2 December 2014

Fishing and Camping Around The Gulf of Carpentaria

Once again I've neglected my blog during report writing time. 

Much has happened over the past few months- too much to write about whilst I sit here at my school desk with the cleaners whizzing around me. I suspect that they too wish I'd just go home (they're sick of having to ask me to lift my feet as they vacuum up the sparkles and paper clippings under my desk on a daily basis!)

So instead I'll just share a few photos with you and remind you all that I'll be home for five weeks (in Melbourne) from the 15th of December.

The biggest fish I've caught so far- golden snapper

Me dressed as a rapper for our school Christmas concert- Yes, it really is me!!
I even received a wary look from the cops as I walked past the station on my way to school
Performing 'Call Me Maybe' in the staff dance
A pod of young dolphins swimming along side our boat
Glamping (Glamour camping) with some friends. They even brought their knife block & mattress!
Campers getting creative with the sea junk

18 October 2014

The Manganese Mining Industry on Groote Eylandt Northern Territory

This term my Year 3 students are learning about different aspects of their local community and environment. They have interviewed their parents to discuss aspects of their job and are soon to be interviewing Indigenous community members to find out about their family background, working life and their opinion on manganese mining.

Most white people who live on the island work for the mining company GEMCO. It has been really interesting to unpack the makeup of the company and learn about the variety of skills and responsibilities necessary for the operation of a multi-billion dollar corporation that never sleeps. Many of my students’ parents are the heart and organs of GEMCO; they are the planners, the problem solvers and the people in charge. Despite this, up until we started this unit of work, most of my students had no idea what their parent/s actually do or had even given their unique living situation a first, let alone second thought. I’m really enjoying exposing them to the ethical and environmental issues associated with the mining process.

I thought I’d share with you some of the information I’ve been presenting and discussing with my students. It will give you a basic insight into manganese mining.

GEMCO has been mining since 1964. As they are mining on Aboriginal land, they had to get permission from the traditional land owners as well as the Australian government. They are only leasing the land, which means they are paying to use it for a period of time. GEMCO must ask for a new mining lease every 21 years but they have secured a lease for workers to live in Alyangula for 99 years. If the government or the traditional owners decide they don’t want to renew the lease when it ends, the business must shut down completely.

Manganese is a mineral sourced from an open cut mine. It lies horizontally within layers of sand and clay. It is used to make steel harder and is also used in the production of batteries. Once the manganese has been blasted and pulled from the ground, it gets crushed into small pieces and shipped all over the world. Most of the manganese is exported to Japan, South Korea, the United States and China.

GEMCO is owned by a world-wide corporation called BHP Billiton. BHP must pay royalties to the Groote Eylandt Aboriginal Trust Fund because they are making billions of dollars by selling the manganese that’s unearthed from the Warnandilyakwan people’s land. This money is used for Aboriginal community purposes on the island. E.g. funding the Anindilyakwa Land Council.

Manganese was first discovered on Groote Eylandt in 1907 by a geologist named H. Brown. A geologist is a scientist who studies what’s in the ground.

When they first started mining the manganese, they had only planned to take enough for Australians to use. Only six months after they started to remove the ore from the ground, other countries such as Japan wanted the manganese too. They were willing to pay a lot of money for it, so the mine started operating day and night to keep up with the great demand.

There are six main processes the ore must go through before it can be sold and shipped out. These are:
-       - Crushing large bits of ore into smaller pieces
-       - Washing & checking the size of the ore
-       - Tumbling the ore with water to remove any clay
-       - Removing and discarding floating non-manganese materials (manganese sinks which makes it easy to separate)
-       - Checking the ore’s density and sorting it into piles to be crushed
-       - Crushing the ore into fine pieces. The size will depend on what it’s going to be made into.

As large machines do most of the manual work, people who are employed by GEMCO have lots of different skills and work together to ensure everyone’s safety while making the most money they possibly can. GEMCO employ people who specialise in science, engineering, business, technology and environmental control.

The job of a GEMCO engineer is to plan new towns, dams, roads, tunnels and underground electrical work. They also look for new ways to speed up the mining process while trying to reduce its impact on the environment.

People who work for GEMCO may be in charge of operating big machinery. Just some of the machines people operate are drills, shovels, bulldozers, haulage trucks and crushers at ore processing plant.

Part of GEMCO’s mining agreement with the land owners is to rehabilitate the land once they have dug up the manganese. This means they return it to how it looked before by planting seedlings for new trees to grow. This job is often done by Indigenous workers. About 6% of GEMCO’s work force are Indigenous*.

*statistics based on figures from 1972-1986

Indigenous workers
Total work force
Approx. 750
Approx. 25
Approx.. 1000

GEMCO currently has a workforce of approximately 1,000 people. Many of the workers live in either Darwin or Cairns and fly onto the island to work for seven days straight. They are known as FIFO because they fly in and fly out to work. The FIFO workers must work both day and night shifts to make sure the plant is running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are more FIFO workers employed during the dry season, however the plant still operates during the wet and some people are even expected to work on Christmas Day! Most of the GEMCO workers who live on island hold very important jobs and without them the mine could not function as well as it does.

Here is a map of the mining operation. We live in Alyangula; about a 15-minute drive to the main GEMCO facility. On weekends we can often hear and feel the mine blasts which are occurring close to the airport.   

9 October 2014

Book Week 2014

It was Book Week at our school a few weeks ago...and what's a Book Week without a 'dress as your favourite character' competition?

As you can probably tell, I don't muck around when it comes to dress-ups; especially when it's for a school function. I get a thrill out of making myself look as ridiculous and/or hideous as possible. 

I think it's important for students to see the vulnerable side of their teachers every so often to remind them that we are in fact human. If you're lucky enough to be seen as a role model by a child/children, I think it's so important that you allow them to see how you interact and respond to any given situation; not just those where you feel confident and in control because let's face it...that's not reality! The influential adults within children's lives, whether it be teachers, parents, coaches or friendly neighbours, need to start getting more real with kids. By exhibiting our flaws, our emotions and our 'ugly side', kids will know that it's OK and normal to do the same. Attempting to uphold squeaky clean, robot-like perfection is tricking kids into thinking they must have it all; the looks, the answers and a permanent smile to hide behind.

I realise this post has turned into a rant of sorts but if it means that one more teacher or adult is willing to make a fool of themselves for the sake of a child's self-esteem, then I'm satisfied. 

Feel free to steal my bald headed, diaper wearing, adult-baby (Captain Underpants) costume idea next time you've got a dress up party...you're welcome.

8 October 2014

Exploring Groote Eylandt with Dad

My dad came to visit me while I was on school holidays. He flew in on a Wednesday morning and left the following Monday; a bit of a whirl-wind trip, but then again, what is there to do on a remote island in the Northern Territory?

The below photos would indicate that there's in fact quite a lot; if you're prepared to go out looking for an adventure that is. 

On the second day, I drove Dad out to take a dip in the fresh water river called Leske Pools. As we were nearing the river at the bottom of the slope, I made a fleeting and foolish decision to turn off the main track to avoid the soft sand ahead. In an attempt to try and dodge a potential bogging, I drove us straight into the very trap I was trying to avoid. Within seconds we were well and truly bogged.

Dad immediately jumped out of the cab to assess the situation. His voice remained relatively calm, although he couldn't hide his slight frustration or the sweat that began to pool along his down-turned brows as his feet sunk into the hot, black sand. 

We were hot, pissed off and hungry so we decided to abandon the car and go and eat lunch by the river.

Dad failed to see the 'adventure' aspect of our situation at this point. If you look closely you can see the car off to the left and a grumpy old man under the tree.
Once we got some food into us, we were no longer 'hangry' (anger brought on by hunger) at one another and agreed to walk to a nearby waterfall. We reached a section in the river where rapids formed due to large moss covered boulders. I convinced Dad to get in and enjoy the 'spa-like' sensation as we anchored ourselves in-between the rocks.

I happened to get out before Dad, only to realise I'd unknowably gained some friends who were keen to accompany me back to the car. Yep, I'm referring to leeches. As I was doing the heeby jeeby dance, I called out to Dad to warn him. Several times he shouted back "I can't hear you!" That's too bad, I thought and I focused on getting the little suckers off me. Dad eventually jumped out and I got the privilege of flicking the passengers off his back. I can only imagine what he thought of Groote Eylandt at that point, along with his daughter's decision making skills. 

We returned to the car and started digging. As it turned out, I'd completely buried the car's axle, so we both had to get down on hands and knees and shift the scorching hot sand by interlocking our fingers and dragging our arms along like giant diggers.

Once we'd literally dug ourselves out of the situation, Dad regained his sense of humour and we thought the moment deserved a 'selfie'. 
Dad at the cave paintings. I had to blur out the paintings; otherwise I'd need to get permission from the land council before publishing online.

Dad on top of the caves.
When I found out Dad was coming to visit, I really wanted to take him fishing as a late Father's Day gift. Although half the people on the island have boats, I was yet to be invited out on one. I asked a school friend to create a post on the Groote Eylandt community Facebook page, calling for any willing boat owners to take us out for the day in exchange for petrol money and good company.

The man featured in the below photo called me within hours of seeing the FB post and said we were more than welcome to join him and his 20 year old son on their usual weekend outing. He is the Vice President of the Alyangula fishing club and warned me that he was a 'hard-core' fisherman.

On the day, he stayed true to his word, keeping morale up for over 12 hours while being bumped every which-way by the waves and enduring the intense rays of the ever-present sun. 

It was so chaotic on the boat, as two or more people were often hooked at the one time, causing everyone to scramble over and under one another to ensure lines remained tangle-free. Because of this, video and photo opportunities only presented themselves a few times over the course of the day. 

Here is a short video I put together which gives you an idea of the fun we had:

Dad caught the biggest shark on the day

Dad's jewfish

Dad's barracuda

My mackerel

My barracuda

The following day we were invited by a traditional land owner to a stretch along the coast called Tamarin Beach. As we drove parallel to the sea, the land owner pointed out three tiny tin sheds, erected no more than 10 metres from the water's edge. She said she lived there as a young girl. Throughout the day she spoke of her land with great fondness, explaining that whenever she visits, she is filled with happy memories of family members whom have come to pass over the years. 

One of the ladies explaining where to find the mussels & oysters buried underneath the mangroves

 Here I am waiting for my pippie to boil and open on the hot coals
I'm starting to believe that adventure always comes at a price on this island. Whilst wandering through the mangroves searching for some tucker, I became tucker for many UFI's (Unidentified Flying Insects). By the time I'd returned to the others, I had developed a number of big welts on various parts of my body. 
The next morning I awoke with two fluidy lumps; one on my arm, the other on my ankle. Later that day (of course I left it until someone forced me to see a doctor), I found out that I'd contracted a dangerous secondary infection in less than 24 hours. Luckily oral antibiotics started to work their magic over the 24 hours that followed, or else it was looking like an IV drip was fast becoming an arm accessory for the next few days. 

Believe it or not, I took the below photo when some of the swelling had subsided. 

Dad arrived home at midnight on Monday. He was straight back into the rat race the next day; his peeling nose as the only remaining sign that he even escaped city life for five days. Meanwhile, I've been ordered to stay home with my feet up. My week of school holidays has almost extended to two and I'm still daydreaming about fish and feeling way too relaxed.

It was so great to see my Dad and share my new life with him. I haven't seen anyone from home in almost seven months now. Although I miss my family and friends, I know I've got something pretty special here. It was nice to hear that Dad agrees with me on that.  

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