Written By Sierra & Hunter
This is Hunter and Sierra giving you all an update on our most recent journey Down Under. On Nov. 10th, we arrived at our first destination in Australia: Sheoak Ridge. The people at Sheoak—Claire and Marcus—strive to protect native eco-systems in far North Queensland on their 165-acre property. They conduct research, work on rehabilitating wallabies, practice mindful land management, and provide unique opportunities for students of all ages to get hands-on experience with land maintenance.
During our first full day here at Sheoak (Nov. 11th), we learned about indigenous land management as well as an introduction to Aboriginal culture. We also had an introduction to macropods—animals with “big feet”—before working with wallabies that afternoon. Everyone had the wonderful opportunity to feed and snuggle wild wallabies that are forgoing the process of rehabilitation. We wrapped up the night with a movie conveying the intense and diabolical treatment of the Aboriginal people during European colonization of Australia. By night, we camp in tents under the Australian luminescent stars.
Our second day was just as lovely as the first: We jumped into work in land management by building a new vegetable garden on the property, scooping horse poop, spreading gravel, and laying cinder blocks. Because of the vegetable garden that we started for Marcus and Claire, they will become completely sustainable to feed the many large groups they host, including future Carpe groups! That night, we had a big campfire down at camp and sang songs and told stories with all of Hongi. The nights here are incredibly magical.
On our third day here at Sheoak, Claire took some of us on an early morning nature walk! We saw many different native birds on the property. While spotting birds, Claire taught us about all the techniques these animals use to survive and collect food in the area. That day, we worked closer to camp and cleared out shrubs, via fire and hand tools, that will allow for Claire and Marcus to host larger groups in the future. After our morning session of work, Claire took us to a nearby lagoon where we cooled off and swam. After we cooled off, Jackson was the first to give his presentation on permaculture regarding our experiences in New Zealand. And yet again, we had another campfire and played games that stimulated lots of laughter. Hehe.
During our fourth day, some students went with Claire on another early morning nature walk, but this time we were attempting to spot… wait for it… PLATYPUSES! Unfortunately, being still and quiet isn’t the groups forte; therefore, the platypuses had a forewarning that we were coming. Being near the creek, though, was extremely humbling and a great way to start another great day hard at work. After work and after lunch, Claire gave us a presentation on her career working as an entomologist with glowworms; she worked with David Attenborough and National Geographic! She’s also the only glowworm expert in all of Australia! How lucky are we??
The next day, we had the opportunity to ride Claire and Marcus’s horses. Everyone enjoyed them thoroughly and was passionate to ride them some more in the next days coming. That day, our work consisted of trail maintenance and digging irrigation ditches. We moseyed down to the lagoon again for another cool, relaxing afternoon. By dinnertime, Marcus had prepared us a delicious meal—as he does everyday.
Fast forward to the next day, we had the day off of work, and Marcus took us to a remote waterfall about 30 minutes away from Sheoak. The trailhead for the waterfall starts on a closed road that used to connect the area that Sheoak sits on with Port Douglas. The road is now used as a biking/horse trail. The waterfall was about an hour’s hike, but it was beyond worth the steep cliffs that we conquered. We got to swim in natural pools at the top of the massive waterfall while enjoying the incredible views below. Once we returned to camp a few hours later, we had some downtime and Sierra gave her presentation on her Environmental Science course. After her presentation, we relaxed until more wallaby feeding, dinner, a night walk in the rainforest, and another nice campfire.
Sunday was a very impactful day, as we had an Aboriginal native named Duncan speak to us about Aboriginal culture and indigenous rights. Everyone was deeply moved by his testimony and the story of his people. For centuries—and even to this day—Aboriginal people have suffered discrimination, oppression, and injustice. All of us are inspired to bring these insights about indigenous cultures and the Aborigines back to the States in hopes of speaking up about the unfair treatment toward indigenous people all over the world. During the afternoon, we broke off into groups for our light work day. Some of us built frog hotels while others made wooden signs to label the many facilities on the property.
On Monday, the gang had the day off from volunteer work at Sheoak and took the day to travel to Mossman Gorge and Port Douglas. Mossman Gorge is situated just past a traditional Aboriginal community, so it was neat to see the stories we heard from Duncan the day prior unfold into real life. Many of us swam at the Gorge with the other tourists there. Afterwards, we made our way to Port Douglas where we had some town time to shop, search for Internet cafes, and work on some of our PSU presentations.
The following day, we got back into service work on Marc & Julie’s property—friends to Claire & Marcus who run Sheoak Ridge. We all put our environmental conservationist skills to the test as we removed barbed wire fences and cut a brand new trail through the rainforest that sits on their property. Their property was incredibly beautiful, and as a payment for our efforts, Marc & Julie cooked us a delicious pasta meal for lunch with tomatoes sourced right from their garden. After lunch, they also let us swim in their pool where we played a ton of different pool games as a group. It was truly a unique and rewarding experience that we’ll cherish forever.
Our last day at Sheoak came a lot quicker than any of us could’ve expected. We ate our breakfast, packed our lunch for the day, and headed out to Granite Gorge where we got to feed wild rock wallabies as well as cuddle with rehabilitated snakes. We also hiked around the gorge and saw incredibly beautiful contrast in the unique rock outcrops with the red desert soil of Australia. We had one last celebratory Thai-style meal that Marcus cooked for us when we got back to Sheoak that evening. We exchanged our thanks to Claire & Marcus for being such wonderful hosts, and Toren & Jackson presented them a poem they wrote as well as a few art pieces they drew to express our deep gratitude for our time at Sheoak Ridge. There were a lot of misty eyes that night at the dinner table, to say the least. It has been a truly special experience to stay at a nature reserve with an abundance of wallabies, snakes, birds, spiders, and all other kinds of critters of Australia with Claire & Marcus. These are moments we will never forget.
We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our time here at Sheoak Ridge. As sad as we are to say goodbye to this lovely land and people, we are equally as excited to move onto SCUBA diving out of Cairns for the next 5 days. We have learned so much about land and animal conservation as well as having lots of personal reflection as we gear up for the end of our semester. We have just about 2 weeks left until we come home, and we have lots to experience from now until then.
This is Sierra and Hunter signing off. Until next time! Sweet as, mate.
P.S. We can’t wait to see everyone soon!