Rachel Down Under!

What happens in Vegas…

Posted in Australia, Brisbane by rssmith218 on November 30, 2010

…stays in Brisvegas!

Hello from Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, and also the site of great Fulbright Thanksgiving revelry. Brisbane, affectionately termed “Brissie” and at times, “Brisvegas” (though perhaps, ironically?), was a lovely place to spend the holiday, and our trip was packed full of site seeing and explorations, in addition to turkey celebrations! Photo credits in this post to Aisha, Alice, Lindsey, and Sarah.

I had originally thought that Brisbane was a small country town, but it turns out that it is actually the third-largest city in Australia, with a population of over 2 million– that’s the size of Houston, TX,  and only about 800,000 people shy of Chicago!

See- it’s a real city!

So what did we get up to in this great metropolis?

1. Koalas!

It is illegal to cuddle koalas in New South Wales, so upon arriving in Queensland, we of course made our way to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the world’s “first and largest” koala sanctuary, for some koala action! I mean, it’s what all of the celebrities are doing!

We didn’t run into Cher, Eric Clapton, or Gorbachev while we were there, but we did check out some pretty fine-looking koalas. I didn’t actually cuddle with a koala, but here you can see that Alice is getting pretty friendly with one!

But the Koala Sanctuary was not limited to koalas- look at all of this other wildlife!

We saw 2 tasmanian devils get into a fight!

Now how many kangaroos are in this picture?

You know, just hanging out with the roos…

…and getting attacked by emus! Scary!

Also, if you’re looking for a good webcam, check out this camera of the Koala Sanctuary’s highly publicized resident platypus, Barak –> insert cheesy Obama joke here.

Or you can just check out this sweet video.

2. Brisbane Botanic Gardens

…where we see Brisbane’s softer side…

…and where I fall over with the excitement of being among mangroves!

3. Gold Coast

We make our way south of Brisbane for a day in Surfer’s Paradise out on the Gold Coast.

And with a name like Surfer’s Paradise, could you expect anything less than this view?

Surfer’s Paradise in Australia is equivalent to Miami in the United States; it is a major tourist destination, with over 10 million visitors per year. We were also lucky enough to visit during Australia’s Schoolies, a three-week-long party for high schoolers graduating from year 12. Despite inadvertantly  joining thousands of Australian high schoolers in the “ultimate summer holiday”, we still managed to have a good time.

The water was a warm change from the cool waters of Sydney, but the strong currents kept us on our toes. How many rips can you spot in this photo?

Aside from waves, sun, and drunk high schoolers, Surfer’s Paradise is also known for its gold-bikini clad meter maids, as I sneakily snapped below.

These scantily clad meter maids were first brought to Surfers in the 1960s (though probably not these same ones…) to improve public attitudes towards the introduction of parking meters in the area.

One look at this photo, and my mood is certainly improved!

Meter maids would feed coins into expired parking meters, although today they have a larger role in promoting Gold Coast tourism than they do in helping out expired parkers.

4. Finally, the reason we’re in Brisbane- Thanksgiving dinner!

A trip to Brisbane’s West End Markets to get fresh fruits and vegetables was followed by a day of cooking (or in my case, watching other people cook) and a hearty meal. Many thanks to the Bickmans for hosting us and for cooking such a wonderful meal!


What a spread!

It may be Thanksgiving, but it is also spring here in Australia- which also means that it is mango season! I’ve never had mangos for Thanksgiving before!

Mmmm. Overall, a delicious and wonderful weekend!


Aussie Rules

Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on November 24, 2010

Another week in the field, and I have officially delved into two essential aspects of the Australian experience:


Enjoying your toast, Katelyn? Mmmm, of course she is- Katelyn is a true Aussie!

Yes, I have been in Australia for more than 3 months now, and I have only just gotten around to trying this Australian “delicacy.” Vegemite is a dark brown, fairly foul-looking food paste/yeast extract that is actually a by-product of beer manufacture. Despite its rather disgusting appearance and texture, it is remarkably popular and Vegemite is a staple food in most Australian households, as you can see from this video:

However, Vegemite’s popularity does not extend outside of Australia, and during my time here, I have been warned by countless foreigners about the saltiness and bitterness of Vegemite. These numerous warnings, combined with Vegemite’s unappetizing appearence, have previously prevented me from being too eager to try this iconic Australian food. However, with encouragement from my labmates Katie and Katelyn, I tried Vegemite under the best conditions possible- with good, fresh bread, and an optimal vegemite-to-butter ratio, as you can see below!

The verdict? Not too bad! I can’t say that Vegemite will likely be added to my weekly shopping list, but I can definitely see how a craving for Vegemite could develop with repeated exposure…who knows, maybe if I develop a true taste for it, I’ll even invest in some Vegemite apparel, as displayed in this window I spotted in downtown Sydney. Vegemite pajamas to go with your Ugg boots, anyone?

2. Driving!

Yep, my first experience driving on the left side of the road! And I wasn’t driving just any car, but a monster-sized Toyota Hilux with manual transmission. I was pretty proud of myself for not getting into a wreck, although by the end of our trip, the engine was smoking  and my co-pilot, Ceiwen, was exhausted from continuously having to yell “move right, move right!” to prevent me from drifting off the left side of the road.

Uh oh, how far did I drift? All the way to Iceland? Looks like it!

These triumphs took place within two “modified” estuaries on the outskirts of Sydney, in Botany Bay and Port Kembla, which you can see below.

Unfortunately, it was raining so heavily while we were in Botany Bay that I was unable to even get my camera out to take a picture, but here is the not-so-lovely Port Kembla…

Despite the obvious pollution present at Port Kembla, this busy port is home to some very nice, and happily huge pelicans!

After a busy week out in the field, I relaxed with weekend trips to Vaucluse House and Cove Beach in Watson’s Bay, as well as the Hyde Park Africa Festival and the Glebe Street Markets. Aisha, Gregorio, and I also spent a wonderful Friday evening exploring the Rocks and Chinatown night markets.

And now, South American style…

Haha! Believe it or not, we were on a quest for dessert, and over the course of the night, we sampled various Sydney delicacies, which we proceeded to rank in terms of goodness. Here is the final talley, from worst to best. Photo credits to Gregorio.

4. Chinese fried ice cream. Does this really sound like a good idea?

3. Emperor’s Garden Chinese cream puffs! Worth queueing for?

2. Chocolate-covered strawberries…can’t really go wrong here!

1. And finally- half ricotta, half chocolate cannolis- the night’s grand champion of desserts!

Mmmmmmmmm. So good.

My mouth is watering just thinking about that cannoli!

I am skipping out on the fieldwork this week, as I am heading to Brisbane on Thursday morning to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. I’m a bit disappointed to miss out on this week’s fieldtrip to three of our most beautiful estuaries, but I will have the opportunity to visit these sites in February when we go to collect our experiments. Here’s a quick map of these estuaries, just for reference. One of them is Jervis Bay, where I went camping last week.

I’m excited for my trip to Brisbane, and I want to wish everyone in the States a very Happy Thanksgiving! Cheers!

Here’s a good one…

Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on November 17, 2010

So a Russian, a Kiwi, and a Canadian are all on a boat….

….and week two of fieldwork is underway! Last week we made our way up the coast, north of Sydney to Newcastle and the lovely Port Stephens, which you can see below.

Our little research vessels were no match for the enormous ships of the Newcastle port, and I was glad to withdraw to the calm mangrove stands of Port Stephens.

Plus, I got to leave my invertebrate duties for a bit to join the international group shown in the pictures above. Lera and Andrew co-captain the fish team of our field crew, and I hopped aboard their boat to help out with some fish trawls. Photo credits to Lera.

Working hard…

…or hardly working?

Fish trawls are definitely more exciting than deploying experiments off the invertebrate boat. For example, look at this catch!



porcupine fish,

and inflated porcupine fish, oh my!

As much fun as it is to be out in the field catching poisonous fish, it definitely doesn’t compare to a weekend of camping in Jervis Bay! Jervis Bay, a “jewel of the NSW coast,” hosts expansive bays, rocky shores, and beautiful beaches, including the beach with the whitest sand in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Take and look, and see what you think…

Pretty white, huh? (though maybe not as white as my stomach?) But perhaps more impressive than the sheer whiteness of the sand, is the fact that these beautiful beaches stretch for miles and miles and miles…

We visited several beaches during our stay, including Hyams Beach (shown above), Cave Beach (with a real cave!), and my favorite, Murrays Beach. The water was surprisingly warm, and I took advantage of the clear water and the good weather with an afternoon snorkel.

Beach explorations were followed by hiking, and a trip to the “ill-fated” Cape George lighthouse, a lighthouse where, according to the nearby signage, “two wrongs don’t make a light.” You can read more about this doomed lighthouse here.

Lighthouse in shambles!

Aisha and I camped within the Booderee National Park, and even though we were in the “wilderness,” you can see that we weren’t alone…

Yep, that is a kangaroo- with a little joey in tow! And no, that is not our tent in the background. Our tent was sturdier, though Aisha will likely attest that it was not that sturdy. Aside from being ridiculously cute, these kangaroos were also set upon causing some mischief!

Hey, get your nose out of there! Speaking of getting out of here, its time to head out for a field trip to Port Kembla, a harbour with a reputation for being seriously dirty. Guess I’ll see when we get there!


Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on November 8, 2010

In Aussieland, it’s called tomato sauce!

Only six more hours before I disappear into the Sydney  pseudo-wilderness, so I thought I would post a few weekend photos before I get too far behind!

Weekend highlights:


Glissando your way into Sculpture by the Sea, an annual exhibition in which the Bondi to Tamarama coastal walk transforms into a giant sculpture park. Admittedly, anything can look pretty good with the background of Bondi’s cliffs and ocean views, but I was still impressed by these sculptures. Some highlights follow, though I wish I could show you all of them! The Sculpture by the Sea website has some great photos of these works as well.

2. A rainy day exploring the neighborhood of Paddington…

…first to the fashion-forward Paddington markets…

…then to a historic resevoir turned modernist park….

…and finally to the Victoria Barracks, which, according to my tourbook, is “widely considered to be one of the best examples of a military barracks in the world”. Fancy.

3. Wait! Is that sun I see?

Do you believe it? Impossible! Quick, better take advantage before the inevitable Sydney rain returns again! And what better to do on a sunny day than go sailing…in Manly!

It’s try-sailing-for-free day at the Manly Yacht Club!

Livin’ the life, huh Aisha?

And finally, my favorite (and only slightly creepy) picture from the weekend, taken at my favorite Shelly Beach in Manly. Who doesn’t want a skirt made out of seaweed?

Time to catch some sleep before a busy week out in the field. Can’t wait to make my way to Newcastle and Port Stephens this week!

In Da Field

Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on November 3, 2010

Rain continues to descend upon Sydney, but I am now more prepared than ever with my new FIELD HAT. Check it out:

Rain, sun, wind- bring it on! I am ready for the elements….or potentially for a role in 90’s music video?

Don’t I just fit right in with Eminem and LL Cool J?

So the field season is finally upon us, and I have spent the past two days out on the water (and out in the rain!). Yesterday we set up experiments in Sydney Harbour, and today we ventured south to Port Hacking. Here is a map (courtesy of Google Maps) to give a bit of geographic perspective.

I unfortunately left my camera at home for our trip to Sydney Harbour, but previous entries should provide plenty of images of Sydney Harbour. We focused on sites located west of the Harbour Bridge, near Parramatta River. Sydney Harbour is classified as a “modified estuary” according to our experimental design, and the area west of the bridge is highly industrialized. Here’s a picture from a previous trip to Cockatoo Island that is fairly representative of where we set up the experiments.

Now compare this to the beautiful Port Hacking, one of our so-called “unmodified estuaries.” What a difference, huh?

Want to come along for a day on the boat? Here we are jetting out to one of our many sites!

As our designated skipper (in the above photo, Katie) maneuvers us to our sites, the rest of us are busy assembling the separate components of the experiment. We each have individual portions of the experiment that must be attached together for deployment. For example, in the picture below, you can see that Jaz and Katelyn’s oyster bags (in yellow) are attached to my (and Graeme’s) plates (in blue), which are further attached to Katie’s sediment traps (in pink). All of the above are then attached to cement blocks, and following deployment, a line is run from the blocks to the shore. We are leaving these experiments out until February, when we will (hopefully!) find and retrieve them.

Here is an assembled experiment:

And now, deploying the plates by pushing them overboard.

To finish it up, securing our experiments to the shore. Hopefully they will still be there when we return in a couple of months!

For the rest of the week, I will be assembling my remaining panels, because, starting next week, we will be out in the field every day for the rest of November. We are going on overnight trips to estuaries up and down Australia’s eastern coast, and I can’t wait to see more of Australia over the coming weeks! Haha, just keepin’ it real in da hood!

p.s. Happy Melbourne Cup Day! We continued to work despite “the race that stops the nation” but we did manage to listen to the race via radio. Congrats to the French horse, Americain!