Sunday, April 27, 2014


17 April 2014

By David Campion

The 2014 Australia program is over.  We returned to Brisbane last Wednesday from Fraser Island, had our farewell dinner on Thursday evening, and on Friday morning we went our separate ways.  Our final meal together on Thursday was a wonderful event.  We gathered at an Indian restaurant in the West End just around the corner from where we had our classes during our month in Brisbane.  After weeks of grungy camping clothes, muddy hiking boots, wet bathing suits (“bathers” in Australia), and flip-flops, it was fun to dress up for a night out on the town.  The highlight of the evening was the excellent slideshow Emma put together from all of our photos this semester.  It was great to relive all the incredible experiences we have had and to reflect on how much we have learned and how close we have become as a group since our first days in Sydney back in January.  Our travels these last fourteen weeks have taken us through the urban center of Sydney, the caverns and canyons of the Blue Mountains, the scorched eucalypt forests of North Stradbroke Island, the suburbs of Brisbane, the state parliament of Queensland, the rain forests of Lamington, the hidden crevices and streams of Carnarvon Gorge, cattle stations and coal towns, and the coral cays of the Great Barrier Reef.  Many of the people we encountered on our journey remarked that we were seeing more of their country than most Australians ever would. 

Like many of the students I spoke to, I can hardly believe that the program is over and I am just now beginning to process the whole experience.  In a sense, I still don’t know what to make of Australia.  When I compare it to the other places in which I have spent a lot of time—India, East Africa, China, and Europe—it seems much more like America.  Driving along a highway past Costco, Target, McDonalds or other familiar chain outlets, listening to the radio, or attending barbecues and beach parties often made me feel like I was merely in a new part of a familiar world.  The differences seemed minor: vehicles drive on the left side of the road, state governors are called “premiers,” when the Broncos play the Cowboys in football they don’t wear padding and rarely stop the clock, and people say “no worries” instead of “no problem” or “don’t worry about it.”  More significantly, my students and I never had to struggle with a foreign language or a radically different culture.  In fact, the biggest cultural difference may have been the ubiquitous Vegemite, an inedible paste that the locals regard like manna from heaven.

Yet at other times, this country/continent could not have been more different.  It was astonishing to stand in front of Aboriginal rock paintings so old that they could not accurately be dated, to ponder the timeline of the world’s oldest continuous human society (40,000 years at minimum) and then consider this longevity against their struggle to survive through the most recent two centuries.  Modern Australia’s stability, peace and prosperity also belie the convict origins of the first white settlement.  It is hard to believe that the thought of transportation to this land, often for the most minor offenses, once filled the underclass of Britain and Ireland with dread.  The penal colonies of Sydney, Moreton Bay, Tasmania, and Norfolk Island were the gulags of their day and those condemned to be sent there often saw the last vestiges of their humanity stripped from them—an experience they would share with the original inhabitants, though little sympathy would grow between the two groups.  From these dismal origins, the fragmented prison outposts of the continent would one day merge into a single large colony, transportation would end, and waves of hopeful immigrants would take the place of those shackled men and women forced to plant the first seeds of the nation.  As an historian of the British Empire, I have developed a deep and abiding fascination for this country, its dark and unlikely beginnings, and its many transformations.

The natural beauty and peculiarity of Australia will also be hard to leave behind.  I still have not gotten used to the squawk of the cockatoo or the laugh of the kookaburra even as these became a regular part of our soundscape these last few months.  I think back on the half-burnt eucalypt trees sprouting new leaves within days of fire, the night skies of Australia’s densest metropolis filled with giant bats, the kangaroos and wallabies that bounded past our tents, and sandy-bottomed lagoons carpeted with stingrays.  These sights never ceased to amaze me; I loved their strangeness and I know that I will feel their absence once I am back in Portland.

For many of us, the end of the program signals the beginning of our own travels.  By now, the students in our group have scattered to Western Australia, Northern Queensland, Tasmania, and New Zealand as our antipodean adventures continue.  I am writing this final entry in our blog from the veranda of a guesthouse on the island of Efate in Vanuatu, a Melanesian archipelago 1200 miles east of Australia, where I am looking forward to a bit of island hopping, diving, and beach time on my own.  Yet I know that I will not enjoy these as much without the students to share the experience with me.  As faculty leader I was doubly blessed with a wonderful group of students and our able and enthusiastic assistant program leader Emily.  Indeed, I could not have been happier with the people who were part of this year’s Australia program.  We were likewise fortunate to have been so well looked after by Nat, Marta, and Mira at GED, our outstanding cook Ulla, our fearless driver Steve, and the dozens of scholars, scientists, elders, and teachers who formed our academic staff and accompanied us on our travels.  It was a genuine pleasure to have their companionship, to get to know Australia from their perspectives, and to see this country in a way that few outsiders ever will.  “Thank you” is an insufficient acknowledgement for all they did.

Heron Island Group Photo

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The End is Near :(

April 14 – 16, 2014

By Jess Valeta

Hello lovely people!

Sadly, as I am writing this blog entry, our program has now ended. The last few days we spent together in Australia were great ones, though a little bittersweet.

On April 14th we had the great pleasure of taking exams. These tests were for our natural history course, and split up into separate terrestrial and marine exams. It was a bit difficult to get into the mindset of needing to study for a final while at a resort on a beautiful island. However, the Portland-esque rainy weather (caused by nearby cyclone Ita) coupled with the piled exhaustion from the past couple of amazing weeks, helped us to buckle down and study. I must say these exams were under the classiest circumstances I have ever experienced during test taking. The testing took place in the ballroom of the hotel and there were glasses of water and mints provided on crisply clothed tables. Three hours of testing later, when I emerged from the ballroom with a very sore hand and a mind still preoccupied by characteristics of specific venomous marine animals, I realized that I had just completed my junior year of college. I can now consider myself a senior in college... pretty awesome and scary at the same time. Post-test, most of us indulged in some celebratory drinks and spent the rest of the day lounging by the pool and in the lukewarm hot tub. That evening, we hit up the local bar/club to continue our celebrations. Needless to say, because it was a Monday night, we brought the party to the otherwise dead bar. We did some much needed dancing on a sticky floor to the music videos projected on the wall. 
Post-Finals Bliss
The next day we were free to do whatever we fancied. A tour around Fraser Island carried a large price tag, so I spent my time hanging out and reading by the pool and spending some more quality time with people. We were all definitely glad to have some time to just chill out with no timetable as a relaxing end to our amazing and jam-packed semester.
One of the Last Hangout Sessions

On the 16th, we caught the ferry back to the mainland and spent the morning and a good part of the afternoon driving back to Brisbane. That evening I went to my two favorite places in Brissy to eat: Beach Burrito Company for Mexican food and The Three Monkeys for a scrumptious caramel slice. YUM.

The 2014 Lewis & Clark Australia program is officially over, but I still cannot get over how wonderful, amazing, fun, challenging, awesome, hilarious, crazy, and beautiful my experiences have been these past few months. I love this country and I love the whole group who have been here with me since day one. This has hands down been the most fulfilling and incredible journey of my life thus far. 


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sea Turtle Scuttle

April 11 – 13, 2014

By Emily Katzman

Heron Island is the kind of destination I have seen on postcards but until I saw it with my own eyes and felt the coral sand under my own feet, I did not fully believe places like this existed. It is beautiful here, fascinating and lively.  The water is so many shades of blue—aqua, azure, sapphire—there are not enough words in the English language to describe the color gradients our eyes are absorbing. The island and its surrounding reef are teeming with life. During sunset walks, I’ve watched packs of 10+ rays patrol the shallows, shark fins slice the water’s surface, and I’ve peered into the clear water to admire the sea cucumbers and other invertebrates on the sea floor. The pisonia forest on the interior of the island is dark and dank and humming with the sounds of thousands of noddy wings beating the air.
Stingrays at Sunset

This week has been busy and intense; we’ve filled our days with lectures and multiple boat snorkel trips to the reef slope to collect field data. Friday was a perfect snorkel day with “glass-out” conditions and long-range visibility.  The highlight was the second snorkel location, where we encountered at least eight full-grown green sea turtles. In lectures we learned that only one in a thousand turtle hatchlings survive to adulthood and saw evidence of those low odds each time we observed a nest erupt and watched every turtle plucked from the sand by sea gulls and ghost crabs, or thrashed in the water by black tip reef sharks. To observe turtle hatchlings erupt from the nest and instinctively scurry with such gusto, only to fall victim to the food chain three minutes later, is heartbreaking. But swimming with those big, old sea turtles felt so special, knowing they had overcome such an ordeal and thrived.  
Sea Turtle Scuttling to Sea

First Taste of Ocean

On Friday afternoon, students showed off their knowledge of marine ecology during the behavioral ecology of reef fish presentations. Becca, Allie, Jess, and Sierra studied cleaner wrasses and recorded the time each wrasse spent cleaning (eating parasites off) its “client” fish. Gabby, Seraphie, and Katherine were interested in the parrotfish’s role in shaping the reef. Those students quantified parrotfish feeding and estimated the amount of coral that parrotfish grind and pass, effectively turning the coral into sand as a byproduct of their algal diets. Lex, John, Claire, and Ian measured the degrees of territoriality of various species of damselfish. Shannon, Nicky, and Emma studied butterfly fish feeding habits, specifically whether or not butterfly fish preferred to eat certain coral forms over others. The projects were interesting and stimulating and gave everyone a greater appreciation of the tedious and difficult work marine biologists do in the field.
THIS is Heron Island

That night after another beautiful dinner cooked by Ulla, we zipped up our wetsuits over our full tummies and attached glow sticks to our snorkels to prepare for the long-awaited night snorkel. Our tutor, John, fearlessly led us through the harbor and onto the reef flat, where we observed bioluminescent plankton, squirrelfish, jellyfish, and loggerhead and green sea turtles. I found it eerie to compare the dark, seemingly quiet reef at night to the bustling, colorful reef during the day. I must admit, I felt a bit vulnerable out there at night. Rest assured, we all returned to dry land safely, with only a few jellyfish stings to complain about.

We spent so much time in the water that day that when I finally lay down to sleep, I felt a residual gentle swaying, as if I was still swimming among sea turtles, still floating above the Great Barrier Reef.  

Sunrise on Heron Island

Friday, April 18, 2014

If We'd Started the Semester on Heron Island, We Never Would Have Left

April 8 – 10, 2014
By Claire Hinkley

We’ve spent the last week on a tropical island paradise— turquoise waters and white sand and brilliantly multi-colored coral reef and all. Heron Island is a coral cay in Capricornia Cays National Park, and is part of the Great Barrier Reef. It’s tiny, small enough to walk around in less than half an hour, but the reef stretches far out around the island to the east. We’ve been lucky enough to stay at the University of Queensland research station located on the island, and we’ve taken full advantage of what the island and reef offer: snorkeling, reef walks, turtle-spotting and bird-watching expeditions, and beautiful sunsets.
Getting Suited for a Snorkel

Although our first couple of days were too windy to take boats out onto the reef to snorkel, the last three days have more than made up for it. Friday’s snorkel at Blue Pools in particular was perfect: calm, azure water; sunlight trickling down to light up the pinks, oranges, and purples of the coral and turn the rainbow of fish sparkling and iridescent; and warm breezes keeping us from getting too chilly as we floated, watching the underwater world beneath our goggles. The snorkeling has been amazing, and most of us have been taking full advantage of going out on the boat as many times as possible.
Snorkel Buddies!

I think my favorite part of our time on Heron happened on our very first night here. Heron Island is an established nesting site for sea turtles— mostly green (Chelonia mydas) and loggerhead (Caretta caretta gigas). In the past, the island was home to a turtle soup factory, until they depleted the turtle population and had to shut down. Luckily, the turtles have come back now that the soup factory is gone. We happened to come to the island during hatching season. After a lecture on sea turtle biology, we walked down the beach at dusk. Soon, we spotted tiny dark splotches slowly traveling over the sand and coral rubble on the beach toward the ocean. Upon closer inspection, the splotches proved to be tiny turtles, their flippers too big for their little bodies, struggling over the footprint craters in the sand. As I stood still, watching, I felt a gentle, scratching pressure on my foot. I looked down to see a baby turtle scrambling over the top of my bare foot, determined to make it to the water. It was a magical moment.

Now we’re heading off to Fraser Island for the final leg of the program, where we’ll have our final exams on the biology coursework. It’s crazy that we’re almost done; it hasn’t even begun to sink in yet. For now, though, there’s still one more magnificent sunset to enjoy over the Great Barrier Reef.

Sunset Paradise

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Goodbye Carnarvon, Hello Kroombit

April 2 – 4, 2014
By Becca Zilk
We spent most of April 2nd working on and presenting our experiments on fire ecology and on social behavior of animals. I really enjoyed listening to the presentations, especially the ones on social behavior of animals, because I learned a lot about different Australian animals from my peers. Two of these projects were on pretty faced wallabies, one was on apostle birds, and as Gabby previously detailed, ours was on social behavior of ants and termites. After dinner we decided to watch Finding Nemo in order to get ourselves into the proper mindset for studying marine animals at Heron Island, where we will be snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. We also felt obligated to watch this “Australian film” because many of our lecturers have discussed aspects of it in parts of our lessons.

Exploring Carnarvon Gorge
April 3rd was our last day at Carnarvon Gorge. We had a few optional hikes planned for those who were keen.  One of the hikes was a dawn walk to watch the sun rise from atop a bluff. I had been planning on going on this hike, but my foot (which Sierra mentioned in her blog from March 2nd-5th) has still been giving me trouble on and off and had been hurting all night. I decided to sit out that hike. It turns out that was a good idea because the other students reported that it was basically a scramble in the dark up a very steep slope. The other hike that was offered was a pretty intense canyoning adventure that involved swimming across rivers and rock climbing. This sounded like a ton of fun and I really wanted to go, but climbing would have been really bad on my foot. Instead, I stayed at camp, finished the book I had been reading, and went for a swim at the swimming hole near camp. We had a pretty quiet evening and an early night, as a lot of people were tired from getting up early and going on two strenuous hikes.
Sunrise over Carnarvon Gorge

Canyoning Group

The next day started off with an efficient pack up of camp. By 11am we had all piled back onto our home away from home, the tour bus. Three hours later, we found ourselves at a cattle station called Kroombit, in Biloela, Queensland. This station had turned to tourism to subsidize the station during times of drought and has basically become a dude ranch. It was a very bizarre experience and took some getting used to. Almost all of the people working there were not Australian, but backpackers working for their room and board while trying to get their 2nd year visas. The evening’s activities started with trying out the mystery meat (which was kangaroo) and continued on to learning how to crack whips, line dance, and ride a mechanical bull. All of these things felt very touristy, but it was fun to just let ourselves relax and have fun for the evening.
Our Home Away from Home

We will learn more about the history and how the station traditionally functions tomorrow.

Until next time,

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Camping in Carnarvon

March 30 – April 1, 2014

By Gabby Ray

The first thing that struck me about Carnarvon Gorge was the sheer number of flies in the area. Coming from Lamington, where I developed an acute fear of leeches, I thought I would not mind having a couple of flies around. But it seemed to me that our campsite was infested with them. Once I realized that guarding my drinks and food was a futile effort, I was able to enjoy Carnarvon for everything else it offers.

The campground itself proved to be a gem. Never mind the flies, the area was filled with kangaroos and wallabies of all shapes and sizes. Especially around sunset, we were bound to see at least a couple of pretty faced wallabies (yes, that’s their real name) feeding close by. Conveniently for us, the natural defense mechanism of most of these marsupials is to freeze in place, so I got the opportunity to essentially have a photoshoot or two with these adorable little guys and their kangaroo cousins.
Eastern Gray Kangaroo Mother & Joey

On Tuesday, we began our observations and experiments on the social behavior of animals. Waking up every morning to newly formed ant mounds directly outside our tents inspired my group to study communication in ant colonies. We decided to do a manipulative experiment. We would set up a piece of food one meter away from a designated ant colony. We would wait until a defined line of ants formed from the opening of the ant mound to the food, recording their times as they went along. We would then remove the food and record the time it would take the ants to stop going there, because we hypothesized the ants would use their pheromones to communicate that the food source was missing. 

Unfortunately, our experiment was in an open, uncontrolled environment, which meant that we profoundly underestimated the quantity and diversity of ants in the area. We had three separate attempts to study three individual colonies, but each time another species of ant swooped in for the food before our designated study colony.
Ant Nest Outside the Tent

This small defeat led my group to a new direction of study: communication among termites. We initially observed that the termites in the eucalypt trees had built tunnels running up the length of the tree on the outside of the bark. Our tutor, Simon, told us that termites do not do well in UV light, so they grind up wood to create these small pathways from the top to the bottom of the tree.

We conducted an experiment on the termites with this in mind; we broke 2cm, 4cm, and 6cm sections open in their tunnels and recorded the termites’ response times. The first thing that happened when we opened the tunnel was a flood of soldier termites flew out of the broken section, surrounded the perimeter, and banged their heads on the wood, sending signals to the worker termites. Surprisingly, the workers, with large, black pincers, were much larger than the soldiers, who were smaller and red with flat heads. The workers did their job as fast as they could, in just under an hour for each section. It was interesting to observe the efficient division of labor among termites.

I think, having grown up in a very old, wood house, I always had somewhat of a bias against termites. I never exactly wanted to know how they worked, but after spending a few hours observing their complex systems and specialized workers, I realized I might have misjudged the intricate social behaviors of these little insects.

We’ve had a beautiful week at Carnarvon Gorge and have become immersed in learning about and observing Australian wildlife. In other words, all’s well on this side of the world!

Thursday, April 10, 2014


March 27 – 29, 2014

By Emma Garcia

During the three days that this blog post is about (March 27th-29th), I was mostly in a transition period of travel and adjustment between the independent travel week and the beginning of our week in Carnarvon Gorge. I have decided that instead of recording all the tedious details of my travel habits, I’ll make a list of useful things I learned during these three days, because not a day goes by in Australia that I don’t learn something new about myself, my limits, my environment, or my friends. Here we go.
1.     The YHA sets an unfair precedent for all other hostels. As someone who had never stayed in a hostel before coming on this program and whose only hostelling experiences since have been in the YHAs in the Blue Mountains and Brisbane, I believed that most, if not all, hostels were clean, well-organized places with soaps on the pillows at check-in and a free pancake breakfast on Friday mornings. This is not the case. On the first day of our independent travel week, my travel buddies and I stayed in a non-YHA hostel that can only be described as a particularly dirty hovel. By the time we checked into the YHA for our last night in Cairns, I seriously considered kissing the floor of our clean, well-lit, air-conditioned room.  In reality all I did was tear up a bit and then raid the free bin, because nothing is more celebratory to me than receiving free, second-hand clothing.
2.     Australian airport security checks are easy peasy lemon squeezy. You don’t have to worry about carrying over 3 ounces of liquids, wearing shoes, or learving random items in your pocket. Unless you have an umbrella in your bag, you have to scan that separately.  I learned this during both the 7 am flight from Cairns to Brisbane and the 8:30 am flight from Brisbane to Rockhampton on March 28th.
3.     Lamingtons are an Australian staple. The ladies of the Country Women’s Association in Blackwater, Queensland, lovingly demonstrated this to us. After our program rendezvoused in Rockhampton and set off for Carnarvon Gorge, we stopped in to visit the local chapter of the Country Women’s Association of Blackwater, a small mining town in central Queensland. I was quite happy with our stop, as it involved a fair amount of sitting, listening to stories, and eating cake, which are some of my absolute favorite activities. Also worth noting is that while Lamington—angel  food cake covered in icing and coconut—is an Australian staple, it seems to have become quite popular under other names in different countries. I mean, come on, cake dipped in chocolate covered in coconut bits was bound to catch on. 
4. Australian gliders are the cutest things. The night of the 29th, our tutor, Simon, took us on a night walk through the forest of Carnarvon Gorge to spotlight gliders, nocturnal marsupials that glide across the forest canopy. We found a few greater gliders as well as some yellow-bellied gliders, and I swear, when they spread their tiny arm membranes and leapt from the trees, my soul flew with them. Or should I say, glided with them.
5.  Except for echidnas, which are actually the cutest. I don’t think this actually needs much explanation; we found two echidnas during our walk, and I fell in love. It really is that simple.
A Very Wet Independent Travel Week