When I boarded the plane in New York City, I felt nothing but excitement in anticipation of the next two months of adventures. Twenty-seven hours, three breakfasts and five movie later, we landed in Darwin. After checking into a hostel and organizing my travels for the next three days, I set out to explore the town. About 10 minutes later, I finished. On my way back, I ran into a German girl, and the two of us decided to go to the Markets for the last night of celebration before the rainy season began. Perched along the coastline were over 100 venders, all Australian and mostly Aborigine. That night, as in those that followed, I found it was most comfortable to sleep in my bikini. Even early summer in the coastal areas of the arid Northern Territories is uncomfortably hot for a New Yorker. The next couple days, I spent traveling around Litchfield National Park. I saw breathtaking waterfalls like those in Crocodile Dundee and learned of Aboriginal remedies for a variety of health problems using different plaints, soils and animal saliva.
I used the five-city Explorer Pass I purchased in the United States and caught a 5 am flight to Cairns. I met my girlfriend on the Esplanade and by the end of the afternoon, we had made about 5 new friends. Passer-byes have no inhibitions about asking to sit at your table and join you. An Australian couple offered to take us to hike through a gorge the next day and tour us around town. From Melbourne, and escaping serious employment (like most all Australians), they were in Queensland living in a mate's home while he was away. They insisted we live with them in the rainforest outside of town and avoid paying at a hostel. We was overwhelmed by the kindness we had read and heard so much about. Soon, however, we found there was a mixed feeling of admiration or interest and a bit sort of envy toward Americans. American backpackers in Australia are rare. Australia has so much Western influence in clothing, technology and entertainment but so much of the media they receive about us is the celebrity gossip, government scandals and gun violence, leading to extreme stereotyping. I can honestly say that throughout my travel my sense of patriotism grew in giant leaps.
The first thing I did in Cairns was to visit the Flying Doctors Headquarters. I was greeted as I had expected like an interested youth with a BA. They toured me around the clinic and the hangers and plugged me with enough information to want to return after a few more years of school. Sisters, or head nurses, told me frightening stories of alcoholism and abuse in some Aboriginal communities. The staff spoke of the importance of forming a trusting bond with each patient. I was quite aware of the pride they have in the help they provide. After calling over a dozen volunteer organizations and heath clinics, I found no establishments in all of Cairns that didn't need to train workers for at least a three week period and a few that admitted they only use Australian employees. So, we traveled and looked for alternative ways to work and learn
Kelley, my traveling companion, and I went diving on the outer Great Barrier Reef. We camped for three days and three nights in the Daintree Rainforest, where we went on numerous informative and amazing bushwalks. Then, we took a bus down to Airlie Beach in the middle of Queensland and we convinced a Skipper and his First Mate (the Skipper's son) that we would make a competent crew. So, for three days and three nights, we sailed the gorgeous blue waters around the Whitsunday Islands and assisted them in fishing and taking out tourists on short snorkeling trips. I admit, it was more fun than work but what an experience. We were invited to stay on for 3 more days, but I was saga to go to met with my contacts in the health field in Sydney.
Similar to the strong role Australian government plays in socialized medicine is the role it plays in supporting welfare recipients. We were able to experience this first-hand. We stayed at the only vacant place in Sydney, which was not only a hostel, but a shelter for homeless individuals. So, we spent all of our time day touring or working. I was able to work with Ms. Maggie Brady at the National Drug and Alcohol Centre at the University of New South Wales. I had contacted Mr. Wayne Hall before leaving the US and he invited me to join Ms. Brady's team, as I expressed am interest in her specialization with Aborigines and alcohol-related abuse. My travels only allowed me one week to work with them, so I mostly observed and absorbed everything. I was able to participate in a few research interviews and a women's group counseling session. I was invited to their yearly National Women and Drugs Conference. Activists from different Outback as well as city communities spoke on the changes they've made. Researchers from all over the country discussed a variety of issues. The timing of my visit couldn't have been better! After my week there, I visited three separate health clinics just to get an idea of the differences from those in America. I went to a social health care clinic, a private health clinic and an Aboriginal health clinic. I spoke with a nurse at each clinic and found the experience extremely interesting.
After a week and a half in the city, we took off over the Blue Mountains to work in the farm fields of a the little town of Oberon. We lived with an older couple that still raised sheep and cattle and grew peas and were in need of a few helping hands. Kelley and I spent one week there helping to herd sheep and cattle, get them to and from the stock yards, clean up shearings and pick peas. It was a real farm experience and hard work but super fun! We arrived back to Sydney, spent a day at Bondi Beach and a evening on the town with a group of United Kingdomers. Then we were off on a 5 am flight for Melbourne.
We arrived in Melbourne the same time as the cold front did. Even though it was chilly, the people were extremely friendly to Americans. We met a different couple of Australians each night who offered to show us new parts of the city. Similar to the southern Texan, the southern Victorian feels their sate is the best and they are proud to show any visitor around. We, of course, went to the Zoo and Botanic Gardens and Kelly went on a trip along the Great Ocean Road, which looked fabulous. Instead, I spent two and a half days with Maria Wright and her colleagues at the Centre for Development and Innovation in Health (CDIH). This is an organization that investigates and compiles a spectrum of case studies in areas of community health, safety, education or general well-being of a community. CDIH attempts to develop a community "...through the facilitation of democratic collective action on the part of its clientele", by trying to build confidence and strength while at the same time addressing immediate problems. They build specific frameworks for community and send individuals to that community to modify am existing circumstances which can be changed for the better. The organization is based on grants and other government funding. Two of the project directors own plots of land at the Commonground Collective which is a soft of nurturing organic farming community for terminally ill individuals. I attempted to find a working position there, but they only said had no room for me. CDIH is am amazing organization! I only wish I had been directs involved for a long period of time.
We flew on to Perth and in two weeks time we were able to see almost all of Western Australia. Our theme was now biology . First thing we did was take a ferry to Rottnest Island directly off the coast of Perth.There we biked around the 35 km island for two days, to celebrate my birthday and lay on the beaches and continuously swat away flies. The island was fined with animals. Rodent-type kangaroos, called quokkas, were plentiful. There were peacocks, parrots, cockatoos, cassowaries and echidnas (spiny anteaters). At our hotel, I met a policewoman from Victoria enjoying her nine weeks of holidays in WA. I told her of our plans to rent a car and learn quickly to drive on the left to visit the dolphin research area in Monkey Mia. She volunteered to come with us, and as it turned out later, she met a fellow Aussie who was on the dole (again, net uncommon) who insisted on touring us himself. So, for two weeks we drove an the way down the west coast to Albany, then all the way, 900 km north of Perth, through the 124 F degree to Monkey Mia. We saw the giant Tingle Trees in Walpole, the orchards of the Margaret River, more dolphins in Busselton and Bunbury, and lots of the impressive Indian Ocean coastline. We gained a lot of information on Australian history and learned a lot more about Australians. In turn, I learned a lot more about myself. Most of all, I learned its great to be worry-free but ambition is a good thing.
This journal should give you a good idea of the highlights and lessons I learned on my journey. If you should have any questions or care for me to expand, I would be more them happy to spend several hours over my photo album with anyone. I cannot express how grateful. I am for being awarded the Goliard SchoIarship. It gave me incentive to make this the most incredible couple months of my life. If I had had more time and money, I would have been able to expand on all projects I had begun. I did accomplish exactly what I set out to do: Travel Down Under and be exposed to the people, their thoughts and way of life that I have known so much about and yearned to experience Thank you.
Tina Lorenson (1994)