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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Welcome to Oz

Upon hearing about my conservation project, my Australian friend Nijel gave me a glare and said, “Good to see you’ve had fun killing our forests. Did you eat a koala while you were here, too?"

I managed to placate him by showing that I only killed bad trees and planted loads of good ones and even hugged a koala.

See? But most of my time was spent doing some intense conservation work in and around the Blue Mountains, well west of Sydney. The first project was by far the most amazing: the bunch of us hiked down into the valleys and began rebuilding a trail (it was originally built in the late 1800s by convicts, and has since been obliterated by rockslides, trees, and erosion). We pickaxed, prybarred huge rocks off the path, dug, created and shored up terraces, built steps, and fended off the angry populations of Sydney funnelweb spiders. I don't want to scare my parents by telling you how dangerous they are, but I hear the internet is pretty reliable these days. The only really bad bit of the project was trying to leave. We had to hike up the "Golden Stairs," a mile's worth of horrible climbing, while carrying mattocks, pickaxes, chainsaws, prybars, and trash from our meals.

The other weeks were spent planting trees for the Aussie government, going possum-spotting in national parks, and chopping wood for fires. Oh, and wading around in chest-deep, 33 degree water and axing willow trees to death (and then poisoning them, to be sure). Somehow, we enjoyed ourselves wholly despite being soaked and numb each day.

And now, I think I need to share more pictures of the Aussie animals. You see, once I returned home, I started slowly posting pictures of me and cute animals on the internet for my friends to see. While I would hate for anyone to think my trip was all about fuzzy animals, I think it would also be very sad if I did not share some of the photos.

I visited a lot of zoos while I was in Australia, and most of them allowed you to wander around with the emus, wallabies, and 'roos. It seemed unusual, though fun, until I spent more time in-country. I eventually came to know that I could visit the (wild) kangaroos by just stepping outside the town I was in. You couldn't even drive around a coal mine without a herd of kangaroos following you!

If you can't tell (you can't), the area in that picture was once an open cut mine: the trees, plants, and top fifty yards of dirt were, about six years earlier, torn away and the rich coal mined out. This particular coal mine was more environmentally-conscious than most (if you prefer, this can be thought of equally well as image-conscious), and the important bits were put back and regrown into something that thousands of kangaroos could hop around in.

But not all of Oz is on the ground. Sydney Harbor was always ready with a beautiful view, and I even grabbed a few days in between projects to visit the Great Barrier Reef.

In my New Zealand post, I mentioned the ubiquitous sheep jokes. Since these were no less common in Australia, I'll offer up one more: What do you get when you cross a sheep with a kangaroo? A wooly jumper! Lastly, if you're wondering why I've typed 'Oz' throughout this post, try saying 'Australia' in an Aussie accent, and then shorten it to Aus. Cheers!