Orientation in the City

Turning over a new leaf, the ASC decided that trying orientation in the city would be a nice approach to welcoming the new batch of ASC students.


So excited to see the new students!

At first it took some time for the students to learn how to get around.




There were rivers to cross.


And mountains to climb.


After some lunch and a walk around they were ready to go.




A Day At The Movies

A good day in class is watching the newest Australian motion picture musical to hit cinemas. The Sapphires premiered in Brisbane earlier this year now reaching a nation-wide release since August 9th.

The film reinterprets the true story of four Aboriginal Australian women who entertained US troops in Vietnam in 1968. Drawing on themes of Aboriginal connection to land, ideas of kinship and home, the story offers something unique among movie musicals.

Featuring voices from Australian singers, such as Australian Idol runner-up Jessica Mauboy, the soundtrack has made it to the #1 spot on the ARIA Album Chart. This makes it the first Australian-produced soundtrack to make the top of the Australian charts since Moulin Rouge in 2001.

As well as featuring a star cast including Chris O’Dowd, the film was helmed by first-time-feature director Wayne Blair. Working with fellow Aboriginal filmmaker Warrick Thornton (cinematographer/director of Samson and Delilah 2009) Blair brought a uniquely Aboriginal touch to an international film.

Of course there are fantastic filmmakers here in Australia who are rarely seen outside the desert island and the barrier is often the box office. Australian films have a tendency to not do very well in their own cinemas.

This theme was overturned this past week as The Sapphires took the #2 box office spot (behind Dark Knight Rises) bringing in $2.32 million in its opening weekend. The total international gross up to this point has reach over $8 million, a fantastic early box office figure for a sub $10 million budget.

With a heartwarming story, beautiful cinematography and soul-wrenching soundtrack, The Sapphires is worth seeking out, not to mention a great method for ASC students to learn about Australian cinema, culture and people.


The Weinstein Company has bought limited international distribution rights to The Sapphires, so you can expect it to be playing soon in a cinema near you.








Booderee National Park

As the ASC continues, the program grows, modifies and flows with the changes that come. A new relationship between the Australia Studies Centre and Booderee National Park has been growing since our first trip with students last semester.

This semester, we were able to spend more time and get a better feel of the country and the community that calls it home.

The students were welcomed into the Jervis Bay Territory (the coastal access of the Australian Capital Territory), which sits on the traditional land of the Yuin nation. Our guides through country were three members of the Wreck Bay Aboriginal community and members of the commonwealth agreement between the Aboriginal community and the Australian government.

The agreement allows the ancestral owners of the land a unique opportunity to be the stewards of the land in a way indigenous people are not able to do in Australia except for two other national parks, one of them being Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in the Northern Territory.

The students heard stories from the Yuin tradition and had important elements of Aboriginal culture explained through ceremony.

Visiting at the end of winter also presented a memorable experience. The South Coast of New South Wales is an incredible place; kilometers of untouched beaches, rolling green hills, beautiful forests; all of it with minimal development.

“Why wouldn’t anyone want to live down here,” one student asked as we drove down the coast, sheltered inside the glass dome of the tour bus.

The minute we stepped out we understood why.

The South Coast is a windy place.

Though the trip took place amid biting cold southerly winds, it was a fantastic learning opportunity for all. From the ceremonious welcome to country and the invitation to dance, to the hike through pristine bush, discovery was around every corner. Students had the opportunity to walk through forests still in similar condition to when the Yuin were the only people inhabiting the area. They also learnt the importance of maintaining culture and knowledge for generations to come. There will be more opportunities for staff, current student and future students to travel to Booderee National Park and learn from an incredibly unique community of people.

Freedom in the Australian Outback

By Tamara Barrett

Red dirt covered our existence, successfully portraying us as victims of spray tans and hair appointments gone wrong. We sped down discreet paths and through unmarked fields in trucks, completely enjoying the thrill of fresh air and unindustrialized land expanse. At night, we traveled about the property in the same way, but this time under the most magnificent and comprehensive blanket of stars we had encountered since our arrival in Australia. Our North American eyes gazed at the upside down constellations with only the intermittent ability to utter words of amazement. The Outback certainly offered a different vigor than the animated one we had become accustomed to in Sydney. During our time, we experienced an inexpressible freedom not only from the tangible barriers of city zones, but from lives unshared and burdens concealed.

Time spent around the fire with fellow students came to be what I looked forward to the most. This was a place for reading, worshipping, eating, sharing, and growing. At the end of each day, we had a time where students could take three rocks and share three things about their lives in confidence.  With a group of 37 students, I have found it impossible to form close bonds with everyone.  But these times of sharing effectively did that. Social psychologists explain the phenomena this way: “Self-disclosure leads to more liking and deeper relationships because it signals trust, and because knowing each other’s abilities, preferences, and needs leads to easier coordination of mutual activities and more understanding.” Self-disclosure around the campfire allowed for each of us to get a clearer picture of the happenings, past and present, that shaped the person we listened to at that moment. It also gave each of us an opportunity to share burdens and heartaches in ways we had not formerly felt possible here.  The genuine atmosphere of concern and encouragement made the campfire a place of healing for many as they were either freed from the burden of not being known by others or from the false assumption that they were alone in what they were experiencing. Those nights were marked by zealous laughter, healing tears, and a sense of true community. The freedom we all experienced during our time in the Outback will not soon be forgotten. As a result, it would be impossible not to heed the advice of our bus driver Ian, “Take some red dirt home with you in your veins.”


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.

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.