Rachel Down Under!

Love a rainy night…

Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on October 28, 2010

Another rainy, rainy weekend has come and gone. An early (and may I say finally WARM, 30°C!)  morning at the beach was quickly ruined by the downpour of a giant storm. The rain also managed to cancel my plans to attend an ex-pat picnic, a pick-up ultimate game, and another Crave Sydney festival event. May I say that I am looking forward to the sunny days of summer?

Despite the weather, Aisha and I braved the rain for Sydney Opera House’s Open Day. According to Time Out Sydney, Sydney’s hippest entertainment guide, Open Day is the one day of the year where “the grand old dame takes off her make-up and shucks off her elaborate costuming to allow the public full access to all her abundant charms,” which is a ridiculous way to say that Open Day is the one day where the the public is invited to enjoy the inside of the Opera House for free!

After waiting in the rain for over an hour, we finally made our way into the inner sanctum, where we went on an extremely crowded tour of the opera theatre, concert hall, and the associated “behind the scenes” rooms, including the orchestra assembly room, the green room, dressing rooms, and rehearsal rooms.

The concert hall is by far the most interesting aspect of the Opera House’s interior. My camera struggled to take photos in the lighting, but here is a photo stolen from Aisha…

…. and from an Australian tourist website….

Pretty nice. Otherwise, I also enjoyed the foyers surrounding the concert hall and opera theatre. The harbour views from the foyer windows show off both the beauty of Sydney and the architectural genius of the building.

If, that is, you can take it in through these enormous crowds…..

Pretty overwhelming. But who can turn down a free tour of the Opera House?

On a happier (and less crowded) note, my first batch of plates came in from the UNSW workshop, and I have spent the past two days furiously attaching plates to panels in preparation for our first day in the field this coming Monday. They may not be much to look at, but check out my plates.

Who’s ready to manipulate heterogeneity now? Look at those GROOVES.

Did I mention that there are hundreds of plates? 560 to be exact? And that they all have to be engraved and then attached to double-sided panels like these?

I can’t wait to get out of the office and onto the boat….20 panels down, only 70 more to go! I can do it!



Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on October 20, 2010

Guess who’s in Sydney for the weekend? That’s right, Fulbright Scholars Alice and Lindsey came to visit from Melbourne and Brisbane, respectively.

Hello, girls!

So what did we get up to over the weekend?

Aisha and I developed a world-class itinerary that sought to condense our past two months of Sydney sight-seeing into four fun-filled and admittedly action-packed days. No trip to Sydney would be complete without a visit to the Opera House (we actually went to an orchestra concert there; I can’t imagine seeing Rite of Spring in a more beautiful location), the Botanic Gardens (where we experienced a ridiculous and surprisingly racist free guided tour), Manly, the Rocks, and Watson’s Bay.

Aisha and I also managed to sneak in a couple of new things as well, which I will recount here.

1. Wildlife World/Aquarium

With a cheesy name like Wildlife World, my expectations were initially pretty low for this encounter with “interactive world-class displays of all-Aussie animals set in the heart of Sydney.” However, these exhibits were exceedingly well done, and I was excited to finally see some of Australia’s most iconic wildlife. I wish I could post pictures of all of the animals I saw, but here are some of my favorites.

First, the Lizards of Oz! Good pun, huh?

(photo credit to Aisha)

Wait, that’s not a lizard, is it?

Nope. Its a crocodile. A GIANT crocodile. Meet Rex, who is “5 meters  of trouble ” according to his facebook profile. He may look slow and even serene in this picture, but Rex is a bit of a nasty croc. In addition to listing “rage” and “tourists” as his main interests on facebook, according to the Wildlife World website, Rex was captured when “his taste for local pet dogs drew him too close” to human populations. But Rex doesn’t just have a taste for pet dogs and tourists; he is currently in isolation because he apparently ate two of his previous co-habitating crocs. Definitely don’t want to mess with Rex. He’ll eat you.

We move on to some friendly marsupials. These roos are just waking up from a nap!

And this guy is yawning, too. Wait, is this a wallaby or a pademelon?

You guessed it- wallaby!

And now, other than the Kookaburra,

we meet Australia’s most well-loved species- the koala! So cute!

Most of these koalas were pretty lazy, as you can see here:

But some of them were pretty active, at least for a bit:

Just one more glimpse of Wildlife World before we move onto the aquarium. Cassowary time! As the third-largest, the second-heaviest, and the most dangerous bird in the world, the cassowary can disembowel you in one quick swipe of its 3-pronged “stiletto-like” claw. Yikes.

(photo credit to aisha)

And finally on to the aquarium. A couple of quick highlights:

You never know what you’re going to find in these underwater tunnels…



…and DUGONGS, Australia’s mermaid-esque equivalent to a manatee. I had never heard of a dugong before, but this salad-loving creature quickly found a place in my heart.

One other favorite from the aquarium: Cuttlefish or Cuddlefish? haha, photo/pun credit to Aisha

2. Sydney Tower

A quick visit to Sydney’s tallest free-standing building and the second-tallest observation tower in the Southern hemisphere. Looks cool, doesn’t it?

We enjoyed Oz-Trek, an odd virtual-reality ride/tour of “Australia”, before ascending to the top of the tower.

Do we look as enthused as these tourists?

From the top, we enjoyed 360 degree views of Sydney. We were lucky to have a clear, sunny day and we were able to see for miles!

It’s amazing how much I was able to recognize from up here. For example, in the following view alone, I can see my home base in Bondi (blue), the Randwick Racetrack (yellow), my university (green), and my netball field (pink). I am becoming a true Sydney-ite!

Another great view from the top.

What a fun, but exhausting weekend. It wasn’t all action, as you can see below, but I definitely feel like I could use an extended nap!

Off to catch up on my sleep!


Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on October 13, 2010

What do you get when you combine 150 biologists, a mandatory “sea-themed” dress code, and a four-hour boat trip with an extremely generous open bar?

I’ll give you a hint. The answer is either a) a really bad joke or b) the BEES “Fanta-sea” Harbour Cruise (BEES = School of Biological, Earth, and Environmental Sciences at UNSW)

The correct answer is b) the Fantasea Harbour Cruise, and what a crazy night it was. I wish I had charged my camera batteries prior to the cruise, as there were some pretty creative costumes. Not only was Team Zissou along for the ride, but I (dressed as a lobster) was also impressed by the mermaids, jellyfish, and my favorite, a blue-bottle, that were all on board for the night. We toured the harbour, traveling in what seemed like endless circles around the Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge, and Luna Park.

The one picture that I did manage to capture of the cruise actually sums up the night fairly well:

Can you see the Harbour Bridge through that blur? Haha, me neither.

This extraordinarily fun night was followed by another great day exploring the Sydney coast with my pal Aisha. Our attempt to walk the Spit-to-Manly coastal walk was foiled by a bus-driver who skipped our stop and dropped us in the random town of Curl Curl. Even with this setback, we were determined to make our way to Manly, and we arrived in time to do this coastal walk to North Head instead.

The Manly Coastal Walk, like the rest of Sydney, is beautiful. Here are a some pictures from our hike:

You know I love my cliffs…

And my obscure views of the city…

But look at this, it’s a Hanging Swamp! A new type of ecosystem for me to be excited about!

And now, wildlife!

Unfortunately, aside from this cormorant, Aisha and I saw little wildlife on our journey, despite my constant search for BANDICOOTS, an endangered marsupial that is protected within Manly’s Sydney Harbour National Park.

Bandicoots are mostly nocturnal, and they have become endangered primarily as a result of human activites- fragmentation of bandicoot habitat, driving of motor vehicles, and even the human introduction of animals such as cats, dogs, and foxes have contributed to declines in bandicoot populations. See below- 8 known bandicoots killed by cars in 2010!

Unfortunately, we never did see a bandicoot (although Aisha may or may not have stepped on a rat).  However, we did reach our ultimate destination, good ole’ North Head. What a view!

However, from the map above, you can see that our trip to North Head was only half of the journey, and we made our way back to Manly ferry terminal, passing secluded beaches, waterfalls, and wildflowers on our way:

This isn’t a good picture, but these flowers are called Flannel Flowers; true to their name, they feel just like flannel! It also turns out that they are the floral emblem of my state of New South Wales!

And so ends another great walk and another fun-filled weekend. In lab, I have finalized the plans for my experimental design and the UNSW workshop is hard at work on the production of my plates for the field season. I am splitting my time between reading more papers (a never-ending activity), and helping to clean last year’s field equipment in preparation for November. I can’t wait until I can actually get out in the field and am able to explore a bit more of Australia’s Eastern coast!

Rain, rain go away!

Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on October 7, 2010

Could I be any wetter? What a rainy weekend here in Australia! And what bad luck to have three full days of rain for the long weekend!

Yes, Monday was Labour Day in my great state of New South Wales, exactly one month after Labor Day in the United States. Other states in Australia are even further behind (or ahead, depends on your perspective) the US Labor Day; Victoria, Tasmania, and Western Australia take time off in March to celebrate, while Queensland and the Northern Territory enjoy Labour Day in May. However, in both Australia and in the United States, Labour/Labor Day is a celebration of the same idea; in both countries it is a day to commemorate the social and economic achievements of workers during the organized labor movement of the 1850s and notably the eight-hour day movement, a movement which fought for working days with eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest.

Happily, my schedule here in Australia allows me to fulfill this ideal on almost a daily basis, but I was still glad to have the day off, and despite the rain, I enjoyed a lovely long weekend. Here are some weekend highlights:

1. Sydney Morning Herald Growers Markets

October is the month of Crave Sydney’s International Food Festival, a “month long celebration of Sydney’s obsession with food” with “extraordinary food experiences in unique Sydney locations”. Unfortunately, I didn’t find out about this festival in time to get tickets (free!) to some of the more exciting events, for example, to Breakfast on the Bridge, a huge picnic on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Photo taken from the Events NSW Flikr page.

How cool would that have been? Instead, Aisha and I ventured to the Sydney Morning Herald Growers Markets, where we enjoyed a great farmers market, drank delicious chai lattes, and experienced some “barbecue madness” as we watched chefs compete in a barbecue competition.

We also received free bags! Where does Aisha’s shirt end and her bag begin?

2. Cockatoo Island

The largest island in Sydney Harbour, Cockatoo Island is likely also one of the creepiest. It may have just been the rain, but the empty buildings, dark underground tunnels, and abandoned industrial equipment also contributed to the extraordinarily creepy setting.

Cockatoo Island has a dark, albeit interesting past; in the 1840s, the island was chosen as the sight of a new penal establishment, and convicts were put to work in the construction of the island’s prison barracks, guardhouses, and importantly, a dock. The island remained a prison for many years, but the dock was gradually adopted by the military, and Cockatoo Island developed into a bustling Navy shipyard. Not only was the first Australian steel warship built on the island, but during World War II, Cockatoo Island became the major shipyard and repair facility for ships in the South West Pacific.

Today, the island is eerily empty and it is hard to imagine that it was once a busy shipyard or even a prison. Come join Aisha and I on a quick tour of the island and you will see what I mean:

First, the prison barracks! Stark, isn’t it?

We then explored a series of abandoned shipyard buildings, which were again cool but creepy:

Here is the drawing office,

the timber drying store,

and my favorite, the latrine, which, according to its sign, “has few historical associations and little aesthetic value.” Got to love the Aussie humor!

Probably the scariest part of the island were the underground tunnels, shown below, that, aside from being dark and long, also had audio equipment installed playing mixtures of horror music and yelling in German.

Spooky. And yet, one person who isn’t afraid of Cockatoo Island is Hugh Jackman.  He loves Cockatoo Island so much that he both filmed portions of X-Men Origins: Wolverine on the island, and also used the island as the site of an exclusive movie preview. Here he is arriving to the film preview via flying fox; looks like the island is bringing out his adventurous side.

Wish I could say the same for me- I was pretty happy to board the ferry and get back to civilization!

3. Manly Jazz Festival

On Monday, the sun finally came out for a couple of hours, just in time for my volunteer shift at the Manly Jazz Festival!

Here’s the stage where I worked!

Prior to the “hot jazz”, Aisha and I met up to explore the “cool surf” at Shelly Beach in Manly. Manly is so beautiful, I can’t wait to explore it further in the coming weeks!

That’s Shelly Beach on the other side of the water!

Aisha searches for seashells on the seashore

Look at these cool shells!

Again, another great week in Sydney. The weather is starting to warm up and as I prepare my experiment for the field season, I can feel that summer is truly on its way!