At the Tjapukai Cultural Park, we observed a performance and explanation of traditional Tjapukai dancing. The performers used music and dance to emulate native animals, such as the kangaroo and the cassowary. Sounds created using the didgeridoo and wooden blocks conveyed the hopping of the kangaroo and the moment the cassowary strikes. And the performers transformed into these animals using dance. It was a magical performance to watch that really highlighted how knowledgeable the Tjapukai tribe was of the native animals around them.
While I was watching the dance performance, I was amazed by the personal connection the performers had with the animals they were imitating. Some of the dancers were emulating their totems, a plant, animal, or object that is passed down in families and is regarded to be a spiritual emblem. Thus these individuals would have spent countless hours observing their totems and heard many stories of their totems from family members. This knowledge and connection that the individuals had with their totems really shone through the performance. The audience was on the edge of their seats, waiting to see the strike of a kangaroo depicted by the performers.
Although the performance was very insightful and entrancing, I was a little critical of one aspect of the performance. Towards the end, the performers invited those in the front row to try a few of the dance steps. This was a great way to get the audience involved in the performance but I felt that the audience did not understand the significance of these dances enough to attempt them. I cringed at the thought of a tourist returning home and attempting to show off the new Aboriginal dance steps he/she had learned.
Another section of the tour involved a presentation on the different weapons used by Aboriginal tribes in parts of Australia. These weapons included boomerangs and spears that were mainly used for hunting. The weapons could also be used for fighting other tribes or carrying out punishments when the elders instructed to do so. Our presenter showed us a variety of boomerangs and spears. The boomerangs came in different sizes and were specialized for hunting specific types of animals. For example, the smaller boomerang could be thrown up into a flock of a birds and the bigger one could be used to hunt a kangaroo. There were also many types of spears that were for particular types of animals.
Before this presentation, I was not aware of the diversity of boomerangs and weapons used by Aboriginal tribes. I had only ever seen the iconic boomerang shape and was excited to learn about how different shapes and sizes were used in particular situations. The specificity of the weapons also highlights how knowledgeable Aboriginal tribes are of the native fauna around them. Their extensive knowledge of these animals has allowed them to develop such effective tools and weapons. The information about the use of weapons for punishments also highlighted the complexity of Aboriginal social structures. When the Europeans arrived in Australia, they considered Aboriginals to be simplistic and barbaric. In reality, Aboriginal societies and social structures are some of the most complex communities in the world. The weapons presentation allowed me to reflect on this complexity using specific examples of offenses and punishments.
File Clam (Limaria fragilis)
The fragile file clam (L. fragilis) is in the group Limidae within Mollusca, the phylum. The file clam tends to hide in crevices and under coral boulders on the coral reef. The file clam has a patterned mantle and bright red protruding tentacles from this mantle that give it an extremely distinctive experience. It is an invertebrate,and has an unsegmented soft body. The file clam feeds by obtaining food (suspended particles) from the water that flows through its gills. Through this process, the file clam also helps filter water in its environment.
The file clam was one of the most iconic invertebrates that we saw on Heron Island. It really highlights the complexity and importance of fauna that can seem somewhat insignificant. Heron Island and our invertebrate lectures gave me a new appreciation for organisms that I had previously never thought about. Invertebrates are extremely important components of the ecosystems and help the environment function properly. The file clam too is a vital component of the coral reef ecosystem and should be appreciated for its complexity, beauty, and function.
Pickstone, Brianna. “Limaria Fragilis (The Fragile File Clam ).” Great Barrier Reef Invertebrates. N.p., 2012. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
The Common Lionfish (Pterois volitans)
The common lionfish, or P. volitans is in the family Scorpaenidae. It has distinct red and white stripes, many dorsal and anal spines, and feather like pectoral rays, that provide distinguishing characteristics for this species. Most of the lionfish’s spines are extremely poisonous and are used for protection from potential predators. The common lionfish also displays interesting courtship behavior in which the male and the female swim together and fertilization is external. Lionfish eat shrimp, small fish, and crabs. Groupers are the main predators of lionfish.
“Australian Museum.” Common Lionfish, Pterois Volitans (Linnaeus, 1758) - Australian Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
I had heard of the lionfish, particularly in our dangerous creatures lecture, and knew that they were pretty rare on the Great Barrier Reef. Thus, I was extremely excited to be able to see one during a night snorkel at Heron Island. The lionfish had an extremely unique experience, which I figured would make it more threatened by predators. However, the lionfish can camouflage extremely well. This species again highlights the complexity of fauna on the reef. Every species present in the reef ecosystem is unique in behavior, feeding patterns, life cycle, and many other factors. Yet, they all come together to form a fully functioning and hopefully thriving ecosystem. Each component, from the smallest of invertebrates, to the biggest of sharks,and the brightest of lionfish, is important for the ecosystem to survive properly.
Eucalyptus trees are one of the most prominent features of the Australian landscape. There are many different types, including ironbark, stringybark, poplar, blue bark, and more. All of these species and types of Eucalyptus tress share many aspects. They have multiple adaptations that help them survive in low water and low nutrient environments. For example, they have long leaves that help minimize exposure to sunlight and minimize loss of water through evaporation. Eucalypts also respond well to certain fire regimes. Their flammable oils, that also give the blue color to the Blue Mountains, can help the leaves burn quickly while leaving other, more vital parts of the tree intact.
When I came to Australia, I only knew that koalas fed on eucalypts. I didn’t realize how prominent the trees would be. We have seen them in a diversity of areas as we have travelled throughout Australia. They are a defining characteristic of many landscapes. This highlights their resilience and their importance in the Australian identity. When I go home, I cherish the flora around me, the trees that remind me so dearly of home. I wonder if Australians have the same attachment to eucalypts. They are present in many places and considered to be an icon of the Australian landscape. So maybe they bring a sense of comfort and familiarity for Australians.
The Great Barrier Reef
How can one even describe the Great Barrier Reef? Its vastness, its diversity, and its beauty are beyond words. But here, I will attempt to describe what I saw during my two weeks at Heron Island. Morning snorkels on the Great Barrier Reef frequently involved swimming with turtles, watching rays in the distance, and becoming a part of a many schools of fish. The reef would be coming alive. There would also be the occasional reef shark that made its appearance. Snorkeling in the afternoons and evenings would also reveal a similar diversity in species and evoke a similar sense of wonderment as the morning snorkels.
If I had to pick one life changing moment on this trip to Australia, it would be a time on the Great Barrier Reef. Before coming to Australia, I did not know what to expect from the Great Barrier Reef. But its beauty has blown me away. I could not have predicted how breathtaking the reef would be. It has also given me a new appreciation for the ocean. On the surface, it does not look like much is happening, but under the water, there are vast communities and networks that we are still trying to understand. Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef has also inspired me to be more conscious of how my actions and decisions will impact marine life and ocean ecosystems.
Red Dog (Director: Kriv Stenders, Producers: Nelson Woss, Julie Ryans)
On a warm night in Chillagoe, located in Far North Queensland, the Stanford group was treated to our first Australian classic. Red Dog follows the story of Red Dog (Koko), a dog that arrives to a mining town, Dampier, in Western Australia and befriends all of the workers. Although everyone comes to love Red Dog and develop a connection with him, Red Dog is never any one individual’s dog. This changes when John Grant (Josh Lucas) arrives in the mining town. Slowly, John and Red Dog develop a strong relationship, with Red Dog becoming John’s dog and John becoming Red Dog’s person. Unfortunately, one morning, two years after arriving in Dampier, John passes away in a motorcycle accident. Red Dog does not realize what has happened to John, and so goes out to search for him. For a few years, Red Dog travels from town to town, across Australia, and some even speculate he made it to Japan, in search of John. Eventually, Red Dog comes back to Dampier, to live out the rest of his life with his friends.
Although I would not place Red Dog movie in my list of favorite or must watch movies, the film did accomplish some things well. The setting and costumes in the movie contributed significantly to the overall experience. These aspects of the movie allowed us to see and better understand a part of Australia that we will not get to visit on our trip. Frankly, the movie was also enjoyable. The actors stayed true to their characters and delivered predictable comedy to elicit chuckles from the audience. However, there were some aspects of the movie that were not done well, and maybe should have been completely excluded from the movie. One of the opening scenes is one of a man who has spent endless hours in the Western Australia sun and has now started to ‘speak Chinese.’ The actor is simply yelling gibberish, which should not be referred to as ‘Chinese.’ That scene is disrespectful to an entire culture and language and could have been easily avoided. The scene where Red Dog first begins searching for John is also extremely drawn out. The narrator kept repeating ‘Where is John?’ as if trying to force the audience to tear up. Red Dog developed a strong connection between the audience and the main character, but in a not so subtle way. As the audience, we were completely aware of every time the movie expected a laugh or a tear, which detracted from the overall experience. Although Red Dog was enjoyable, there were many aspects that it could have improved on.
The Castle (Director: Rob Sitch, Producer: Debra Choate)
The Castle follows the Kerrigans as they fight to keep their home after airport developers try to acquire their property to expand the airport. Their home, which the father, Darryl (Michael Caton), considers to be the best possible place to live, stands adjacent to an airport runway. When he receives the compulsory acquisition order, Darryl decides to fight the developers in court, first by himself, then with the help on an inexperienced and disorganized lawyer, and then with the leadership of a well respected and successful lawyer. The final court case in the movie allows the Kerrigans to keep their home despite the attempts of the airport developers. The entire movie is narrated by the youngest son in the family, Dale (Stephen Curry), who provides a very matter of fact account.
This movie was extremely humorous, enjoyable, and even thought provoking. Dale’s narration sets a tone for the movie that the audience becomes comfortable with and continually finds humorous. All of the characters have their own quirks and charm that the actors portray impeccably, significantly adding to the overall experience. The audience falls in love with the Kerrigan family and waits at the edges of their seats for the ruling that allows them to keep their home. Darryl’s optimism and courage to keep fighting for what’s right is an inspiration especially in these times. After the outcome of the U.S. election, it is an attitude that we all must adopt to keep moving on and advocating for justice.
Trump Rallies in Melbourne
Two rallies were held in the Central Business District of Melbourne on November 20, 2016. The Blue Crew was hosting the pro-Trump rally. Approximately 40 members attended this rally and expressed their support of Trump. They viewed Trump’s victory as a victory for the West. The anti-Trump groups included Campaign against Racism and Fascism and No Room for Racism. These groups had over 200 members attend their rally and shouted anti-racism slogans. Although there was no direct clash between the two groups, a lot of police were present at the scene in case something were to happen.
“Large Parts of Melbourne CBD Shut for Rival Donald Trump Rallies.” The Weekend Australian. N.p., 20 Nov. 2016. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
These events really highlight the effect that Trump’s election has had on the rest of the world. We have mostly been focused on what this election means for the United States and been devastated by the possibilities of racism, hate, and intolerance. However, since America holds an important position on the world stage, Trump’s election impacts the rest of the world. These rallies in Melbourne prove that other countries will also be re-evaluating their values and their acceptance of diversity. This is an important conversation that all communities must have. I can only hope that most communities emerge on the side of tolerance and love, a stark contrast to the message sent by America on election day.
Sunrises and Sunsets
The sun has been one of the most beautiful aspects of Australia. In almost every location that we have been, there have been beautiful sunsets or sunrises (if you can wake up that early) to see. The many different colors disappearing behind the ocean or the horizon have brought vibrant ends to sometimes tiring days. At times, there have been clouds to add depth to the sunset and at others, it has been so clear that it is impossible to miss the green flash that everyone hopes to see. Overall, I will remember these sunsets and sunrises at the end of a long day at Stanford where you can’t tell when the sun will set.
The sunsets and sunrises have also been a time of reflection. When the sun is in the act of setting, my mind becomes entirely focused on the light around me and on the movement of the sun. It is a peacefulness that can be hard to find elsewhere. And this peacefulness lends itself well to reflection. After the sun has dipped below the horizon, I allow thoughts to enter my mind. I think about what my day entailed and what the evening has in store for me. I reflect on the particular location I am in and how it compares to other parts of Australia that we have visited. And I think about what the next few weeks will have in store for me. In the U.S., I have never really taken the time to view a sunset. But the Australian sunsets have convinced me that I will be much happier if I pause to watch the sun set at least once a week.