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Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Return to Sydney

On the flight back to Sydney it really hit me that our amazing trip is coming to an end. Not only did I have the time of my life "down under" but I made some of the most amazing friends. On the flight back to Sydney I was able to think about the entire trip. Coming here I only knew one person really well and recognized a couple of faces. However, throught the last four weeks I was able to have some of the best times of my life with people who I hope stay in it for a long time. I was able to reflect on our first time in Sydney and then onto Canberra where I still knew very few of the kids on the trip. Then we got to Brisbane and I feel thats where everyone really started to bond. On of drive to Fraser Island as well as the whole time there I was able to really find my group of friends on this trip. The return to Brisbane as well as the remainder of the stay were my favorite parts of this entire trip. Cairns and Alice Springs just provided me with more time to get to know these people and have wonderful times that I'll never forget. As we spend our last two days in Australia, I know now that I will be forever grateful that I was handed the opportunity to come on this trip. Furthermore, I will never forget the friends I have made or the things we have done. Returning to Sydney was bittersweet because it means and end to our trip but the start of new friendships back in the States. I wish we did not have to leave this beautiful place so soon, but I've honestly had the time of my life and I owe it all to all the students in the Elmira College 2011 Australia Course.

Central Australia- Not Exactly What I Imagined

When I first heard of the outback of Central Australia, I pictured a few things. First I pictured a giant red rock. Second, I pictured of hostel, a tiny little hotel with dirt all around it in the middle of nowhere. Finally, I pictured a tiny little grocery store, a gas station, and maybe a medical place all right near each other. However, by actually visiting the outback I learned that it is so much more. First, Alice Springs. When I thought of Alice Springs I thought it was our hotel, a tiny store and nothing else, but boy was I wrong. When we first got to Alice Springs we stopped at the ANZAC War Memorial, which I did not expect to see there. Also, from there I was able to see that Alice Springs was much more than just a hotel. Actually, there was more than one hotel, a hospital, a little mall, and even a McDonalds. We were able to shop for our own food which I was not expecting, and we were able to roam about the town a little bit. However, we stayed mostly in the mall area which consisted of a couple places to eat, a few bars, a grocery store, a video store, and even target. Another thing I learned was that Central Australia had more to offer than just a giant red rock. I had no idea that it contained Kata Tjuta was out there or King's Canyon. Furthermore, I was baffled when our tour guide Scott told us we would be able to go swimming. Who knew that there would be water holes in the middle of the desert? I guess the point to this blog is to let everyone know that Central Australia has way more to offer than just a big red rock. When people are coming to Australia, I think that they should make it a point to visit Central Australia and find out for themselves all that it has to offer.

Pushing Us to the Limit

We all signed up for this class because we had an interest in learning about and coming to Australia, but we also signed up for the course because we knew it would be a blast. However, not many people realized, especially myself, that this course would teach us much more than about Australia. The camping trip in which we visited King’s Canyon, Uluru, and Kata Tjuta really taught everyone that they could do what they never thought they could. The first hike, up King’s Canyon, was a very challenging hike and some people may have thought they couldn’t do it; others may have thought that never in their life would they do something like this, however, we all made it to the top. Another way this trip pushed us was when we had to sleep in swags on the ground. Many of us were scared of bugs, snakes, and mice, especially on the first night. However, we all survived the night. Furthermore, many people were excited for the second night of sleeping on the ground and they slept way better. The other hikes were also a bit challenging, however again, everyone was able to finish all of them. This trip showed us that we can accomplish anything, sometimes we just need to be pushed.

The School of Air

The School of Air was really really interesting to me. This was an organization where children in the outback and children who’s parents traveled a lot were able to get an education. They used to do it by radio but now they do it through the use of the internet. There are a handful of them around Australia but the one we went to had 116 students enrolled. Each student was given a computer, a microphone, and a webcam. Also, someone was sent to their house in order to install a satellite in order for them to actually receive internet. The school had people from 4 1/2 years old until grade 9. The younger kids had class for 40 minutes a day while the older kids had class for an hour. The teacher would sit in front of the webcam and give the lesson- there was 3 cameras- one that was set up to be right on the teacher, another one facing down on a whiteboard, and another one facing a bigger space where the teachers could do more activities (like PE) While we were there we were able to watch a lesson for preschool children. Each child had a button that said “talk” that they could press and it was kind of like raising their hand and when the teacher was ready to call on them she could bring up there webcam and they could talk. Also, there was a box where they could type questions or answers and send them in (like instant messaging) and it would show up on everyones computer. The teacher was required to visit each student 4 times and year and they also have a week every year where all the students come to Alice Springs and do their work there- at this time they are also allowed to meet their other classmates.

Snorkeling & Diving the Reef

When we went to the Great Barrier Reef, I was fortunate enough to get the chance to both scuba dive and snorkel. The first thing I did was dive. In order to get ready for diving I put on a sting suit as well as a wet suit. We had to get weights put around our waists and then we had to get our oxygen tanks attached to us- they went on our backs. After that we had to put our flippers on and then walk to the edge of the boat. When we jumped into the water, one of the guys kind of gave us a push so that our tanks wouldn’t hit the side of the boat. Once we were in the water we had to hold onto a rope, put our faces in the water, and get used to breathing. Once we did that they lowered us to a different rope where we had to continue breathing, clear our masks of water, and be able to take out our mouth piece (so it filled with water) and clear it. When our instructor knew it was all okay we linked arms and were able to start our dive. If our instructor felt that we were comfortable, he let us go. When he let us go we were able to swim around and look at whatever we wanted. I really enjoyed the clams and messing around with them- if you waved your hand over them they would close. We didn’t see any sharks or turtles which was a little disappointing but it was still a great experience. Diving was a lot of fun and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to do it, but it is a little scary for a couple of reasons. For one, it’s hard to get used to the fact that you can actually breathe under the water. Also, breathing is a little bit different- you can’t take quick short breaths, you have to take deep long ones. However, once people get used to the breathing part, it’s a piece of cake from there. At our second stop, I got the chance to go snorkeling. In order to get ready for snorkeling all we had to do was put on our fins and face masks. Snorkeling is different from diving because when you snorkel, your body is pretty much at the top of the water. This is because your breathing piece has to stay sticking out of the water in order for you to get air. Snorkeling is fun because I feel it i easier to breathe. Also, I don’t think it is as scary as diving because you can lift your head out of the water at any time you please. Also, you can take deep breaths and be able to swim down to see certain fish or coral. Being able to do both diving and snorkeling, I really can’t say which one I liked more. However, I can say that I am so fortunate that we were given the chance to either dive, snorkel, or do both at the best reef in the entire world.

A Free DAy in Brisbane- Lake Somerset

For one of our free days in Brisbane we spent the day at Lake Somerset. The people from our group that went was me, Devin, Bridget, Brittany P, Jen, Brina, Mariah, Brady and Jared. One of my friends Matt lives in Brisbane so him, his sister Rachel, and his best friend Clinton took us there. Clinton was nice enough to bring his boat so we were able to go tubing and try waterskiing or wake boarding. The lake was so beautiful. It was pretty big and surrounded by beautiful rolling hills and mountains behind them. It was so pretty that it almost looked fake. Even the clouds were white and fluffy that day. We had beautiful weather as well. Once we got there we set up with a tent and some chairs right on the water. Clinton’s boat was only big enough for about four people but we could fit four on the tubes. First Brady, Matt and Jared went on the tubes and I stayed in the boat taking pictures. They were crazy!! They kept getting so much air off the waves and Matt was jumping from tube to tube. Also, Clinton was going so fast!! After they came back Bridget and I went on one tube while Brittany and Brina were on the other one. We asked Clinton not to go so fast for us and he didn’t but we still had a really fun time. Me and Bridget kept trying to figure out which way to lean so we wouldn’t fall off and it worked for the most part. After we were done we went back to shore and Brady and Matt were making us lunch. For lunch we had Australian sausage, potato salad, macaroni salad, homemade chips, regular salad, and onions- it was delicious!! After lunch the girls just continued to lay out in the sun while the boys went back on the boat, then Matt and Brady went wake boarding. After they went I tried but it didn’t work out so well, I couldn’t get up! But then I went tubing again and we went so fast this time and that was a lot of fun. Once we got back to shore everyone else was pretty ready to go. It was a really fun day that created many great memories and generated many laughs. It was also fun to get out and see what Australians do on their days off. It was also fun to be able to do some things that weren’t such tourist attractions.

An Australian Dinner

Bridget, Devin, and I were lucky enough to be invited to an authentic Australian BBQ dinner. Everyone was really friendly and the food was served in a family style. This means all the food is put on big plates and everyone can help themselves. Something different about Australian dinners than my regular dinner in America is that usually at dinner there is one main dish which is usually some kind of meat. However, at this dinner they made chicken kabobs, steaks, and Australian sausage. Also, they had many different vegetables to chose from including corns, asparagus, and beet roots. They also had a number of different salads including a regular garden salad and potato salad. They also offered us a couple of different sides including homemade chips and garlic bread as well as fruits like watermelon and strawberries. While we were eating dinner it was much like an American dinner. Everyone was talking and laughing and having a good time. They asked us a lot about our trip, what we were doing while we were in Australia and what we had to do in order to get a good grade in the class. They also had a lot of laughs at how we say things differently, especially when they asked us to say, “G’Day Mate” Although they were picking on us a little bit for our accents and the differences in how we say things, it was a lot of fun. For example, they called sweatshirts jumpers and they found it hysterical that in America we call hooded sweat shirts hoodies while we can sweatshirts with the zippers zip ups. After the table was cleared and we were talking for a little longer, they offered us dessert. Dessert included Apple Pie and Cheesecake with whipped cream and hot drinks including coffee, tea, or milo. We learned that milo was what they call hot chocolate so I had some of that as well as a piece of cheesecake. Although dinner was a lot like an American dinner, there were also a number of differences. It was fun to be able to experience an authentic homemade Australian dinner and I feel very fortunate that we were offered that chance.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bush Life

Through our time in Central Australia we have learned an immense amount about the Aboriginal culture. We have learned how the Aboriginals or Anangu as they call themselves survived solely off the land. The Anangu used the natural land as their sole source of food, shelter, medicine, tools etc. This was incredible to learn about because it was absolutely fascinating how the Anangu managed to learn about their land and the plants and animals on it, and in addition to that, how their knowledge was passed down through the generations.

However, with the arrival of the European settlers, also came many non-native plants and animals, which reeked havoc on the Anangu way of life. These introduced species caused other, native plant and animal species to die off in exponential rates. With the arrival of the European settlers also came logging, which caused huge areas of land to be wiped of vegetation, causing irreparable damage. The Anangu, though they wanted to maintain their lifestyle, began to have to adjust to the European lifestyle because their effects on Australian wildlife and plant life made it literally impossible for the Anangu to live solely off the land as they had previously done. Though it was sad to learn about this I feel like I’m a better person for having learned it.


Surprising Sight

When I first thought of the Australian desert I pictured a lot of sand and rocks, with few plants and incredibly intense sun. This is the image that most people have of the desert. It is the image portrayed in movies, shows, magazines, pictures and postcards. However, I was surprised to find that this was not the environment I was surrounded by. Yes, there are a lot of rocks and a lot of sand. However, there was no shortage of plant life anywhere we went. Though this is not always true of the Central Australian desert. Last year was one of the highest years in history for rainfall and the vast range of flora found throughout the desert is proof of that.

Though there isn’t usually as much flora as there has been while we have been here, there is usually much more than depicted by the media. In addition, though it was hot and sunny the entire time we were in Central Australia, the sun was not unbearable. In fact, I forgot to wear sunscreen the entire time we were there and I didn’t once get a sunburn, a surprising fact to anyone who knows me or has seen me (I’m very fair skinned). This was just another instance that reminded me that everything isn’t always how you expect it to be, and in fact most of the time its not.


Camping in the Outback

I have always loved camping so I was really excited for the opportunity to spend a few days camping bush style. Before we headed to the first campground we made a stop along the way to get firewood. I wasn’t expecting to pull over to the side of the road to an area that must’ve been burned within the past few years to collect wood, so when we did I was surprised. We all got off the bus and wandered around that area of the desert pulling branches off trees and picking up those that had been knocked down. The scorched wood and termites made this a fairly easy task, though we all ended up with more than a few scratches and bruises. After piling the wood on the trailer we left for the campground.

By the time we arrived at the campground it was pitch dark. With a few flashlights we managed to unload the wood, our swags, build a fire and cook dinner. The first thing I noticed was how incredible the stars were out here. There is no light pollution from cities, businesses or even homes and cars so after walking a few hundred feet away from the bon-fire; you can imagine how incredible a sight this was. We all went to bed around 10 in our swags circled around the fire because though the desert gets incredibly hot during the day, there is nothing like the cold of the desert night. Other than the cold it was an incredible night, especially because I was lucky enough that no mice tried to jump in my sleeping bag to cuddle. All in all, camping in the outback is not for the faint of heart but an incredible experience and one I’m glad to have had the opportunity to do.


Early morning breakfast

On the morning of the beginning of our three-day rock tour, which consisted of 2 nights camping and tours of Uluru, Kata Tjuta and King’s Canyon, we were picked up around 5:30 AM. Though this was rough for most people, it proved to be well worth the loss of sleep because on our way out of town, our tour guide pulled over to the side of the road so we could watch the sunrise from a hill in the desert. After climbing through enough spinnifex grass to leave more than a few people bleeding we watched one of the more beautiful sunrises I have ever seen and probably ever will.

The morning adventure didn’t stop here though, as our tour guide led us further into the desert to learn about bush living. He showed us a tree that the aboriginal people use as a food source. Though the food isn’t part of the tree, it’s the grubs that attach to the root of the tree. There we were, 17 American college students on our hands and knees digging in the desert of Central Australia at 6:30 AM for a little more breakfast. Though we managed to dig out a lot of the trees roots, Brittany was the only one’s whose efforts proved successful. She found a small grub and yes everyone, she ate it!


Tjukurpa/Dreamtime Stories

The aboriginal people have many stories that they consider to be the explanation and reason for why things are the way they are, they call this Tjukurpa. Tjukurpa also teaches they how to survive and lays down the laws and values of their people. Here are some of the stories I’ve heard.

There was once this lizard that was in the desert, he came across someone’s hunted emu. He knew that he shouldn’t take it, but he did anyway and began to eat it. The two hunters saw the lizard man and went to ask him if he knew where their emu was he said “No, I haven’t seen it” and sent them off to keep looking. Then he scooped as much emu meat as he could carry at took it back to a cave high up on Uluru. When the two hunters went to track their emu they realized that the lizard man had taken it and followed him back to his cave. They called to him and asked for his emu back and the lizard man still wouldn’t tell the truth so the two hunters built a fire to smoke him out. The lizard past out and began rolling down the rock with the emu meat. His skin was being rubbed off on the rock as he fell until he was as small as a pebble when he reached the ground.

A marsupial mole lived in a cave at Uluru and she was very lonely. One day she saw the Anangu and thought they could be my friends and family. She looked around and realized that the rock wasn’t a very comfortable place to live so she got it ready by, making some caves, putting in a waterhole, and planting some bushes for food. She then invited the people to live with her and they did and they lived happily ever after until the white men came. . .

There was once this snake that came to the Uluru with all her eggs, she came to avenge the death of her nephew. In the fight the poisonous evil snake laughed in her face. For this she hit the snake and gave it a sorry cut. The evil snake continued to laugh and so she hit it again and killed it. The good snake now watches over the area and protects one of Uluru’s watering holes.

The way central Australia was formed was because of two boys (brothers) that were going on a walkabout. Still being young at heart the two boys built a large mud/sand pile to play in. Building it bigger and bigger and removing any of the rocks and stones from the sand and throwing them over their shoulder. These rocks formed Kata Tjuta. Once they built the sand pile they slide down it with their hands out leave butt and hand groves along the pile, this formed Uluru. After they had enough play time they continued on their walkabout and the older boy was bitten by a poisonous snake. The younger brother built a bed for the boy and went to get an antidote. The bed he made is now Mt. Connor (the fake Uluru). Upon his return with the bush medicine he found that his brother had died. There he cried and his tears formed a salt lake. Pulling himself together he buried his brother and cried again. This created as second lake where with a small island in the middle where the brother was buried. After a while the boy realized he had to continue on with his walkabout so he left and continued on, but still sad he continue to cry leave a long narrow salt lake behind. This is how the Anangu believe that central Australia was formed.

Camping in the "Way" Outback

We recently returned from our camping trip, three days in the outback. Amazing! We boarded our van (each only equipped with a backpacks worth of clothes), met our tour guide, Scott, and were on our way to a once in a lifetime adventure. We were picked up and on the road by 6:00 A.M. Because of this we were able to watch the sunrise while literally standing in the middle of nowhere, spinfex grass and marsupial mole burrows and all. After the sun came up we dug for witchety grubs. Back on the bus and off to the Kings Canyon where we climbed vertically up to the top, stairs after stairs after stairs. Luckily we all made it to the top through perseverance and persistence. We hiked around the canyon for about two more hours and then had lunch. After lunch we continued to drive and picked up some fire wood along the way for our campfire (so we could cook dinner that night). Scott said that he’d never seen a group get so cut up from collecting fire wood, it was rough times, definitely need some mental preparation beforehand (wasn’t nearly prepared). After a bottle of antiseptic ointment we were on our way. We set up camp in the middle of the outback under the stars and around the biggest campfire pit I have ever seen. We had no toilet a first for me and no tents or shelter. We started a fire and started making the most boom diggity dinner ever. Rice and chilli, with vegetables and bread. While dinner was cooking Charlie gave us a lecture on the southern sky. Facts from such lecture – the cerestrial equator separates the northern and southern sky starting at O’Ryan’s belt. The zodiac line is the path were the sun and moon travel. And the galaxy can be seen as well. We looked right down the center of the milky way. The sky here was so amazing with our the light pollution of the city. After dinner we rolled out our swags and went to sleep under the full moon and night sky filled with stars. The next day we went to Kata Tjuta, which was a sacred aboriginal men’s place. It was multiple stones next to each other, and another hike! Then we stopped and the culture center and were on our way to Uluru. We got to do the mala walk where Scott told us a lot of Anangu (aboriginal/indigenous/people of the land) stories. The stories and explanations that were offered by the Anangu of why things were the way they were was extremely fascinating. The culture and lifestyle was very cool to learn about, but it is extremely sad as it barely exists anymore. We were able to watch the sunset on Uluru over a stirfry dinner. The color of the rock changed throughout the sunset. It was pretty cool. Back to our camp for some smores. Woke up early to see the sun rise on Uluru over breakfast. Made a pyramid infront of it as you can see in the picture. From Top to Bottom: Tifany, Mariah, Brittany M., Jen, Jared, Brittanie P, Sarah, Dan, Brina, and Brady. The tour guide was in the back, that was Scott. Then we hiked around Uluru and were on the road back home. We stopped and rode camels, so much fun. They were so tall and it felt like a ship, they are actually called the ships of the desert because men used to get sea sick when they rode them. Back home to the YHA and a shower. Our 4th day, a bonus day we went to see the MacDonnell Ranges and possible every waterhole they had to offer. An amazing burger lunch and a swim in frozen waters (so cold it hurt) and back home again. We had a nice group dinner where I tried kangaroo and crocodile. The kangaroo tasted like a gamey stake and the crocodile was like chew chicken that had no flavor. All in all a great adventure, for the record booksJ

Photos from the Past

Here are a couple photos I took during our adventures in Australia. The one on the left is of me and Brina on the Minjin swing, which goes about 65mph or more in 3 seconds or less, starting at 145ft. in the air. The one on the right is of the family. From left to right we have Charlie ("Dad"), Coleen ("Mom"), Brina and me. We were geared up and ready to go scuba diving/snorkeling at the Reef, rocking our blue stinger suits that were to protect us from any leftover stingers late in the season! I thought we looked more legit with them on!

The Rock Tour

Thursday was my first night ever sleeping directly under the stars in a canvas sack, or as they call it here, a swag. The first night we slept in the middle of the outback surrounding one of the biggest fire pits I have ever seen. I was slightly paranoid of the creepy crawlies so I didnt sleep well that night. We spent the second night in a campground/resort area so I felt a little more at ease sleeping under the stars. The stars themselves are worth mentioning. It seems as if there are more stars here compared to home and they appear clearer and brighter, which is most likely due to the lack of pollution interfering with the view. I got to look through Charlie's binoculars into the center of our galaxy, which was clearly visible across the southern sky. Thursday night was also the first time I have ever seen the moon rise. It was a full moon and its brightness nearly took over the sky making it harder to see all of the individual stars.

As much as I love camping and sitting around the campfire, my favorite part about our trip into the Outback was learning about how the Anangu survived off the land. The ghost gum tree is covered in a shiny powder that can be used as sun lotion equivalent to about SPF 15. The blood gum tree produces a red sap that resembles blood and can be used as an antiseptic and an anesthetic. The rock mint was used by hunters as it would be thrown into water holes so that when animals came by for a drink they would get loopy from the plant's toxins, making the animal easier to capture. There were a number of other plants used by the Anangu for medicine and/or tools that are just as interesting. Our tour guide Scott kept our interest with his knowledge about the Aboriginal culture in addition to his dj skills during our long trek to and from the outback.

Thursday we hiked kings canyon, which included a climb that felt as if it would never end, but the burn was well worth it. We learned that its formation was due to an orogeny many years ago where the tectonic plates collided pushing the ranges upward forming the canyon. We also learned that the Grand Canyon is not actually a canyon, but a gorge because it was formed by the Colorado River. I went swimming in a rather cold water hole fully clothed to cool down from the heat of the hike. We spent Friday visiting Kata Tjuta ("many heads") and Uluru, which are sacred places used by the Anangu. There were a few areas around Uluru with signs asking to refrain from pictures and even looking because they were sensitive sacred areas for either men or women. We saw some people climbing the rock but we refused to do so as it is a sacred area to the Anangu, and the climb as caused a lot of damage and pollution to the surrounding area, which the Anangu consider their home. Sunday we travelled out to the west Macdonnell ranges, where we learned a little more about the Anangu culture and had a barbeque at one of the gaps. The gaps were breaks in the mountain range characterized by a water hole. The water at the one we visited after lunch was so cold it actually hurt to keep your feet in, however, I braved the temperature and ran into the water for a very quick swim and ran back out just as quickly! We topped off the greatest weekend ever with dinner as a group at the Rock bar down the road from the YHA! Good times!!

Coming to an end.

I am sad that our Australia trip is almost over, however, i am very thankful and happy that got the opportunity to come to such a beautiful place. At first the trip seemed to be going by slow, but now that we are at the end of the trip it seems as though it has flown by. Overall i enjoyed the trip as a whole. There were three different times that stood out the most to me. The first one would be Fitzroy Island. It was nice to be able to relax and be on our own schedule. i thought that it was really cool that the beach was covered in coral. it actually really hurt to walk on the coral. The views were amazing, even though the weather was not the greatest. It was nice to be able to walk around the island and to take the kayaks out on the water, the waves and the wind were not a good combination while out on the water. The Great Barrier Reef also stood out to me. It was probably the most memorable part about my trip to Australia. I have never been in crystal clear waters before, the fish in the water were also very pretty. I have never seen a reef before so it was really a great experience. Another experience that really stood out to me was our rock tour adventure. Scott was such a great tour guide, he was very knowledgeable and he was also very fun. I feel as though the rock tour brought all of us closer, Although it was a fast paced couple of days, in the end it was completely worth it. We got to see and experienced so much of Australia. I really enjoyed watching the sun set and rise on Uluru, it was such a beautiful sight to see. Overall this trip has been unlike any other trips i have ever been on. I have truly had the time of my life.

The West MacDonnell Range

Our last planned group activity was a trip to the West MacDonnell Range. The gap in this range is why Alice Springs came to be – the telegraph line could be passed through the range here.

Scott continued to be our guide. He picked us up at 7:30, drove for about 90 minutes and then worked his way back to Alice Springs, stopping here and there for hikes long and short, possible swimming holes, and views we aren’t going to get anywhere else.
Our first stop was at the Finke River. (I think we were at Glen Helen Gorge.) There was some water there still, a permanent water hole. But much of the river bed was dry. The Finke River is an ancient river, which means its course has not changed for millions of years.

At our second stop, the Ormiston Gorge, we had about a 90 minute hike up to a viewing platform and then over to a hilltop. The views above us and below us were beautiful. Scott pointed out a white cypress pine which was sporting mistletoe! In the United States, I think such trees would quickly go extinct because each is a perfect Christmas tree. It turns out the mistletoe addition is not so charming. When a bird eats mistletoe berries, the seed is not digested. The evacuated seed has a sticky coating; the seed is stuck to the pine and grows there. The mistletoe is a parasite, not an epiphyte; it kills the tree and then dies.

We continued the hike down to a permanent waterhole. Some students got their feet wet, but mostly we enjoyed the scenery. The area had some very large ghost gums with enormous dead branches – large as tree trunks – still attached.

Next stop – the ochre pits. Here there was a wall of ochre in shades of yellow, brown, and red. Aborigines use ochre as body paint for ceremonies, to coat and seal spear tips, and for wall paintings. We were asked to leave the ochre mine alone, specifically to not take samples. Scott told us that anytime we see markings using blue or white colors, we know that a very important message is being transmitted. Blue and white ochre are not common, and these colors were not here.

We stopped for a picnic at Ellery Creek Big Hole, hamburgers and sausages grilled by the guys and pre-packaged salads. Afterwards we walked down to that waterhole. The fish kill had started, which spoiled the thought of swimming for some students. The rest declined when they realized how cold the water was – all except Brittanie P, who plunged in. The fish kill is natural. At this time of year, vegetation drops into the water and decays, depriving the water of oxygen.

Still, the towering rock walls were something to see. I watched birds snatching either small fish or worms and then flying high up to a rock. I looked for nests, but the birds went from rock to rock, never staying on a ledge for very long.
Our last stop was at Simpsons Gap to see rock wallabies. There was water here, too, but no wallabies in sight. A large rock beckoned the class, and we all climbed and posed for group photos taken by two strangers, with our cameras, of course.

And so the planned part of the course is over. We did gather for dinner at Scott’s request at the Rock Tour’s eatery that evening. Today is a free day in Alice Springs. We fly to Sydney tomorrow. Wednesday and Thursday will be free days (perhaps the students will work on their reports), and then we fly back to the United States on Friday. This could be my last post; if something intriguing happens, I will write about it. I expect the students will start blogging, and so I’ll spend my time looking those over and posting them. Charlie will probably post photos to the blog and to the Elmira College Australia page on Facebook. Enjoy!
I am sad that the trip is almost over, this has been the trip of a lifetime. i am so happy and thankful that i got the opportunity to come to Australia.

Great Barrier Reef

I absolutely loved the Great Barrier Reef; I can’t even begin to explain how beautiful the reef was. I have never been in that clear of water ever before. We went on the Passions of Paradise boat. The crew aboard it was very welcoming and friendly. They made our visit to the reef amazing. The weather was perfect the whole time on the boat. We got the chance to sit in the sun and sun bathe before we got to our first snorkeling spot. I was in group one which meant that I was going scuba diving first. The equipment was very heavy it was hard to stand up with it on our backs. We got in the water and I got nervous I was having a hard time regulating my breathing. I started breathing too quickly and I could not get used to using the regulator under water. Eventually I did get used to the regulator as we were lowered deeper into the water. Simon our Scuba instructor taught us how to clear out our regulator under water as well as our masks if water were to get into them. We started on our tour of the Great Barrier Reef. Two of us had to link arms with Simon while the other two had to hold his hand. We worked our way towards the reef, and my ears started to hurt really badly. Eventually they popped it was rather painful. We got down near the floor of the ocean and it was really cool. We stopped moving and sank to the bottom. It was hard to balance on the sand in the flippers that we had on. Simon was funny, he was pretending that he was sleeping on the ocean floor; I was scared that if I tried that then I wouldn’t be able to get back up right. We came across a sea cucumber, and Simon picked it up and let us hold it. The sea cucumber was big, black, and rather slimy, it seemed. We moved onto the other side of the reef and I got to see NEMO!! He was swimming around in his anemone. It was amazing being able to observe all of the different types of soft and hard coral. We got to see brain coral, and a type of soft coral which we actually got to touch, I got to run my hands through it. We also got to see two sting rays, they were along the ocean floor. They blended right into the sand, when they moved that is when I noticed them. As we kept moving a lot we got to unlink arms with Simon, it was rather scary at first but then I got the hang of everything. I was just scared I was going to hit the coral by accident. The coral seemed closer than it was so I would get scared and worked up for nothing. I am excited to get my pictures developed from the dive. We got back to the boat and I couldn’t believe that the dive was over, it flew by so quickly. I got the chance to warm up and dry off, we then got lunch. After lunch I went back in the water to go scuba diving, which was a little scary at first but then like scuba diving I got the hang of it. I got to see pretty much everything I saw when I was scuba diving. The only bad part about snorkeling was the water that kept coming into my snorkel; it made me choke, the next day my throat hurt really bad. It was an experience that I will never forget, there is nothing like getting the chance to swim in the Great Barrier Reef. I am sad that I did not get to see a sea turtle, I guess that just means that I will have to come back here!!

Flora and some Fauna of the Red Centre

I mentioned earlier that we stopped on the highway to climb a hill and search for witchetty grubs. Scott located several witchetty bushes and had our students digging down into the roots with branches. Only one grub was located – they tend to stay dormant in dry weather and emerge in wet weather when there is a better chance of finding food. The Red Centre has had a surprising amount of rain the last 18 months, and so most grubs would have emerged already. I have been given permission from the student to use her name: Brittany Milliken found and ate the witchetty grub.

In Kings Canyon, Scott showed us the Desert Heat Myrtle, a plant that the indigenous people would use for energy when they were exhausted from hunting. If they had been unsuccessful for a while, they would poison a drinking puddle using rock mint. The kangaroo would become woozy after drinking the water, making it easy to track and kill. The hunter would leave a bit of mint by the puddle to warn other hunters of the sedative.

The ghost gum tree is a fascinating eucalyptus. Its bark is white, and it exudes a white powder which can be used as sunscreen. It has deep tap roots, but even so there are dry times when the tree performs triage: a branch is cut off from the water supply and dies. The dead branch stays attached to the tree. Over time, it will become hollow and thus will be a haven for small creatures. The trees are easy to recognize, what with the white bark and the bizarre jumble of dead branches attached to leafy branches.

We saw several feral camels at Kata Tjuta. The wild ones have not endeared themselves to the population of Australia as they eat the food consumed by native Australian mammals.

The blood wood gum tree is a eucalyptus whose sap is red. The fresh sap kills germs and takes away pain. The sap can be dried and ground into powder. When a pain-killing antiseptic is needed, water is mixed into the powder and the paste applied to the wound.

A piti is a shallow, oblong bowl which is used to carry anything from seeds to babies. A woman would cut a rectangle into the trunk of a blood wood gum, probably using a piece of quartz. To separate the wood from the tree, she would pour hot sand into a small gap she had created to cause the tree to blister and push the wood away from the trunk. The rest of the connection could be severed using the quartz tool. Women would take just one piti from a tree so as to keep the tree healthy.

Honey ants populate the blood wood gum. Women would follow the ants back to their nest and gather a tasty treat. I can’t remember if the entire ant was eaten or just its honey sac.

Scott showed us a spear bush. The very straight branches do look like the shafts of spears. If the branch wasn’t straight enough, it was easy to heat and straighten. Mulga wood, which is slightly poisonous, was used to make the spear head. This was attached to the spear with the sinews from a kangaroo and glue made of resin from spinifex grass.

The Dead Finish bush is the last thing a cow will eat in a drought. The cows die, and the ranch is finished. This bush has needles which are supposed to remove warts. A student presented a wart, and Scott inserted three needles into it. At least one needle was still in the wart an hour later. I haven’t heard if the procedure was successful.

The Dead Finish bush also provided us fodder for some kidding. Its seeds are edible, but rather than picking the seeds off one by one, the women would follow the ants, which also collected the seeds and stacked them around their anthill. The women would scoop up a handful of seeds, grind them up, and make a kind of porridge for their hungry children. It was enough of a meal to keep them quiet until the women could find more substantial food. For the rest of the day, any time someone complained about being hungry we would offer to make them porridge.

Now and then we would see kangaroos and wallabies bounding along the highway, and of course we saw all sorts of birds. I am told that due to those 18 months of good rainfall, we saw a green desert, not the typical desert. Parts of it were so lovely that I asked Scott if the park did grooming. He said no, we were just lucky to be here at this time.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Kings Canyon, Kata Tjuta, and Uluru

We spent 3 days in the Red Centre, climbing or walking around Kings Canyon, Kata Tjuta, and Uluru. Scott of The Rock Tours chose our paths, told us the stories of the Anangu and stories told by the Anangu, and gave us lessons in geology.

Central Australia was once covered by an inland sea which was surrounded by mountains. These mountains eroded into the sea, and the glaciers of an ice age compressed the ground. Massive earth movements formed the Peterman Range. These mountains eroded completely, and the debris was carried along two alluvial fans. Kata Tjuta, consisting of both sand and rocks, was built up by one alluvial fan; Uluru, consisting of sand only, was built up by the other. Glaciers of another ice age compressed these mounds into conglomerate rock and sandstone. The shifting of the tectonic plates brought about the MacDonnell Ranges (Alice Springs area), Kings Canyon, and tilted the two mounds. Cracks formed in Kata Tjuta, which is why we see 36 domes. Uluru was tilted 87 degrees. Everything around these two formations eroded, and so they stand tall on a relatively flat land.

To get a full picture of Uluru, you must be quite a distance away. From that distance you get an impression of a perfectly smooth rock. I was surprised to see that it is not smooth at all. Both Kata Tjuta and Uluru are pockmarked with indentations that look like caves. These are formed by the combination of erosion on the surface and the freezing of water held by the sandstone inside; the weaker parts of the rock are forced out. At Uluru there are several large caves at ground level, some with drawings made by the Anangu. As we walked around this rock, we saw flaking walls in which you could see images, much in the way you see images in clouds. We saw large boulders piled up at the base here and there, and the walls of the rock have ridges.

The national park containing Kata Tjuta and Uluru is owned by the Anangu. the indigenous people of this region. When ownership was transferred (called the hand-back), the Anangu had to agree to a 99 year lease to the Australian government. The board of directors for this park consists of 8 Anangu members and 4 government officials. Several specific sections of Uluru are sacred sites, and we are not to take pictures or enter those areas. There’s not much that can be done to prevent picture taking, but the walking paths in some places have been moved further away from the walls over the 10 years Charlie has been coming here. There are places where we can in fact touch the rock, and we were able to peer into some of the caves. Scott’s stories of the Anangu, their Tjukurpa (belief system and laws) were so compelling and sincere that I believe all the students refrained from taking pictures of the sacred sites and from taking souvenirs from the rock. Climbing Uluru is not an option for the students taking this course. Scott and many members of our course expressed disappointment that so many people continue to come here with that sole goal; they don’t take the time to learn anything about the rock or what it means to the Anangu.

A sacred site could be a meeting place for men’s business or women’s business. We cannot know what this business is. In the eyes of the Anangu everyone in our group, including Charlie, Scott, and me, are children. We have not received instruction, and the men have not gone on walkabout. We cannot enter these sites. Anangu men cannot enter or look at the women’s sacred sites, and women cannot be at the men’s sacred sites.

A sacred site could have special meaning in the history of the Anangu, whether it is a location mentioned in their story-telling or a location where an actual, important event occurred. Scott couldn’t tell us any stories of Kata Tjuta – he is not allowed. We heard several stories about Uluru. Let me see if I can summarize it using the features of the rock I saw after hearing the story.

There is a band of rock that has pulled away from the wall a bit – you can see a gap if you are standing in the right place. It might remind you of a pole. A tumble of rocks could make you think of seed cakes. A portion of the wall of flaky sandstone looks like a menacing dingo. The story: Mali men have started a ceremony, indicated by thrusting their pole into the ground. Another tribe approaches, hoping to invite the Mali to attend their ceremony, but they accidently interrupt the Mali ceremony, which is not supposed to be stopped once started. There are bad feelings on both sides, and the visitors create an evil spirit, a demon dingo, to attack. The women are making seed cakes when the dingo comes upon them, and they drop their cakes and run to the men for help. The kingfisher woman has already been killed when she tries to warn the women; two men stay behind to fight the dingo while the rest of the tribe runs south to safety. Those men die.

Another story is about a man (a blue-tongued lizard) coming across a speared emu and taking the meat for himself, and then lying about it when the hunters show up. They have their revenge when they realize the truth. This story explains some of the round holes in the rock (where the man hid while eating the emu), the pile of boulders at the base (the dropped emu meat when the hunters’ fire cooks the thief), and a black streak on the wall (the flesh of the thief as he rolled down the wall after being cooked). The story tells children about controlled bush fires – the lizard-thief is burning spinifex grass when he finds the emu. It also teaches them about fair play and the dangers of stealing and lying.

Scott told us many stories like this. This is part of the instruction children received before becoming men and women. Boys were also taught to hunt, women to cook. Boys would go on walkabout, spending years in the desert surviving on their own. When they were called back, it was because they succeeded in the eye of the tracker who checked up on them now and then. They then had an initiation ceremony and were declared men. Girls became women when they got married.

Let me stop here. I will talk about the flora of this region in the next post.