Red dirt in the NT

 

The two weeks I spent in the Northern Territory of Australia were a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So many of these moments were new and fascinating.  I was pretty excited to get out of chilly chilly Victoria and get outside into some warm winter weather. As soon as our small plane touched down at Galuwin’ku airport we felt the heat!

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How could you not love this landscape?!

Three of us traveled to the remote Elcho island off the Northern coast of Aus for 2 weeks to be part of a council based Animal Management Program. There is a large amount of community dogs and cats that live in Galuwin’ku (the largest community on Elcho island). The majority of our work was spay and neuter surgeries and distribution of dewormer medication.

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This was one particularly friendly dog that met us on the beach one day and followed us home 🙂 

After we first landed we did a little tour of the community and drove past some of the main buildings.  After a few minutes we came across a group of people standing by a dog on the side of the road. He had been hit by a car and was not looking good. We asked if the people wanted us to ‘finish’ him (euthanasia).  In the evening we went to walk by the beach; you can’t go close to the water because it is full of crocodiles. The sunset was amazing. We heard a dog crying and found her laying in a stand of trees in the vines. She was old and riddled with ticks and mites. She belonged to a nearby family who I think moved the dog down to the beach because she had been sick and crying for days. I had never considered how difficult it might be for families to get rid of a dog or euthanize an animal who is sick if there are no vet services around.

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The ‘clinic’ and the ute that we used for all our veterinary work

No one on the island wakes up early; this means that we got to very casually wake up, eat breakfast, and leave the house around 9am… 9:30am…whenever. We often stopped in at the ‘clinic’ (a trailer) and picked up a few things we needed. Then we would drive slowly through the community and stop at family homes and ask them if there was any dogs or cats for ‘operation’ (the term for de-sexing surgery). We would sedate the dogs with their pre-medication drugs at their houses and allow them to get sleepy before loading them into the ute. Children would run and catch the cats for us to put into carriers. At the clinic there was two tables to do surgeries on; you either had to bend over or sit in a chair. One table required you to stack 2 chairs & a pillow on top of each other to be at the right height. There was a desk lamp for added light. We made a makeshift scavenger system for ourselves. The surgical instruments are kept in a saucepan and boiled on the stove each night. Gauze is baked in a canister in the oven. Instruments are scrubbed and sterilized in cold sterile between each surgery. We made swaged on needles as we needed them.  Anesthetic monitoring was done with an SPO2 monitor and our stethoscopes. Each wound was sprayed with Cetrigen purple spray after surgery and dogs received flea spray for a day of relief. All the spays are completed as flank spays: this is because they likely heal faster, if the wound breaks down there is less chance of evisceration, a lot of the patients are either pregnant or lactating and you do not want to disturb the mammary tissue, and its easier to recheck the surgery site from afar. A lot of the animals will remember you and not want to come near you afterwards. Us students got to do almost all of the surgeries by ourselves which was SUCH good experience, and really cool because I got a lot of practice doing the less common flank spays.

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A typical surgical morning.

Occasionally we would do other vet work. We did a couple of new puppy & kitten exams, checked out a lump on a dog, stitched up a dog who had been gorged by a pig, and checked a cat with tail injury.  But, by far, the most thrilling call was—Nigel. Nigel’s family thought he had broken his leg and our whole team was very distressed as we rushed over to his house! Luckily….he must have just stepped on a prickle  and he was totally fine & just as cool as ever.

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Nigel with his mum and his brand new collar!

In Aboriginal communities, especially in a climate like where we were, when someone passes away in the Wet (season) the body cannot be buried because of the humidity and the rain. The body is flown to Darwin where it is held in a morgue until the Dry (season) when it can be returned to the community for a funeral ceremony & burial. Dumbulah is an out station approximately 10 mins from where we were staying. We were invited to watch the funeral ceremony. Funerals can last for days to weeks; they happen for every person who passes away in the community—because of the associated health issues in aboriginal communities, funerals occur fairly often. As we walked closer to the community we could hear singing. When we arrived we saw a few hand painted cloth signs hanging up. The biggest sign was on white cloth, with bright green writing—’ Welcome Home’. Other signs said ‘rest in peace our loving father’, etc. The man’s name was painted.  There was 3 trees as flag poles for the territory flag, the Australian flag, and a third- they all flew at half mast. We sat on the dirt a little ways away and watched some of the singing and dancing. After a short time, a family invited us to come and sit on their mat with them. A lady on our mat explained to us that 2 different clans would sing/dance the next song (I think it was about a sunfish) one after each other. They had differently painted digeridoos.  This was such a valuable life experience for me; I sat there mesmerized for quite a long time.

We had a short meeting with some of the human medical team one morning to talk about a research project that is being run on the island. The medical team is swabbing mothers, children, and infants at certain households to look at skin infections (likely staph/strep). Our job was to take swabs from the dogs who lived at the house as well. The study required swabs from nose, mouth, and perineum.

Most nights we stopped at the beach on the way home to watch the sunset over the water. We would go for walks along the rocks close to the water or sit in a freshwater pool that was a safe distance from the ocean.

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Jess and I woke up early a few mornings to go for a walk on the beach or the road above the ocean to look for crocs or dugongs before breakfast. It was really lovely. We never saw a dugong, but we did see a crocodile!

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Our fantastic team, we got along swimmingly, and I think all of us grew a bigger spot in our hearts for Aboriginal culture and the NT. 

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The Great Ocean Road Trip Weekend

I almost don’t know what to write about I’ve had such a busy few weeks! My roommate’s boyfriend has been visiting for about a month now so between juggling exploring with him, studying, and doing other things it has been busy! My own friend came and stayed with us for about a week as well! I haven’t seen her in almost a year so that was really exciting! Our little apartment was quite the full house for a bit! But last weekend was one the the biggest highlights I’ve had in Australia to date.

After studying pretty hard for a couple of weeks and writing 2 exams on the Friday our brains were dead and in huge need of a mental break! Thus we kicked off our weekend by going out for supper and heading out to a footy game! Footy is a sport unique to Australia (I think… correct me if I’m wrong) and it seems to me to be a bit of a cross between football and rugby. I loved sitting in the huge MCG stadium and cheering for a team I just learned about and taking in all the sights and sounds. I was highly entertained by the fact that in Melbourne you can get meat pies at sports games (instead of hot dogs and hamburgers) and single glasses of wine and cider (So classy, Australia). I like to think I did a pretty good job of trying to memorize all the rules of footy. After that we went into the CBD (central business district aka downtown) for some late night snacks and exploring!

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We got to sit right behind the goal! You get the most points for getting the ball between the 2 middle poles

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My friend and I enjoying the game!

This is the part of the weekend I really loved: The 4 Canadians (Me, Jessica (the roommate), her boyfriend, and my friend) decided to road trip the Great Ocean Road. It is the world’s largest war memorial and FULL of amazing coastal sights! The Great Ocean Road is one of the main tourist attractions in Victoria and stretches for about 245km. It can also be backpacked or camped—plans for the future!

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We rented a car and left on Saturday morning! First stop was Bell’s Beach where the famous Rip curl surfing competitions are held. The waves were huge and despite the rain and the wind there was still a lot of surfers out in the water! I’ve actually never seen so many surfers before in my life so I found it really fun to stand there and watch them bobbing around in the water before popping up and riding the waves.

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Apparently it is a very Australian thing to eat fish n chips on the beach… so we had great intentions at lunch time. However, autumn in Melbourne had alternative ideas and we got rained out. We enjoyed our fish n chips in a nearby park in Anglesea whilst watching a kangaroo! There was also a quirky sulpher crested cockatoo that found and ate a whole donut as his lunch!

We made quite a few stops along the road to check out the changing coast line– full of blue water, crashing waves, tall
cliffs, rainforest, and wind. LOTS of wind.

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One of the major site seeing stops is near Port Campbell at the 12 Apostles. They are these incredibly impressive rock formations standing tall out in the surf. The light colored sandstone rock looks amazing as the blue waves crash around them. We took our time meandering down the road so by the time we reached the 12 Apostles the sun was going down. Unfortunately the wind and the rain was pretty bad at this time of the day so our group selfie left some beauty to be desired…. but the 12 Apostles looked amazing:

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The prairie girl loving the wind and the rain

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Our beautiful windy group selfie

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The 12 Apostles cannot all be seen from one view, and some have crumbled and fell into the ocean over the years.

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We warmed up from the rain in our hotel and at a local cafe bar… even trying some shucked oysters! #yum

The next day we set off the finish our drive to our last planned stop: Port Fairy. I had heard about a walk to a lighthouse where we might be able to see some rock wallabies! And we were in luck, not only did we see a walleby-we saw 3! As well as a seal! The lighthouse was beautiful as well 🙂

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We stopped at a cool cafe for lunch and to warm up before making the long drive home! We still got out and looked at a lot of the sites we had missed, including a whale nursery (we were a bit early in the season… need to come back in a month or so to catch some Southern Right whale sightings) and Cheeseworld (where we obviously bought cheese and sampled their ‘world famous’ milkshakes!). One thing we all wanted to do was a quick rainforest hike, so we took advantage of a momentary break in the wind and the rain to go for a quick hike into the forest to check out Triplet Falls! Apparently there are supposed to be platypus in the creek at the bottom—but we didn’t see any!

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By the time we finally made it back into the city it was dark out, but since our weekend wasn’t full enough we decided to head down to Lygon Street. Lygon is in the suburb of Carlton which is a very Italian district. The street is always bustling and full of good food and amazing gelato. It was my friends last night in town so we wandered around Lygon before heading back to our apartment to crash!

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