Thursday, March 21, 2013

Lamington National Park

By Rachit Malhotra

Dear reader,

Kudos to you for following our travels around Australia thus far, whether you’re a friend, family or just a well wisher. I have to say, foremost, you can never get used to the way time flies. Your most realistic move is to become a better absorber of the events around you. Our week camping in the Lamington rainforest added another week to our time spent on this massive rock. From day one, it was a lesson in self-sustainability and active learning.
We set up the kitchen tent and the dining tent as a group, followed by setting up our personal tents. To some of us it was something new, while others had the whole process etched into muscle memory. After a brief rest in our new wigwams, we started our week of doing fieldwork in the rainforest and the eucalypt forest.
A group returning from exploring the forest and setting up mammal traps
By sundown, we were typically on walks on familiar trails where we either looked for nocturnal animals, insects, and glowworms. These activities were conducted under the umbrella of learning to think like a scientist. This was as much a lesson in scientific methodology as it was a walk on the wild side.
He was actually learning AND being silly
As an Economics major, I did not think I was going to survive the biology side of the program without feeling like my eyelids had little anchors pulling it down into a constant forced slumber. BUT, we had guest lecturers on the trip who were so engaging and passionate about what they were educating us about, that their words acted like caffeine. I made it through the week with maybe a cup or two of coffee. Outdoor and hands-on learning needs more advocacies. Imagine this, you’re walking through a rainforest with dense canopy cover and you’re learning all about the dense and heavy organisms that grow on top of the trees (also known as epiphytes) and then out of nowhere… BAM! Canopy cover goes from about 70-75% to about 40% at best. The epiphytes are nowhere to be seen. The sky is visible and the vegetation around you isn’t nearly as moist as ten paces ago. You’re not in the twilight zone, my friend, you have just crossed an ‘ecotone’ into the eucalypt forest. We made presentations and discussed the biological and ecological characteristics of and differences between the two forests. I got two leeches, which was the average for our group for the day. I would be inclined to keep a leech count, but these were the only two I got the whole week. But I drift. We had been at this from the early morning till almost dinner time, so after a hearty meal of kebabs and cheesecake (yes, we are spoilt), we slept like babies.

More biology ensued the next day, and the day after. We trapped mammals and we trapped insects. By trapped, I mean set up a bed of cotton and peanut butter snacks in a tin cage that we checked four hours after setting them up. So, back off, PETA. These experiments usually took the entire day, which had us pretty jaded by the time the sun went down. We were unanimously asleep before 10PM every night.

Even though I present myself as a scientifically inept student, I helped my group do a thorough job in designing an express four-hour study of the epiphytes in the rainforest and subsequently presenting a poster to the group. The process threw me out of my comfort zone, but it rekindled that respect and love I had for the hard sciences as a high school student.

But that’s enough of the science. Here’s a photo of the beautiful duo of mother and daughter who have made this trip an utter delight. 
Momma Nat and her sidekick, baby Mira.  Movie rights are still up for grabs.
The trip was one of the most special ones we have taken so far, in my opinion. Dinner was typically accompanied by a sunset like the one below.
We had our setback, but there were enough silver linings to make a playbook
By the time our last day rolled around, we were quite ready for a break from the usual routine of lab, presentations and animal-trapping. So, the bulk of the group decided to go on a short hike to the nearby Moran’s Falls.  And it wasn’t the waterfall that was the highlight of the trip, not by a long shot. It was the red-belly black snake that we saw en route. Of course, by the time I was able to take my camera out to take a picture of the snake, it was already under the safe cover of a small pile of wood and grass on the path. Besides, I wasn’t permitted to get too close, by my own inhibitions as well as those of Yueping’s. So, you’re going to have to simply believe me when I tell you it was 20 feet long, 8 feet thick and breathed fire.  Here’s a photo of us 20 minutes away from the snake.
Ominously and cluelessly marching towards the serpent
We packed up the entire campsite, something I haven’t done before. It was rewarding. It was good to know we had the ability in us to pack up an entire week’s worth of memories and the huts and tents in which they were made into a bus and trudge on back towards modern civilization. We speculated what big news we may have missed during our time away. I checked Google News to ensure Bob Dylan was still alive and then took a nap until we got back to the storage facility where I parted ways with the company.

I have since been back living with my host family for the week, as we enjoy and thrive in each other’s company. Nine others are over at Byron Bay, while a few have trudged on to other places. They are likely having experiences that are enriching or dehydrating their brain cells, but I am having the time of my life with this little diapered dude here.
Maximus, emperor of the house, avid daiper-wearer

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Individual Projects

By Justin Gallen

Part of the agreement to go on the Australia 2013 program was that we all had to complete an individual research paper and present it to the group, otherwise we would be deported back to LC and held in solitary confinement in some dark chamber in the basement of the Frank Manor House.  Ok not really, but we still had to complete our projects.  As it turns out, we had some very unique and interesting topics discussed by our group.  All of our projects were completed through interviews, through first hand experience, and by reviewing secondary sources. 

Coby studied the role of safe injection and methadone clinics in Australia.  There currently is a lot of debate on the effectiveness of these clinics due to factors such as cost, service, and safety.  While these clinics are helpful for heroin addicts to cope with their addictions, there needs to be reform in the way these clinics are run.

Jasper gave a very optimistic report on the fight to establish American baseball here in Australia.  With Australians currently preoccupied with their own sports like AFL (Australian Football League), rugby, and especially cricket, baseball has struggled for decades to gain a following down under.  With a growing participation in little league, Jasper predicts that baseball will take off as a major sport once these little leaguers grow up.

India discussed the integration of Chinese culture into Australian culture, particularly how accepted Chinese immigrants felt with practicing their traditions and how many Chinese-Australian youth experience a blending of their traditional culture and of Australian culture.

Marc studied the action taken as a result of the Little Children are Sacred report that lead to protection of children in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territories.  While reports of sexual abuse outlined in this report were very serious, the policies imposed by the Territory government were too sweeping and general to be effective.

David did his research on the effects of agricultural runoff in Northern Queensland on the Great Barrier Reef.  The reef supports a multi-billion dollar industry that is under threat from runoff polluted with silt and agricultural chemicals.  If polluted runoff remains a problem, Australia's greatest natural wonder could be lost.

My project focused on how the current policies and practices of preserving Aboriginal rock art largely exclude Aboriginal involvement.  While many practices are effective in keeping people away from rock art sites, they neglect to acknowledge the fact that rock art belongs to Aboriginal people and was protected by being repainted and re-carved.  There has been some progress in recent years, with the hiring of Aboriginal guides and joint management between the National Park service and Aboriginal communities.

Once our projects were completed, we had a few days to relax and enjoy our last few days in Brisbane.  We went to a Rugby league game where we witnessed the grueling defeat of Brisbane's Broncos by the Manly Sea Eagles.  Tomorrow we say goodbye to our amazing host families and leave for the beautiful Lamington Plateau.  And yes, it will be raining, and there will be leaches.  Otherwise, it's going to be awesome!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Research Presentations and Celebrations

By Ashley Ermann

Our stay in Brisbane is quickly coming to an end. At the end of this week we will be saying goodbye to our host families and heading off to Lamington Plateau for a five day camping trip. This past Friday we finally turned in our fifteen page research projects that we have been working on since last semester. Handing in a paper that is nearly half a centimeter thick really gives you a feeling of accomplishment. To add to the joy of being done with such a big milestone of our trip to Australia, this Saturday was India’s birthday and our host family planned a bit of a celebration for her.

They took us to the local bowling alley to play a few games of bowling, and it didn’t take long to realize that none of us have a future in pro bowling. Nonetheless, we had a lot of fun, and the kids had a good time teasing us about how many more strikes they had gotten than us (though I do think the fact that they had bumpers might have had something to do with that). After we finished at the bowling alley, we returned home to enjoy a delicious chocolate and passion fruit cake that our host mom had baked and decorated especially for India. India and I both had a great time celebrating her birthday with our hosts, and it was a nice break from studying for our Australian Area Study final exam.

The following day we got up early to take part in Clean Up Australia Day with our host family. We went to one of the parks in our suburb and spent a few hours picking up all of the trash with a small group of locals. It was a rainy morning, and we got very wet despite having packed our Portland raincoats. The experience was fun and rewarding even if we got a little wet, especially after the hot choc and left over birthday cake that was waiting back at home for morning tea. Unfortunately, after the wonderful morning we spent with our host family we had to get back to our coursework because we had a final on Monday and independent research presentations due on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The independent research portion of our classes down here in Australia had very open guidelines. We were each supposed to develop a research question within the theme of people and the environment. The theme was really open to our own interpretations, and that was very clear in the variety of presentations given on Tuesday. Rachit started off the presentation session with his project on the acculturation of Indian families to Australia. This project was of particular interest to Rachit because he is Indian himself. His project was centered in the Sydney suburb of Westmead, and it looked into multiple aspects of the lives of transplanted Indian families to determine how well they had adjusted to life in Australia.

Justin E. followed Rachit with a project that could not be more different. He looked into how bluegrass music got its roots in Australia. Justin made some amazing contacts in the Australian bluegrass scene, and he learned that the large mining industry in Australia played a major role in bluegrass gaining foothold in Australia. The Australian miners could easily relate to the themes of the hardships of the poor hard-working man that were present in the music that arose in the Appalachians. Justin was even lucky enough to have the opportunity to perform with a few of the bands that he interviewed.

Following Justin’s presentation on bluegrass music, I presented my project on traditional bush medicine. I researched what some traditional bush remedies were, what sort of empirical basis they might have, and how traditional medicine is used in modern Australia. I found that most traditional medical practices reported by Aboriginal elders do contain a chemical that could be the empirical reason for their effectiveness at treating disease. Many of the chemicals found in high quantities in the bush medicine plants are actually ingredients found in modern Western medicines.

Kyla’s presentation was really quite different from the previous presentations of the morning. She had done her research on the philanthropic bikers of the King’s Cross suburb of Sydney. She interviewed a few members of the King’s Cross Biker Social Welfare Club, which is devoted to conducting community charity events, how they are affected by stereotyping, and legislature that are centered around bikie culture in Australia.

The three final presentation of the day were Lucy’s project on the development of permaculture in Australia, Elijah’s presentation on the public transportation system in Melbourne, and Annabelle’s research on how legislation is—or is not—promoting the revitalization of Indigenous languages in Australia.  Everyone’s major seemed to have had a big influence on how they interpreted the theme. Lucy, for example, is an environmental studies major, and her project focused on making human activities in Australia more sustainable. On the other hand, Kyla is a sociology major, and her project focused more on how a group of people function in Australian society. Overall, everyone who presented did a great job on their research projects and their presentations. The presentations were very interesting and informative, and it was fun to see how everyone had interpreted the theme of the research project.

Here are a few photos of our weekend adventures!
India's 20th birthday wish!

Helping out.
India Bowling
Clean Up Australia Day!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Wrapping up in Brisbane

By Elijah Probst

Nothing seems to typify the college experience like academic crunch time interspersed with nights of partying.  In that sense, living in Brisbane hasn’t really been a whole lot different from the life we are accustomed to back home.  I would venture to say that most of us here are becoming very comfortable in our homestays and that life down under has begun to feel as normal as it ever will.

I thought I might as well start with my individual paper, which focuses on the public transportation system of Melbourne.  A good portion of the program has been dedicated to forming my topic, researching, and then actually writing the paper, which is basically the most important assignment we have here in Australia.  With the final due date coming up on the 1st of March, this past week has been largely claimed by writing and finessing my paper.
Rachit studying extra hard
All photos courtesy of Marc Steiner 
The week I spent in Melbourne involved a lot of riding on the tram and talking to people about their experience with the public transit system.  Melbourne’s a great city to be a tourist in, because it’s so easy to get around without renting a car.  In fact, there was not a single moment in my week there that I wished I had access to one.  The number one thing that I learned researching my paper was that Melbourne’s really one of the most progressive places in the world when it comes to public transit, and certainly the best place for it in Australia.  While a big part of my paper was to look at all sides of the issue, I certainly was very impressed with what I saw.  One of my main conclusions, however was that the city needs to not rest on its laurels and that there are significant issues facing Melbourne moving forward due to projected population expansion.  While it is generally the case that inner suburbs are very well serviced by public transit, that becomes less and less true farther out from the CBD.

Population increases could greatly influence the city if decisions are made to allow for sprawling development to occur on the fringes.  At the same time, the city does have a golden opportunity to pursue infill development to increase density and access to public transit.  Along these lines, Melbourne’s success in this realm of city planning could highlight it as a world leader, and will undoubtedly be great for the city’s economy to be seen as such a progressive place and one that will be flourishing in the future.

But enough about my project and Melbourne! I expect most of you reading this want to hear about what’s going on in Brisbane right now.  I mentioned before that my whole group has been busy working on our papers, but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t been having some fun in the meantime.  This past Saturday morning was beautiful and sunny so my host dad took Marc, his son, and me to the West End farmers markets.  It was great to be back at the market and to experience an average day in the life of our host family. 

One hilarious moment off the bat was when our host dad used his “negotiating” skills (it’s all part of his job of course) to secure us a parking spot right next to the entrance.  We spent some time looking through the eclectic mix of stalls, especially the one that sported a wild collection of ukuleles as well as a mix of other smaller percussion and miscellaneous instruments.  Moving on to the fruit and vegetable stalls, we were able to pick up a couple boxes of items to take back to the house.  To all those who love the bounty of summer, you’ll understand how satisfying it was to take so much fresh, local (I hope), and colorful produce home mid-February.  After picking up the produce we characteristically ran into some of our host dad’s friends from Brisbane and their friends that were visiting here from Wales.  It was great talking to them all and we gathered many different ideas about where to go for Spring Break.
Range of instruments
Playing Mbira
The market
Back home, we went straight to work on our papers.  At the same time, there was only so much focus that could be achieved at the house because it was approaching the Saturday night, and our host brother was getting ready for his going away party.  Earlier that week he had secured a job doing radio in Broken Hill, and being the charismatic and charming man that he is, invited all the friends over to celebrate before he took off to the hinterlands.  I wont say too much about the party, aside from mentioning that it involved putting a lot of California (where I’m from) stereotypes to rest, and the realization that when Australians party, they party.
Our host brother!
Making sushi with the family
These past few days have involved many an interesting lecture, and the one that has stuck out to me in particular was one where we learned about the significance of the ANZAC legend to Australians.  Every Aussie likely has a different notion of what the legend is, but it all revolves around the strength and courage of the soldiers during the Gallipoli campaign in WWI.  To many, the nation was born that fateful morning halfway across the world in Turkey.  It meant a lot to learn about this very important Australian icon, and our lecturer had a particularly moving story about her work surrounding an ANZAC memorial site in France.  The stories from both World Wars have always moved me, and I think that Americans tend to only think about our own myths with regards to both of them.  We could do well to understand more about how our country’s actions involve more than just us.  It’s lectures like that one that remind me how fortunate we are to be here and learn about what’s deeply important to other countries.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Parliament, Neighborhood Tours, and Papers, Oh My!

By Jasper Dean

Post-island expedition trip to North Stradbroke, we first reconvened as a group again bright and early Thursday morning for a lecture on the political structure and history of Australia. The lecture largely carried a theme of ‘compare and contrast’ to America’s system.  Australia is also a bicameral, two-party state, but operates in a much different fashion. Instead of voting regularly to elect a multitude of faceless politicians to ambiguous positions of responsibility, Australians essentially vote once: on their favorite party; on a style of government. Once parliamentary seats are divvied up, a Prime Minister is selected from the dominant party. Many other complications ensue, but Parliament is crucial to the functioning of Australian government, and thus this lecture preceded a field trip to the Queensland parliamentary house.

Our guide at the house took us through 3 main rooms, and a few extras. The first was the official reading room, a gorgeously constructed mini-library, covered wall-to-wall in proceedings and transcripts and other official government documents. Every chair and table is ornately carved from a native and now-protected Australian wood and finished with black leather. Alone with the doors closed and the fire-place ablaze, I can see that room being a true sanctuary of intricacy and peace.

The next room we visited was the upper house of Parliament. The highlights of this room were the pair of six-figure valued chandeliers, and the royal red Queen’s chair. Though now defunct of power, prominent movies such as “Inspector Gadget 2” are regularly filmed here.

Finally we crossed the hall to reach the lower house, flush with green to represent the meetings on grass that were held among commoners before they received representation in England. This room is the primary site of debates and votes on matters today in Queensland. Amidst all the significance, they let us sit in the Speaker’s chair and hold a mace.  A brief tour of the gardens and group picture concluded the tour.

Friday’s first lecture focused on the history of women in Australia. Despite its youthful nature and history of oppressing those they don’t like, Australia has a surprisingly long record of women’s’ movements and subsequent progress in gaining equal status. The World Wars also played a significant role in moving women into the workforce, and away from submission into domesticity.

Our second lecture covered Australia’s environmental history since its European settlement. We discussed the abuse and gradual adjustment of certain industries, the boom of cities, and finally the emergence of suburbia into Australian culture in contrast with the Bush Legend, or the idea of the typical Australian as a rough, do-it-yourselfer, adaptable to any environment and always true to his mates.

When all the learning had commenced, we embarked on a walking-heavy tour of the West End neighborhood of Brisbane. Down by the river, we learned that what used to be a factory heavy few blocks had been converted to their modern state of upper-middle class housing. Later on, we stopped to see the former Rialto Theatre, which used to be a prominent broadcasting site for Brisbane radio, that has been converted into restaurants but nonetheless preserved. One of our final stops was the 17 Browning Street house. Famous for its colorful cast of characters over the years, their story has been compiled in a published book, and the house is now used during festivals by actors portraying the quirky former tenants. The house is also one of the few remaining examples of Brisbane’s earliest architecture dating back to the late 1800s.  Our final-final stop was a delectable Indian lunch; a fitting end to a lively day.

Most of the weekend was pretty quiet, with the Reds (the local rugby unit) kicking off their season with a win and the rest of us holed up, hammering out our papers. In need of a break, a good handful of the group spent Saturday afternoon at Coby and David’s house soaking up the sun, the pool water, and the wine.