The Promise the Bus made to Me

By Rachel Tennis

“There’s no shame in running for the bus.” That’s what Kimberly told us on one of our first days here at Wesley Institute. I laughed at the time, but now, even though I’ve only been here a short time, this statement has become my reality. I have run for bus, train and ferry alike.

When I was 16, my parents got me a used Carolla, whom I named Topanga. I love Topanga.  She gets me from point A to point B on my own time. Once I had Topanga, I thought I was so cool. I could come and go as I pleased; I didn’t have to wait on anyone else’s schedule. I was a free woman! I can almost hear 16 year old me saying, “Gosh, I am just so independent.” Aside from the fact that I didn’t pay for gas, insurance, or anything else in my life for that matter, I was very self-sufficient.

Ever since, I have become very used to having a car. This last year, I would drive to class nearly everyday, because who wants to walk 3 blocks to get to school? That would be a total drag. And being so independent, I can just drive myself. Walking is for chumps. Now I walk two or three times that distance just to get to the bus that will take me to the other bus that will take me to school.

These past few weeks I have found myself completely relying on the public transportation system. At home, when driving, I hated the bus system. They were slow, and in my way. I had places to be. I left five minutes before I had to be somewhere and now I was going to be late. It was all Rachel all the time. Now, I leave the house an hour and a half before I have to be somewhere, because I know an hour of that will be spent walking or waiting for a bus to come.

When it comes to public transportation, you have very little control. By ‘very little’ I mean ‘none’. It is a humbling experience to not be in control. Your future is in someone else’s hands. No matter how much you plan out your day, it is never going to unfold the way you expect it to. However, even though you don’t have control, you do have to do your part. If you make the effort to get yourself to the bus stop, the bus will come. Something I have realized is that, just because the bus doesn’t show up right when you want it to, doesn’t mean it isn’t coming (in this analogy, the bus is God). Be patient and trust that what has been promised will be provided. If the ‘bus’ promises it will come, it will come.

Being in Australia is an incredible opportunity and I know I have so many adventures ahead of me. But I’ll have to wait at least 30 minutes at a bus stop to get there.

The South Coast

Kiama, looking south

The sounds of the city outside my front window remind me I’m back in another sort of jungle. The palm tree outside the back window reminds me of the jungle I just came from. Booderee National Park, on the South Coast of New South Wales, was the latest trip we took as a program. We returned Sunday afternoon.

When I was a student, in 2009, we went to Canberra* during this time. This semester the ASC program director saw an opportunity to spend time in a very different sort of important place instead.

Booderee National Park is unique among most Australian national parks in that it is owned and operated by a local Aboriginal community. The Wreck Bay community is located near the park in their ancestral homelands in the Yuin nation. As one of the first sites of European contact, the Yuin nation has had over 200 years to figure out how to adapt and survive in a modern Australia that has looked violently different than the land they had known before.

In a historical moment in 1995, Booderee was handed back to Aboriginal ownership. In the co-op that has resulted, the community has ownership of the land, live on it, maintain their lifestyle (in a modern context) of hunting and fishing and have the right to protect it from poaching and environmental destruction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obviously the trip would have been very different had I gone by myself or with a small group. With 37, camping becomes a different ordeal. We rode a greyhound bus to the site. Our bus driver, Ian, was no less than a pro, maneuvering a behemoth of steel on wheels through twisted trees and vines over an unpaved dirt footpath. Once into the rainforest we set up camp at a site with all of the amenities that a group of over 40 would need. We rolled out a dozen safari tents and made camp. Michelle, the program coordinator, planned the trip, my job was to take heaps of pictures and video and help with logistics.

So when it came time for dinner, Joe (a student) and I ended up in charge of grilling burgers and corn. In the middle of the campsite sat this ancient iron grill. Chunks of rust flaked off of it in a strong breeze and I’m not convinced there wasn’t something living in the pile of wood underneath the grill surface. With no other choice we got to work.

I’ve never even pretended to be one of those guys who’s a pro at grilling so I learned quite a bit. 1) foil sticks to meat when its cooking. Not good. We abandoned this idea and ended up cooking straight on the flat iron surface (there were no grates to cook on). 2) when cooking on a flat iron surface, oil is very important. A group left to go get oil (from where?) and promised to be back soon. After cleaning the iron surface as much as possible we started cooking.

Now, one thing I did know is that beef turns brown when you cook it. We noticed these patties weren’t turning brown. They were still as red as if the cow had been moo-ing 5 minutes before. Strange.

I distinctly remember the guy at the butcher shop saying, “Oh yeah, mate, this is high class beef right he-ah.” After burning a few patties, we decided to cut them open and try them.

Italian Sausage, no joke. Spicy, hard, red, just shaped like a hamburger.

Long story short, the oil came after the sun had gone down, finally cooked the sausage-burgers and they were delicious. The corn was unreal.

As dinner ended, dancers from the community gathered around the campfire. Covered from head to toe in white paint and holding various implements of wood they began to share with us their music and movement. The Dancers from the Wreck Bay community have traveled around the world sharing their unique culture with other nations and indigenous people.

They were fantastic. Each dance was a story. Many dances resembled the actions of people or animals. One dance conveyed a sea eagle swooping down to catch a stingray in the shallow waters of Jervis Bay.

The movements and accompanying chants were simply amazing to behold. Campers from adjacent sites even crept over to watch the festivities. Before we knew it there were 50 or 60 people around the fire.

This was something very important to see about Aboriginal culture. According to cultural rules, everyone should belong; no one should be out of place. Welcoming complete strangers to enjoy music and food together is simply normal, polite cultural practice.

I think the students were very impressed with the Wreck Bay community, I know I certainly was. Some of the leaders in Wreck Bay hold honors that white Australian society respects (such as post-college degrees) as well as honors in their own community.

 

During our time there we were lead on hikes around the rainforest and the botanical gardens they created within the park. They explained some of the ways the bush had provided for their people for generations and even for them today. They explained how they are able to operated in a modern world, fight for their rights, respect and value and still live a lifestyle that is consistent with their culture.

As we leave the bush and travel back to the life in the city, the students wrestle with things learned on the South Coast. One thing is for sure; this semester we have a great group of students. They were essentially the guinea pigs for this trip and they rolled with the punches. Due to the heavy rain the night before we ended up having to make a detour to unload all the wet tents and camping gear. While a mob of ‘roos watched we hauled wet and sandy gear out of the bus. More memories.

2 Hydrogen + 1 Oxygen = One Big Predicament

by Sarah Herman

Did you know that the average American shower lasts between 8-10 minutes?  What about that the typical shower uses 17.2 gallons of water?  If you answered no to these questions, don’t worry you’re not alone.  When it comes to the environment and the conservation of water most are extremely ill informed.  You may be thinking now, “So what?? I like my shower and I don’t care how much water it uses!”  Well you’re the one to tune in.

Upon arrival in Sydney and meeting our host families, the general rules of the houses were given: each host family has a different set of rules and requirements for the students staying with them.  One rule most of us found utterly shocking was the fact that one family has a strict water usage limit on showers: 5 minutes.  5 minutes?! I just thought a shower was a shower; the water comes from the pipes and we use it whenever we feel like it.  However, Australians have a very different view of water than Americans do.  The reason for this is because Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth, with the least amount of water in rivers, the lowest run-off and the smallest area of permanent wetlands of all the continents.  Conserving water is a way of life, and each Australian state has its own “Water Restriction Levels” that are determined by the amount of rainfall in each year.  As well as shorter showers, Australians barely ever run a dishwasher and use the least amount of water possible to wash dishes.  In our house we have a system: fill the sink half way with water and soap, put each dish in there one by one, clean it off, and stick it in the drying rack.  Notice that rinsing the dishes is not a part of the system.  What’s the reason for this?  All in an attempt to conserve water. 

What does this have to do with me, you ask?  Hopefully this will change your view on water.  When water is bountiful, we take it for granted.  It’s so reliable that it becomes a constant facet of our lives.  There’s a craze hitting the internet right now called the “Shower Challenge.”  It consists of a designated period of time where individuals cut their shower time down to anywhere between 3-5 minutes.  I encourage you to take the shower challenge.  Just for one week, limit each shower to 5 minutes.  Through this act, maybe we all can appreciate water a little bit more, and be grateful for the common gift we so often forget we have. 

http://www.dfat.gov.au/facts/env_glance.html

http://www.allianceforwaterefficiency.org/Residential_Shower_Introduction.aspx

Why dots belong in the desert.

There seems to be fixation, when outsiders come to Australia, with tourist shops here and there selling boomerangs, didgeridoos, kangaroo stuffed animals and of course, Aboriginal artwork. Similar to the way bugs are helplessly drawn to that eerie yellow streetlight, tourists flock to these stores to bring back a piece of “Australia” (the ‘Made in China’ sticker on that boomerang doesn’t seem to phase them).

During the Indigenous Studies class one student inquired about the ethics of white Australians, or even outsiders, copying the style of Aboriginal art known as dot-painting.

The lecturer’s response was graceful, yet very to the point. She said, “dots belong in the desert,” she continued to explain that dot-painting is a specific technique that comes from people in the central desert of Australia. “As you fly over the central desert, you can see that those dots mimic the landscape.” Flowers appear to be dots on bushes which are little, scrubby dots on the open landscape. Round, red rocks form larger dots. When it rains, big fat drops create dots on the sand. Dots belong in the desert. Art from other places around pre-European Australia come in all shapes and colors but they are unique to the landscape and materials available to each of those regions.

She held her arms out wide and said, “this issue is actually this big and it would take us a week to get to the bottom of it.” Not only is there the idea of location but also of method. In a Western understanding of art, we can create it, copy it, sell it, hang it in our home, keep it in storage. Art has value to us but we treat it differently. Painting dots on canvas is a modern translation of an old ceremony. For people of the central desert, such as the Pintupi, Luritja and Pitjantjatjara, dots were created in the desert sand itself using stones, feathers and other found materials. The important thing to understand is that the process and materials of this creation are more important than the finished product. It is ceremonious.

So, not like this

or like this

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The commercialization of Aboriginal art is a fascinating clash of cultures, one I am not nearly learned enough to discuss in great depth. However, it is clear to see that commercialization has most certainly taken place. If you hop on a bus from here within 10 minutes of almost any direction you’ll find a place where you can buy a boomerang, a coffee mug, a keychain, all bearing a replica of a dot painting. Of course this artwork came from a printer thousands of miles away in a factory operated by people who may have never even been to Australia.

Of course there are Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artist now who utilize dot-painting techniques but they do so with the intention of sending an honoring nod in the direction of those who have come before. In the end it seems that as with almost anything, there is a certain caution that is respectable to approach situations with. But as artists we bounce ideas off of each other, we copy what is great and it makes it greater. We add connections to other artists who have inspired us.

We do this because this is how we as artists relate to the world.

But there is clearly a difference between this approach and the local bug-zapper that draws in thousands looking for a material representation of a fun experience.

The Australia Panel

The legacy of the British Empire is felt across the globe. English-style city planning, a glorification of armed forces, and the English language itself can be found from the slopes of the Rocky Mountains to the arid plains of Australia. Both are prosperous westernized nations with a history of direct British colonial rule. To many it may seem that the two are nearly the same.

Enter the Australia Panel.

 

 

 

 

 

Three members of the Wesley Institute staff who have been hand selected to represent Australian culture to the ASC students, each with a unique area of expertise and background. Prompted by questions pulled from students’ readings the three weighed in on important aspects of Australia’s cultural myths, convict history, engagement with Aboriginal Australians, and modern issues in Australian culture.

Beginning with the quirks of Australian language, Jo Kenny, coordinator and lecturer for the drama department, describes, “Irreverence is very Australian, but we do it with a sense of humor, so we have a charm about it.”

Mark Stevens, lecturer for the theology department, adds, “I identify with that sense of humor, I think it keeps you grounded in a way that doesn’t bring you down.”

The three encourage the American students that, “if your host families or Australian friends seem to be cutting you down, that’s a sign of acceptance.”

Julie Matthews, head of the department of education, brings in an historical perspective     explaining the connection between the convict beginnings and modern Australian society.   Ideas like the “tall poppy syndrome,” distrust and irreverence for authority, fatalism, and   mateship, she says, come from a legacy of people who were thrown into a fierce land against   their will.

“That ‘mateship’ that Australians became known for is something to be proud of,” says Julie. She mentions the storming of Gallipoli by Australian and New Zealand troops, an important moment in the formation of Australia during the First World War.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At one point Jo begins reading from a book called 800 Horsemen, an account of a gallant moment in Australian history abroad. It tells the story of the 4th and 12th Australian Light Horse units that successfully performed an incredibly risky charge upon well-entrenched Turkish artillery. The American students were surprised to see her so overcome with emotion for a moment that happened even before her parents were born. Such is the deep feeling of mateship between Australians.

Mark explains further, “No one would ever say, ‘I’ll die for you’ but when the situation gets really tough there’s no question, we would die for each other.”

Questions also prompted a look at some of the challenges Australia faces today. Struggling with a younger generation taking to binge drinking and a viciously post-Christian society is no simple feat. But Mark brought it home, “I don’t just weep for my culture but for the world,” as he explained the challenges here reflect those of the globe.

“Australians are best when they live for others,” he says, “I suspect that’s true of human beings.”

Listening to the students debrief the panel it became apparent that learning about another nation provides the ability to think critically about one’s own.

The Rocks

Most modern cities have that certain place where it all began. For Sydney, and consequently Australia, that place is The Rocks.

Constructed from the native Sydney sandstone this section of the city has history literally etched into its walls. Convicts were required to hew a certain amount of sandstone bricks from the earth and to keep track scratchings were made on each brick in a person’s specific style. These characteristic bricks can be seen throughout the city, witnesses to the hard work of the early Australians.

Tuesday for class we took a tour of The Rocks and the surrounding area of downtown Sydney. The first stop was the Customs House.

Next came Foundation Park and the story of the beginning of the new colony. The most amazing part about The Rocks is the absolute transformation it has undergone. It was, at one time full of brothels, opium houses and nimble thieves. It was planned to be leveled and turned into “more useful architecture.” Citizens of Sydney vouched for its historical significance and now it has become a trendy place to go for a date on a Friday night. There is everything from costly apparel stores to tourist traps as well as unique local shops such as the Honey Shop which showcases honey cultivated around Australia. One cannot visit, let alone study, Sydney and miss out on The Rocks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even with the makeover The Rocks remains an important place to study modern Australia as it bears the marks of where it all began.

Friday

Friday brought the second class the ASC students will take during the semester, Indigenous Cultures, History and Identity (of Australia and New Zealand). As a former student I can personally say this class alone, taught by Jennifer Newman, is worth the 15 hour flight. The first session of class opened with a history and overview of the Aboriginal Australians, their language groups and regions. Sitting in on the class I noticed an entranced silence. I have never seen college students so unashamedly riveted for almost 2 hours. This is going to be a great class.

An Aboriginal Language Map of Australia

The legacy of the Tower of Babel can be felt across the planet. Anyone who has traveled knows this. But even here in Australia, a well-developed former British colony, the clash of cultures can be witnessed. During the Friday’s session the ASC students engaged in an exercise created to embody this phenomenon. Though it has its roots in antiquity (the late ‘70s), the concept of the game still holds true.

The class is divided into two groups, each representing two different cultures. The two groups learn the rules associated with their cultures and then take turns visiting. The game is good fun but the discussion afterwards shows that this is about more than a game. This is about how people interact with one another, and the students dove into it wholeheartedly sharing experiences and asking insightful questions of their own.

“How powerful is culture?”

“Should we even evaluate culture?”

“Maybe it is important to identify where one comes from in order to understand how to interact with other cultures.”

Asking these sorts of questions and critically looking at one’s own culture are key to growing from a semester abroad.