Thursday, August 05, 2010

God Bless You, Mob

Singing "kookaburra sits in the old gum tree-ee" makes a whole lot more sense if you have heard the mouthy bird and understand that a gum tree is a sweet smelling eucalyptus. The "baaa necessities" become more clearly defined when you learn that Aussies drop most r's, don't run the heat when no one is at school, wear locally grown wool for warmth instead of layers of useless manmade fibers and elect local officials based on their environmental policies. Also, knowing that a mob is a herd of kangaroos and not criminals with machine guns helps to make the school chaplain's blessing a bit less startling at second period tea time, crumpets optional (but who can resist?)

We started our visit in Australia with a couple of bus hopping, ferry riding, opera house touring, zoo visiting days in Sydney. The winter here is mild and incredibly sunny compared the kneedeep wind chills we are accustomed to in Cleveland. Not unpleasant at all. Much more to see. Would love to return.

The opera house is truly stunning and we were lucky enough to score tickets for a cabaret performance in one of the theaters. It is covered with tiles that reflect the color of the sky, a site that really can't be captured with a camera.

After a smooth bus ride to Canberra, ACT (the Washington, DC of Australia) we were collected by our trusted friend and host, Dan Ferri. He not only put up with us but put us up for a week and a half while we toured Canberra (pronounced Can-baha, see above) and Radford College.

Before we began our residency at Radford, we took about an 8-kilometer walk to the national Australian Museum. Since I don’t know a kilometer from a mile and we didn’t have a map of the city, we didn’t exactly know what we were in for that day, but it turned out to be a clear blue sky, sunny day and a fascinating museum where the modern is mixed up with the ancient to give you a picture of just about everything Aussie. The War Memorial was particularly fascinating as they had a C plane there that I think is what my Uncle Bill flew in the South Pacific. Somehow it was not part of my history lesson that Australia was bombed and Japanese subs were in Sydney Harbor during the WWII, "let's move on, we have a lot to cover" being the hasty mantra of all my social studies teachers 1-12).

Everyone knows a true sign of becoming old is that you go to a museum and see one of your prized memories of childhood behind glass. But how about going to a museum and seeing the original jerseys of one of your grandchildren’s idols enshrined for posterity?

Yep. The Wiggles. Hanging alongside pith helmets, Darwin’s notepad, and aboriginal masks. Oh, well. No worries, mate. One of a couple of handy phrases I picked up and reckon to remember along with the mobs of meat pies and kangaroos, smiling students and pleasant teachers we came in contact with while down under. My absolute favorite, below.

But the real business of our trip began when we went to school. First we did a short drive by visit to a public school, Ainslie School where Karen took us all around. The place was alive with writing and word walls, artwork and bulging classroom libraries at all grade levels. Here I learned that a perimeter is always closed, never open and not a muddle. Principal Jo Padgham was away the day we visited, but her imprint and vision is clearly evident all over the school, a very happening place.

The next day we began a five-day residency at Radford College. In Australia all schools are colleges, post high school schools are called universities. We visited with the elementary kids, a few year 12s (seniors) but spent a great deal of our time with the seventh grade. The sixth graders wrote about their recent walkabouts to visit local dams and ecosystems. I learned about the hazards of desalination from one sixth grade poet and about all kinds of other fascinating creatures, plants, and rivers (few of which I could spell in the group-writes much to the amusement of the kids).

Many many thanks to Claire, Peggy, Louise, Dylan, and the rest of the mob for making our visit a learning experience for all. And special thanks to Dan Ferri for the invitation and for all his generous hospitality.

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