Canberra connection and Bye for Now

On Thursday evening, I rode the Hound down to Canberra to visit Kara, the ecologist whom I helped with the tree project in the Otways, and her partner Jeff. Significant others, frequently even official spouses, are referred to in these parts as “partners,” which is, as at home, the same term used to designate close business associates. It’s still confusing.

In any case, Kara met me at the bus depot, and drove me through a series of neighborhoods, each with its own green spaces, sidewalks, and little tiny shopping districts. The centennial celebration of the Australian Capitol Territory will be held on Monday, and this city deliberately planned for human-focused community life, will celebrate in long-weekend style.

We sat in Kara and Jeff’s little back yard with the chooks (including an Australian breed called silkies which resemble white feather dusters), the giant mulberry tree, and the end-of-summer wild vegetable garden, until the “mossies” started to bite. We retired inside for take-out noodles and dessert, and the first TV I’ve watched (ignored, actually, but it was on) in over a month. Somewhere in the discussion Kara noted that I was the only Jewish person, other than herself, to have been in her house. Given the cultural history of the country, I guess that’s not so surprising. That being said, there was apparently at least one Jewish convict among the first group to be transported, and the character of Fagan in Oliver Twist may have been modeled after a guy who was notorious among the convicts Tasmania. There are Jewish communities in Sydney and Melbourne, and there have been synagogues in those cities since the early 1800s. In an academic setting, Kara’s colleagues are literally from all over the world, but most of the world isn’t Jewish.

Yesterday, we went to Kara’s office at CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) where she and several dozen other physicists, chemists, biologists, and computer sciences investigate climate change from a variety of angles and using a plethora of high and low-tech methodologies. As we walked into the building where labs and offices were divided by glass walls, I was struck by the trees and smaller plants growing in the lobby.  How cool is that?!? Apparently, it poses a bit of a problem because the species selected are now bending against the skylight, and will need to be replaced. Kara contends that the whole garden design needs a re-think, with attention to the species composition and space in which they will be planted. Duh!

 I briefly met a few folks and reconnected with Jessie from the Otway fieldwork. It was fun to see both Kara and Jessie in cute colorful summer civvies instead of grungy field attire that had included tough leather chaps. Kara spent over an hour on Google Earth meticulously mapping out a bike route for me to follow so I could visit the Parliament and see more of the city while she got some work done. She color-printed a 16 page set of maps, with the route overlain (red into town, blue coming home) on the satellite images. It turned out that Google Earth hasn’t updated its satellite imagery of Canberra for about 10 years, but I nevertheless successfully navigated to our rendezvous point by the end of the afternoon.

By the time Kara completed her task as travel agent, it was time for lunch, so we gathered colleagues Peter and Lars and walked over to the abutting ANU (Australian National University) campus for burritos. Apparently, this is one of the better (maybe best) Universities in the country, particularly for the sciences. Kara did her PhD here, and now has a joint appointment with CSIRO and ANU.

 En route to lunch, Peter noticed that the rear tire of Jeff’s mountain bike (my borrowed steed) had several herniations where the tire wall had split. He was concerned that the tube could blow at any time, so Kara took the bike to the bike shop, conveniently located across the courtyard from where we were having lunch (this is one well-appointed campus with some exceedingly funky architecture), and the tire was replaced while we ate.

Kara’s careful instructions prevented even me from getting lost on my ride through the University and a bit of town to the shores of Lake Burley.

I stopped to read all the historical signage and examine a water sculpture depicting all of Cook’s routes in his exploration and mapping of this part of the world. I rode along every little side path and through all the little gardens along the lake shore (new mountain bike tires make that easy), across the bridge festooned with flags heralding the big celebration on Monday, and eventually to the new Parliament building.

I declined to take an official tour so as not to be late with my rendezvous with Kara at 5:30, and instead wandered the galleries, and looked at the city views from the roof. The tour would have included visits to the actual House and Senate chambers, but as congress was not in session at that moment, that didn’t seem so interesting to me.

We could take a page from this play book

Kangaroo and Emu on the State Seal because neither of these animals can move backwards

On the return leg, I got a little twisted around as the satellite view landmarks had changed, and most of the street names were not included on the map. I may well have been better with “turn here, turn there” printed directions. In any case, Aussie kindnesses helped me navigate in several different locations (including one in which a young woman pulled out her iPad to help us both figure out the best direction in which to send me), and I had a lovely ride to the big central shopping plaza, where I waited by a cool fountain for Kara’s afternoon meeting to end.

 Beers and chips, followed by dinner at a delicious dumpling house (with Jeff, Peter, and Lars) ended the day on a full and friendly note.

 This is likely my last post for quite a while, as tomorrow I head into the hinterlands (Daintree Cloud Forest in Northern Queensland) for my next Earthwatch adventure. We will be camping at a site with no power, plumbing, cell phone, or internet access. I have learned from Kara that the trip leaders have phones that can be accessed on emergency channels (some of you may have more of a clue about that) but we minions will be in radio silence.


Be well, stay warm, and I am REALLY looking forward to seeing everybody in the not too distant future. That includes you, my Left Coast buddies. Not sure when or how, but it will happen!