Island life and the end of my twenties.....

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August 23rd 2009
Published: August 23rd 2009
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1: Humpback whale research 237 secs
Man, I really should write this more often. I mean to, I write reminders everywhere and try to make mental notes that I immediately forget, berating myself for writing a boring blog because I can’t remember what I did since I last wrote. Anyway, I left you on Orpheus island, the James Cook Uni research station on the Great Barrier Reef. Not a bad place to study. I think it’s a cunning ruse at it’s the only way they are going to get us to do statistics. Well, we learnt the stats in a classroom then went there to count fish and stuff. This sounds simple, and indeed it should have been but I did not as well as this module as I did on the others. The 6 month mark has been and gone and my attention with it. Shameful.

I left Townsville for the first time by road and for 2 hours looked at sugar cane fields and buildings going mouldy from the huge summer floods. You understand why Queenslanders build their houses on stilts when you see the size of the Burdekin river. The water was trapped by the mountain range and the whole area below them is basically a flood plain so the outlying towns did not fare well.

There were too many of us to get the boat together so we lolled around on the beach watching people come back from a days fishing until the boat arrived. We had a lot of stuff, partly research stuff and partly because all the professors etc had brought their families with them so we had buggies and babies in really small lifejackets to contend with. It was a tense 10 minutes when 15 odd laptops were passed down the chain of people that ran into the water, arms held high but they all survived.

Living on the beach I get spoilt by beautiful views but heading out to Orpheus provided us with stunning sunny views of small mountainous islands. The feeling of remoteness is ruined somewhat by knowing there is a resort on the other side of Orpheus but we were not allowed there anyway.

The research station was amazing. Labs, dive shed (yes, I do get excited about dive sheds) at one end then you stroll down a sandy path sans shoes to the living quarters. The sunsets were stunning and ass a research station none of the yachties are allowed in so we have the bay to ourselves. We were not allowed to dive, but we were allowed to watch the research students and professors zoom off for research dives at the neighbouring island, Pelourus. A lot of the coral reef literature you read (not that I expect you to grab a paper about symbionts whilst sipping morning tea) is based around here and the other research stations dotted around Australia because, well, that’s where the research stations are. So we snorkeled every day, (other) people saw sharks and rays and I saw some turtles and got to know each other every evening (my course, not us and the turtles) and, apart from the snake trying to sneak into our dorm, generally had a gay old time.

The only downside was getting up at 4 am (yes Fo, there IS a 4am) to clean the place in the dark before going home. You would not think it but its cold here when its dark and we sat on the beach listening to the sounds of the topics (i.e. unidentifiable animals and birds screeching) and watching the sun come up.

I got back and went to watch a hot surfer dude with dreads and his band at the only half decent music venue when I got back which was great. Well, I went to work first but still.

Work has settled down after a couple of months of madness. Luckily, I was not there for most of it as I had exams and intensive modules but the guys I looked after basically trashed the house and threatened the staff on a daily basis. The long and short of it is they have left now. This is good in lots of ways but until last week we only had a couple of people to look after and twice as many people have been employed on half the shifts so the original staff are scrabbling around for shifts at the mo. All fun and games.

I also had an amazing time on another island, this time off Brisbane with my good friend Sus. We were supposed to be getting whale blubber samples from the humpback whales that migrate up and down the coast every year but the weather was bad so I only had one good day on the water. There is a video on the blog site of the day I was out. I did not manage to film the best stuff as I was busy finding darts or watching the whales but its pretty cool nonetheless (and my first attempt at filming on a digital camera and using moviemaker I may add). It did mean Sus and I got to hang out a lot with her 2 Phd students. It was a houseful of girls for most the time which was really good fun.

We did attempt to go out again, much to the amusement and rolling of eyes of the coastguard but after 30 minutes in 5 metre swell and 35 know winds we decided that yes, the coastguard was right, it was dangerous and, soaked to the skin and exhilarated to be alive we headed back to shore. You rarely see a group of women driving up in a 4x4 and launching a boat, nor dragging it back onto the trailer so this caused some stares from the locals. We looked the part as well, wearing 4 layers of clothing, a marine jacket, scarves and caps. And most of you know how I feel about caps. Not glamorous but a great experience.

And then there was the big 3-0 to contend with. As I literally finished my final intensive module and jumped on a plane I did not have much time to dwell on this. I had a great time with Tom and Adrian at ‘Splendour in the Grass’ a small but well regarded festival here. It does not have the atmosphere of the big UK festivals (as Tom & I kept lamenting) but it was a brilliant way to end my twenties.We went with Adrians school mates who had the foresight to rent somewhere so we camped then went to theirs for showers and food. Not quite in the festival spirit but I am getting old. Adrian, Tom & I had matching t-shirts with well known Aussie phrases on them which went down a treat. I was particularly pleased with mine as I customized it by hacking the neck and sides off. A designer in the making even if I do say so. Or a tramp. I opened my cards and pressies as we packed up the tents and went to Brisbane for some cocktails and pampering with Sus. It did not really hit me until I was on the plane home, exhausted, when I fell apart. I spent the next week going ‘what am doing with my life’, which is exactly what everyone deos in their 30s. I phoned lots of people and babbled down the phone until my head sorted itself out (Thanks Manda, as usual). It helps that I live with 2 people younger than me who find it hilarious to point out how old I am. I need new friends, all the people I know think 25 is old.

I am back at uni and studying environmental science modules and a topic that means a) I get to go to Orpheus and dive to collect fish but b) have to bomp them off when I get back. It is rare for coursework students to get these topics though so even though a repeat of what someone else has done I am pleased to get my foot back on the research ladder and there have even been rumours of a publication, the pinnacle of a scientists work. I doubt this will happen but I like the idea of it.

With some of my days un-timetabled I have started to volunteer with some research masters students. I went diving for the first time since I got here this week, which was great but not the ‘swimming on beautiful coral reefs’ type, more the ‘zero visibility due to sediments, lugging heavy gear around underwater’ type diving. It was good to get back in the water though. There is a bit of a croc issue at one of the sites so I don’t think we will be going there again. Townsville looks different from the water and definitely a view I prefer.

Am trying to decide what to do next year at the moment, a Phd m- 4 years of poverty and Townsville but something I would like under my belt, or a job - no living on the breadline, live somewhere else but, well, it’s a job and will probably be colder than the tropics. I particularly like the fact that I act like I have choice when in fact the job situation here might make the decision for me. I am also trying to decide whether to get a summer job or spend 8 weeks on a research liveaboard monitoring the Great Barrier Reef with the Institute of Marine Science. It’s a toughy…

Let me know how you are and what you are doing. Next time I write this my darling mother will have traveled across the globe for the first time ever to see me. Less than 3 weeks and counting……

Nik xxx

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