Friday, June 21, 2013

And That's a Wrap, Folks!


Once upon a time, or more specifically four months ago, there was a Texas girl shakin’ in her boots with fear, anxiety, and excitement about a pending adventure.  As you might have guessed, that girl was me, and that adventure, my semester in Australia, might be the best and most transformational experience I’ve ever had.  

It would be inaccurate to say I don’t remember who I was when I first arrived in Australia, but I also don’t relate to that girl very much anymore.  I’ve changed, and I think its for the better.  Over the past four months, I’ve developed some of the most genuine friendships I’ve ever known, experienced adventures I used to dream of, and discovered parts of myself I didn’t know existed.  Basically, I’ve come a long way from being the girl who couldn’t figure out which button flushed the toilets, asked if the tap water was drinkable, and was inept at ordering coffee at the local cafes.  Among other triumphs, today I know why there are two buttons on the toilet and that the water in Australia is sanitary; furthermore, you have to order an iced “latte” to avoid getting a scoop of ice cream with the coffee.  These trivial obstacles I faced are humorous to reflect on, but they are just simple examples of the things I’ve learned over the semester.

I wrote in my first blog post that I was a lucky girl to have a life that made leaving so hard.  Never did I imagine that I’d be feeling the exact same emotions upon leaving the “Land of Oz.”  Before I left for Australia, my goal was to embody the quote “Bloom Where Planted.”  I wanted to flourish in the new environment and fully embrace the new experience.  Well, mission accomplished.  For those of you who were unfortunate enough to witness my waterworks when I left for the airport, you can understand the emotional attachment that I’ve developed to this place.  Fremantle, Port Lodge, and Australia in general have taken over a part of my heart.  As I sit at the airport awaiting my homeward bound departure, my heart is slightly breaking.  While I’ll carry the memories with me forever, I feel like I’m leaving a part of me in this land down unda.

Before this experience, I had a few goals for the semester.  I didn’t accomplish every one of the specific tasks because I didn’t adequately account for the difficulty and expense of travel within Australia.  However, my flexible goals and expectations were probably the best thing that could’ve happened to me.  Every fabulous experience I had came as a pleasant surprise and completely surpassed any expectation I imagined.  For a brief re-cap, this semester I have:
  1. “Learned” to surf
  2. Toured vineyards in Margaret River
  3. Pet kangaroos and koalas
  4. Cliff-jumped into the Swan River
  5. Spent a week camping in Broome learning about Aboriginal culture
  6. Biked through Bali (and visited Muslim temples)
  7. Ridden elephants
  8. Held monkeys
  9. Biked around Rottnest Island 
  10. Snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef 
  11. Took a horseback riding tour in the Cairn’s jungle
  12. Attended an Australian footy game

This isn’t an exhaustive list of the adventures I’ve had, but these are some of my favorites!  Never in a million years did I think I’d have so many overwhelming experiences.  I might even venture to say that these experiences, especially cliff-jumping, have turned me into an adrenaline-junkie.

Self-transformation is one of the better things that came out of this experience.  I am more self-sufficient, independent, open-minded, and easy going than I’ve ever been in my life.  As hard as it was at first to be so far away from all of the people and places I identified myself with, the isolation allowed God to define me as an individual.  I know who I am, and I’m confident that I will survive whatever curve balls life throws my way.

More than anything, I think I understand, for the first time in my life, what it means to love myself.  One of my best friends once defined loving yourself as a state of mind where you wouldn’t want to be anyone else.  I may be a little dense or it could be due to my perfectionist inclinations, but it has taken me 21 years to figure out what this means.  In the past four months, I have learned to accept myself and be proud of the person that I am, imperfections included.  I now see my flaws as areas for improvement instead of a downfall of my character.  Australia gave me a lot of lessons and experiences, but adventure, excitement, and perspective pale in comparison to learning to love myself.

Despite my initial hesitation about the people I was traveling with (I was totally wrong in all of my judgements by the way.) and fear that I would have no friends all semester, the final and most valuable gifts I left Australia with were the friendships and I made along the way.  They are some of the best and most genuine friends I’ve ever had.  In the group of kids that I lived and studied with, everyone was incredibly different, but that almost made us more compatible.  We had kids from all over the continental U.S. with varied interests, hobbies, majors, and more.  But as my mom says, variety is the spice of life.  Since we were a world away from everything familiar, we depended heavily on each other for support.  I left the land of Oz with friendships that will last a lifetime, and I couldn’t be more thankful for my misconstrued initial predictions.

Port Lodge Dorm Picture (minus Connor)


The most adequate way I can think of to end this blog and this semester is in gratitude.  Thank you to the people and country of Australia for an experience that opened my eyes and changed my life.  Thank you to the students I spent the past semester with for your unwavering, uplifting, and unconditional friendship.  Thank you to my friends and family back home who supported and loved me from across the world; it meant so much to me to know that I was missed and thought about in my absence.  And finally, thank you to my mom and dad.  You two have educated, nurtured, and loved me through every phase of my life thus far, and you made my experience abroad possible.  Even though you weren’t crazy about the distance, you encouraged me to make the most out of my time abroad and shared in my excitement and learning along the way.  To all of you I left at home and all of you I met abroad, thank you.  Its been one hell of a ride.

All my love today and always,
Shelby

Friday, June 7, 2013

Dream Come True: A Cairns Escape


Hey y’all!  For those of you that have seen my bucket list on the board outside my bedroom at home, you know that seeing the Great Barrier Reef has been a life-long goal of mine.  Well, I have GREAT news!  I can check that task off my list!  I just got back last night from a week-long trip to Cairns with my friends Elizabeth, Sara, and Christina.  Here’s a little summary of our trip!

We left Saturday June 1st from Perth and arrived in Cairns around 9PM after a layover in Sydney.  We took a shuttle to our hostel, Dreamtime Traveler’s Rest, and went to sleep relatively early.  


We woke up at the crack of dawn on Sunday morning and walked to Reef Fleet Terminal to check in for our snorkeling tour!  After boarding the boat, we enjoyed breakfast and were fitted with basic snorkeling gear.  


We weren’t quite prepared for it, but the boat ride out to the first snorkeling site was over an hour long.  To make matters worse, the water was extremely rough and choppy.  By the grace of God, and probably for the first time in my life, I did not get seasick.  I was a little queasy when I stood up or walked out to the back deck, but two of my poor friends got excruciatingly sick along with half of the tourists on the boat.  Luckily, the crew was well prepared with barf bags and motion sickness medicine.  They did their best to take care of all of the people who didn’t have sure sea feet.

After battling sea sickness and squirming with anticipation, we finally arrived at our first snorkeling spot!  It was an absolutely breathtaking experience.  Words can’t adequately describe the beauty embodied in the underwater ecosystem.  The Great Barrier Reef is home to over 300 types of soft coral and 500+ types of hard coral; furthermore, there are over 1300 species of fish living in the sea environment.  








Although I struggled to master the art of snorkeling and probably swallowed more saltwater than I swam in, I finally got the hang of it and got to witness the beauty of the reef.  Over the course of the day, I saw corals, sea anemones, tons of fish, and a sea turtle in the clear turquoise water! 




The three spots were more stunning than anything I ever imagined.  All of my expectations about the beauty of the underwater wonder were surpassed by the reality of the experience.  I can’t adequately express the awe I experienced at the underwater beauty, but I took some pictures, so you guys can catch a glimpse of what I’m describing.




Sunday was truly a dream come true for me, but the rest of the trip was incredible too!  On Monday the girls and I went horseback riding through the mountains and jungle that surround Cairns.  (Before I went, I had no idea Cairns was so mountainous!) 


The horses were quite temperamental.  Sara’s horse, King, tried to buck her off when we started to canter.  Domino, Christina’s horse, wouldn’t stop eating bushes along the path.  Blue Gum, one of the only two mares on the farm, was lucky enough to have me as a rider.  Unfortunately, we had some control issues.  She was feisty, and tried to kick the horse behind us after it bit her in the butt.  The horses were pretty poorly behaved and overly skittish around water.  I don’t think they were taken very well taken care of or trained, but their quirks made for a memorable experience to say the least.



We spent Tuesday shopping and even tried our luck at the slot machines in the local casino.  We left a few dollars poorer, but at least we know we need to practice before ever hitting up Vegas in the States!  Christina caught a flight back to Perth on Wednesday morning, but the rest of us spent the afternoon at the Esplanade Lagoon.  Surprisingly, the beaches we found in Cairns were sparse and hideous; I’m sure there are nicer ones at the resorts outside of town.  The lagoon is an alternative public swimming area with sand and grass to lay out on.  It was packed!  We laid out for a couple of hours to enjoy the sunshine, and I even got a slight tan on my back!  (The weather has been so cold in Fremantle lately that we were ecstatic to soak up sunshine for a change!)




Wednesday night I experienced my first fire show!  Four performers came to our hostel and juggled/danced/played with fire.  Several times, I thought they were going to light themselves on fire!  Luckily, they escaped unscathed.



Overall, the trip was phenomenal.  It was exactly what I needed: the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation.  I couldn’t have asked for a better trip to wrap up the semester.  Unfortunately, now I have to start studying for finals.  (In case you were wondering, the reason we had off of school last week was because it was a university-dictated “study week.”  Most study abroad students use the week as a last hoorah for traveling like we did.)  I have three finals next week and two the following week.  I’ll check out of my dorm June 19th and arrive home June 20th.

As my time in Oz draws to a close, I can’t help but feel my heart breaking.  As much as I hate to admit it, I’ll probably cry when I leave this glorious place.  I love everything about this country from the people to the environment to the culture.  I love what I’ve learned and who I’ve become.  I love how happy I’ve been and the new perspectives I’ve gained.  

I’ll be spending the next two weeks committing all of the details of my life here into memory.  I’m trying to cherish every minute I have left, because I have no idea when I’ll make it back.  That said, this will probably be the last time I blog before my trip home.  I’ll take my computer with me on the flight home so I can write an overall reflection of the semester while I have ample time on my hands.  Even though I dread the thought of leaving, I am simultaneously thrilled that I get to see you guys so soon!  I am looking forward to giving all of you huge hugs and catching up on a semester full of experiences!

Sending my love today and always,
Shelby

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Busy Month of May!

Greetings my blogosphere followers!  I know it has been a long time since my last blog post, but I’ve been swamped with school work.  I guess there actually is studying involved in “study” abroad... Who would’ve thought?

I don’t have a whole lot to report, but here are some brief updates:

1. Wednesday, May 1st, I visited the historical Fremantle Prison.  It was pouring rain during our evening visit, so the weather and darkness amplified the eeriness of the haunted building.  Apparently, electrical currents run askew throughout the grounds, and rumor has it, that ghosts are involved... Creepy, huh? Here’s a link to read more if you’re interested: http://www.fremantleprison.com.au/History/Pages/default.aspx



2. I finally visited Rottnest Island a couple weeks ago (May 4th)!  We took a biking tour, saw quokkas, and visited some of the historical sites.  Rottnest Island used to be a prison for aborigines and a military base in WWII.  It was not exactly what I was expecting, but it was a nice outdoorsy day.  In the summertime, the island is much more appealing; it becomes a vacation spot for families around Perth.  There are all sorts of water activities to do, beautiful beaches to enjoy, and quaint restaurants to try.

 
Quokka


 
Pink Lake






 
Lighthouse at Rottnest Island


3. I had the week from hell May 6th-13th!  As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, the education system is structured very differently in ‘the land down UNDA.’  (Pun intended;  UNDA= University of Notre Dame Australia.)  Up until now, I hadn’t had many assignments in my classes, but over that week, I had four major research papers and a presentation due.  I just finished my last presentation on Tuesday, and I’ll turn in my final economics research paper next Wednesday.  Then I’ll be home-free until finals!

4. Speaking of finals... the end of the semester is drawing near, and I've booked my flight home!  EEK!  I will be back in the United States 4 weeks from today on June 20th.  I don’t know where the time has gone!  As excited as I am to see everybody, it is going to be incredibly sad to leave this amazing country... I’m not going to dwell on my impending departure, but instead try to make the most out of this next month!

5. I got some GREAT news the other day!  I found out that I received the funding that I applied for through the Career Center at school!!!  This means that I’ll be able to afford commuting to and from San Antonio this summer, because I’m interning with the Make-A-Wish Foundation!  I can't wait to contribute to this phenomenal organization!

6. Another fun fact: Jane’s roommate from ND, Caroline, came and visited from Friday until yesterday!  (She was SO sweet!) A huge group of study abroad kids from Freo took her out in Perth on Saturday night, and we even met up with some of the ND kids attending the University of Western Australia in Perth.  The fun night out was much needed after the scholastic stress of the past couple weeks!

Next week is the last week of class (AKA reviews for final exams.)  Then.. drum roll please... I’m going to THE GREAT BARRIER REEF!!!!!  This has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember, and I can’t wait to learn about the marine biology and experience it firsthand.  I’m going with three of my friends, and we are considering skydiving, zip-lining, riding horses on the beach, and taking a hot air balloon ride.  There are tons of adventurous activities to do in Cairns, so we’re researching and prioritizing before we book anything.

There are a few more things I want to do around Fremantle before I leave like visit Penguin Island and the Pinnacles, but I don’t know how/when I’ll get there.  I’ll make sure to send updates when/if I do.  The next time I blog will probably be after my trip to Cairns, since I’ll be spending the next week immersed in economics research.. (Yuck!)

Love y’all!  
Shelby

Friday, April 26, 2013

A Balinese State of Mind


Good evening folks!  Well, I guess right now it is morning for most of y’all, but I just finished resting from a crazy fun week in Bali, Indonesia!  I had an absolutely fabulous, educational, and eye-opening time doing various activities, and I’m excited to share them with you!  However, here is some background on Bali before I get started.

Bali is one of the 34 provinces in Indonesia with a population of about 4.22 million people.  The capital is located in the southern part of the island in Denpasar.  (This is where the airport is located.)  This island is unique from the rest of Indonesia, because Hinduism is the widely practiced religion (instead of Islam.)  Bali is a huge tourist attraction for Australian vacationers, because everything is so inexpensive.  The Balinese currency, Indonesian Rupiahs, is about 50,000 Rupiahs to $5 (Australian dollars.)  Needless to say, money goes much farther in Bali than it does in America or Australia!  Simultaneously and unfortunately, Bali is a very poor country.  Even though tourism brings in the largest portion of the GDP and rice harvesting employs the most Balinese people, the province at large is impoverished.  Sadly enough, Bali is still one of Indonesia’s wealthiest provinces.


A typical Bali street


I don’t want to bore you guys too much with history and factual information about Bali, because you can easily research that yourself if you’re interested.  However, I wanted to give a little bit of background so you have a vague mental image of the island.  Now, it is on to describing the fun stuff!

Because we were traveling in a group of 12, it was very difficult for us all to book the same flight, especially because the price skyrocketed after each person purchased their ticket.  Instead, we traveled in three groups last Sunday to Denpasar.  The transportation to the airport, the flight to Denpasar, customs, etc. went incredibly smoothly.  The problem didn’t arise until it was time for our villa manager to pick us up.  (I was in the second group with Annie and Sara.)  As we walked outside and scanned the drivers with name signs, we realized NOBODY was there to pick us up.  Ensue panic.  Our phones didn’t work internationally, we didn’t think we had the right address or the phone number to the villa, and it was 2:30 in the morning.  Eek.  The three of us were fuming, because we had arranged and double-checked the pick-up situation multiple times, and our friends in the first group promised that they’d send the driver back for us once they got to the village.  Around 3AM, once we were half-way hysterical, the driver showed up!  Hallelujah!  It turned out that the first group’s flight got delayed.  Then, they picked up McDonald’s and beer for the villa.  We were perturbed (to say the least) that we were ditched for food and booze, but at least they sent the driver back for us!  

Our villa


As ticked as we were, Sara and I knew we had to put on happy faces because there was a surprise waiting at the villa!  Annie turned 21 at midnight on our flight!!  Before we left, the entire group coordinated a surprise party for her upon our arrival.  When we got there, they had decorated the villa and prepared to celebrate.  After calming down, the rest of the night was a blast!  The villa was spectacular- a private pool, open gazebo-like  living area, five air-conditioned bedrooms, and four stunning bathrooms with double shower-heads and tubs.  We danced, laughed, and literally sang the night away; we were still awake when the sun was rising on Monday morning.

Monday we all ordered massages to be “delivered” to the villa.  They were heavenly!  And the best part was, they were only $10!!!  I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  I wish I could’ve been a fly on the wall to observe all of us after we emerged from our rooms.  Everyone was shining with oil with hair matted to their heads and disoriented looks on their faces; I could barely form sentences I was so relaxed! ;)  The rest of Monday we relaxed by the pool, but we did go to a special birthday dinner for Annie!  The restaurant, though pricey, was absolutely beautiful!  I finally tried the barramundi (fish) that is so popular here in Australia; it was delicious!

Annie's birthday restaurant


Since Monday was filled with R&R, a few of us girls wanted to be active on Tuesday.  Guess what we did??  WE RODE ELEPHANTS!!!  It was absolutely incredible!  Billy, our fantastic/hospital/friendly/generous (I can’t say enough good things about him) villa manager drove us to this wildlife park.  Elizabeth, Sara, Annie, Erin, and I all went on a 15 minute elephant ride.  I ended up laughing the entire ride, because the elephant trainers who rode with us were absolutely hysterical.  I rode Phoebe with his trainer Mo; if you ask me, the poor elephant is going to have an identity crisis with a girl name, but Mo didn’t think it was an issue.  Mo had me laughing the entire time, and since I rode by myself, I got to do some extra bareback riding (instead of sitting on the bench.)  Not only did the elephants take us on a loop around the park, but they did tricks!!  Phoebe waded through a water pond, climbed up on some pillars, and sat down with me on his back!  INCREDIBLE!



MO!


On our way to the lunch that was included in our elephant ride package, we saw MONKEYS!  And not just any monkeys.. they were babies with diapers on!  We couldn’t resist, so we paid $10 to hold them.  I held the baby orangutang; it was just like a human baby!  It kept playing with my shirt and hair, and when I put him on my back, he grabbed my hands and started clapping them.  It was one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen!  I couldn’t believe how human-like it was!



After we left the elephant park, Billy took us SHOPPING!  I didn’t buy a whole lot at this place, but I did get a beautiful Balinese backpack for less than $5.  I wish shopping in the US was that cheap!  Once us girls got back to the villa and meet up with the rest of the group, we decided we wanted suckling pig for dinner.  Billy took us to this little hole-in-the-wall restaurant with Balinese cuisine.  I was very out of my element with all of these Asian-ish foods, but I tried them!  The suckling pig was good!  Some of the food was spicy, but it wasn’t too bad.  

Wednesday was an early morning.  Matt booked a bike tour for us, and our guide picked us up at the villa at 7:15AM.  We took a 2.5+ hour drive to this magnificent restaurant for breakfast.  The porch where we sat overlooked the Agung Volcano and Lake Batur.  Even though the volcano hasn’t erupted since the 1960s, the burns left from the lava path are still black on the land.  The landscape was one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen.

Agung Volcano


From breakfast, we went to a garden that grows spices, fruit, and coffee beans; they even roast the beans and produce their own coffee grounds.  We got to sample a whole tray full of different coffees and teas, but Jane and I also split a very special coffee.  In fact, we sampled the most expensive coffee in the world!!  The luwak, or Asian palm civet, is a small animal native to south and southeast Asia that only eats the best/most ripe coffee beans.  However, they can’t digest the beans so they excrete them whole.  The digestive processes and chemicals in the luwak’s stomach help ferment and process the coffee beans.  Farmers collect the beans from luwak waste and process them into the world’s most expensive coffee.  Even though the process sounds disgusting, I had to try this famous coffee (especially since one cup normally costs $35 and we could get it for $6.)  I might just be a wimp, but it was SO strong!  I think I’ll stick with Folger’s...

The coffee-bean-eating luwak

Roasted coffee beans


Coffee and tea samples

The world's most expensive coffee



The bike tour started after the tasting!  I think we rode about 22-23 kilometers.  Along the way we stopped and saw a typical Balinese house, a HUGE banyan tree, a rice field, and a temporary cemetery.  (Everyone in Bali is cremated.  It is extremely expensive to do a private cremation, because in addition to paying for the ceremony, the family of the deceased person has to feed the entire community that comes to help with the preparation for a week.  If a family waits for the public cremation in July or August, they have to temporarily bury the body.  They’ll bring offerings and gifts to the grave until the public ceremony during the dry season.)  

Bike tour

Banyan tree

Temporary cemetary


I could write forever about these different sights.  Seeing the typical Balinese house was a humbling experience (see the pictures below.)  Usually after a couple marries, they move in with the groom’s family.  (This is always the case for the youngest son, because he is responsible for caring for his aging parents.)  The new wife is in charge of cooking for the family; if there is more than one daughter-in-law living at the house, they might each have their own kitchen.  Each house in Bali has a temple, where residents spend time and present daily offerings. 

Typical Balinese home



Aside from falling in a puddle in the rice field (typical, I know), the sights were enjoyable!  At the end of the bike tour, a group of us decided to do the uphill route.  For someone who has never seriously biked before, this might not have been the best option.  I had no idea what I was doing.  My gears were always the opposite of what they were supposed to be.  I’d start pedaling up a hill and start rolling backwards, and I would even be pedaling vigorously and going nowhere.  I was struggling at the end (to say the least), but it was beautiful to see the Balinese streets and villages!  We concluded the tour with an Indonesian buffet lunch.  As soon as we got back to the villa, I ordered another $10 massage... My bum was still sore the next day from the biking though!

Thursday was our last full day in Bali, and we still hadn’t seen a public temple!  So, Billy drove us to the Tanah Lot Temple.  Bali has four main temples to protect the island- one in each of the cardinal directions- and we visited the western one.  Words can’t even describe the beauty of this area.  There were two official temples, but the big one you see in the pictures is basically on a rock island.  It is only accessible in low tide.  On the mainland, there is a preparation building for the offerings that go in the temple.  Every 6 months or so, there is a big celebration at the public temple that the Balinese attend, but visitors are welcome any time.  In Hinduism, there are three main gods in addition to the many smaller ones: the creator, the protector, and the destroyer.  I am not 100% sure, but I think that Billy said that the Tanah Temple is for the protector god.  I can’t even imagine attending church in a place that beautiful.  It is impossible to see the natural beauty of the land and waves crashing against the rocks and not believe in something greater than yourself.  

Tenah Temple




The area surrounding the temples had fabulous shopping!!  I bought lots of souvenirs and even exercised my bartering skills!  Billy drove us to the beach for a couple of hours after we left the temples, and then we headed back to the villa.  The rest of the night was pretty laid back.  The first group of travelers left around 9PM to catch a midnight flight.  The rest of us went to the airport at 4:30 this morning.  The Bali airport is slightly (and by slightly I mean VERY) sketchy.  There were bugs swarming, rats scuttling around, and cats screeching; I was very happy to board the flight back to Perth.

This trip was incredible!  Even though I loved the activities, massages, and shopping, I think the most impacting thing I learned from the trip came from the Balinese people.  Although they live in poverty with few material possessions, they are overwhelmingly rich in spirit.  Every person that we encountered was hospitable, generous, and joyous; they are by far the nicest group of people I’ve ever met.  The rest of the world can learn so much from these people who have so little but are so fulfilled by the simple pleasures in life.  I pray that I’ll never forget the importance of finding joy in the small things and loving people along the way.

As you might gather, this trip was phenomenal!!  I am so thankful for the experience and thrilled that I get to share it with y’all!  

All my love,
Shelby

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Week in the Wild


“I made it through the wilderness
Somehow I made it through
Didn't know how lost I was
Until I found you”

Most of y’all know that Madonna sings that verse in “Like A Virgin,” but I am seriously relating to the first two lines today.  I spent the past week in the wilderness of the West Kimberley on a field trip for my Australian History and Society class; it was my first (and last) camping trip.  Bugs, heat, and roughing-it are not my forte, but I am grateful for the opportunity because I had an amazing time and learned more about the Australian aboriginal culture than I could’ve ever imagined.

I feel like I could write a book with the knowledge I accumulated this past week.  However, I don’t have the time to write a novel, and I know y’all don’t have the time to read it.  So, I will share my favorite activity from each day and overall lessons here, but PLEASE ask me more about my week when we next chat.  I don’t think I could ever adequately describe the depths and beauty of the aboriginal culture or praise our tour guides enough for their generosity and patience.  

ACTIVITIES

Since Monday was spent traveling, we didn’t get to do anything culturally significant until Tuesday.  However, it was worth the wait.  Tuesday morning all 20+ students went to Cable Beach in Broome.  An aboriginal man named Mickelo told us a dream story of the aboriginal people.  Some aboriginals believe that spirits came out of the ocean and hardened into the bodies of their human ancestors.  The dunes on Cable Beach were the first landing place for some of these people and probably their first campground/home.  Since the location symbolizes creation of the aboriginal people, Cable Beach is a very special and sacred place for aboriginal people.  We were lucky to get some pictures of the beach and dunes; it was stunning!  We could even see a manatee swimming in the water a short distance offshore.




Tuesday afternoon we drove two hours down unpaved roads to our campsite in the northern peninsula of the West Kimberley.  Wednesday morning Colin and Maria’s (our tour guides) daughter, Bec, shared some of her cultural paintings with us.  They were gorgeous!  She is incredibly talented, and her cultural appreciation and understanding shine through the canvas artwork.  Then, we got a chance to paint!  Bec encouraged us to paint something that we’d experienced in Australia or something representative of the aboriginal culture.  I was still very impressed by Mickelo’s dream story, so I tried to paint the transformation of the spirit coming out of the ocean and hardening into a person on land.  I had a wonderful time doing it, but I don’t know if anyone would understand it if I didn’t tell them.  Not all of us can be great artists!






On Thursday we spent most of the day with Uncle Brian at Hunter’s Creek- his family’s traditional land.  I’m not exaggerating: it was probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.  Turquoise water stretched out until it met white sand beaches and green islands with red dirt.  Words can’t do the place justice.  It was private and secluded and felt incredibly special.  Uncle Brian gave us permission to take pictures, so I tried to capture the beauty for y’all, but even the world’s greatest picture couldn’t do this place justice.  




After we swam and hung out at Hunter’s Creek, we went back to camp and Uncle Brian taught us how to make a boomerang.  In aboriginal culture, boomerangs were not only used as huntings tools but also as weapons.  If two men had a disagreement, they would take turns throwing boomerangs at each other.  If no one was hit or injured, they dropped the grudge and resolved the conflict.  Similarly, if two tribes were in disagreement, they would each choose their best boomerang warrior to enter a fight.  The warriors were skilled enough to read the path of the boomerang and avoid being hit.  If no one died or was injured, the tribes relinquished the conflict. 

Learning how to make a boomerang and the history behind the weapon was interesting, but my favorite part of the lesson was getting to throw them!  Another aboriginal man named Wussa brought spears and boomerangs to camp and set up a target for us to aim at.  At first, I tried throwing the spear and wasn’t very good.  BUT then I tried throwing the boomerang.  I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I wound up and threw it like a baseball.  I didn’t think I’d do that great, but I hit the middle of the target and ripped a hole in the cardboard!  I was so excited!  No one else in the group (including the boys AND Wussa) even hit the target with their boomerangs!  It must’ve been beginner’s luck, but I was thrilled nonetheless.



Friday morning we woke up before sunrise to go mud-crabbing!  (You can only go crabbing when the tide is down, hence the early morning.)  I didn’t really know what I was in for, but this might’ve been my favorite activity of the entire trip!  We drove to the middle of nowhere and met up with Vincent, “the Crab Dundee of the Kimberley.”  Basically, mud-crabbing involves stomping through swamps and getting filthy.  The crabs are often hiding in the roots of mangrove trees or hollow tree stumps.  For most of the excursion, there was a high person-to-crab ratio; we couldn’t find any!  But Vincent worked his magic, and we caught some!  I found one that was too small to catch, but I speared a bigger one later.  It was SO much fun!  I wish all hunting was like this.



On our way back to the airport in Broome yesterday (Saturday), we stopped at the Sacred Heart Church in Beagle Bay.  The church was constructed around 1915 with shells, pearls, and other natural resources.  It was beautiful!  There were pearl insets around the windows, on the floor, and in the wood.  I tried to get some good pictures for you guys. 




TAKEAWAYS

  1. The Stolen Generation- When Europeans first came to Australia, many of the European men would rape or have sex with aboriginal women.  This led to a generation of half-caste (half-white/half-aboriginal) children.  The Australian government didn’t approve of the racial mixing, and sent white police officers to collect the half-caste children and take them to missions or white communities.  The government didn’t think aboriginal women were fit to raise partially-white children, and that the children would be better off learning white customs.  When the children were taken from their mothers, they often had to walk for weeks or months to the new communities; on the way they even had to collect their own food.  Once in the new communities, many of the children were subject to abuse or molestation.  To escape white-supervision, children would get adopted by nearby aboriginal families or marry once they were old enough.  This stolen generation of children lost many ties to their biological heritage, because they were raised away from their family.
  2. Storytelling is a lost art in our culture, but aborigines have really mastered the art.  Most of the lessons that we learned came through stories of the past or spirituality.  Verbal history is rich, powerful, and underrated.
  3. When I imagined the aboriginal people, I pictured them living in deserts.  While they did live and hunt in the bush, they also spent a lot of time on the beach!  Most of their environments were around water and involved fishing and crabbing.  
  4. One of the most heartbreaking things that I learned about on this trip was the suicide epidemic among aboriginal people, especially young aboriginal girls.  Lately there has been rampant deaths among these young people, and many of them come as complete surprises.  No one knows why these young girls are taking their lives, but most of them die by hanging themselves.
  5. Kindness bridges cultures.  This is such a simple statement, but it was one of the main observations I made on this trip.  Our tour guides/hosts Colin and Maria Morgan were phenomenal.  They own a tour company and have been taking students into the Kimberley for over 13 years.  Over the week they were kind, patient, informative, generous, and hospitable.  They spoke to us about difficult topics and shared parts of their personal histories.  Not only did they teach me about aboriginal culture, but they also portrayed the universality of kindness and love.

REFLECTIONS

My Australian History and Society class painted a mental picture for me of aboriginal people.  From the readings and lectures we’ve had, I thought all aborigines shared the same beliefs, culture, and ancestry.  I envisioned them as the victims of the white Europeans who settled Australia and brought foreign law, customs, and diseases.  While aborigines share SOME of the same culture and many of them were subjected to atrocities and harassment from white Europeans, they are so much MORE than that!  One of the main lessons I’ll take away from this week is perspective.  Colin often repeated the importance of not painting all people with the same brush; AKA don’t stereotype and apply generalities to individuals.  

Aborigines don’t live in tepees and run around in loin cloths with war paint on their faces.  They live in communities, hold jobs, attend school, speak English, drive cars, and even own iPods!  They are not part of a backwards culture that has failed to evolve.  While they are slower to progress in “white” ways, they are advancing.  Unlike most white Australians, however, aborigines (across the different tribes) make a conscious effort to preserve their culture.  Their identities come from their ancestors, the land, and their spirituality.  In my opinion, these people who have been so heavily discriminated against do the best job preserving their culture and maintaining their identity.

Racism is still an issue in Australia.  White Australians don’t know the history of the aboriginal people or make an effort to understand the culture; aboriginal history isn’t even taught in schools.  The Australian government struggles to make reparations for the discrimination and hatefulness of the past while creating a unified national identity.  Right now, most aborigines live in communities in the Kimberley.  The government runs these communities, but there are plenty of problems.  For example, some of the communities have unemployment rates near 100%.

As most of you know, racism is one of those things that makes my heart race and my blood boil.  I believe that every person was created equal in God’s eyes, and our job as Christians is to love despite culture or color.  Unfortunately, aborigines in Australia are still facing undeserved discrimination.  I don’t know the best or the quickest solution to the problem.  I think each generation grows less and less racist, so with time, people will gradually grow more loving and accepting.  Until then, the best solution I can come up with is to educate.  By sharing the intelligence and richness of aboriginal culture, people will learn to appreciate these people.  Hopefully, ignorance will dissipate and acceptance will grow.  

I know this post was long, but I could write for days about the different lessons that I learned.  I hope that y’all enjoyed reading!  If you have any questions or want to further discuss my trip, please ask!  I love talking about it!!  Miss and love all of y’all!