1 December 2015

Award Winning Video About The Challenges Teachers Face in the 21st Century

This short film was created in response to a series of questions posed by NEiTA (National Excellence in Teaching Awards). The questions relate to what I regard as the greatest challenges/problems faced by both emerging and experienced teachers (particularly in relation to the Australian education system).

I was nominated for this award/project amid wrapping up 18 glorious months teaching in a remote school in Australia. As I am now living in Tokyo, Japan I thought it would be appropriate to represent both cultures in the footage accompanying my narrated answers.





After sharing my video with friends and family on Facebook, a large number of viewers contacted me to say they had similar thoughts and feelings regarding their own school experience. Many were parents who have felt frustrated by the lack of quality teachers employed at their child's school.


I'm sure most of you can recall having a mediocre or down-right terrible teacher at one point during your schooling. Although we tend to think 'one year is not too bad', this mentality really needs to change to ensure all students have the best school experience possible. 

Please watch this video and see whether you can relate your own school experience to the issues highlighted.

If you agree with the opinions expressed in this film, please share it on social media to help me achieve my goal in
 reaching 10,000 viewers, including our education minister Simon Birmingham.


Please LIKE and SHARE the following link:
https://www.facebook.com/dearmrbirmingham/

30 November 2015

Adapting to Living in Japan as a Western Woman

A few years ago there were a bunch of memes circulating social media sites titled ‘First World Problems’.

First World Problems are defined as ‘relatively trivial or minor problems or frustrations faced by people living in First World countries (implying a contrast with serious problems such as those that may be experienced in the developing world).’ In other words, they are memes created by those living in a privileged society, poking fun at themselves for voicing such petty complainants; most of which are common and relatable among other privileged groups around the world.  

Here are some examples:


Since moving to Japan I’ve observed many commonplace Japanese customs which are completely foreign to me, highlighting how Westernised my lifestyle and mindset has been up until this point. Each day I get to experience new fascinating and often amusing ways of completing daily tasks. Some of which are far more logical or innovatively genius and make me question why the hell we haven’t introduced them into our own country. Then there are those things that will be forever ingrained into one’s core beliefs and comfort standards due to decades of exposure and familiarity. These ingrained preferences I’ve developed are constantly being challenged or reshaped each day as I attempt to grow accustom to my new Japanese lifestyle. While most gaijin (Japanese word for foreigner) make such sacrifices in an attempt to gain a more authentic Japanese experience, they also inevitably find certain aspects difficult to comprehend or openly embrace.   

Lo and behold, these commonly shared frustrations have spurred me to develop my first series of memes, somewhat inappropriately titled ‘Western World Problems’. While I recognise that some of the frustrations I mention are not exclusive or entirely representative of Western cultures, most of my Western gaijin friends would vouch that they too have had similar thoughts.

If you are greatly unfamiliar with Japanese traditions and culture, aide from making you giggle, I hope that these light-hearted memes expose you to some unique quirks and inspire you to one-day visit for yourself. The culture is steeped in very old traditions and a complex set of social norms. I plan to continue to share my experiences and thoughts through the creation of more comical memes. 

Please feel free to comment below if you have any Western World Problems to contribute.

Enjoy!
















15 October 2015

The Curious Girl Moves to Japan

As most of you already know, I recently departed the big rock I've called home for over 18 months (Groote Eylandt, Australia). My decision to move on was done in haste; like ripping off a band-aid. Although tears were shed when it came to saying sayonara to the little people I've created such fond memories with, the sting was masked with a mixture of excitement and nervousness. As one door closed, I prepared to step through another, much smaller, cramped opening. That being the door of a shoe box apartment in Tokyo. 

Japan stole my heart and mind within four short weeks over the mid-semester school break. As I was flying back home, my gut told me I had to return sooner rather than later. I knew my decision to up and leave would devastate those closest to me; some too inexperienced in life to understand why I would do such a thing. I spent hours thinking about how I could break the news to the little people I cared for daily; not just in a physical sense, but whole-heartedly. 


I decided it would be best to break the news by reading them a story. I began trawling online book stores for a picture story book that would suit my situation. The key message I wanted to impart was to never let comfort hold you back from making a courageous decision. I came across numerous books for dealing with loss but all had a very solemn tone. I wanted my students to share my excitement and feel inspired by my choice to grab life by the horn of the golden sparkly unicorn. 


The story I wanted to tell didn't seem to exist in picture form so I decided to create it myself. Below is a collection of pages from the book I'd like to share with you. While they are in sequential order, they are only a sample of pages so the story remains untold. If you're interested in reading the entire book, please get in contact with me and I can send you the ibook. All illustrations are my own and show true representations of the landscape and my life on Groote Eylandt. Obviously I would love to publish the story, so if anyone has a solid book publishing contact I'd appreciate any recommendations. Enjoy!



Small printed copies I gave to each student with a personalised message

The Experiences That Inspired My Move to Japan

Sumo Wrestling tournament in slow mo

Traditional formalities before every fight

View out the front window of the Shinkansen Bullet Train

Playful monkeys in Yudanaka Monkey Park


Monkeys swimming in the onsen (hot springs)


Ramen noodle restaurant


Tea Ceremony in Kyoto


Standard karaoke- Japanese people take bery serious!!

13 October 2015

Interview with Wildlife Scientist Skye on The Northern Quoll Research Conducted on Groote Eylandt

I met ranger Skye on Groote Eylandt in April 2014. She is now a dear friend of mine, despite our interests and skill-set being worlds apart. She is the epitome of a fearless woman; coolly handling animals which most of us would balk at upon a glance. She thinks sitting between the shrubs in bushland late at night is peaceful and boasts about getting to spend a great deal of her working week springing from rock to rock in search of furry friends. 

I find Skye's passion for wildlife conservation and dedication towards scientific research inspiring and fascinating. When I manage to pin her down in between her laborious trapping schedule, I find myself asking her 21 questions in a childlike manner. She is so knowledgeable about a variety of animal species and patiently answers all my questions in layman's terms. For this reason, I thought I'd formally ask her some questions that I could share with you.


Skye was kind (and silly) enough to invite me out to check the traps one morning. A trip that usually takes her an hour or two solo, took roughly 4 hours with me in tow. I trailed behind her as she effortlessly bounced from rock to rock like a billy goat while I shakily crawled on all fours and scooted down-hill on my bum. Although Skye was too polite to say anything when I got in the car that morning, I think my jeans and leather boot attire gave her a good indication of what she was in for. 


After a tiresome, semi-dangerous experience (in my opinion, not Skye's) I said to myself, "thankfully there are all types of people in the world" because unlike Skye, I could never do such a physically strenuous job. 
Please take your time to read the below Q & A session I had with Skye only weeks before departing Groote Eylandt. I sure learnt some new things and I'm sure you will too!



What did you study at university?

Zoology and wildlife biology as an undergraduate. Then I did my PhD in ecophysiology [where you look at how the environment effects the behaviour, appearance & physiological traits of animals] and evolution biology. My post-doc is in on ecology [how animals interact in and with their environment].

What are you doing here on Groote Eylandt?

I am the manager of a northern quoll research program that is taking place on Groote Eylandt (GTE). My team and I are looking at the general population, breeding, how they move and where they move within their habitats. One of the main reasons for conducting the research on GTE was to look into the life history traits of the northern quoll as they are semelparious (animals that die after a reproductive bout), for these males that is a year. This only happens to the male quolls and they are one of the largest marsupials that do this. Even more intriguingly, northern quolls living on mainland Australia are known to show reduced signs of semelparity (surviving for two years).
As a vast manganese mine has been operating on GTE for over 50 years, the location also lends itself to look into how the mining operation may be effecting the northern quolls’ health.


While northern quolls are an endangered species, they have a healthy population on GTE. We study quolls for science sake; to understand how and why things have evolved the way they have over time, as well as how this thriving population interact with their environment to guide conservation management decisions for this species.
Another important aspect of our job is to work with the Anindilyakwa Land Council (ALC). We show the rangers how to trap animals for record keeping. By involving the local community, we hope that they will be able to continue monitoring the quolls’ health and population long after we’ve gone. It’s important to give them the skills they will need to be able to manage the animals on their island.

Why quolls?

Very good question…because they are an endangered species. There are numerous on island, they are cool, they are a key stone predator (meaning they are at the top of the food chain here on GTE). They are semi-arboreal which means they can live on the ground and in trees. They quickly manoeuvre around their environment and they are cute.

What significant discoveries have you made?

That the quoll population here is greatly impacted by weather patterns. Because of it being really dry this season, the number of quolls have significantly reduced.
Generally, male quolls only live for one year and females three. However, we recently learnt that males have more potential to live onto a second year if they lose their testicles.

Perhaps one of the strangest discoveries is that females can have babies from multiple fathers growing in their pouch. This can occur because breeding happens over two weeks and the females usually have multiple encounters with different males. As it takes a few days for the egg to be fertilised, the female can be breed with up to five fathers. Twenty-one days later, she can give birth to her babies from different fathers.

Due to the low quoll population on the mainland (in comparison to GTE), males are living for two years. On GTE they ‘root themselves to death’ but on the mainland they can’t do that because of the low numbers.


Skye checking the name and data
 of each quoll. We trapped a new male
quoll which got named 'Slippery Boots' after
my unforgivable footwear selection that day

Who funds your research and what will they do with the results?

Our research is partially funded through the ALC to help manage quoll health and population. We also get financial assistance from the University of Queensland and the Australian Research Council which is a federal organisation.
Our results are gathered for both practical and theoretical purposes. They are used to gain a greater insight into ecology and evolution. What we learn can be passed onto others to help build the bigger picture. The project we are currently working on will inform others on how to develop management plans to help dilute mining impacts on wild life.

Best and worst part of your job.

Best: I get to be outdoors working within conversation which I am extremely passionate about.

Worst: All the admin work that needs to be kept. There’s a lot of if!! For example, the OH&S involved and budgeting for such lengthy projects.



What animal do you find most fascinating?

Elephants and lizards.

Elephants because of their memory capacity, their social system because they have a matriarch and their family is so important to them, they are so massive and they have a trunk. It’s freakin’ weird and cool. They are the evolutionary link back to pre-historic times which makes them even more fascinating.

Lizards because there is such a large variety of species. They have cool behaviours. For example, they can’t produce their own body heat and therefore rely completely on their environment. They are so ancient in appearance. I think they probably look similar to what they were like back in the dinosaur days. I find lizards fun to work with.

What do you find most appealing about Groote Eylandt?

The landscape- the colour of the water is amazing. The wildlife is amazing because it is so pristine. I love the GTE community. I have enjoyed learning about the indigenous community. It’s pretty unique and special. Social events in Alyangula are spectacular as the whole community gets involved-it’s awesome!

Quirky quoll fact.

A male quoll can produce the equivalent of 15kg of force with their bite.

The male quoll has as two-headed penis called the biphid penis.


Biphid penis

16 August 2015

CWA Groote Eylandt Pennant Design Entry

I drew this picture for a competition held by the Country Women's Association (CWA) on Groote Eylandt. They wanted an original artwork to represented the GE community and its geographical location. My design was chosen to be printed onto a pennant which will be taken to all CWA territory wide meetings.



I Love Groote Eylandt Song and Video Clip Produced by STAMP Music and Dan Gerich

My year 3/4 students wrote this song with Pete & Jodi from Stamp Music and myself. Dan Gerich then came and filmed the video clip; using a drone for the aerial views. The landscape shots really showcase the natural beauty of this large island.

It was a tonne of fun to film and I'm so thankful to have had the opportunity to work with such inspiring people. Just one of countless feel-good moments as a teacher on Groote Eylandt. The catchy tune and lyrics of 'I Love Groote Eylandt' will remain fondly in my memory long after I've departed this unique 'inspiring' island. 



Touring Japan Over 2 Weeks



Tokyo Sky Tower. Tokyo's popular is approximately 13 million. Groote Eylandt's population is approximately 1,200. Groote Eylandt's land size is 100m2 larger than Tokyo. These figures blew my students' minds. They found the idea of so many people living among each other incomprehensible. Great discussion topic!
Weight conscious people need not worry- calorie burning stair counter in Tokyo Hands. One store you must visit! It's like Bunnings mixed with David Jones mixed with every specialty craft supply store imaginable. Set aside at least an hour or three to get through the multi-split level monster of a department store!
We found the English translations on signage and products very amusing. This pastry shop made cream filled pastry logs which were so incredibly light and fluffy. Ele and I agree the Japanese do French pastries better than the French! 
With no smoking restrictions, why not have a fag while you serve customers? This was our first restaurant experience.
Snow monkeys in Yudanaka. It was amazing how close you could get to them without them even bothering to look up. A number of times I had to move out of their way.
Snow monkeys swimming in the onsen (hot springs) in Yudanaka Monkey Park. During winter, they swim in the waters as the snow falls. They were much cuter than the monkeys I saw in Bali. They have long fluffy fur and they were very playful.
Yudanaka Monkey Park. Nature at its finest. This would have been amazing to visit in the winter. Yudanaka is apparently swarming with tourists during the snow season because of its ski slopes. During the 30 minute forest trek, I only passed two couples. The ratio in the monkey park was 1 person to about 20 monkeys which make the experience way better than expected.
Ele bed bound after her tick removal surgury. We stayed at a Ryokan (traditional style accommodation). Sleeping on tatami mats and rice pillows- a very uncomfortable pair.
Playing in our summer yukata (robes) after returning from a soak in our hotel's private onsen.
Shibu (onsen town) in mountainous Yudanaka. It was like a ghost town at night which was eerily beautiful and peaceful.
Residents walking to one of the onsens for a evening bath. Men and women bath separately because all baths are required to bath nude. 
There are two extremes in regards to gaming in Japan. There's Pachinko slot which abuses the senses with flashing lights, irritating sound effects and digital images of complete bamboozlement. Then there's this game....target shooting with cork guns. This lady spoke no English, but she sure knew how to get a laugh when I got my camera out. 
Gate crashing a 21st karaoke birthday party
Funny tourist pose in front of a temple in Kyoto
Bamboo forest in Kyoto
A expansive tranquil garden surrounding a temple in Kyoto
The main river running through Kyoto city. We stayed in Sanjo which is where this photo was taken. The restaurants that back onto the river were outrageously expensive. It was a nice place to go for a bike ride but I'd recommend staying somewhere more lively.
Learning how to conduct a traditional Japanese tea ceremony in Kyoto. This involved making a cup of Matcha Tea.
Torii Shrine in Kyoto. Kyoto seemed to be the bike capital of Japan.
Tanuki the lucky Raccoon Dog can be spotted throughout Japan
Out the window of our Shinkansen train on route to Osaka
Delicious Shinkansen Bento Box- an assortment of tasty morsels in a wooden box. This box contained eel, tempura prawn, baby octopus, egg, rice and pickled vegies. These boxes cost around $6-10.  
Our night in a capsule hotel in Nagano. AMAZING!!! No need to BYO pajamas or toiletries as they are all provided. 
Sumo Tournament in Nagano
Shortly after taking this photo, he won his match. I like to think we were his good luck charms.
Kusama's Pumpkin on Naoshima island
Ele and I were fill ins for Naoshima's over 70s weekly volleyball tournament. We had names for each of them. The smiling assassin sitting behind me was the oldest in the group at the ripe old age of 83! 
Most Japanese restaurants pay big money for each menu item to be replicated in plastic and displayed in the front window. Everything from a glass of water to a side sauce. The best replicas even had intricate marbling painted on their meat and minuscule grains of salt. Ele and I enrolled in a replica class and got to make two dessert tarts.  
A government primary school classroom. They still use blackboards and each classroom has a keyboard next to the teacher's desk so that he/she can play for the students each morning. Students are required to clean their own classrooms as they don't employ cleaners.
This is the 'play ground' and assembly area. Children march every morning before entering the building. Gravel and concrete surfaces are typical for most city government schools. Children are given unicycles to ride during recess and lunch. Their play equipment looks like a death trap; made of chain rope and concrete foundations. 

The Do and Don’t Stop Places Between Alice Springs and Darwin

I wasn't really sure what to expect when it came to driving between Alice Springs and Darwin. There was a conc...