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. 


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