Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Show Must Go On

January 23 – 25, 2014

By Shannon Boerner

Stepping out on Friday into a rainy, Portland-esque night, we made our way down to the Sydney Opera House for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Dressed in our very best after explicit instructions to "scrub up," we climbed the stairs to the entry under the tiled sails.

Before the performance. Photo set features one of many "selfies" we have taken on this trip.
We saw Black Diggers, a production meant to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the start of WWI and reclaim the relatively forgotten contributions of Indigenous Australian ANZACS. The play was extremely intense, especially because many of us were in the third row, close enough to feel every tensed muscle and see each tear shed by the actors. I was on the verge of tears for the entire 90-minute show. The play explained how Aboriginal soldiers in a sense became “Australians,” in that they were not marginalized because of the color of their skin and they gained freedoms they were denied as civilians. These soldiers became mates with their white counterparts. 

After the war, most Indigenous ANZACS found that even though they had returned home as changed men, nothing had really changed. They had grown, their brothers in arms had grown, but the world had not. There was one monologue that really got to me. The man, enraged and disappointed, expressed how he had fought for country and for those four years, the color of his skin did not affect his social standing. But the second he stepped off the boat, Australian society painted prejudice right back on him. He felt as if he had won something over there and lost something back here in Australia.  
A picture of the stage - words were written in white paint on the walls to establish the setting.

Most audience members were Australian and probably have deep-seated understanding of the tensions and issues between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians from 1788 and continuing today. As newcomers to Australia, we have learned the historical background of colonization, but it was only on Thursday that we had really been exposed to some of the Indigenous perspectives. Our guest lecturer on Thursday is an Indigenous Australian academic. She taught us more about the varying Aboriginal Australian cultures and also the issues that many contemporary Indigenous Australians face. Having been in feminist theory courses at L&C and recognizing the power and validity of each person's experience, I appreciated her coming to class to tell us about her life experiences and research.

I honestly cannot understand how Aboriginal Australians have been treated so horribly. True, we are in a different time and therefore able to reflect on the past with the bias of hindsight, but once you can see how many people continue to be affected by colonization (displacement, marginalization, erasure of culture and history and so on…) how could anyone deny these problems? Not that we don’t have similar issues in the United States, but for some reason they seem far more pronounced here. It is possible that my status as an outsider, coming to this culture from a different one, has allowed me to notice it more clearly.

I am becoming increasingly interested in the dynamics of the colonization of Australia. This week we took a Dreaming Tour of The Rocks suburb, during which our tour guide shared cultural knowledge. He showed us many places that are spiritually significant to the Gadigal people and are now part of the big, modern city, like the land where the Opera House sits, for example.


Fast-forward to Saturday night and we were off to see a different production. This production was not part of the L&C program and a bit more American than one might expect: my favorite hometown band, Grouplove, was playing at Metro Theatre on George Street. I've seen the band a handful of times before, but the Sydney crowd was more lively and energetic than any other crowd. Ending up in the second row, I had what I would consider to be one of the best nights ever. I never thought that it would take flying across the world to get the opportunity to sing along with the band, interact with the members, hold crowd-surfing drummers and singers, and get a set list. 

Today, Sunday, is Australia Day, the national holiday. The city is buzzing with activity including Aboriginal festivals, ferry racing, and live music performances. I’m off to explore the city and find the best fireworks! Best wishes from the 'land down unda!'


Note from the editor: Shannon is also keeping a personal blog. Check it out!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Blue Mountains Continued...

January 20 – 22, 2014

By Allie Huang

Hello Mates!
It is our second week in Australia and I must say it has been a blast! After visiting the Jenolan Caves on Sunday, on Monday, we set out early for our final day of adventures in the Blue Mountains.

It was a 45-minute drive from the YHA to the Grand Canyon, where we met our guide, Jeff. He has a wealth of knowledge about the ecology of the Blue Mountains, and he shared his knowledge while leading us on a five-hour bushwalk through the mountains. As we began our descent into the canyon, a gentle breeze brought out the scent of the eucalyptus trees. 

Bushwalking (hiking) deep into the Grand Canyon

After hiking for two hours, we were close to reaching a nice area where we planned to rest and eat lunch, only to discover that several trees had recently fallen and blocked the path. True to our adventurous Pioneer spirit, we decided to climb over the tree trunks and continue the bushwalk. The process was a bit tricky, and we relied on each other for boosts up and over the trunks. With teamwork, we were able to successfully get everyone through the roadblock!

Gabby and Nicky on the track toward the waterfall

We ate lunch and continued on the steep track to a waterfall. When we arrived, the view was so beautiful that everybody stopped and sat silently enjoying the moment. Then it was time for us to head back up and out of the rainforest. I thought this would be the easiest part of our journey, but I was wrong. Not only did we climb seemingly endless stairs, but the path started to ascend more steeply as we neared the top. This path, as Jeff described, was the “stairway to heaven.” When we finally got to the top, we felt like champions and enjoyed the breathtaking view of the Grand Canyon. All I could say was, “for this moment and this view, the climb was worth it!”

The waterfall

The rewarding view of the Grand Canyon 

From there we hopped onto the bus and headed back to Arundel House in Sydney feeling exhausted, but sad to leave such a beautiful place. 

On Tuesday we had a lecture on the Australian cultural milieu, during which we learned statistics about the Australian population’s age, religious, and ethnic composition. We had an interesting discussion about multiculturalism and same-sex marriage in Australia (Australia is quite multicultural; same-sex marriage is not let legal, even though Australia has been considered to be a "democratic laboratory"). Our second lecturer discussed the impact of European colonization on Aboriginal Australians. We learned about stages of Aboriginal dispossession, marginalization and discrimination, criminalization, and finally, about Indigenous movements for civil rights and land rights. Later that night, we watched the third episode of The First Australians, a documentary on contemporary Australian history told from Indigenous perspectives.  We learned about the Wurundjeri people, whose country is where Melbourne is now located.

Wednesday was a free day! A close friend of my mom who lives in Sydney kindly took off work to show me around the area.  We went to the fish market and Chinatown to get my first taste of seafood in Australia. I must say, the seafood in Sydney is fresh and delicious! I could spend a whole day just eating seafood here, if only I could afford the bill! After that we went downtown to the Queen Victoria Building. I love downtown Sydney because there are always performances—live music, break dancing and magic acts—on each street corner.  It is an energetic city, always full of people. As for the others, some of the group explored the Glebe and Newtown neighborhoods near the University of Sydney. In my opinion, the restaurants, bookstores, shops, and pubs in this part of Sydney are similar to Hawthorne Street in Portland. One short side note: since everything is so expensive in Sydney compared to America, we were excited to find a six dollar Pad Thai on Glebe Point Road!

Australia offers us new things to discover everywhere we go and I am looking forward to learning about and exploring more of this amazing country. My time with you is over, but you are going to hear from me again. Until then, take care!


Photos by Becca Zilk

Thursday, January 23, 2014

That One Weekend in the Blue Mountains…

January 17 – 19, 2014

By Sierra Enright

On Friday, following a lecture on the terrestrial biota of Australia, we took a ferry from Circular Quay to the Taronga Zoo. A knowledgeable, friendly staff member told us about the uniquely adapted Australian fauna. We were able to pet an echidna, a possum (cuter than the North American opossum), a non-venomous snake, a tree frog, a quokka, and a kangaroo. From our tour of the zoo I picked up a few interesting facts: Australia is home to the 11 most venomous snakes in the world; koalas have upside-down pouches because their young need to be exposed to the mother’s fecal matter in order to develop enzymes specific to digesting eucalyptus; and a female kangaroo is able to pause a pregnancy at 100 cell divisions until she is no longer nursing her other joeys. Walking around the zoo, it was interesting to look at all the animals and to do some people watching. A number of us were quite horrified to see people throwing chips (French fries) to the spider monkeys. You’d get kicked out of most zoos in the US for doing that! 
This is a quokka! (Photo by Becca Zilk)

On Saturday, we left Sydney and headed west for a weekend excursion to the Blue Mountains. On our way to the mountains we stopped at the Mount Annan Botanic Garden. The best story from the walk around the garden is about the wollemi pine, a species believed to be extinct until it was found in a remote valley in the Blue Mountains about 20 years ago. Today it is considered a “living dinosaur” because the species is so ancient (fossils indicate at least 90 million years old). At Scenic World, a tourist attraction in the mountains, we rode a railway with a 52-degree incline, the steepest passenger railway in the world. We had an excellent view of the Three Sisters, which tower several thousand meters above the valley floor. The Three Sisters carry significant cultural, social, and historical value to the traditional custodians of the land. According to the Gundungurra people, the lore behind the Three Sisters is that three Gundungurra sisters fell in love with three brothers from the neighboring Dharruk nation, though tribal law forbade marriage between the two groups. War broke out between the tribes when the brothers took the girls by force. A Gundungurra medicine man turned the girls to stone to keep them away from the brothers and out of the violence. He would have restored the sisters to their natural form but he was killed in battle. The sisters remain in stone to this day. The story reminds people to do what is best for their family clan and warns about the consequences of not following tribal laws. 

The Three Sisters
 On Sunday, we rode the bus to the Jenolan Caves, about an hour drive from where we were staying in Katoomba. We took a cave tour that led us throughout the complex cave system. We saw underground rivers that cut through the caves, stalactites and stalagmites, sparkling areas that had been dry for decades, and chambers with cathedral-like ceilings. One of the stalagmites we saw was almost as tall as me, and close to a thousand years old… mindboggling! 

Limestone formations in Jenolan Caves

Upon finishing our tour of the cave, we walked to a lovely little pool and waterfall for a picnic. Many in our group jumped from the cliff face into the pool and some of us just went swimming. On our walk back to the bus, we could just make out a platypus diving in the lake. It’s rare to see platypus in the wild, especially during the day, so we were quite lucky. Sunday was an exciting day of wildlife viewing; in addition to the platypus, we saw three adorable wallabies hanging out by the road on the way back to Katoomba. Our busy weekend in the Blue Mountains was the perfect complement to our first week of classes in Sydney. It is so exciting to be in a place with such amazing plants and animals.   


Feeling refreshed after swimming in the rock pool 
Photos by: Sierra Enright

Monday, January 20, 2014

G'day Mates!

January 14 – 16, 2014

By Seraphie Allen

Welcome to the blog for Lewis & Clark’s Spring 2014 Australia Program! My name is Seraphie and I will be your tour guide for the first three days. Just kidding. But really, to start with how the weather feels thus far in the country Down Under: we usually enjoy a brilliant, blue sky with hot, humid days and wonderful warm, windy evenings. Sometimes I forget that I am in a different country (continent, hemisphere) because most things (buildings, cars, stores, people, etc.) are similar to the US. But it’s those little things—when you can’t find that brand of peanut butter, or when you must remember to look right before crossing the street— that make you double take and remind you: we are in Australia! 

A friendly safety reminder to folks new to Australia: "Look Right"

Sydney is an awesome city. As our faculty leader, Dave, says, “Sydney has the weather of San Diego, the energy of New York, the architecture of Chicago, and the layout of San Francisco,” and, in my opinion, the funky pubs of Portland. Our group is living together in a dorm-like house on Arundel Street, across from the University of Sydney. We are ideally situated at Arundel, because not only are we across the street from classes, but we are a 10-minute walk from Glebe Point Road, a street with great pubs, restaurants, bookstores and more, and about a 30-minute walk to downtown Sydney.

Our first day in the city, we took a bus tour and saw the iconic Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Circular Quay, other famous sections of the city, and ended the tour with a swim at the famous Bondi Beach.

 Our group in front of Sydney Harbour, Sydney Opera House, and the Harbour Bridge

Enjoying the view at the entrance of the harbour

Starting our second and third days, the mornings consisted of classes about the geology, archeology, and climate of Australia. After class, the afternoons were our own. Most of us took this opportunity to explore and/or go grocery shopping, as Arundel kindly provides breakfast, but we are in charge of our other meals. In the evenings, many others and myself have been spending our time on the roof of our Arundel home. Not only does it have a fantastic view of the city, but also as the sun is setting in the west, we have an ideal view of the fruit bats flying up from the botanical gardens and snatching at bugs in the air. When the bats swarm up, they resemble something both awesome and creepy… like the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz

The view from Arundel House

In the morning on Thursday, we had classes about the history and mythology of the Australian frontier. We learned about the cultural diversity of the Aboriginal communities that lived in Australia long before European colonization. Pre-colonization, it was estimated that there were 500-700 distinct and diverse groups and that the major similarity between all the communities was a sense of respect and importance placed upon the land. Similar to the colonization of the U.S., Europeans brought diseases that the Indigenous Australians had not previously been exposed to, which caused thousands of deaths and wiped out entire communities. I find it incredibly distressing and downright criminal how European colonization has destroyed so many different groups across the world and that current governments (U.S. included) continue to oppress those people.

In class, we also learned about the first colonizers, the convicts and their caretakers, and how they learned to survive in Australia. In the afternoon, we took a field trip to the Hyde Park Barracks and the ANZAC Memorial and Pool of Reflection, also located in Hyde Park. The ANZAC Memorial was originally created as a WWI memorial for those who had died, but now honors all of those who have died serving their country in the many conflicts in which Australia has deployed its military. “Lest We Forget” was written on the memorial and is now a regular Australian phrase used to show remembrance of those who have served in the Australian forces. Upon entering the memorial, people are asked to be silent, in order to show respect for the fallen. I found this experience to be deeply melancholy and moving. 

 Hyde Park Barracks

ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Memorial

Sorry to end on that somber note, but I hope y’all keep reading our further adventures!


Photos by Becca Zilk