The First Four Days


Location: Galiwin’ku, NT, Australia
Lat/Long: 12° 1′ 40″ S / 135° 33′ 54″ E
Weather Conditions: 93F (34C) Rain
A view of the main airport building on Galiwin'ku.

The First Four Days
Full Field Update #1 

View the full photo gallery that accompanies this post.


Welcome to Earthducation Expedition 3: Australia!

This is our first “full” update from the field. So far we have been sending daily updates that share a highlight or two from each day. In contrast, this update will provide more details about our adventure so far, especially about the really awesome people we have been talking with about the topics of education and sustainability. Currently, we are on Galiwin’ku, an island located 550km (341 miles) northeast of Darwin. We arrived three hours ago and as soon as we sat down to work, power went out across the entire island!

Day 1: Arrival in Sydney, Australia

Charlie, Justin, and Aaron with our gear after our arrival in Sydney.

On Monday, February 27, we flew from Minneapolis to Los Angeles and then embarked on a 14.5 hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney. We arrived in Australia the morning of Wednesday, February 29 (during the flight we crossed the International Date Line and jumped a day into the future ☺). While Aaron has been to Australia a couple of times before, Justin and Charlie are “down under” newbies.

Aaron and Charlie navigating the streets of downtown Sydney on our way to the hotel.

We rented a car at the airport and were instantly reminded that we had just landed in another country. In Australia, the steering wheel is located on the right side of the car and people drive on the other (not the wrong ☺) side of the road. So, although Aaron turned into the wrong lane a few times and the GPS did not work, we managed to navigate through the beautiful city to our hotel located in the “Rocks” district. The Rocks is the most visited and oldest area in Sydney, comprised of a vibrant pocket of cafes, restaurants, and tourist shops.

The clouds parted brielfy in the morning to provide a spectacular view of the Opera House.

To our good fortune, our hotel room had picturesque views of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Actually seeing the Sydney Opera House in person (rather than in pictures or on TV) was more magnificent than Charlie had imagined: “The Opera House just glows over the water.” Justin’s first impressions after a few hours on the ground was: “Sydney is extremely beautiful, but suffocating. It is a really, really busy place!” Sydney has a population of about 4.6 million people and is the most populous city in Australia.

In an attempt to remedy jet lag, we did all we could to stay awake until nightfall, including eating a delicious lunch and dinner in the harbor area. It rained constantly, with the local news forecasting possible flooding throughout 75% of New South Wales. They were experiencing more rain than they had in over a decade.

Day 2: Two Universities and a Beautiful Drive to Brewongle EEC

Orientation Week student fair at the University of Sydney.

On Thursday morning, we made our way to the University of Sydney. The size of a small town with almost 50,000 students and 7,000 staff, the University of Sydney is committed to making a difference in its local, national, and international communities. The university is committed to sustainable environmental practices and encourages its staff and students to develop their own ways of reducing their ecological footprints. Specifically, the university is focused on carbon emission, water use, and waste generation. For example, the University uses a volume of water equivalent to an Olympic-sized swimming pool every two days, which is a lot of water. To address this issue, the university created a storm water harvesting and treatment system that collects rainfall runoff from nearby roads, paths, tennis courts, and buildings. This water is then filtered through a specially designed soil and plant system to be collected in underground tanks for reuse, potentially saving up to 80 percent of potable water demand in the University’s new buildings.

Steve Elliot, Professor of Business Information System at the University of Sydney, sitting down with us over coffee on campus.

After arriving at the university, we met with Dr. Steve Elliot, a professor of business information systems (BIS). The BIS program is a multidisciplinary team with a commitment to practice-based, industry-relevant teaching and research. Specifically, Dr. Elliot’s research agenda focuses on the role of business in environmental sustainability and how technological innovation impacts sustainability. Dr. Elliot described how he is committed to improving sustainability across universities and corporations throughout the world. While speaking with him, Dr. Elliot cautioned that “sustainability is put more in philosophical and conceptual terms and lacks that immediacy that something needs to be done right now.” He further noted that both in Australia and the United States, sustainability has become “a political football that is being kicked from place to place.”

Joshua Spencer, a third-year commerce student at the University of Sydney, being interviewed on campus.

Dr. Elliot also introduced us to one of his students, Joshua Spencer, a third-year commerce undergraduate student. Joshua described his perspective on the intersection between education and sustainability as, “You can think of the world of education as a circle and when you are getting an education, you are expanding your circle.” He also noted that sustainability is a difficult concept to define and that it is more about getting people to look forward, rather than focusing on the immediacy of now.

Guang Hong, Aaron, Jerry Hu, Youguang Guo, a second PhD engineering student, Greg Hunter, and Charlie.

After our interview with Josh, we walked to the far end of campus to the University of Technology, Sydney (known simply as UTS). We met with Drs. Guang Hong and Youguang Guo, faculty in the School of Electrical, Mechanical, and Mechatronic Systems. Their research focuses on the design, development, and optimization of engines, as well as energy creation through wind, solar, and wave technologies. Dr. Hong also has been focusing on the optimization of ethanol for combustion engines. Unlike in the United States where access to and use of E85 is common (85% of gasoline is comprised of ethanol and people drive vehicles that can burn this fuel), Australia is currently at E10 (10% ethanol). After a brief presentation of their innovative energy research and development projects, we interviewed Dr. Hong, who is also a core member of the Green Energy and Vehicles research team, on her thoughts about environmental sustainability. She shared her definition of sustainability as “saving energy and minimizing waste – that is all.” Dr. Guo added, “sustainability is also the search for alternative energy in our current and future world.”

A part of the wind turbine energy test facility at the University of Technology, Sydney.

During our whirlwind morning at the university, we were also fortunate to meet with Greg Hunter, a Senior Research Fellow of 37 years. Dr. Hunter showcased his development work on wind energy turbines where he demonstrated sections of the turbines. His team does both the software and hardware development, which has been in progress for more than a decade. Finally, we met with Jerry Hu, a PhD student in Mechatronic Systems, who shared his exciting optimization research on the wind turbine system that Dr. Hunter demonstrated.

After lunch, we hopped back in the car for a drive to the Brewongle Environmental Education Centre in Sackville North. Although the center is only 35 miles northwest of the university, we left during Sydney rush hour so it took us almost 3 hours to get there. Sydney is a large city that seems to go on and on forever – right when we thought we had arrived at Brewongle, our GPS informed us that we needed to board a ferry, sparking memories of Earthducation 2: Norway. Luckily, this ferry ran 24 hours a day and was cable driven, just a quick 5-minute river crossing.

A view of the river near the Brewongle Environmental Education Centre.

Brewongle is an educational oasis located deep in a bush setting. We parked our car and walked in the rain to meet Chris, a staff member at the center, who was preparing a “barbie” (Australian slang for “barbecue”) for us. However, because we arrived late due to rush hour traffic, Chris had to leave and we were left to eat steak and garlic bread while enjoying the songs of cicada insects and kookaburra birds echoing through the forest (a memorable experience as well as our first taste of Australia away from Sydney).

Ian, the pet lizard at Brewongle Environmental Education Centre.

The Brewongle Environmental Education Centre is a place where schools from the local region bring their students to experience authentic environmental education. Brewongle provides environmental education and fieldwork opportunities for students, teachers, and the community in western Sydney. Students experience a unique blend of environmental, historical, and cultural programs that utilize the diverse attractions and natural habitats of the Hawkesbury region. Schools embark on single-day visits or two- to three-day overnight camps. The center’s primary focus is on Aboriginal education, environmental audits, and science and technology.

That night we stayed in Brewongle’s new teacher’s lodge (complete with air conditioning – yea!). We managed to organize our gear and send the daily update before we called it a day. We were beyond exhausted and the continuous downpour on the tin roof lulled us right to sleep.

Day 3: Brewongle EEC and on to Darwin

We woke up early on Friday morning and shared a hearty breakfast (steak and eggs) with Mark Edwards, the principal at Brewongle for over a decade, and Shelley Brown, the administrative manager. Ian, a blue-tongued lizard, also joined us! In his role as the centre’s mascot, Ian helps welcome and motivate students.

Aaron interviewing Mark Edwards, the Principal at Brewongle Environmental Education Centre.

While we ate, Mark shared his perspective on sustainability education, which is intertwined with the goals of Brewongle. He believes the roles of education and sustainability are to lessen the ecological footprint for all individuals and for all people to understand the role they have on this earth. His motivation to run Brewongle is to give students experiences they seldom have today: to go out into the bush and see how their lives and education are interrelated. Mark commented, “I long for the day when our national testing of students would test students in their abilities to take action for sustainability, equity, and social justice.” Shelley complemented Mark’s perspective on educating students: “If you start with the young ones, they will come home and pound it into their parents. The older generation may be a little bit passive to change, but teaching the young kids is where you are going to get change.”

While our stay at Brewongle was brief, our experience was rich, informative, and inspirational. We unfortunately needed to cut our visit short as the rain continued to fall and the ferry and the Hawkesbury bridge were scheduled to close around noon (12:00pm). So, we quickly got back on the road back to the Sydney Airport in order to fly to Darwin, a 4-hour flight across the Australian continent.

We arrived in Darwin several hours later. Darwin is a community of 127,500 people, making it by far the largest and most populated city in the sparsely populated Northern Territory. The region, like the rest of the Top End, has a tropical climate with a wet and dry season. Yes, you guessed it: we are here during the wet season!

Charlie introducing the presentation to teachers in downtown Darwin.

Within an hour of arriving, we were at a cocktail event where we were invited to give a presentation about the Earthducation project, Adventure Learning, and the Learning Technologies Media Lab. The event and its warm welcome were set up by John Sarev, the senior consultant and policy officer for the Centre for School Leadership, Learning, and Development at Charles Darwin University. Approximately 50 teachers, locals, and professors showed up to discuss the interdependent roles of education and sustainability in their region, as well as to hear the stories that the Earthducation project has collected to date. A sincere thank you to all of those who showed up on a Friday night!

After the presentation, we enjoyed dinner with John and Lorraine Hodgson, the principal of Nemarluk School, and discussed future collaborations around their national sustainability curriculum.

Day 4: Galiwin’ku

Aaron and Charlie hauling bags over to our vehicle.

On Saturday morning, March 3, we woke up early in order to catch an 8:30 am flight to Milingimbi Island, and then on to Galiwin’ku (also known as Elcho Island) in the Arafura Sea. The small plane provided us a panoramic view of the northern Australian landscape as we hopped from one island to the next. Galiwin’ku is located in the Arnhem Land Aboriginal Reserve and is 30 miles (48km) long and 7 miles (11km) wide.

En route we met Bryan Hughes, the principal of the local school, Shepherdson College, and his partner, Virg Summers, project manager of special education at the Northern Territory Department of Education and Training. Bryan had invited our team to visit the school and the island and arranged lodging for the team at the school. Sincere thanks, Bryan!

Charlie and Aaron with all of our luggage piled into the back of an SUV.

When we arrived, Bryan shared that the 2,500 residents of the island are almost 100% indigenous, with 1,134 under the age of 16 years old. Bryan and Virg gave us a quick tour, stopped at the community general store to stock up on groceries for the three-day visit (groceries at the general store were quite expensive, with a loaf of bread costing $6 AUS!), and then provided an overview of the school and showed us our accomodations.

While at the school, we were writing this update when the electrical power on the entire island went out! When we asked another teacher at the school when the power would come back on, he said, “It’ll be back on when it comes on.” We overheard a few individuals at the airport discussing that the island could be out of gasoline, which means there would not be power until Monday, which is when more gas arrives. So, Aaron and Charlie continued to work on the update in the darkness of the school library (with no air-conditioning, close to 100% humidity, and upper 80-degree Fahrenheit temperatures), while Justin compiled and captioned its photographs. We tried to set up the solar panels to charge battery packs that would power our computers, but the clouds and heavy rains moved in, making our attempts futile. Stay tuned!

The Environetwork

Share Your Voice!

We have been busy these past four days talking with people around Australia about their experiences with, stories about, and opinions on the connections or disconnections between education and sustainability on their continent. We hope that these efforts will inspire you to participate in Earthducation, too! The most important part of Earthducation is YOUR involvement.

We invite you to share your opinons and stories on the Environetwork. Our goal is to engage the whole world in this important conversation – and it all starts with YOU! We cannot wait to hear what you have to say!

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