Saturday, May 7, 2011

Australian Outback

Armed with a hardhat and headlamp, I shuffled down the shaft in a single file line. Fine coats of dust lingered on the rocks and in the air and I could feel it starting to coat my own clothes and throat. Hunching over and unsure of whether to pay more attention to the next place my foot would step or to the person in front of me, I wound my way deep into the earth. The sides of the wall glistened with the tiny traces of silver left and other crevices petered off into a dark abyss. I have descended into the core of Australia- a mine in the Outback.

Touring through the mine, we snaked through numerous passageways that were created by man as he searched for resources. Our tour guide somehow navigated us through the passageways that to me just seemed too complex to understand. He took us into the mine and explained the unglamorous life of the miner. Heavy bags of rock and silver had to be dragged back out of the mines, multiple times a day. Lung diseases and blindness were often effects from working in the mines from a young age. The tour guide also explained what it is like to live in the mine towns and close-knit community that existed. We also had the opportunity to view the miner’s memorial that is constructed to simulate the feelings of entering a mine. Each of the miners honored on the wall suffered from a death while at the mine.

Other then mines in Australia’s Outback, there are also farms of sheep. Anyone say Ugg boots? A professional sheep shearer came to give our group a demonstration. He talked about the joys of living in rural Australia and how the sheep shearing lifestyle has given him pure contentment with his life. He explained the different techniques to shearing a sheep and the conferences that are held for sheep shearers. Finally, he grabbed his electrical shearing tools and nabbed a sheep from the pen. He kept the sheep in a firm grasp while he hung double over in a sling. He managed to clip the sheep’s coat in a few minutes and it seemed to be not a harmful process for the sheep. I would even think the sheep was pleased to be rid of the warm coat.

Following the demonstration, we had the opportunity to truly take in the Australian Outback. We hiked through the bush. Our group ventured through what seemed to be a sandy terrain until we reached the base of a small mountain. We trekked up through prickly bushes and foreign vegetation. Reaching the top, complete with scrapes and spiky weeds in our shoes, the sun began to sink into the vast nothingness. There is unpopulated land that stretches on for miles and looking out from the top of the mountain, the only visible light came from the small farm where we had seen the sheep shearing. Trampling down the mountainside to return to the house before complete nightfall added more cuts to our legs but with a sense of how small we actually are compared to the rest of the land. To make the final installation of the immenseness of the world, we had the opportunity to view the Southern Cross constellation. It is only visible in the Southern Hemisphere and from almost any point in Australia. Being so far from any type of light pollution, the Cross illuminated the sky as I stood in patch of grass, not close to anything but the feeling of complete awe.

Traveling outside of the city and into the Outback had been well worth the trek. Seeing Australia for how vast it truly is and the diversity it offers shed light on a new perspective of the place I am studying abroad. Not only have I had the opportunity to see Australia for the urban life Melbourne provides but I have also seen the area of Australia that is full of rural culture. My experience has allowed me to developa a more complete picture of Australia.

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