A few simple disciplines

“Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practiced every day.”
Jim Rohn

A couple of weeks ago I turned 35 years old. I’ve made some resolutions for the next five years, which I feel will be a defining chapter in my life. One of my goals is to become financially stable in my own right doing what I want and what I’m good at to have impact. There are 4 parts to this.

  1. Financially stable in my own right means earning a living indicative of to my level of education.
  2. What I want to do means doing things that are worthy of my time and align with my values.
  3. What I’m good at means putting my skills, knowledge and passions to work towards meaningful outcomes.
  4. Having impact means becoming a confident leader in my field and seeing tangible improvements in my community.

There are many ways to skin a cat. I could find a fulfilling job, press on my with own business, hold out for a research grant, or a combination of these things.

When I think about what my life will look like when I’m 40, I see myself working from my own studio with a view of a mountain on a few lush acres, hosting research retreats and consulting all over regional, rural and remote (RRR) Australia. That is what I want.

So, the question becomes – how do I get there? What is the vision that will guide me in the right direction? By what guideposts should I make my decisions to pursue some opportunities and let others pass me by? How do I know what I should spend my time doing?

At the moment, I have many irons in the fire. I have built up a great, relevant network and am involved in several projects and organisations, some of which are high profile and very exciting. The problem is, I’m mostly volunteering while waiting for one of these connections to convert into paid work.

Writing this blog post, my instinct is to go for the big ticket item – which for me right now would be a post-doctoral fellowship investigating connectivity and digital innovation in RRR Australia. I have already been unsuccessful with one application and another opportunity could be months or years away. But I do get the feeling that if I just keep going the planets will eventually align.

So, if the post-doc is the goal, what should I do in the mean time? Surely, I should spend my time putting myself in the most competitive position possible. This means writing, writing and more writing; publishing journal articles, producing industry-oriented pieces, and participating in online conversations in my area of expertise.

Talking to people and making connections comes naturally to me and I thoroughly enjoy the face-to-face social interaction. I find it much more difficult to motivate myself to sit on my own in my office and type on my laptop. However, this is the only way I can participate in intellectual discussion with my peers. I have to put my words where my mouth is.

At the same time, I need to earn some $$$. A part time job might be alright, but then I would forego flexibility to be able to attend conferences and events, which give me exposure and opportunities in business and research. I think the best way to go is to employ myself part time. That means spending 50% of my time working in my business (doing paid work) or on my business (drumming up paid work).

I must also account for the extra time and expense it takes to do work and research from Chillagoe. I often travel 3 hours to Cairns for meetings. I’ll be self-funding several inter-state trips this year to speak at conferences, and our limited and unreliable internet connectivity makes working online a chore. What Chillagoe DOES give me, however, is credibility. I know what it’s like to live and work in RRR Australia, and its the people and organisations in these areas whom I want to reach out to in research, business and life.

So, in this context, what “few simple disciplines, practiced every day” will lead me to success?

  1. Work a regular 8 hour day. I will get up at 7, walk the dog, have breakfast and be at my desk by 8.30 or 9. I will stop for lunch, knock off at 5, go for a run and sit down for dinner with my husband. I will have routine.
  2. Write for 2-3 hours each day. I will write for a first couple of hours each day. I will treat writing as my way of “talking” to my peers. I will prioritise writing over everything else.
  3. Limit busy work. I will only write/respond to emails twice per day (just before lunch and just before knock off time). I will use my morning and afternoon time blocks do actual work. I will value my time and spend it on worthwhile tasks instead of doing “busy work”.

These disciplines seem so elementary it’s almost embarrassing to publish them here. But I think carrying out such disciplines in phsycial and social isolation presents unique challenges. I hope to be able to apply these quite universal principles in a nuanced way to model a type of resilience that “works” in Outback in the digital age. After all, the reason I choose to lead this life is that I want to be part of a modern Outback that is progressive and connected to the rest of the country and the world.

On that note, my vision for my business – Resilient Communications – is for “regional, rural and remote Australia to be fully and seamlessly integrated into the digital economy”. It pretty much sums up why I do what I do – and why, despite the ups and downs, I’m still here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , , ,

The Trifecta.

IMG_20170113_080738

Out the back of the mine after the wet. 

It’s autumn in Chillagoe. We had our first crisp morning for the year yesterday, Sunday, after a long, hot wet season. I went for a run then had a coffee under the trees outside the new coffee shop across the road. It was nice, talking with friends and watching people come and go from town. I’ve had few peaceful moments like this in Chillagoe; it’s been a tough year. There was no disaster, nothing went really pear-shaped, I just didn’t slip into life in Chillagoe the way I did at Watarrka.

Lot’s has happened, and nothing has happened. I’ve had a short, 8-month career indual mining as a Site Administrator. Apart from it opening my eyes to a whole other world, I made friends, earned some money, and learned a thing or two about life and work. I learned that the only person who is going to act in your own best interests is you. So I did just that. I resigned. I had a supportive boss and respectful colleagues in a male-dominated work place. However, the long hours were too much for me, and I felt like I was running a million miles an hour in the wrong direction. So much of my time and energy was being sucked up by tasks that were unrelated to my goals and values.

So, now I’m back to the drawing board. PhD in hand, I am now Dr Amber Marshall. Graduating with 5 of my study buddies from the UQ Business School in December was the highlight of the last 12 months. My crazy, blended family also came together to celebrate my graduation in conjunction with early Christmas in Brisbane. Below is the family photo from our Christmas Day – we were all smiling for the camera and one of the kids started crying uncontrollably. So we all cried for the photo instead. Love it!

xmas

Today I’m at home with my dogs and laptop. In this regard, little has changed since Watarrka days, except we have a new edition – Dallas.  We went to the pub for a drink one night and came home with a 5 week old puppy. Only in Chillagoe! She’s a delightful little ratbag. Spook has turned into a patient old soul in the company of his annoying little sister – she licks his ears out and bites his ankles all day and all night.

Now I have time and space to think and breathe again, I have turned my attention to what I want to do – promoting connectivity in regional, rural and remote (RRR) Australia. In particular, I’m all about helping people use telecommunications and internet services to growth business in the Outback. To this end, I’ve hatched a post-doc project to under take research in Far North Queenland’s agricultural communities. Though I have managed to build a strong network of local, state and national organisations to support me, funding alludes me for the present time.

But all is not lost! Rather than sit around and wait for someone to throw a bucket of money at me, I’ve decided to diversify. I will soon launch my own communications consulting business (from home) specialising in digital comms for RRR organisations. I even have my first client! I also finally have the stomach to face my thesis again to publish papers from it, which is necessary in order to be/stay competitive in the academic game.

Overall, my (and Brett’s) goals in life have not changed, though I lost sight of them for a while there. We still want that hobby goat farm we dreamed of when we both worked city jobs. In a round about way, we’ve been edging closer to that dream. We like North Queensland and the Atherton Tablelands would be an idealic and affordable place to buy/build when we can. And although I followed Brett into the abyss for his work, our careers are (quite ironically) converging in that we both seek to make a difference in the bush.

Just this week, I think I’ve made my peace with Chillagoe. We have friends, an adequate shouse to live in, and a life in North Queensland to build. I have somewhere to be, something to do, and something to look forward to. The Trifecta.

More to come. I’m Back. xx

 

It’s my birthday and I’ll cry if I want to!

 

DSC_0427.JPGThe night we arrived in Chillagoe it was rodeo weekend. You wouldn’t have known it. The whole place was dark and quiet (aside from a couple of drunks on the road) and the pub was closing at 8pm. We were directed to the rodeo grounds as “that’s the only place you’ll get something to eat at this time of night”. We walked four blocks to the edge of town, and sure enough the rodeo was bursting with life. But we were too exhausted to join in, having driven for four days towing our trailer at 80km/hr. We got our pizza and went home.

That night – wandering around in the dark in a place we didn’t know, and that didn’t know us – I had my first “what the fuck am I doing here?” moment.

spook2I didn’t plan on being miserable on my 34th birthday. I had an argument with Brett before he left for work and then struggled to pick myself up from there. I dragged myself to one of the ranger-guided limestone cave tours. And Brett took me to a delicious local waterhole. Spook loved it, but my heart wasn’t in it. I felt, and still feel, quite weighed down by the prospect of having to start all over again, again.

In truth, we have been warmly welcomed by the locals. We have two lovely old neighbours who look out for us and our naughty dog who is quite overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the “big smoke”. We have been cordially included in the weekly pub games “Mug of the Week” and “Toss the Boss” (if you really want to know what they are, message me). We also hosted a well-attended housewarming BBQ on Saturday night – we even received a few gifts including plants, local coffee and a spice rack!

In the warm glow of a splendid last few weeks in the NT, I had forgotten what isolation and uselessness feels like, and how much self-determination it took to survive and ultimately thrive in the desert. In my last blog post I wrote that I “belonged” in Kings Canyon – I had a job, friends and direction. Now I must work hard to re-establish a sense of my own identity and figure out how I fit into this new community.

chillagoe allianceTo that end, I’ve been getting involved any way I can. I helped the Chillagoe Alliance serve chicken burgers to the finishers of the Great Wheelbarrow Race. I’ve joined boot camp on Mondays and Thursdays, which has been a real lifesaver. Tomorrow I will attend a meeting to help establish a Chillagoe Chamber of Commerce, an initiative put forward by our local nurse. His vision is to promote tourism in Chillagoe to help get the locals into jobs and improve mental health.

Now this is a cause I can get behind! I’m living it right now – I have a history of depression and know that I am susceptible to downers when I feel I lack purpose. I can only imagine how insurmountable that mountain must feel to life-long residents who have been through several cycles of boom and bust, in mining and farming in particular. And there must be thousands of rural communities just like this one across Australia.

On Sunday I am going away for three weeks to attend a couple of conferences on the topic of regional, rural and remote economic/social development. I plan to speak about the role of communications technologies in building identity, relevance and resilience in remote areas. My recent move has reminded of the stark realities of achieving these things. And while I’ve been pretty down in the dumps over last couple of weeks, I must instead harness these feelings to inform a more authentic account of my experiences and strategies for overcoming both physical and digital isolation.

Only when I am focused, happy in myself, and connected to friends/colleagues near and far can I be of any service to my community – locally and globally.

nice spot

Tagged , , , , ,

The next adventure

IMG_0032

The time has come. We’re leaving the desert. Brett has accepted a Ranger position in Far North Queensland. We leave Watarrka in the first week of May.

Recently I watched the movie ‘Tracks’ with a sense of familiarity and thankfulness for our time in the Red Centre. Two years is a speck in time in the 300 million year history of the place. Yet it has been so very significant to the lives of me and my husband. The desert has been both kind and cruel to us. It has seen us through some of our most elating and difficult times as a couple. Living remotely seems to heighten the highs and lower the lows. Your feelings and thoughts can be as extreme as the weather and conditions.

In truth, circumstance rather than an express wolfpackdesire to leave has seen us make the decision to move on. I feel like we’re not 100% finished with the Territory, or perhaps it is the Territory that is not finished with us!

We have met people, been places and seen things we never dreamed of. We have made life-long friends with people from all of Australia. Most significantly for me, I have new insight into the ‘other’ Australia, the one I had seen in movies and commercials, but seldom with my own eyes or heart. Now I am even more acutely aware of how much more there is to see and experience. And so our next adventure begins.

Chillagoe (a town of 200 people about 3 hours west of Cairns) will be a step back towards civilisation for us. I find this both exciting and regrettable. The exciting parts are obvious – mobile phone reception, a grocery store, fresh produce and closer proximity to a major airport. The disappointments relate to our (my) sense of identity. We are desert dwellers. I take pride in telling people where we live, and I get a kick out of people’s reactions to our lifestyle choices. I don’t want either of those things to change, and I guess they needn’t as long as we keep seeking out the adventure in life no matter where we are or what we are doing.

We have actually achieved everything we set out to do living remotely. Brett established himself as a Park Ranger and I finished my PhD. Now we are both qualified and ready to move on to the next challenge! Indeed, my time in the Outback has shaped my future ambitions. I have no desire to move back to the city. Instead, I’d like to use my time, energy and skills to contribute to the development of regional, rural and remote Australia. To this end, I’m seeking out opportunities in regional universities and putting my hand up for related conferences, projects and roles.

On that note, I have been accepted as a speaker at the Broadband for the Bush Forum in June. The theme is “Digital Journeys” and I intend to talk about my experience completing my PhD on virtual communication from a remote, largely disconnected location. Preparing this seminar has been a cathartic exercise of quantifying what I have learned over the last two years. I intend to talk about three topics: resilience, identity and relevance.

ambo

Resilience: This is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days. To me, in this context, it means having an (emotional) leg to stand on. When problems arise at work or elsewhere, one needs to feel safe and content at home. This is all the more true in remote areas.

Identity: For a fair portion of my life at Watarrka, I was “Brett’s wife”. Despite taking on a few minor roles, like weather observations, my justification for being here was Brett’s job and the house that came with it. Over recent times I’ve had time to more significantly contribute to the community by working at the health clinic, leading guided walks, assisting with desert waterhole research and volunteering at the community school. Even though Brett is in South Africa for 6 weeks at the moment, I belong.

Relevance: This is about being relevant to both my local context and the world from which I come. Connectivity, however limited,  has been absolutely essential for me to progress my study and work while living in the proverbial middle of nowhere. My advice for others contemplating something similar: share your ‘other life’ with the locals, and to share your local life with the people you’ve left behind (thus this blog).

When I think about what I’ll miss most about the Red Centre, I think it will be the ubiquitous red sand, the spectacular desert sunsets and the absolute peace and quiet.

I leave you with the modified lyrics to John Denver’s ‘Take me home, country roads’. Brett and I sing these words whenever we’re nearing Watarrka after a long drive from Alice Springs or Uluru. We always do it where Luritja Road (pronounced Loo-rich-a) aligns with the George Gill Range, about 40kms from Kings Canyon (about where the below photo was taken). I know we are dags, but that’s the way we roll!

“Luritja Road, take me home
to the place, I belong.
Kings Canyon, at Watarrka
Take me home, Luritja Road.”

lurtija rd

 

Tagged ,

It’s done.

DSCN2240

I have said throughout my PhD that “A good thesis is a done thesis”. Well then, I must have a good thesis. It’s done. Submitted.

About a year ago when I thought it would never end, I stumbled upon the above quote and stuck it on my office wall. Thankfully, Mr Mandela was right.

The feeling now is quite anti-climactic, but peaceful. The real moment of achievement, relief and celebration for me was completing my Final Thesis Review in October. I got some excellent feedback and encouragement from my readers, and I was able to let my hair down with my fellow study buddies, family and friends – THAT was the best bit! The rest has largely been going through the motions.

Now, I wait. One of my examiners cannot look at my thesis until April. There is absolutely nothing more I can do. All going well, I’ll still be able to graduate in July. In the meantime, I’m getting on with my life!

With 2015 and the PhD all but behind me, I’m contemplating what I’m going to do next. Truth is, I’ve never known what I wanted to do. I only know that I want to live to my potential. There has never been a grand plan or ultimate goal – I’ve just taken up opportunities as they have presented themselves. Indeed, I never intended to do a PhD – I just kind of fell into it.

So, what’s next? My supervisor and I discussed furthering my research by way of writing a couple of journal articles (and hopefully getting them published) and applying for an ARC grant (within which we would write in a post-doc for me). I’m going to go for it and see how it pans out.

Meanwhile, our life in the desert has settled down. The changing of the guard at the ranger station is almost complete. We have some lovely new neighbours, including new friends for Spook. However, after almost two years at Watarrka, we feel this year we may move on to new adventures. We don’t know where, we don’t know when – but something will change soon.

In the meantime, we plan to make the most of our time in beautiful the red centre – go to all those waterholes and ranges we haven’t got around to yet. Next month we hope to see Lake Eyre with water in it. I plan to walk the Larapinta Trail with a fellow PhD candidate. And I want to do more camping! Just head out for overnighters in our own (rather enormous) backyard.

My husband is going back to his homeland, South Africa, for 6 weeks in March/April. This is my chance to fly solo for a while! I’m hoping my sisters will join me for some desert dwelling in April. I’m not sure what else I’ll do – but I have a yearning for adventure – to do something physical, tangible, with my whole body! I have been living in my head for 5 years – it’s time to break free!

Below are my Acknowledgements from the thesis. My friends and family are not mentioned by name, but you know who you are. It takes a village to birth a thesis. Thanks for being my village.

I am tremendously grateful and proud to be the first in my family to pursue a doctorate degree. I owe this privilege to family, friends and colleagues – past and present, near and far – whom I wish to acknowledge here. Much love and appreciation to my immediate and extended family for believing in me my whole life. Deepest gratitude to my husband, whom I married mid-way through my PhD, for his unwavering emotional and financial support. Sincere thanks to my study buddies, physical and virtual, for celebrating the highs and riding out the lows with me, and to the many other friends who cheered me on from the sidelines. I am thankful for the financial support I received through the Australia Postgraduate Award Scholarship, and for the research funding, education and support I received from the UQ Business School, in particular from the RHD support staff. Many thanks to Associate Professor Ulrike Schultze and the Cox School of Business – the three months spent in Dallas (Texas, USA) were instrumental to my development as a researcher. To my secondary supervisor Doctor Sean Rintel (UQ School of Journalism and Communication/ Microsoft Research Cambridge) – your forward-thinking enthusiasm was greatly appreciated. Finally, to my principal supervisor and mentor for over six years Professor Jorgen Sandberg – thank you for expecting more of me than I thought I was capable of.

 

 

The colour of silence

DSCN1558

Red as serrated mountains…

There is change in the air at Watarrka. People are moving on, new people are coming, and there is uncertainty about the future.

Over the last couple of months I have been buried in my thesis. A couple of weeks ago I submitted a full draft to the internal reading committee. Having finally come up for air, I’m a bit confronted by the impending changing of the guard. We are losing four dear friends out of a total ten residents on the park. They are moving, as people do, to new life adventures. That’s the thing about these remote places, the turn-over is quite high. Just as you get to know and love people, they vanish (or you do).

In searching for an apt send off for our friends, I happened upon the book ‘Outback Reflections’ in my shelf, which was awarded to me to 1994 upon graduation from primary school. At the time it seemed a strange gift from a school on the coast, but it has certainly taken on new significance some 20 years later. From it, I chose (a slightly modified version of) Bruce Prewer’s poem ‘The colour of silence’ to read at the farewell party.

It is said that silence is golden,
but around hereDSCN2172
it is red.

Red as serrated mountains
like Dreamtime dinosaurs
slumbering in the sun.

Red as the warm sand
among emu bushes
and between one’s toes.

Red as a desert sunrise
kissing the ghost gums
and transfusing the sky.

Red as the blood of friends
who come with us
to the end of the world.

There are other changes in store too. I have resigned my job as a tour guide and will soon take up a casual position as an administrator at the local health clinic. The rim walks have been wonderful for breaking up the weeks of study. They got me out of the house, exposed me to the gorgeous environment (see header picture above), forced me to exercise, and got me talking to living beings other than my dog! However, I was beginning to tire of having the same conversations with tourists over and over again.

I’m also taking on some data collection work for research on local water holes through the University of Canberra. It will involve trekking into the water holes in the range where the cameras and data loggers have been set up and replacing SD cards and batteries. Coming from a social science background, this really isn’t the kind of research assistant work I envisaged doing. But I’ll take it! I get to retrieve photos of all the dingoes, wallabies, and euro that are mostly too shy to be seen around the park generally.

I’m looking forward to going back to Brisbane next week for my final thesis milestone. When I return to the desert it will be over 40 degrees every day; a good time knuckle down and submit the thesis. Who knows what I’m going to do when I finally finish! It’s ironic that I’ll be the only ‘doctor’ working at the health clinic – just me and two (very experienced and qualified) remote nurses! I find the prospect of graduating both exciting and terrifying; it means I actually have DO something, put my years and years of education work, to prove myself.

In truth, we’ve had a rough time of late for various reasons. The silver lining is that we have come to realise the close bonds we have formed with people around here and to appreciate the support we continue to receive from home. So, whatever the future holds I know that our friends, near and far, will come with us to the end of the world.

 

Tagged , , ,

Nan’s Legacy

OliveMy Nan, Olive Cole, passed away on Tuesday the 4th of August 2015, just shy of her 92nd birthday. She had not been well for a couple of years and she took a turn last weekend. Her heart was failing; she had had enough. She died peacefully in her sleep having been surrounded by family the whole day.

I have been reflecting on the impact Nan has had on my life and the legacy she leaves behind.

Nan and Grandad immigrated to Australia from England in 1958, a trip that took three months by boat. Living in the low class area of Essex (London) they made the decision to give themselves and their three children (including my mum who was just a toddler) better opportunities in life. Nan left behind 13 siblings (another was already in Australia) and an 82 year old father whom she knew she would not see again.

This is a sacrifice I struggle to comprehend but for which I am eternally grateful. Because of Nan, I have the life I choose rather than the one I was born into. Nan left school at 13 to help her ill mother in the home and my Grandad was a garbage truck driver. Just two generations later, I have the privilege of undertaking the highest possible level of education – a PhD. I had not truly considered how remarkable this state of affairs is until this week.

Just as importantly, if not more so, my Nan has left a legacy within our family that will be felt for generations to come. This is reflected in the passage below that my sister delivered at the funeral on behalf of both of us.

Our Nan was a second Mum to us. She loved all of her kids, grandkids, and great grandkids equally. It didn’t matter how many more children were born, or how many people married into the family – her heart grew larger and larger to fit everybody in.

Nan had endless love to give. She said “I love you with all of my heart” at any available chance to do so. There was (and is) absolutely no doubt of how much she cared for and loved us – she would say “I love youse all” often while raising a glass of chardonnay.

Nan was fiercely protective of her family. She might have only been five foot tall, but she was fearsome. She would shake her fist with the knuckle of her middle finger sticking out for extra effect.

Nan was the matriarch of our family. She instilled in all of us the values we will continue to live out. She was kind, loyal, and family came above everything else.

Nan also showed us how to have a good time, and live in the moment. She was the life of the party. Even when she could no longer walk without her walking frame, she could dance!

Nan had a profound impact on all of us. Her spirit will live on through us, and through future generations to come. Nan, we love you with all of our hearts.

My Nan survived her husband, my Grandad, by 27 years. She now rests in peace with him in the Tewantin Cemetery where we buried him in 1988 when I was in Year 1. I will forever remember both my grandparents with warmness and gratitude. In their memory, I will endeavour stay true to myself and respectful of where I came from in everything I do.

us

 

I’m back!

IMAG1640

A very unflattering photo of me at the Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu. I made it!

I’m back! Back to the desert, back to my dog, back to my PhD, and back to my blog! I’ve definitely been around the block – geographically, socially, and medically – a few times during the last couple of months!

In my last post I was poised to go to Macchu Pichu by train/bus in lieu of the Inca Trail. The good news is I made it! Dad and I were reunited in the ancient ruins on the most spectacular day. I managed to climb to the Sun Gate and complete the last few hundred metres of the Inca Trail in reverse. Dad, who smashed the grueling 3.5 day walk, called my effort “the mini Inca”. The next morning at 8am we were at Cusco airport making our way back home.

Upon returning to Australia, I met up with my husband in Sydney. Before he arrived I had a misdiagnosis of deep vain thrombosis (DVT) and spent a whole day in GP and radiology clinics. It turns out I just had a strain in my leg! When Brett arrived we were both exhausted (Brett just got off a 10 day shift) so we just hung out in our hotel at Rushcutters Bay and walked around the city a bit. We also saw Les Miserables at the Capitol Theatre as a belated birthday for me (which I had spent in transit in Santigo airport).

Sydney was followed by a whirlwind week in Brisbane. Between packing up our house in Brisbane (ready for new tenants), having quick catch ups with friends, and going to the GP again (this time for antibiotics for a sinus infection), I managed to organise (with much help) and attend my Mum’s 60th birthday party, which was a cruise on the Brisbane River. It was delightful.

IMAG1687

Two days later Brett and I were in Airlie Beach visiting some good, old friends who have opened up an amazing burger and bar joint called Little Vegas (do yourself a favour and go there!). We spent a lot of time that week sitting at the bar, eating and drinking. I didn’t miss the opportunity, though, to sample to local medical facilities. Yes, again I ended up at the doctor for another round of antibiotics, this time for an infection I picked up from the IV drip that had been in the back of my hand for two days in Peru!

One day we took a choppy and hysterical boat ride around the Whitsundays. I seriously have never had so much fun as I did sitting at the front of the boat, hanging on for my life, water splashing in my face, and giggling like a school girl. We also squeezed in a quick visit to Grasstree Beach (south of Mackay) where we were spoiled by friends, Janice and John, with oysters, prawns, and fresh coconut water straight from the coconut!

The travelling and socialising has not stopped since were returned to the desert. We recently visited friends who are teachers in a community called Yuendumu, about 300kms NW from Alice Springs (about 7 hours from Watarrka). We took our dog (Spook) on his first real holiday (town trips to the vet don’t count as holidays). He made great friends with Trouble, our mates’ dog. Having a campfire in a dry creek bed with a storm approaching was a gorgeous experience. There is also something about cooking on a fire – the taste, the smell, the texture. There’s nothing else like it.

DSCN1474

AND THEN Brett’s parents came to visit! We picked them up in Alice Springs on our way home to Watarrka, spending a night at the Double Tree Hilton which included dinner at Hanuman (the best restaurant in Alice). The decadence kept flowing for the rest of the week, with sunset drinks overlooking the range, a birthday party for Brett (and others) at the Ranger Station Social Club (an unofficial building with a bar and BBQ), and a three course meal at the Kings Canyon Wilderness Lodge. Oh, and we did manage to do the Rim Walk too! The last two nights of Sue and John’s trip were spent at Ayers Rock Resort. Among sunsets at Uluru, a guided ranger walk, a quick trip to Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), and a helicopter ride for my mother-in-law, we ate very well (again) and celebrated the trip (and Brett’s birthday again) with bubbles and vino.

Just as everything was going back to to normal, this week I developed a tooth ache and had to drive 1000ks round trip to Alice Springs to see a dentist! There is an irony in the fact that today I am in bed with some kind of lugie I must have picked up while I was in town.

And, you wouldn’t believe it, but amongst all this I managed to send two thesis chapters to my supervisor!

Tagged , , , ,

Cusco calling

DSCN1137When I first drafted the post I was happily sitting in an internet café, taking in the ancient town of Cusco (Peru), and adjusting to the altitude before taking on the 3.5 day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. By the end of that day I was in hospital in a lot of pain and distress, receiving two lots of antibiotics intravenously for a severe parasite infection. I do not wish to dwell on my illness, as I have crowd-sourced a lot of sympathy from my Facebook friends already. Suffice to say I am on the mend and, although I will miss out on doing the Inca Trail, I will be able to take the train/bus instead and meet my Dad (who is on the Trail as we speak) at Machu Picchu on Sunday!

This chapter of my virtual life came about because my dad was going to go on his own (Machu Picchu is on his bucket list), so I put my hand up to be a plus one. It was supposed to coincide with me finishing my thesis and thus double as a post-PhD treat! Alas, when the time came I had (have) not finished, but one must take opportunities as they arise. I love to travel and experience new cultures – religion, dress, dance, and music. The food is usually a highlight for me – and it was here too (including a mouthful of guineapig!) – but for the rest of the trip I’m sticking to a fairly conservative diet.

DSCN1078Dad and I have spent many hours wondering the ancient streets of Cusco. The architecture is a mix of original Inca, colonial Spanish, and modern day styles (see pic). Basically, when the Spaniards arrived (around 1530) they knocked down most of the Inca buildings, but kept the solid stone foundations and built on top of them. The resulting mishmash of cultures you see in the stonework was also carried into religion. For example, Spanish religious leaders deliberately incorporated aspects of Incan culture into Christian biblical stories. Yesterday I saw an enormous painting of The Last Supper in the Catedral de Cusco with a guineapig in the middle of the table!

Modern Cusco is a quaint city of ‘hole in the wall’ shops, cobble-stoned roads, and stray dogs! We took a look around San Pedro Market where the locals buy and sell there produce: fresh juice bars, grains, vegetables, meat, trinkets, flowers, etc. I could not even recognise some of the meat on display, though I think I saw alpaca snouts (with teeth!). Just up the hill from the market, more people were trading the same food, but they were doing it from the kerbside with exhaust fumes in their faces (see pic). I have not spent much time in developing countries. The sights and smells of these streets highlighted that in this Andean wonderland, most people live in poverty. Yet, the people of Cusco are a proud and friendly bunch! And the tourist areas in Cusco are pristine, apart from the odd ´land mine´ on the sidewalk.

peruDuring the week we took a bus to the top of the mountain range that surrounds Cusco. On the way up we saw locals playing soccer amongst the Inca Ruins, mothers changing babies´ nappies on the side of the road, and dogs galloping around the grass fields. It is a spectacular site looking over all the brown-titled roofs of on the backdrop of the snow-capped Andes (see pic above). Many of the houses are half-finished or severely run down, yet you can see kids playing games and women house-keeping inside them. Cusco is prone to earthquakes (the Lord of Earthquakes is the most revered Christian figure today) and we think we saw evidence of an earthquake that occurred just last year – fenced-off piles of rubble in the streets that become more frequent the further out of the town centre you travel.

Finally, last Sunday was the Fiesta de la Cruz (Festival of the Cross) which is “celebrated all over Peru in commemoration of ancient Peruvian agro-astronomical rituals and the Catholic annual calendar” (Rough Gudies). The main square, Plaza de Armas, was thick with locals in bright costumes and official uniforms. The military, police, religious organisations, and community groups from all over the Sacred Valley region created a sea of colour and music. For the Incas, Qosqo (Cusco) meant “navel of the world”. Indeed, on Sunday Cusco was the centre of the universe for the local Andean people. What I liked most about this festival is that it demonstrated that people here belong to something greater than themselves. It seems to me that in Western culture the most popular membership we have is to overpriced gyms! We don´t dance, sing, or play music like the Peruvians, and I think we miss out on some of life’s joys because of it. NB. The photo below is the May Day Festival (which we also saw) not the Fiesta de la Cruz – my damn camera died that day!

Upon reflection, despite a few days of sickness, I have seen and learnt much – and there is more come! And I have been reminded of how fortunate I am to have good health and to live in a first world country where excellent medical care extends to the other side of the world. 

DSCN1091

Tagged , , , ,

Post-PhD life in the desert?

rangelands

In recent times my thesis has come to hold such power over me that I have felt it is holding me to ransom. It is as though I cannot get on with my life until it’s done and, therefore, it is holding me back from being all that I can be.

This being a totally unsatisfactory and miserable mode of existence, I have recently allowed myself time to investigate options for what I might do with my life post-PhD. I am in a unique position here – I have a city education and research based in the corporate sector, yet I live in a remote desert wonderland. What could I possibly do with this combination of skills and location?

Last week I attended the Australian Rangelands Society Conference in Alice Springs. My intention for attending was to throw myself in the deep end, find out ‘who’s who in the zoo’, and perhaps get some ideas and contacts for future projects or even paid employment! To be honest, I didn’t know what the rangelands were before I registered. As per the map above, the rangelands takes in arid and semi-arid deserts, wetlands, tropical savannas, woodlands, shrublands, and grassland. More broadly, the rangelands may be referred to as the ‘The Outback’ or ‘Remote Australia’ (see http://www.environment.gov.au/land/rangelands).

The conference gave me a wonderful overview of the diversity of landscapes, people, and organisations which occupy the rangelands that I now call home. I have met people from all over Australia who are pastoralists, Indigenous leaders, farmers, agriculturalists, scientists, miners, business people, artists, and many more! This diversity is reflected in my local area in and around Kings Canyon. There are park rangers, tourism and accommodation operators, cattle station owners, three Indigenous communities, a mine, and scientists (coming and going) doing various studies (ecological, archaeological, geological, etc.).

Though the work of rangelanders (I think I made that word up) varies immensely, they seem to have a shared passion for the conservation, economic development, and sustainable management of the rangelands. Despite the limitations of huge distances and poor connectivity/telecommunications in many areas, rangelanders are skilled at networking amongst themselves. They are also tech savvy and are embracing new technologies of all kinds (see Centre for Appropriate Technology and Ninti One for some examples). To my shock and delight, on Wednesday the conference Twitter hash tag (#ARSConf2015) was trending second in the whole of Australia! And one of the most prolific tweeters was Gus Whyte, a livestock grazier from Western NSW.

Much of the conference was focused on agricultural and conversation science, but leadership, communication, and technology (my pet topics) were also covered. A key issue that emerged was that the value of the rangelands is not well understood by people who do not live in them. As such, rangelands organisations are struggling to have influence in Canberra and Australia more broadly. And, as only 5% of voters live in the rangelands (which accounts for 70% of the continent), rangelanders have limited clout as individuals in the Australian political and social systems.

With my background in organisational communication, and specialisation in virtual organising, I may be able to meaningfully contribute to the rangelands by helping to facilitate interaction between rangelanders and, perhaps more importantly, between rangelanders and city dwellers. If the rangelands are to attract attention, funding, and respect from federal government and society more broadly, we need the other 95% of Australians to connect with and feel as though they have a stake in the riches of this amazing sunburnt country. After all, Australia belongs to us all.

I would be very interested to hear your thoughts about The Outback, the Rangelands, Remote Australia, whatever you’d like to call it. What does it mean to you? Does it matter to you and how?

Image source: http://www.climatechangeinaustralia.gov.au/en/impacts-and-adaptation/rangelands

Tagged , , , , ,