Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tasmania and the Ghosts of Empire

February 19 – 21, 2014

By David Campion

Earlier this month, the students spent a week of independent travel working on their research projects.  I took this opportunity to visit Tasmania, the island to the south of Eastern Australia.  It was a chance for me to see a new part of the country and to satisfy my longstanding historical curiosity about one of the more notorious places in the British Empire.  In many ways Tasmania feels like a different country.  It is the only state that is physically separated from the continent of Australia.  The weather is noticeably cooler and wetter than the other places we have experienced thus far.  Even before I arrived I could see miles of lush green forests, hills and farmland from the airplane window as we made our final approach.  It looked very similar to Oregon, actually.

On the second day, I drove east to the Port Arthur penal settlement.  The place is a combination of ruins and restored buildings that have been declared a UNESCO world heritage site.  The place is serene and beautiful, yet disturbing and haunting at the same time.  Port Arthur was established in 1830 as a final destination for repeat offenders and high-risk convicts in the other Australian penal colonies—the world’s first “supermax” prison.  It was a cruel place, seemingly more remote from the rest of the world than even Australia.  Inmates wore leg irons constantly and were worked to exhaustion cutting timber, mining, or engaged in other backbreaking labor.  The convicts included Irish rebels, English Chartists and the few Tasmanian Aboriginals who had survived the virtual annihilation of their people.  Those who were disobedient or malingerers were subjected to reduced rations, isolation, and brutal corporal punishment.  The incarcerated included young boys and the mentally ill (though mental health in Port Arthur was a diminishing resource among most residents). Within the larger site was the “separate prison”—an early experiment in psychological conditioning of inmates.  Extended periods of solitary confinement, sensory deprivation, and aggressive religious proselytizing were the norm.  In many ways, this remote British prison was an early version of the gulags of the Soviet Union and was characterized by similar indoctrination, regimentation, torture and isolation.  There was no hope of escape for the “criminals,” many of whom were political dissidents or non-violent petty thieves driven by the realities of their poverty.  Overall, Port Arthur was a sobering history lesson.  None of the supposed barbarism of Britain’s conquered peoples could compare to its cold-bloodedness and dehumanization.  The site remains an almost mocking rejoinder to the progress and liberty invoked to justify the imperial expansion of Victorian Britain.  Indeed it makes Australia’s other penal colonies seem mild by comparison.

Guard House at Port Arthur Penal Settlement
Ruins of Main Penitentiary at Port Aurthur

After Port Arthur, I was in the mood for a lighter and more cheerful experience.  I spent the final three days hiking through two of the island’s most renowned national parks: Freycinet on the rugged eastern coast and Hartz Mountain in the vast southwestern forests.  Both were spectacular and easily lived up to my expectations of Tasmania’s rugged and wild natural beauty.  In Freycinet I climbed to the top of Mt. Amos and enjoyed a commanding view of Wineglass Bay and the Tasman Sea.  In Hartz I walked for miles through misty forests and mountains.  The most amazing quality was the silence.  Often there was not a sound to be heard—no birds, insects, animals or even the wind.  It had an almost mystical serenity.  Yet I couldn’t help but think that the same monastic silence must have seemed so unnatural to those early convicts sent out to ends of earth and was likely to have contributed to their alienation and despair.  Tasmania was indeed a haunting place: beautiful, strange, remote and silent.  I won’t soon forget it.

– Dave
Hartz Mountain National Park
Lake Esperance at Hartz Mountain National Park
View from Mt. Amos at Freycinet National Park

Brisbane: New Adventures in an Old City

February 16 – 18, 2014

By Alexander Corwin

On Sunday, February 16, we returned to Brisbane from our respective research trips. I visited Byron Bay in New South Wales with three other students. We had an amazing time; the town is stunningly beautiful and very laid back. We were able to get a lot of research done while enjoying the majestic scenery—a win in my book!

As a group, we cannot wait to explore Brisbane. The city roughly resembles Portland with its large central river and many bridges. The ethnic food we have enjoyed in West End, the same neighborhood the GED office is located in, has been delectable. I have twice visited a small Greek taverna called The Little Greek. Their style of cooking and warm hospitality reminds me of my Greek grandmother, my Yia-Yia, and all the times she prepared traditional Greek meals for me as a child. 

On Monday, we commenced classes in Brisbane. Our first lecture concerned women’s roles in contemporary Australia, along with a brief history of early female settlers and convicts. Females were outnumbered 6:1 during the first few decades of English settlement in Australia. Female convicts and settlers were infamous for being promiscuous and sexually active. That is largely the case however, because some women had to negotiate their place in convict settler society using their sexuality as means of survival. Sexuality was one of the few things these women actually had control over, and thus some used it to their advantage. This theme vaguely echoes sentiments voiced much later in the second wave feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, especially by Australian Germaine Greer. In The Female Eunuch, Greer asserts that the nuclear family represses women sexually, rendering them powerless eunuchs. To Greer, sexual liberation is the key to women’s liberation. We also learned about the first wave of feminism in Australia, which achieved female suffrage in federal elections in 1902, long before 1920, when American women had suffrage in federal elections.

Our second lecture on Monday covered Australian environmental history since European settlement. We discussed the initial British attitudes toward the continent and their futile attempts to transform the landscape into something more reminiscent of England. We then explored Australia’s history of land use and extensive exploitation, beginning with the enormous sheep trade in the early 1830s all the way to contemporary issues with agro-business and factory farming. Lastly, we briefly covered the rise of Suburbia in Australia, which closely mirrored the post-war de-urbanization trend that America experienced during the 1950s. 

I constantly find it interesting how similar Australia is to America. Sometimes, I find myself walking down the street and falling into a daydream thinking I am back in the States. While Australia usually follows in America’s economic footsteps, the States should take a cue from Australia on their progressivism on social issues. Gun control is a non-issue here and many Australians are appalled by the relaxed gun laws in the United States, especially considering the insanely high incidences of school and mass shootings. Their tobacco laws are also better: cigarettes are taxed significantly higher here and packs cannot be openly displayed in stores. Also, packs now feature pictures of the health horrors caused by smoking. A similar piece of legislation failed to pass in my home state of NY, even though studies clearly prove that not having cigarettes visible behind store counters truly cuts down on minors smoking. 

A few other observations: Australians have mandatory paid vacations, enjoy longer maternity leave, and many jobs even offer paternity leave. More Australian cities have bike share programs than their American counterparts. Last but certainly not least, healthcare: while our system is on its way to being fixed, there is much work to do. Australians have enjoyed great state-provided healthcare for years now, and America is only starting to catch up.

Well, those are my humble reflections!



Sunday, February 23, 2014

Independent Study Week Adventures

February 13 – 15, 2014 

By Becca Zilk


This week is our independent study week, so everyone has gone off to do their own traveling and research for the contemporary Australia course final projects. I stayed in Brisbane with Jess and Emma and we are currently staying in a hostel together. So far this week, our days have generally consisted of waking up, eating breakfast, heading to the library to do research for several hours, and then doing a bit of exploring in the city during the late afternoon and evening.

One thing that I found interesting about staying in a hostel was talking to other people who were likewise traveling in Australia. It seemed that many of the people who were visiting the country were less educated about its history and culture than our group, and I found myself explaining things and giving mini history lessons to people as we watched Rabbit Proof Fence in the common room. It made me feel very fortunate that I have this opportunity not only to travel to a foreign country, but in that process to engage in deep learning about the history and social fabric of the place that I’m visiting. I think we are getting so much more from this trip than many other people might get visiting Australia, because we are not just doing all of the touristy things, but being educated about each of the sites we are seeing. It makes the trip much more meaningful.

I’m looking forward to learning more about Brisbane, but from what I have seen so far I really like this city. It’s more relaxed than Sydney with a slower pace and less hustle and bustle. When we first arrived in Brisbane I was reminded of Portland: the weather was mildly overcast, the overall feeling of the city was similar to that of Portland, and the river winding through the city seemed reminiscent of the Willamette. The architecture here is very cool and I’m especially fond of the bridges that cross the Brisbane River.

Brisbane CBD Cityscape

There’s not much else to report from this front. It hasn’t been an extremely exciting week in Brisbane, but some of the other students did some pretty cool things for their studies. John went to Rockhampton to visit a crocodile farm. Claire and Katherine both went WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms): Claire worked at a biodynamic farm, and Katherine helped out at a sheep farm. Sierra and Seraphie went to Melbourne and visited Hanging Rock, and Shannon went to Adelaide to continue her studies on women in politics. A handful of people went to Byron Bay for their week off, and Allie stayed with a friend on the other side of Brisbane.

I was surprised to find that I missed the rest of the students quite a bit while they were away. Despite not knowing any of these people before our trip, I found that I have really connected with everyone and that we have become somewhat of an oddball family. I’m excited to have everyone back, to catch up, and get more details about what each person has been up to.

After this week we go to our homestay families. I’m really excited to get to know the people I’m going to be staying with. Stay tuned for more adventures!

Statue Outside the State Library of Queensland
Kurilpa (AKA Toothpick Bridge) from William Jolly Bridge

Sun, Sand, and Scheming for Wi-Fi

February 10 – 12, 2014

By Gabby Ray

We drove back from the mountains to Brisbane on Sunday after spending nearly a week in isolation learning from Aboriginal Australian teachers. This week is designated as time for independent research. Our group is spread across eastern and southern Australia because some of us traveled farther than others, based on our respective topics. Three other students and I decided that our research did not depend on visiting a specific location, so the choice was either to stay in Brisbane, a city in which we will be spending the next four weeks, or to explore another Australian city.

Easternmost Point in Continental Australia
Evidence of Crabs!
The four of us decided to go to Byron Bay, a small beach town just south of the Queensland/New South Wales border. Our ride on the crowded, sweaty Greyhound bus from Brisbane to Byron Bay on Monday was yet another rude awakening, a reminder that we were back in an urban setting. We arrived around 5 pm, right in time for a sunset dip in the ocean, which was just the opportunity we needed to wash off the last of the stubborn red ochre paint leftover from our time at camp.

We rented an apartment very close to the beach with cafés (otherwise known as free wi-fi) all around it, and a fish market directly next door (which proves to be both negative and positive). We’ve spent most of each morning and afternoon in these cafés, doing research for our independent projects and downloading sources to read while on the beach later in the day when the sun isn't so hot. We have been spending our nights doing a lot of cooking (mostly fish and shrimp from the market next door) and watching the Australian coverage of the Olympics.

On Wednesday, we took a very old, hot bus to visit Nimbin, a little town about an hour and a half inland from Byron Bay. We had heard of the small farming community from one of the aunties at the camp, who lives on several hundred acres right outside of Nimbin proper. We were only in town for the afternoon, but that was enough time to track down a couple of the auntie's art pieces I really wanted to see.

Byron Bay itself has a very distinct feel to it, all beach-town stereotypes aside. The people here seem to be much younger than in any other city we have been to in Australia, and it seems we run into the same characters everywhere we go. Backpackers from all over the world—but especially Europe—gather here, both seeking and contributing to the vibrant, easygoing character of Byron Bay. It has been very comforting to be in a place like Byron, where the people are exceedingly friendly and inclusive.

It will be difficult to leave this wonderful pocket of the coast, but I know that much awaits us during our stays with our host families in Brisbane.  I have been gearing up to live with a busy, young family, and I am becoming increasingly excited to have in-depth conversations with my Australian family, to be welcomed into their lives.  Hopefully there will not be too much vegemite in my future...


Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Next Step

February 1 – 3, 2014  

By Nicky Wolff

Sydney is a special city. The food is fantastic, the culture rich, and the sites beautiful. Even though none of us had been to Sydney before, we quickly felt at home among the lazy cafés, the endless choices of ethnic foods, and the local hipsters, because we had come to expect these things in Portland. Sure, we had to learn a few new slang words, but we—or at least I—didn't need to try very hard to fit in and have fun in Sydney. Leaving the city will be hard, but I'm looking forward to future adventures. In many ways Sydney was a stepping-stone into Australia. The next set of trips—to North Stradbroke Island, Aboriginal camp at Mount Barney, and our home stays in Brisbane—will be more adventurous and challenging. During the upcoming Aboriginal camp, I expect many of us will have to shift our views away from a Western-centric understanding of Australia in order to learn about the country from Aboriginal Australians’ perspectives. After that, when we continue on to our homestays in Brisbane, we will get another true look at daily life down under.
Iconic Sydney

After a relatively sleepless final night in Sydney, we got up early and headed off, away from the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, away from Sydney. A short, one-hour flight brought us to Brisbane Airport.  From there we took a bus to the ferry terminal, where we began the adventurous part of the course. Pulling up to North Stradbroke Island by express ferry, we were in awe of the long beaches described as “treacherous” and "shark infested." When we first arrived, we walked around Point Lookout for a few hours to become familiar with topography of the sand island.

Arriving at North Stradbroke Island

During our time on North Stradbroke Island (“Straddie”) we stayed at a research facility run by the University of Queensland. We settled into the research station and then gathered to watch a film on kangaroos, called Faces in the Mob. The filmmaker of this incredible documentary lives on Straddie, so she joined us for dinner and a discussion of the film.  She explained to us the painstaking processes of filming and researching, and gave us the back-story to how she and her partner created certain shots in the movie. For example, the filmmakers kept track of the menstrual cycles and pregnancies of a few dozen ‘roos in the mob and followed the females they expected might give birth. The result was a groundbreaking shot of a kangaroo giving birth and the newborn joey (who had only been in gestation for about a month) climbing up to the mother’s pouch. To this day, this is the only footage of a kangaroo birth in the wild. 

The research station is also a hub for studies of the local mangroves. After lectures on the hydrology and botanical ecology of Stradbroke Island, we followed a grad student on a tour of the forests to see firsthand the unique adaptive traits these trees have gained to support life in the salty flats. All the mangrove species we observed have developed interesting ways to deal with the salt. The two main ways are to either sweat salt through their leaves or to exclude salt being taken up through osmosis. Because of traits like these, and also their specialized roots and seed pods, mangroves are well suited to their environs and often have little competition for space on the salty shores. 

So far, our field studies seem to be a way to make it easier to be on the other side of the world; the academic constant keeps us busy and gives us a true reason to spend time in this pleasurable country. 


Monday, February 3, 2014

We'll Be Unplugged!

A note from the editor:

Hi folks! Thank you for reading our group blog. This morning we are leaving North Stradbroke Island and heading to Mount Barney, Queensland. There, students will participate in a five-day camp taught by Aboriginal elders and other community members. This is a unique opportunity and often a transformative experience for students.

We will be completely "unplugged" and unable to post to our blog for the next week. Thanks for your patience!


Enjoying Sydney

  January 29 – 31, 2014

By Katherine Jernigan

It’s safe to say that our last few days in Sydney were spent making the most of everything the city has to offer. On Wednesday, we headed back to uni for lectures on Australian media. In class, we compared Australian media to media in the United States. One big difference between the two is that Australia has a government-sponsored news outlet called the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC for short). It was interesting to see how the ABC attempts to be a balanced media outlet for the country.

Our lecturer also talked about popular television networks and shows. We learned that the channel we’ve been watching the most, SBS2, is known for showing television programs from other countries and appealing to a very diverse audience. SBS2 caught our attention with a hilarious Chinese dating show in which one man tries to get a date from 1 of 24 women. I can’t even begin to describe it. It’s called If You Are the One and it’s very entertaining.
Quad on the University of Sydney campus... very much like Hogwarts!

After lectures, we watched the film Dhuway, a moving documentary about Native Title and Aboriginal land rights. Afterwards, people went their separate ways to work on their research projects, run errands, and hang out around town. That night, we re-convened in our cozy living room to watch a film called Ten Canoes. The film, directed by Rolf de Heer, is set in the Northern Territory and features a cast of Indigenous Australians from the Ramingining community. Ten Canoes was the first full-length film to be filmed completely in an Aboriginal language. It portrays Indigenous Australian people in a very different way than do all of the other films we have watched. The script is full of humor, encouraging the audience to relax and take the story at face value, rather than examining Indigenous Australian cultures from a distance as if they were on display at a museum. The people in the movie are just that: people. The film was incredibly well done and refreshing. I think most people really enjoyed it.

The next day, Thursday, was a free day/study day. Some people took the day to work on their projects and take advantage of the semi-consistent internet connection we enjoy at Arundel House. Others of us ventured out to Manly Beach. The beach is about a 40-minute ferry ride from downtown Sydney and is known for being one of the less touristy places to visit. I had been eager to go for a while, so I was delighted when I woke up to clear, sunny skies. We spent the day exploring the beach, swimming in the super-powerful waves, and chatting with some fellow beachgoers who happened to be from the U.S. After a long day at the beach and dinner at an Italian restaurant nearby, we headed home. The sun was just setting as we chose our seats in the bow of the ferry. When we arrived in Sydney Harbour, it was lit up for the evening with red lights shining on the curves of the Opera House.
Sierra and Becca on the ferry to Manly Beach
Nicky enjoying the view of the surf from the chair/hole he dug. Notice his "tv."
Sunset from the Manly ferry

The next day, it was back to lectures and a discussion of Australian film. We had fun trying to determine what classified a film as “Australian” and listening to our professor tell us which films many Australians accepted as their own and which they rejected. I was surprised to see how many films have actually been shot in Australia or produced by Australian companies or with Australian money, although I have to admit that there were many Australian titles that I didn’t recognize.

All in all, it was a great last few days in Sydney. Although many of us are sad to leave, we are excited to go on to new places, new sights, and new adventures!

Until next time,

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Blog City, Aus.

January 26 – 28, 2014

By John M. Gallalee

Sunday, the 26th  of January,  was a designated “free day” so students could fully experience Australia Day. This holiday is comparable to the celebration of July 4th back in the States. However, it marks the arrival of the First Fleet of British settlers and the raising of the British Flag in Sydney Cove in 1788, rather than independence from the Empire. Traditional British-Australian celebrations include: the consumption of libations, the painting of one’s face with the Southern Cross or the entire Australian flag, the wearing of Australian flag t-shirts, dresses and bikinis and, most importantly, the loving of being an Australian.

However, not all Australians celebrate on this day. There is a good deal of controversy because the landing in 1788 was the beginning of the occupation of Aboriginal Australian lands by British colonials, who would eventually control the whole of the continent and oppress the traditional owners of the land.

LC folks were lucky enough to experience both sides of Australia day. In the early afternoon, many of us went to the Yabun Festival in Victoria Park. This festival was an incredibly informative cultural event, where between 10,000-15,000 people gathered throughout the day. Yabun featured Aboriginal music, poetry, speeches, and more on stage. Off-stage, there were dozens, if not hundreds, of booths with information, art, food, and various items having to do with Aboriginal pride.

Later that afternoon, many of us attended another free music event at The Rocks, near Circular Quay. After, we headed down to Darling Harbour to watch the fireworks. I suspect Australians must not have nearly as many legal restrictions as Americans do concerning fireworks. This particular firework show was unlike any other that I have seen: there were more fireworks in use, they were used on a grander scale, and the whole thing was set to music. After the initial batch of fireworks went off, spotlights shone into the night sky and set a beautiful colored backdrop in the smoke, which more fireworks were then shot off in front of.

Australia Day Fireworks (Photo by Becca Zilk)

Once the show ended and we navigated through the crowd of tens of thousands, we continued our cultural assimilation by barhopping. We drank responsibly, were outstanding ambassadors of LC and the US, and had a ripping good time.

Monday, the 27th, was another free day. Many people spent it resting, some went to Coogee Beach, the smaller and less famous cousin of Bondi Beach, and some, like myself, spent it studying. I was able to get a good deal of information for my research project online, but I was disappointed to find the University of Sydney Library closed. Apparently, when Australia Day falls on a weekend, the following Monday is a national day off. It was still a productive day.

On Tuesday, the 28th,  we went to two museums. The first of these was the Australian Museum. It contained artifacts having to do with both Australian culture and natural history. We spent the most time in the exhibition on Indigenous Australia, in which there was a large collection of traditional Aboriginal artifacts, cultural information, and information about Indigenous equal rights and land rights movements. There was also a large gallery of modern Aboriginal art. Most of it was very impressive.

The second museum was the Art Gallery of New South Wales. We had two tour guides at this museum. The first taught us about non-Indigenous Australian artwork, and the second taught us about Aboriginal artwork. Both guides were very knowledgeable and I was particularly happy to have them along to help me understand the works better, because I have little to no background in art, though still an appreciation for it. The 26th, 27th, and 28th were all great days down under. 


In Front of the Art Gallery of New South Wales (Photo by Dave Campion)