she had on display depicted the leaves of the clematis vine, which was used as a cure for headaches. I talked briefly with the gallery director about Gloria Petyarre and her work, and she gave me some valuable and interesting information. Gloria is the niece of the well-known contemporary Aboriginal artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye, and she, like her aunt, paints about bush medicine, women’s ceremonies, thorny devil lizard dreaming, and a few other themes. She has art on display at major art galleries and museums around Australia including The Art Gallery of New South Wales right here in Sydney. We had previously visited the gallery as a group, but I decided to go back to take a closer look at Gloria’s work. The painting below is very representative of her style of painting. It shows the leaves of an acacia blowing in the wind. The leaves from the acacia were traditionally brewed as tea and used to relieve cold and flu symptoms.  
Bush Medicine Leaves by Gloria Petyarre
Photo courtesy of
Though most of us would just look at paintings like the one above as art, they have more meaning for Gloria and the other women who paint about their traditional bush medicine. For the artists it is a way of preserving their knowledge about their land and their people that is in danger of being lost because of the colonization of Australia by the British.

Overall, the research week was pretty successful for me. I found a lot of useful information, and I got to see a lot of what Sydney has to offer as well. I can’t wait to hear about how other people’s research went now that we’ve all arrived in Brisbane!