December 29, 2013



Tableland waterfall

Tableland waterfall

Tableland vista by Willaa Willaa

Tableland vista by Willaa Willaa

Balancing Rock

Balancing Rock

Chillagoe Cav3

Chillagoe Cave

Chillagoe Karst

Chillagoe Karst

Chillagoe Karst

Chillagoe Karst

It’s been almost a month since my last entry. Since Becky’s departure almost three weeks ago, I’ve been pretty much keeping my nose to the grindstone, finishing up case studies, writing speeches for my time in New Zealand, and occasionally taking an hour or so to enjoy the simple joys of living in this place before leaving on January 2. I wanted to get down some impressions of places Becky and I visited at the beginning of December, as well as some of what I’ve seen in the past couple of weeks.

During Becky’s second week in Cairns, we took a three-day trip to Mareeba, Chillagoe, Eacham Lake and Atherton, coming down off Tablelands on the Palmerton Highway. The trip to Chillagoe took us into the dry tropics about 100 miles west of Cairns. What’s amazing is how quickly the landscape changes after getting up onto the Tablelands. The vegetation around Kuranda is all lush tropical forest or grasslands and farms. Ten miles further to the west, the vegetation is eucalypt trees with little understory in the forest. Around Mareeba, another 20 or so miles to the west, the land is heavily cultivated with farms of sugar cane, bananas, coffee, and mangos. Past Mareeba, it becomes greener (thanks to the rain in November), with shorter scrubbier forests—again eucalypt and acacia (I think). The closer we got to Chillagoe, the sparser the vegetation became and the redder the soil. At Chillagoe, there’s a sign to Normanton, on the other side of the peninsula on the Gulf of Carpenteria. The sign says last gas for 560 kilometers.

Chillagoe, itself, is like many small towns in Eastern Oregon or Washington. A service station, a post office, a couple of restaurants, and a few hotels. It was the site of a major copper mine in the mid-20th century and the home to several thousand miners and workers in the smelting factory. All that remains of that former industrial glory are the chimneys and debris from the smelter. In ways, it is like the gutted factories in Detroit—but here the factories are in the middle of a vast, dry landscape.

It’s also home to people who love it. We ate dinner at the one restaurant that was open when we went looking. Dinner was served between 6:30-7:30. A small group of townspeople had gathered around the restaurant’s bar. When we shared our name with the waitress who took our order, a woman sitting nearby said that Becky is one of her favorite names because that’s what her daughter is called. She began describing this sixteen-year-old who is an up and coming country song writer and singer. She showed us a scrapbook of clippings that’s kept in the restaurant recording news of anyone in Chillagoe. Several were about her Becky. She later played a DVD of her daughter performing at a contest in Brisbane earlier in the year. She was good. And everyone around us listened appreciatively. The place reminded me of a restaurant where Becky, Brian Fry, and I ate Thanksgiving dinner one year when we were at John Woolman School. We had driven down to Washington, California deep in the gorge of the Yuba River. We discovered that we could order dinner there and share in a community potluck. We spent our Thanksgiving with strangers who for the couple hours we were there became adopted family. It felt like that in Chillagoe.

Chillagoe’s other claims to fame are its limestone karsts (cliffs that rise precipitously from the otherwise flat plain), its limestone caves, and its marble. We clambered around one of the karsts and found the balancing rock—a huge boulder that sits on one narrow end–and the next morning walked through one of the caves led by a local Aboriginal man who had grown up in the area and played in the caves when he was a boy before they had been transformed into a park and tourist attraction. We were his only guests the morning we accompanied him for an hour through a collection of stalactites and stalagmites that rivals the Oregon Caves.

The night we spent in Chillagoe was hot—hotter even than Cairns. Before we bedded down, we lay on some chaise longues by a small observatory that operates during the tourist season but not in December. We wanted to see the stars unobstructed by city lights. The sky wasn’t as clear and brilliant as it had been in Dubbo when I was there in September, but it was still possible for Becky to get a sense of how vast it can seem in the interior of Australia. While we were looking, a bank of clouds started moving across the sky from the east eventually covering nearly all of the stars we had earlier been watching. I could imagine what it would have been like to observe this vista night after night after night as an Aboriginal person and the impact this might have on how I saw the world.

After visiting the cave the next morning, we took a dip in a local swimming hole before heading to Lake Eacham and Atherton. The hole was in a limestone formation just beneath a small waterfall. That was our first swim for the day. Our second was in Lake Eacham four hours to the east in the Tablelands. I had been here in October with Bob Stevenson and his physical therapist, Bulkie. There were fewer people on a Friday than on the Sunday when I’d been there before, but it was still a popular spot. We swam for many minutes in the clear, warm water that fills this volcanic crater—formed at about the same time as our own Crater Lake.

Cooled off, we drove to the holiday park we stayed at south of Atherton. This section of Australia is green, rolling hills with alternating forest and meadows. It’s cooler than the interior and the coastal plain, and if I were to move to Australia, it’s the place I think I’d choose to settle down. That evening, we spent an hour or so next to a small creek close to our cabin. We hoped to see a platypus—they were said to make appearances here regularly. We saw some turtles and ducks, but no platypuses. They proved to be as elusive as cassowaries, Australia’s largest flightless bird—something that we looked for every time we drove through rainforests.

The next morning, we were much luckier with wildlife sightings. About a mile from the place we stayed was Hasties Pond, a sizable wetlands with a huge number of water fowl. A two-story blind is located on the east side of the pond. It has benches, so it was easy to spend the two hours just after dawn watching birds. We identified over twenty and became familiar enough with them that after a while we knew what we were looking at just because of the way they swam around. I realized that this is what I need to do in the spring out at Sauvie Island—bring something to sit on and just observe for a long time.

Later that morning, we drove to Millaa Millaa to check out the waterfall route. There are what seem to be dozens of waterfalls in this region—and we stopped at three of them.

We finished the trip by hitting the Bruce Highway, stopping for what was probably the worst lunch I’ve ever had in Innisfail (a chicken sandwich with diced canned chicken and catsup), and then a trip to Yarrabah, an Aboriginal community to the southeast of Cairns. I’d somehow gotten the impression that tourists were welcome in Yarrabah and that there were places to visit. After a harrowing drive up and down one of the steepest roads I’ve ever seen, we found Yarrabah to be virtually lacking in any form of commerce (with the exception of one small grocery store). The community had originally been used as a prison for Aboriginal people who didn’t comply with EuroAustralian regulations. It seemed amazingly distant from Cairns while being no more than about 40 miles away.


17 November 2013

The hot days have finally arrived.  The temperature is the same as it’s always been in Cairns since I got here in September, but the humidity has increased dramatically, as well as the amount of clouds.  It rained when I was in Townsville last week, but not since I’ve been back.  It’s tImageoo bad Becky won’t be able to enjoy the comfortable weather I’ve experienced since getting here–but it’s still pretty spectacular. 


I’ve been loaned a car by one of Bob Stevenson’s grad students who is doing research in Canada until the beginning of the year.  It will make getting around with Becky much easier.  I did my first shopping trip in two and a half months with the assistance of a vehicle other than a bus or bike.  I purchased a lot more on my outing than I have normally been able to carry.  It simplifies things, but I also spent more. 


Final trip to the school in Townsville I’ve been studying was special.  The school community there had really been welcoming and I felt as though I was leaving family when I said goodbye on Wednesday.  The principal, Clayton Carnes, turns up in the PNW with some regularity since he sits on a Microsoft educational technology committee.  With luck, I’ll see him again.  I’d like to introduce him to a number of folks in Oregon.


Becky arrived in Adelaide yesterday.  It’s fun knowing that three of us from the family are in Australia now.  She and Eliot are out visiting the wine country around Adelaide today.  She’ll be up here next Saturday.  I’m planning to take various blocks of time off to do some of the tourist stuff I haven’t done yet–like going to Cape Tribulation, snorkeling out on the Great Barrier Reef, and doing some more exploring up on the Tablelands. 


Checked an email about 10 minutes after it had been sent by Gabe Nagler who is house sitting for us.  There was water in the basement, and he wanted to know what to do.  We were able to connect through gmail hangout.  He carried the computer downstairs, and I was able to talk to the plumber and watch the repair in real time.  This technology can be very helpful.

November 9, 2013

Heading back to Townsville for my third and I suspect last visit to the school I’m studying there.  Flights were cheap ($159 roundtrip) so I decided to fly rather than rent a car and drive this time around.  Previous week was spent reading and coding fieldnotes and starting to write the case studies that will be the basis of the article that comes out of this research.  I’ve been learning a lot, so hopefully whatever I write will be able to capture this.  Otherwise, the week has been pretty quiet.  I did go to dinner on Friday with my office mate, Knut Kowalsky, a German linguist who know lives in Western Australia with his family where he directs a cultural center.  He’s spending two months at the Cairns Institute trying to complete a few more chapters of a book on the language of one of the Aboriginal tribes that lives in his region.  Over dinner, I asked about some of his earlier fieldwork in Africa and South America.  He worked with a tribe in Eastern Peru that lived in a backwater so isolated that he didn’t think anyone else could find them without the assistance of someone from the tribe who knew which sloughs to follow to find their homeland.  He went there three times, twice with his wife and young son for stays of four to six months, living in a tent and dependent on the tribe for protein and vegetables and fruit.  It was amazing to learn of his adventures.  Otherwise, we sit pretty quietly next to one another writing away on our different projects.

The photos this time around are from an early morning walk to Kewarra Beach on Wednesday and from a Saturday bike ride to Palm Cove north of Trinity Beach.  The winds have been brisk all week until today–making me wonder whether we might have been experiencing some of the turbulence caused by the typhoon in the Philippines.

Looking south to the neighborhood where I’m living from Kewarra Beach

Looking south to the neighborhood where I'm living from Kewarra Beach

Looking north to Palm Cove from Kewarra Beach headland Looking north to Palm Cove from Kewarra Beach headland

Double Island from Kewarra Beach headland

Double Island from Kewarra Beach headland


October 27

School 1


Crocodile habitat at the end of Moore Street

I spent the previous two weeks studying the two schools that are the focus of my research in Queensland.  I observed a lot of classes and talked with many teachers, counselors, school administrators, and community members.  I’ve got plenty of recorded interviews to transcribe in the next week.  I then need to process these and my observation notes before follow-up visits in mid-November.  There’s some very good teaching going on here, and I’m learning a lot from some strong and wise administrators.  One of the schools is the fourth most improved out of 7,600 schools in all of Australia; although that’s based on the state tests, it still says something about what is happening there.  What’s most striking about the school is how hapy the kids and teachers are.  And the other school has attracted a range of talented teachers and people from the community who offer learning experiences grounded in local culture and place.

Since today is Sunday, I took some time off to cycle to a spot I’ve seen along the bus route to the university and Cairns.  It’s part of a new, fancy housing development with a strong environmental focus.  I was curious about any trails and found one to the top of Earl’s Hill, the highest spot to the south of where I’m living.  The trail ascended relentlessly for a kilometer and included more log or rock steps than I think I’ve ever seen in the U.S.  As usual, I couldn’t believe how much I was sweating by the time I got to the top, even at 9:30 in the morning.  But the view to the north and south was extraordinary.  I’ll have to go back with my camera—but earlier in the morning.  Then after a writing stint in the afternoon I headed over to Kewarra Beach just at the end of my street.  The tropical beach photos are from there, including the prime crocodile habitat along the way.  The deal with crocks is that you stay a respectful few meters back from the water’s edge and never go swimming.  Once I learned that, I’ve felt more comfortable traveling past the ubiquitous warning signs.

I’m just about at the halfway point in this adventure.  I’ll be ready to head back to Oregon when it comes to a close, but I’m grateful for the things I’m picking up and the people I’m meeting.

October 12, 2013

I learned about a trail leading up into the Tablelands last Wednesday that is within biking distance.  It’s about 15 km from Trinity Beach–a reasonable amount for an older bike rider, especially since it’s essentially flat until the last mile.  The trails are named after the English settlers who used them to get up to the Tablelands from the coastal plain, but they were doing nothing more than following well-established Aboriginal trails that had probably been there for thousands of years.  So the naming seems a little questionable.  The stream is called Stony Creek, which it certainly is.  There are numerous pools about three to five feet deep that are a major attraction for neighboring families.  As Susan Jacups, the Cairns Institute post-doc who showed them to me observed, “We’d been thinking about building a pool when we bought our house here, but after seeing the pools, saw no need.”

The trail starts at about a 45 degree angle, so I only walked about a mile to a large pool that was distinguished by the loudest bird songs I’d yet heard in the watershed.  When I stopped to observe what was going on I noticed scores of grackle-like birds–black and somewhat irridescent–flying continuously in an out of a debris pile caused by a fallen tree.  There were so many they looked like honeybees around a hive mid-day in the heat of summer.  I couldn’t figure out what was happening until I noticed that many were carrying small branches or pieces of dried leaves in their beaks.  So I figured that this was a community nest building event and that these birds must nest collectively as herons and egrets do.  The birds kept up this activity for more than a half hour until a family clambered up the creek’s boulders to go rock jumping into the water just across from me.  The ride back was uneventful, but I found myself gliding more than usual.  I was ready to dismount by the time I got back to Trinity Beach.

October 6 – Morning Kayak/Afternoon Walk to Kewarra Beach

Part of palm tree on way to beach

Looking back to Tablelands

Looking back to Tablelands

Looking north to Palm Cove

Looking north to Palm Cove

Hard to believe that I’ve been here for a full month now.  I’m almost getting used to sweating all the time, although today has been wonderfully breezy and moderately cool.  I’ve been wanting to go out kayaking in the ocean just off Trinity Beach.  There’s a small operation that has hard and soft kayaks as well as paddle boards that’s been turning up on the weekends during what is a two-week fall break for school kids throughout Australia.  I’d gone down yesterday morning to get out on the water, but both windspeed and size of the swells resulted in no rentals.  The waves were still coming in with more determination than happens on still days, but apparently not enough to stop the rentals on Sunday.  Once I got past the surf, it was fun being on the undulating surface of the ocean.  I paddled from one headland to the other and then back to the rental place about halfway between the two.  This is the first time I’ve even been on the ocean under my own steam.  It was great being about a half mile out from shore looking back at my coastal home for the next few months and the Tablelands beyond.

I came back to hang the laundry and jump back in to Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice.  Becky told me about this book years ago and the delight she took in it.  I picked up Shute’s Around the Bend last weekend from the collection in the breezeway of the apartments where I’m staying.  It kept me going all week, and when I was in Cairns yesterday I stopped by a used book store and found A Town Like Alice.  Much to my surprise, it’s not about Alice Springs but a town almost directly across from Cairns to the west on the Gulf of Carpenteria.  Cairns, itself, figures prominently in the final chapters of the novel.  The story is about the efforts of a young English woman in the aftermath of World War II to bring a small bush town to economic and cultural life.  It will be relevant to a conversation I’ll be having next week with some folks from the Catholic school systems in Queensland about ways to best support rural schools here.  Think I’ll get back to the novel shortly before fitting in some more serious work-related writing and a walk to Kewarra Beach (if I can find some trails) later this afternoon.

Here’s a list of the birds I’ve seen so far that I’ve more of less confidently identified:

Bush curlews, lorikeets, sulfur-crested cockatoos, mynah birds, willy wagtails, straw-necked ibises, royal spoonbills, Australasian figbirds, mistletoe birds, masked lapwings, egrets, orange-footed scrubfowl, kookaburra birds, black kites, egrets, apostlebirds, peewees, blue-faced honeyeaters, and (I think) little friarbirds.  I’ve seen and heard many more, but have not been able to key them out including some doves and finches and swallows.