Margaret River- I Think I Passed the First Part of the Australian Citizenship Test?

The Margaret River Region south of Perth in Western Australia.

Friday

Friday morning saw the Notre Dame crew with Martin and Tania leaving bright and early early. We once again packed into a van and headed off, this time down south out of Perth. Just like our last time out of the city, buildings and other people fell away pretty quickly to give way to red dirt, scrubby bushes, and sort-of-tallish eucalyptus. The difference this time was that the infrastructure stayed much more constantly built up, as we were headed into the holiday area of Western Australia- Margaret River. This is a region known for vineyards and wineries, chocolate factories, good food, surfing, and beaches. We were heading down south to see where WA goes to play.

Miller’s Dairy Farm- Cowaramup, WA

Our touring began with a visit to a place called Miller’s Dairy Farm, a family run farm that produces milk mostly for in-house ice cream production. It is conveniently and hilariously located right outside the town of Cowaramup, who fully embrace their bovine identity with cow statues and jokes everywhere. I fully approve. We spoke to the farmer and owner, Paul, and learned about agriculture in Australia, and the issues they face today. It’s been especially interesting to hear about these kinds of issues from Australians themselves, especially because the upcoming election in May, in which many of these things we are learning about will play a role. After talking about agricultural issues, we got to help bottle-feed a few week old calf, and watch as a cow was milked by hand. This was followed by a visit to the ice cream parlour on the property and some partaking in excellent homemade ice cream and sorbet. Exactly the ticket for 10:45 in the morning. After bidding our goodbyes to Paul, we headed back to the van and were off in the direction of the coast towards Yallingup.

Abigail feeds a few-week old calf at Miller’s Dairy Farm.

Yallingup, WA

Yallingup is home to a breathtaking series of limestone caverns formed about 1 million years ago under the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge. Our guide for this was Josh, a member of the local Noongar Wadandi people. We started above ground, doing a short bush walk through the flora above the caves, where Josh identified many of the local plants and explained the traditional Aboriginal use for them, included with tips of what we should do if we ever find ourselves stranded in the Outback, including what to eat and how to search for water, and encouragement to chew on some eucalyptus leaves (which were refreshingly minty and fresh). We then descended into the Ngili Cave to see beautiful stalagmite and stalactite formations, hear the Dreamtime story of the cave formation by the spirits, and heard Josh play a didgeridoo for us, amplified by natural cave acoustics. We headed up the many stairs to be aboveground again, and Josh showed us how to start a fire using bush materials, passed around traditional Aboriginal tools and weapons, (including the boomerang, obviously) and then played his handmade didgeridoos again while encouraging us to accompany him with percussive instruments. I’d like to think that what we lacked in natural musicality, we made up for in enthusiasm.

Limestone stalactites hang from the ceiling of Ngili Cave.
We ~attempt~ to accompany Josh and his didg playing with our Aboriginal percussive instruments, to varying degrees of success.

Margaret River Town, WA

Our next stop was the town of Margaret River, where our accommodations for the weekend were. After quickly checking into our cabins, we met with the Town Planners at Margaret River Town Hall. Being from a relatively small town myself, it felt pretty familiar, and very much like my own town hall the few times I’ve been there (thanks, grand jury duty). Many of the issues and initiatives they spoke about resonated with what I’m familiar with from home, like rural schools losing ground to larger, better-funded suburban schools, agricultural issues and changing climates, working to better infrastructure, and more. It was obvious that the planners were proud of their hometown and were happy to share it with us, and it was nice to hear such passion and caring from public servants. Dinner that night was at the Settler’s Tavern, a popular restaurant in touristy Margaret River, followed by an early bedtime in preparation for a looooooong day tomorrow. 

Saturday

Redgate Beach, WA


Wakeup time- 4:30. Why? We had to catch the surf, of course. Yawning and rubbing eyes, we headed off the Redgate Beach, a well-regarded surfing location. After a van ride that included an a capella round of “Take Me Home, Country Roads”, then Jack Johnson on the Aux to get us in the right frame of mind, we met our surfing instructors. After changing into wetsuits, and carrying (surprisingly heavy and bulky) surfboards a good half mile down to the beach, we were on the sand learning how to stand up on a surfboard. Before the sun was even up, we were in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean trying and sort of succeeding to surf. All of us caught at least one wave (usually with the help of the instructors), and had plenty of spectacular falls. Even though I wasn’t particularly good at it, it was an amazing time. It’s rather hard to put into words, but being in the beautifully clear waters on a board as the sun rose over a beautiful beach with just our group of people there, it was a truly amazing experience. After being in the water for about an hour and half, we bid farewell to our great instructors, changed, and were off to the next stop.

Bramley National Park- Margaret River, WA

We went back inland to Margaret River to meet Katie from the Margaret River Conservation organisation. She and some other team members took us into Bramley National Park while talking about the issues of invasive species invasion they are fighting in the area, and then sprung on us that we were going to be helping and getting our hands dirty. She produced shears, saws, gloves, and chemicals, explained what the invasive tree Pittosporum looked like, then told us to go and kill them. Katie, the other members, and our ND squad spread out and must have uprooted over 50 trees. After becoming Environmental Vigilantes (TM), we were still only halfway done with the day. Our next stop was off to explore a world-famous part of Australian culture that we hadn’t really explored much yet- the wineries.

Domaine Naturaliste- Wilyabrup, WA

Margaret River is one of many regions throughout Australia that is well-regarded for its vineyards. This southwestern region is known specifically for its production of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blends. Passing through rolling hills of vines that began to look a lot like Italy, complete with Mediterranean climate, we found ourself not at the cellar door (the wine tasting and sales room on the property of a vineyard), but in the production centre of Domaine Naturaliste Winery in the company of head winemaker and owner Bruce Dukes. Clad in khaki slacks, work boots, and a loudly patterned shirt Tan France would be proud of, he somehow looked exactly what I would have expected an Australian winemaker to look. With him as our guide, we were walked through the wine making process step by step, included with tastings at each different step. A shipment of grapes had come in that very morning and had just finished being pressed, so we tried freshly pressed pure grape juice with a sugar content of about 200 g/L (that’s about 2x the amount found in Coke). We saw the massive pressing machines in action, then followed the process into a large room containing the fermentation vats, massive stainless steel vats that stood several meters high. Here. we tasted a white wine that was about 6 months into its year long fermentation. It was very bubbly from the fermentation, and kind of tasted like sparkling cider. After learning all of us students were STEM of some kind, Bruce happily talked more about the chemistry and physics behind the process. 

We were then lead into the massive storage warehouse of Domaine Naturaliste that contained hundreds of French oak barrels containing hundreds of thousands, if not over a million, dollars worth of wine. Our final tasting of wine was taken directly from the barrel using a pipette-like tool Bruce called a “barrel thief”, and we tried a red wine that was a few years into its ageing process. Bruce so clearly loved wine and the winemaking process, and he clearly had his heart and soul in the whole enterprise. Although he obviously had opinions on the techniques that go into creating wine, he reminded us at the end that the best wines are those that are experienced well, with the right people in good times. He wished us farewell and we headed across the vineyard’s estate to the cellar door of Domaine Naturaliste for an official tasting of some completed, bottled wines. After tasting five wines (deciding on a buttery, oaky Chardonnay as my personal favourite) and eating some charcuterie, we left for our final stop of the day.

Sipping wine straight from the barrel while casually surrounded by hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of wine.

Redgate Lime- Witchcliffe, WA

Heading back towards Redgate, where we had surfed earlier that same morning, we instead pulled off the road towards the beach into a limestone quarry. We met with quarry owner Richard and got to hear a unique perspective on mining and primary production in the region, especially in conflict with the amenity and tourist aspect of much of the surrounding land. It certainly is interesting to see the large pit dug for the quarry right across from a beautiful, unimpeded view down the hill to the coast, as well as consider the vast utility of the minerals from the quarry and the jobs it provides. In addition to being a quarry owner, Richard is a volunteer firefighters and taught us about bushfires in the area, both controlled and uncontrolled. Like many other forest ecosystems, the Australian bush has evolved to need occasional burns to fully grow and develop, and many people are only more recently learning this and putting it into practice. 

Surfer’s Point

For a region known for its surfing, it obviously has to have its fair share of surfing competitions as well. The Margaret River Pro is in fact one of the 11 stops on the World Surf League World Championship Tour, one of three Australian legs. Apparently infamous for its difficult conditions and- here it is, classic Australia- shark attacks. The 2018 event was in fact cancelled because of shark attacks at nearby beaches, with “Shark” making the leadership board as the winner of the competition for the year.

2016 winners of the Margaret River Pro, male and female.
The undisputed 2018 winner.

Margaret River, WA

After this long, exhausting, and fun day, we returned to our cabins in Margaret River and with Tania and Martine, put together a barbecue for dinner that night. It may very well be the most Australian meal I’ve had to date, as it marked the first time I ate kangaroo meat. It was an interesting flavour, kind of like a cross between venison and buffalo, with a little of beef thrown in. Certainly less gamey than venison, and with a leaner texture that reminded me of venison, yet slightly rubbery like a scallop? Definitely interesting, and glad I tried it. The meal also included Australian barbie classics of grilled haloumi cheese and sausages. Our group ate our food, drank beer and cider, and discussed our thoughts about the day, lead by an enthusiastic Martin (who, as an educational anthropologist and sociologist always wants to hear our impressions of Australian society). 

Basically, over the past two days I had heard my first didg (as the cool kids call the didgeridoo apparently) performance, surfed the Indian Ocean while the sun rose, helped to fight off invasive species, drank lots of local wine, and ate kangaroo meat off the barbie. I think I may have passed the first half of the Australian citizenship test? Maybe I just have to start calling flip-flops ‘thongs’ and meet a Hemsworth brother, and I’ll be fully Aussie. 

Oh yeah, and casual wild kangaroos.

(Note: turns out that we missed Christ Hemsworth visiting Rottnest Island off the coast of Perth about a week after our own visit in mid-March. We were so close!)

Sunday

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse- Augusta, WA

We left our cabins and headed to Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, on the most south-westerly part of the Australian continent, meaning that I was also the closest I’ve ever been to Antarctica. It was an appropriately windy day to visit a lighthouse, meaning that at the top of the structure, the winds were reaching speeds up to 75 kph. Strong enough that we could lean into the wind and feel it keep us upright, it also gave all the girls ~great~ naturally tousled hair styles. The lighthouse and the cape also offered a great vantage point of the place that the Indian and Southern Oceans meet. This was followed by a morning tea break, and between the rugged coastline, lighthouse, and tea, I felt like I needed to don a cable knit sweater, rubber boots, have a dark and mysterious past, and write the next Great American Novel (even though I’m in Australia. A confusing feeling).

A mere hop across the ocean to the South Pole.

Canal Rocks and Boranup Karri Forrest

Eucalyptus diversicolor, the karri tree.

Next, off to the Boranup Karri Forrest. Karri is a eucalyptus tree that only grows in south western Australia, is one of the tallest hardwoods in the world, making this forrest a pretty awesome sight.

Finally, Canal Rocks, a series of rugged granitic gneiss rocks in banded red and grey colours that form beautiful cliffs and inlets that the Indian Ocean crashes over. This was our last stop before heading all the way back to Perth, concluding a most Aus-some trip full of natural beauty, classic Australian recreation activities, and learning from people from all industries and walks of life. 


From Perth to Mogumber: Western Australia, Past and Future

N.B. This post will be loooooong, not nearly as light-hearted, and will contain some potentially upsetting topics, especially in the second half.

The first weekend of March marked our first official, Notre Dame-organized trip we would embark on during our time in Perth. Our leaders- the eager and intrepid Martin, and organised and attentive Tania. Martin is a professor at UWA specialising in educational anthropology, and has been running tours for groups of ND students on behalf of our school for years. The brief lesson in Strine mentioned previously? That was Martin. A tour guide more enthusiastic about both teaching and learning you’d be hard pressed to find. Tania is a student of Martin’s working towards her master’s in anthropology, and well-loved purveyor of snacks and reminders to reapply sunscreen. Together, a formidable and enviable team to rally a group of ten 20-21 year old uni students on a Friday and Saturday through many mini-adventures.

Friday

We started off Friday with a tour around Perth and neighbouring port town Fremantle.

Perth, WA

We left from our residential college, boarded a bus, and headed into the city centre of Perth. We saw similar sights to our earlier tour though UWA, except instead of pointing out restaurants and clubs, we were told some about the history of the city and invited to examine differences between Perth and American cities. After walking through more of the shopping districts, we started our first unique event- a visit with two members of the local urban planning committee. We met the two of them at the site of Perth’s newest component of a years-long urban renewal development plan- Yagan Square, opened barely a year ago in March 2018.

View of the outdoor amphitheatre of Yagan Square in Perth with the business district rising in the background.

I’ve never put much thought into the planning and consideration that goes into all aspects of a large urban plan like this, probably because I’ve never lived in a city. Yet, the care that went into each element of this plaza was astounding to hear about, and made me examine everything with a much more critical and appreciative eye. The location was chosen to become a new meeting place for the city, both literally and figuratively. Literally, because it connected the business district in the centre of the city with the cultural centre in the suburb of Northbridge where once there was only an impassable train depot. Figuratively, because it once was a bend in the Swan River running through the city. To the Noongar people, the Aboriginal cultural/language group that inhabits southwestern Australia, a bend in a body of water is a place of significance, and in this case it represented a place of meeting and a source of food. After the establishment of Perth by English colonisers, the Swan River was redirected and the river has not flown here since the 1830s. However, this did not stop local people from using the site as a protest against colonialism and continuing to gather there, even as train tracks sprung up. Balbuk, a Noongar woman known for her colonial occupation protests, is memorialised in art pieces around the square.

The committee and designers paid tribute to the history of the site in more ways, like in the tall steel pieces that trace the path of a river while doubling to provide shade in the middle of the WA (Western Australia) day. The flora is all local, endemic species, and all businesses located in the square are WA owned and run, no franchises allowed. This square was really the first glimpse we got into one of the more fascinating parts of Australian culture- the Aboriginal people, and the relationship then and now with European-settled Australia. And the first interesting story heard came from the name of the square- Yagan.

According to our building committee tour guides, the square had been designed with a great deal of input from the Whadjuk people, the Aboriginal people in the area of Perth. But, the naming was done essentially unilaterally by the premiere of WA at the time. While many people praised the name for the homage it paid the local Aboriginal history, others were not as happy to have a place located on a former significant site named after a man who gave his life as a resistance fighter, a man opposed to the very urbanisation and ecological change that the cities represented. This was merely a small insight into the conflict surrounding this contentious issue that is still prevalent in Australian society today, and (spoiler alert) this weekend would delve much deeper into the topic. But before I get to that, we had a boat to catch. 

The Ferry

A short, 90 minute boat ride down the Swan River was our mode of transport for this next leg of our trip. Other than the weather being beautiful and sunny, the trip was noticeable for one other quality- it took us right past some of the most expensive property in Perth, and all of WA. These were the suburbs of Dalkeith and Mosman Park. This is another showcase of the great wealth brought into the city during the 2000s by mining money that made it one the most booming economies in Australia, if not the world at the time. This included a view of a mansion along the riverfront recently sold for A$57.5 million. While many of the homes were indeed quite beautiful, it was also a reminder that, in some cases, there’s no accounting for taste.

Fremantle, WA

Fremantle is Perth’s cooler, hipster, more colourful cousin just south, where the river meets the Indian Ocean. For my fellow Americans, think like much smaller Portland/San Francisco vibes. Lots of trendy restaurants and microbreweries, cool bars and pubs, and, admittedly, less industry than Perth. Our trip through Freo was motivated by a tour of local art and statues, a way Martin believed would give insight into local culture and ideas. Most of the statues and monuments were the kind that you would expect to see in a European-settled city of that size- a statue of the man responsible for the building of Fremantle’s port; the WWII-era politician John Curtin from the city who was Prime Minister from 1941 to 1945; a strange artistic representation of St. George guarding a giant chess set available for use outside an Anglican church; a statue of Bon Scott, the original lead singer of AC/DC who lived in Freo and is buried there. However, the most interesting monument was an innocuous pillar in a park near the ocean.

Bon Scott presiding over Fremantle Boat Harbour, microphone in hand, hopefully about to sing You Shook Me All Night Long.

You see, just like in the US, Australia is having conversations about controversial statues and monuments. Rather than Confederate memorials, Australia is debating about memorials commemorating colonisers, especially those who were killers of Aboriginal people. Freo was not immune to this, but they did have a rather unique reaction. The Explorer’s Monument in Perth was erected at the beginning of the 20th century to pay homage to a trio of white settlers who were killed by Aboriginals on an expedition north, and later “avenged” by a search party who recovered the bodies and killed around 20 Aboriginal people. In 1994, Aboriginal communities added a second plaque to the monument, reminding that the original work only tells one side of the history and in remembrance of the Aboriginal people who lost their lives as well. I found this a poignant reminder that the reality of history is complex and often uncomfortable, but that this can be addressed in ways that do not rewrite or gloss over parts of it. An interesting model to consider, in any case.

Explorer’s Monument in Fremantle, with the original plaque on top and added plaque on bottom.

This statue ended our guided tour of Fremantle, and we ended the day eating fish and chips (fried feta for our vegetarians, or vegos) next to the beach. We split up from their to make our own way back to college in Perth. A few of us popped into a nearby bar to try some of the beer Freo is known for producing, and caught the first half of an Australian Rules Football match (footy). It was altogether quite enjoyable to watch, especially because we had no clue what the rules were supposed to be. We have tickets to attend a live game in a few weeks, so I’m certain I can talk more about it them. I will leave it here with these observations- the game is played with 18 men on each team on a field at a time, boundaries and field positions seem to be mere suggestion, it involved a combination of hitting similar to underhand volleyball serving, kicking, and running while occasionally hitting the ball on the ground to move the oval-shaped ball around, and the finals scores resembled high school basketball games. I can’t wait to watch a game live.

After finishing up at the bar, we boarded a bus and returned to college to rest up for an even fuller day the upcoming Saturday. And if I thought I had had a glimpse into complex non-Indigenous/Indigenous Australian relations, it would be nothing compared to the next day.

Saturday

We set off early from Tommy More on a van bound- for the first time since my arrival in Australia- inland, away from the ocean. Western Australia, while being the largest state by area, has 78.5% of its population residing in the Greater Perth area. And boy, does the population take a sharp decline just a short ways inland. Only a short drive outside of this nice, beachy-cosmopolitan city I have come to know in my almost month of being here and the landscape gives way to what I immediately could identify as the famed “bush”, or Outback. And all of the sudden, it was much easier to make sense of the popular stereotypes I had heard- here was the land of deadly animals by the dozens, kangaroos hoping by dirt roads, and endless blue sky unbroken by clouds, tall trees, or real mountains. While in Perth I had been coming to know the people of Australia, this was my sudden introduction to the land of Australia. Enough about the flora and fauna right now, as I’m sure I will explore this more in depth in a later post. Right now, we were on our way to meet a different kind of Australian inhabitant- Benedictine monks.

New Norcia, WA

New Norcia is a Spanish-founded monastic town about 2 hours outside of Perth, and the only monastic town in Australia. Admittedly, this is not a stop I imagined making when I thought about my study abroad experience beforehand. To me, a monastery lies in verdant green hills somewhere in Europe and has for hundreds of years. Instead, we found ourselves rolling to a stop at a cluster of a few Spanish-influenced buildings set among red dirt in the middle of the bush, far from a town of real size.You can rely on Notre Dame to find a Catholic settlement to send their students to, I suppose. I would come to find out that this sleepy little town standing quietly under a blazing Australian sun had some interesting history to tell.

The archway into the cloistered section of the New Norcia monastery.

We set off on a guided tour of the town, under the direction of a guide who began to regale us with some of the history. We heard about the first Abbot, Bishop Salvado, who in his reign from 1846 to 1900, made New Norcia one of the most progressive missions in all Australia at the time. He did this through a close relationship with the local Aboriginal people, especially for the time. He attempted to learn their language and customs, and the museum at the monastery is full of artefacts from the local people and documents from monks under Salvado’s direction. The sympathy and willingness to live alongside the local people that the bishop displayed was rare for his time.

When the bishop died in 1900, his successor, come over from Spain, did not share his same focus towards harmony with the Aboriginals and instead shifted focus to turning the monastery to a school. It became one of the better schools in the state, and was in operation until the 90s. We saw many of the old school buildings and chapels, as well as the mill that used to run to provide bread for the students. After trooping about in the hot sun, we stopped for a break in the main chapel the monks use and were treated to an amazing organ and piano performance by one of the 11 brothers. Our Notre Dame crew had a quick picnic lunch, then were off to our next location.

Mogumber, WA- Moore River Settlement

A quick 20 minute drive in our bus took us to the “town” of Mogumber. And by town, I mean a classic Outback pub, signs advertising the rodeo being held in a few weeks, and some train tracks. We weren’t in Mogumber for the pub and its Carlton Draught, though. We were meeting Stephanie Mippy, an Aboriginal woman who was taking us just down a rough road to the now abandoned Moore River Settlement. Stephanie met us with a few of her aunties at the site of the former settlement, and began to tell us about a period of Australian history that I doubt many Americans would be aware of. I certainly wasn’t.

Moore River Settlement was set up a little over a century ago, in 1918, by AO Neville, the Chief Protector of Aborigines in Western Australia for several decades (spoiler alert- a man called Neville the Devil by the Aboriginals). He presided over the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families under the ideology of assimilation, the idea that the inferiority of being black should be “bred out” with whites or allowed to die. Using policies based off of this, many children, especially lighter skinned ones who were believed to have a better chance of successful assimilation to white Australia, were taken from their families and placed in internment camps like Moore River. Conditions were brutal and unforgiving, and abuse of the children was rampant under the guise of discipline. Of the 347 recorded deaths at the camp, 203 were children. Stephanie’s grandparents grew up in the camps, and she in turn grew up hearing stories about the place from her grandparents and their acquaintances. They believe that more died than were recorded. Most of the children taken were placed at Moore River, but some of the lightest skin were sent just a few kilometres away- to New Norcia for school. A weird, and not pleasant, sense of coming full circle.

Stephanie and her aunts told stories they had been handed down from elders who had grown up in the camps away from their families as we stood among what buildings were still standing. And I say still standing because no work has gone into preserving this site. Indeed, it seemed like a fairly low-traffic place, with no one else disturbing our time there. There are no real signs around to tell the stories of the people who lived, grew up, and died at this place. Once Stephanie and the others who work to make sure the stories are heard are gone, there will be little sign of what happened at this place. They are working to secure funding to develop it into a more permanent historical site to ensure the longevity of the tale.

Stephanie shares letters and important documents from the life of her grandfather, Ned.

Stephanie and her family also shared with us letters. documents, awards, and articles about her grandfather, the late Ned Mippy. In his lifetime, Mr. Mippy was known for his work in promoting Cultural Education in Aboriginal culture for all Australians, including preservation of the local Noongar language. For this work, he was awarded an Australia Day Award, given for community engagement and contribution (and we got to see the award letter). It was a nice reminder to have, after hearing the stories of the camp, that things are better today, even if they have not reached the point of being great. But there are good people like Stephanie and her family who are working to educate, to remind people, to heal old wounds, and to talk about productive ways to move forward for all Australians.

After a hearty thank you to the Mippys, we headed off again, for we still had one more stop in our weekend journey.

Gingin, WA- Observatory

We finished the trip on a completely different note- SCIENCE. Fun fact, the Notre Dame Perth program is typically made up entirely of STEM majors of some kind, and this years group is no exception. Trust me when I say we’ve been sneaking nerdy science moments into several of our trips so far. So of course, it was with great excitement that we rolled up to our final destination- the Gravity Discovery Centre and Observatory. It was here that we grabbed dinner at a small cafe dedicated to Einstein, eating quick because we needed to be done before the sun went down. Why? To make it to the Leaning Tower of Gingin to drop water balloons, of course. This is a 45 meter tall tower that stands as an homage to Galileo’s original gravity experiments from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The tower at Pisa tilts at 5.5 degrees from the vertical, whereas this homage tilts a full 15 degrees.

We happily climbed 222 stairs, water balloons in hand, stopping to catch our breath on landings decorated with cheerful reminders that time was going faster the higher we got and that we were now ageing faster.

One of the more cheerful reminders on the relative nature of time, or did you misread Einstein?

Once at the top, we dropped our loads to fall and splat on the ground far below, giggling like children the entire time. After the fun reminder of the power of gravity, we descended back down to explore the science museum as the sun fully set to kill time until it was dark enough to begin our final activity of the night- a guided stargazing tour with a few of the astrophysicists stationed at the Observatory. As our guide began to walk us through the constellations that could be seen, I was reminded that I was in the land Down Under- all the constellations where upside down to the orientation I am used to at home. Poor Orion (one of the only constellations I can identify with any degree of certainty) was standing on his head, probably having to hold his toga in place to protect his modesty. They spent a good amount of time talking about how to be sure you are identifying the Southern Cross correctly- a constellation I hadn’t even learned about because it’s only visible in the southern sky. This is the constellation that graces the flag of Australia with its celestial presence, though, so I imagine that being able to correctly identify the four stars at a BBQ with your mates is a mark of Australian pride, and probably a question on their citizenship test.

The Australian flag with the Southern Cross constellation located on the right side.

We were also able to gaze at several other distant galaxies and nebulas and contemplate our small place in a vast universe. After two days spent in historical reflection, it was a reminder about the work going into the present and future, and all the things we don’t know about it yet. A strange juxtaposition to end a trip full of interesting information and even more interesting people.

Well, if you’ve read this long, good on ya. I promise the next articles that approach a longer length will be split up. Cheers, mate!

Orientation Week- Tommy, Tommy, Tommy, Oi, Oi, Oi

Sunset as seen from a jetty on Cottesloe Beach

N.B. I was told after publishing the last post by my aerospace engineering (and “slightly” plane and rocket obsessed) older brother that my flight speed was in fact 550 mph, so… this is for you, Jake.

Starting Sunday this week, we had Orientation Week at St. Thomas More Residential College, the place I’m living for the next couple of months. (“College” is residential dorms and also high schools/boarding schools, and “uni” is the university. Yay for language differences!) Having helped to plan and run Notre Dame’s own version of orientation for the past two years for my own residence hall, it was strange to be back on the other side of the equation. I swapped out my blue/pink Breen-Phillips Hall tank top with “A” for ambassador for a bright, bright yellow tee that “Fresher” felt like an apropos physical embodiment of my newfound lack of knowledge and experience. I guess in a land known for its dangerous creatures, I needed venomously bright yellow to blend in and feel at home. At least it helped to highlight my newly developing tan.

A wild fresher spotted…

Just as strange as switching to a new colour palette from the usually ND navy/gold, they have several sanctioned events that they serve alcohol at. I guess intellectually, I was aware that the US is behind most other countries with our late drinking age, but it was still a bit of a shock to the system to be official college events that aren’t dry. There’s a crew of people, the Red Frog Crew, who are a volunteer nonprofit who’s deal is that they go around to events that young people are attending, like high school or uni age events, and make sure that everyone is safe. In the words of their website, “Supporting, Serving, and Safeguarding Young People”. On our first official night out event to a nearby bar Wednesday night, this involved watching the roads on the walk home and serving water and donuts to intoxicated students. What this donut meant to my intoxicated mind cannot quite be expressed. Red Frog Crew, you are performing the services we need and doing the Lord’s work for hapless uni students. Good on ya.

So, Quick Rundown

This was a busy, busy week with many events organised through my residential college and through UWA. This started off orientation for international students at UWA, complete with quick rundown of “Strine”, or Australian English. Try saying it out loud in an Australian accent, you’ll hear it. This was only a quick introduction, learning is going to be an ongoing process. Other events included a walking tour of the City of Perth (complete with mini-tutorial on their very nice public transport system), a BBQ with a petting zoo and aforementioned Red Frog Crew people cooking us pancakes and cotton candy, and a visit to local Cottesloe Beach to eat fish and chips and watch the sunset. Throughout the week, the freshers at St. Thomas More learned choreography for a song mashup performed at the end of the week in a competition against the other residential colleges near UWA. This brought vivid flashbacks of every serenade practice I’ve ever been involved in at Notre Dame. Between the matching shirts, chants, dancing, and constant activity, the summer camp vibes were strong.

Perth City as seen from Elizabeth Quay, and the obviously nasty weather the city is known for.
A delicious Ferrero Rocher donut stuffed with Nutella found, and quickly eaten, on Murray Street. Somehow, still not as satisfying as the Red Frog Crew donut on the way home from the bar.

With all the business, some of the other ND students and I did manage to make some time to get to explore Perth more. Highlights included walks around the shopping districts of Claremont Quarter, Murray Street, and Raine Center; time spent strolling around the leafy and open Perth Zoo; wandering around Heirisson Island in search of the wild kangaroos (which were not spotted, so we’ll have to go back closer to twilight); strolls around some of the suburbs of Perth like Northbridge, Nedlands, Claremont, and Cottesloe. And, in the sunniest capital city in Australia and a city known for agreeable weather most of the time, two more trips to the beach. All in all, we averaged about 6 miles of walking per day, and my dogs were barking. Translated into Strine- my dingoes were howling? Maybe I’ll get a handle on the language eventually…

With classes starting this week, I expect that the feeling of permanent vacation/camp will fade and real life will begin to creep in. A gentle reminder that I am here to go to school, not just to explore around (although plenty of both will be happening…). Cheers, mate!

The Beginning: To an Antipodean Place

Far, Far, Far Away

It wasn’t until I was walking away from my mom in the airport in St. Louis that I think it really began to hit me that I was going to spend the next four months away from home in the US. And not just away from home, but like, away from home. 10,977 miles (17,665 km), to be exact (I’m trying to acclimatize myself to using the metric system in everyday life. Thanks, Jimmy Carter). It is almost impossible for me to have picked a place physically further from my hometown. To that effect, I have learned a wonderful new word- antipode (noun), the direct opposite of something. I have already started brainstorming on how this can be used in a pun-like manner, most likely on an Instagram caption.

This distance may explain why it took me a grand total of 37 hours, 39 minutes, and 28 seconds from the time I left my house in Effingham, IL, to the time I arrived at St. Thomas More Residential College in Crawley, WA. Because I knew that, with the myriad time changes I would be experiencing, figuring out the time by hand would be not-fun math, I set the stopwatch on my phone going when I left my house, letting technology do the hard work for me.

A long, loooooong journey

While I do love to travel, and don’t normally mind the getting-there part overly much, there is something about a 17 hour flight that would make the most patient among us cry. By the end, a small part of me wanted to claw at the walls of the plane, claw at the (perfectly nice) people seated next to me, and claw at my own eyes, in that order. Most of me just wanted to sleep on a horizontal surface. Would I fly straight from Houston to Sydney again? Well, I have to if I want to get home. However, I am glad that I have four months before I have to do that again.

A slight side note, just an observation on time zones. The way I traveled meant that I took off from Houston on a Wednesday night and landed in Sydney on a Friday morning. It seemed bizarre in the extreme that I kind of missed a day. A Thursday just slid right by without me truly experiencing it while I was hurtling above the Earth in an aerodynamic tin can at over 460 mph. Time is strange like that. It was just lucky happenstance that the Thursday I essentially skipped was February 14th, Valentine’s Day. The ultimate single flex.

Beginning Thoughts on the Land of Aus

As anyone who knows my sense of humor well can attest, I am a sucker for puns. I’ve made many myself, and have been known to genuinely laugh at a turn-of-phrase that others groaned at. So, to my delight, one of the first things I see when I arrive at the domestic Qantas terminal at Sydney Airport to catch my connection on to Perth, is this:

What I can only hope is that that is a Mexican restaurant named in honor of the Australian cinematic treasure Mad Max. I think I already like it here.

Qantas may have the best airline food I’ve ever had. And handed out ice cream Mars bars instead of peanuts or pretzels. Take note, US airlines.

Perth was sunny and 80 when we landed. This will be nice. I guess I see why retirees are always chasing the warm sunny summer.

I’ve heard “Good on ya, mate” said about six times already and have a few RAs pull me aside specifically (once they found out I was American) to tell me “Yeah, so thongs are sandals, mate. Just so ya know”, so I’m really looking forward to hearing lots more new accents and turns of phrase.

Underwater hockey. Is. A. Thing. In the words of the Aussies telling us about it. “They probably tried to play ice hockey and the rink melted. Also have you seen the Olympics? Australians are great in the water.”

Other than this, I’m just really looking forward to the next four months. I will endeavor to record anything of note, any interesting people I meet, foods I eat, sites I see, or things I do. Cheers, mate.