Saturday, May 26, 2012

Struggling with educational snobbery

  I am an education snob. This is mostly due to everyone having had high expectations of me as a child geek, effortlessly topping my classes and doing every extension available. This carried on into the accelerated class (with extra-accelerated maths) at high school. While working, partying and drinking copious amounts I managed to keep up the A+ grades with quickly-scrawled essays. I always had the expectation (and the expectation of me) that I would go on to a spectacularly impressive degree at an impressive university, and I did, beginning Behavioural Neuroscience at Monash at barely 17.
  Then, things started to go off the rails. While lots of my classes were interesting, I was failing to see how they would lead to a career that I actually wanted to do. And I realised that many people had been studying while I was doing the working/partying/drinking thing, and had a much more solid background than me. All of a sudden I actually had to work at learning, without having the appropriate motivation for doing so. I agonised for a short while, spending many hours playing Command and Conquer (at the husband’s house) or The Sims (at my house), instead of going to lectures (but I still passed first year-barely).
  So I deferred. And got a job as a cleaner (can you hear the screams of horror from where you are?) And I really, really enjoyed it. It was at a hospital so I spent all day talking to lovely senior citizens while scrubbing their rooms, and I earnt excellent money for an 18 year old. I was soon doing three different jobs there, also doing kitchen work and talking myself into a job as a data clerk at Breastscreen. I was able to buy a car, get my licence, and rent a brand-new little unit with the husband (then boyfriend), where we played endless Xbox while getting shitfaced. Then I managed to drag him to Queensland for a holiday, he realised it was far preferable to Melbourne, and we began our nomadic life. And decided babies were better had sooner, rather than later, and money was most easily got by renovating crappy old houses.
  The education thing has always niggled at me, though. I have always wanted a qualification of some sorts, and started a Bachelor of Nursing externally when I had Oods, which lasted two weeks (laugh at me, thinking with a newborn i’d have so much time on my hands). Then I began a Bachelor of Health Promotion (spot the health/medical theme here?) when pregnant with Shorty. This time I completed a semester with HDs-but then PND hit and I couldn’t continue into the next one. I then began it again when pregnant with Frosty but my heart wasn’t in it-and I don’t think i’ll go back to it. I chucked the books for a few years, deciding to teach myself dressmaking/pattern drafting in more depth instead, thinking something suited to me would come up eventually.
  Then some friends we met travelling kept talking about their friend the herbalist. Herbalist? People still do that? Like, as a job? And I have since found that they certainly do, and so could I. Me, who attempts to grow every herb I can get seeds from, who doses up the kids (and the pets) with all sorts of weird stuff rather than medicine, and who has a whole shelf of herbal books already. And I can also extend it to a qualification in nutritional medicine-considering how much time I spend cooking, and my obsession with wholefoods and fermenting, plus the fact that Shorty’s medicinal garlic chomping has actually been recorded in his audiology file, well, i’m sort of seeing that I just may be suited for this. I began to think of teaching rather than practicing, running short and day courses, and enabling people to treat and prevent their own minor ailments.
  Which is where the educational snobbery enters. I never really considered anything but a degree-while i’d had a cursory look over TAFE handbooks, a degree was the only way to go. I’ve always considered that you go to TAFE for trades, not for academics. What use is a diploma for an intellectual course? It’s not like a proper qualification, is it? Well, I can’t do the only Bachelor of Herbal Medicine offered, on-campus at a college. Not with five children, and not in Brisbane (city, argh!). So it has to the the external………..are you ready…………Advanced Diploma. From an independent college, no name-dropping kudos there. I’m having trouble getting my head around the fact that it’s not a degree. From a university. This is compounded by the fact that you cannot register with industry bodies after doing the external course, as it’s not considered good enough. (You can register, however, after the course and six months working in the field). And it costs $21,600 in VET_FEE-HELP fees (with the 20% surcharge), crikey! For two years off-campus it seems a bit steep, especially as it’s so much more than the HECS fees were for my on campus Neuroscience degree, complete with gel electrophoresis experiments and real cadavers. I’ve been dithering about enrolling this whole year, and have reached the point where i’ve collected my various academic transcripts for RPL ( I should get 6-7 subjects out of 28 written off, reducing costs considerably), and am trying to wheedle the husband into letting me pay upfront with the coming guv’mint bribes, thereby receiving a 30% discount. If that all works, the cost for the qualification drops to around $9000. And I can use it as credit for a Health Sciences degree in the future, if I decide to, effectively halving the subjects for that.
  Also, all of these colleges are…….well, somewhat woo. While I am convinced of herbalism’s medicinal qualities, some of the electives i’m offered sit on shakier foundations of evidence. Like homeopathy. (But it’s OK-I can do nutrition and other more stable electives.) I have the feeling i’ll be leaving my comfortable scientific realm of epidemiology and double-blind studies into a world of anecdote and n=1 studies. I don’t think i’ll fit in well. Call me blinded by too much education, as woo-fanatics do to anyone who chooses to put more stock in scientific evidence over anecdotes (with all of their biases), but I prefer the cool-eyed, well-thought out rigor of science to a collection of emotion-charged anecdotes being called ‘proof’ against all other evidence (see the ‘vaccines cause autism’ brigade for a perfect example). Maybe I could call myself the scientific herbalist?
  So I have a week or so in which to decide whether I really want to do it and whether it’s worth it. And whether i’m ready, right now, to jump back into the world of structured study.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


  Rarely does a book get its very own post, and usually because i’m ranting against it. This book, however, is utterly hilarious, and very apt. As a couple who have families who fit a lot of the stereotypes in this book, the husband and I found ourselves laughing uncontrollably at it quite a few times.

  My favourite?

  Although the bogan is largely aware of the concept of speed limits, it doesn’t appreciate being limited in anything it does. So even while driving a stock 1992 Hyundai Excel with flat front tyres and frangipani stickers on the rear window, the bogan imagines itself to be a maxtreme stunt driver. It will perform what it believes to be precise manoeuvring in and out of traffic, in order to progress approximately 5 metres ahead of where it would be otherwise be were it not so inclined to endanger the lives of everyone around it in this recklessly selfish and idiotic way.

  It got me laughing so hard I couldn’t read it out to the husband for at least five minutes. I’m easily entertained.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Travels, part 2-the Fleurieu and back again, via the Red Centre

September-November now!  After spending a few weeks north of Adelaide, where we got hailed on and frosted up, we had a hissy fit and true to our style decided to go somewhere warmer. Like Alice Springs. I bought myself a digital SLR in Port Augusta as a birthday present, but didn’t realise i’d need a different card, so was unable to use it until we got to Alice Springs (you’ve only missed Coober Pedy, which didn’t grab me at all). As it worked out, I finally got to use it on my birthday, heading out to the West MacDonnell ranges. And what a landscape to practice on. Alice Springs was so much more beautiful than I expected, in a rugged, sun-bleached, ancient sort of way. I can see how people travel to the outback and end up living there, it’s spectacular in a whole different, much more peaceful way than the coast.


  Ellery Big Hole was gorgeous, and we stopped and ate cake. Note how tiny the kids are in the lower right? It was discarded as a possible camping area because there was no shade, and it was very hot. We had to go out and buy summer clothes when we got to Alice because we had nothing suitable-my morning there in jeans was almost intolerable.


  We carried on to Ormiston Gorge which was even more beautiful, dumped the camping gear to set up later, and went swimming for the rest of the day. Happy 28th birthday to me!


That evening we had the whole gorge to ourselves and stayed there until dusk. Then we went back, the kids went to bed and the husband and I sat up spotlighting dingoes prowling around. Absolutely perfect. A dingo stole the full wetbag on our last night, and I found it 50m off the track in the morning. We then got to say ‘A dingo stole my wetbag!’ in bad Australian accents.


  After a few days, however, the heat was getting to us in a big way, and we ran out of sunscreen, which was an absolute necessity when you could get burnt in under 10 minutes. So back to Alice, the caravan park, and the pool! Where we spent most of the rest of our time.

  The view from Anzac Hill


At sunset.


Dirty desert feet-honestly, the dust got smeared on everything, especially being hot and sweaty. It was impossible to keep clean. We were scrubbing all feet before bed to try to preserve our bedding somewhat.


While the husband kept spotting jobs advertised and trying to convince me to stay there, I was more realistic. The cost of living is astronomical-and to tell the truth, I felt uneasy being somewhere that is so unsustainable. All the food is trucked in, the water is pumped from the Great Artesian Bore-it all felt a bit like a house of cards to me. While were were keen to go to Darwin everyone heading south discouraged us-it was late October and the build up to the wet, and having lived in Cairns for four years we knew what that was like. Bearable in a well ventilated house with fans, but in a plastic tent it wouldn’t be so fun. So we decided to go south-west and check out the big rocks. Originally we planned to go west again through the MacDonnells via the Menindee loop through Aboriginal land and onto Kings Canyon, but apparently the road was terrible-30km/h, flat tyres sort of terrible. As we weren’t particularly equipped for serious 4WD conditions we wussed out and took the main roads to Yulara. It’s about 450km from Alice, and 250km off the Sturt Hwy-much further than I would have guessed before going!

Uluru (well, duh). My advice? Skip the sunset viewing, it’s crowded and not very impressive. Instead, spend dusk at Mutijulu waterhole, and watch the animals appearing to drink. Much better.








Kata Tjuta, which is about 50kms away.


  PA230399   PA230389

I was surprise by how much there was to see around Uluru, the general media view is of a big featureless rock. But there’s lots of trees, waterholes, caves, sacred sites and historical sites around the base. There’s also an awesome mudbrick visitor centre which cannot be photographed. I was not happy, as I wanted a house like it so needed photos as a reference. It was insanely touristy of course (and we were there at the quiet time) and Yulara, being basically a resort for tourists, was sterile and unremarkable. But there was a free air-conditioned bus that we did many laps on around the complex. We did a bushfood session which was wonderful-the indigenous woman who ran it was lovely, she ran to no-one’s schedule and showed all the kids one by one how to use quandongs for sunscreen and make a honey drink from grevilleas.

We had lots of Steve Parrish moments up there-I do like reptiles so the desert was fun. Seeing a big goanna near the kitchen and alerting the Japanese tourists was hilarious-they were scared but intrigued, with lots of squealing. Not so fun was finding a centipede in the tent under my pillow, and hacking it up with a spoon.






This snake was the funniest. We were walking back from the Mutijulu waterhole at Uluru at dusk, and spotted this snake crossing the path. We yelled ‘SNAKE!’ and all started running towards it to get a better look. It was hell-bent on reaching cover away from the seven giants thundering towards it, and we didn’t get any closer than about 20m away before it was gone for good. The international tourists behind us were horrified though. We must have confirmed all of their stereotypes about Australians all being lunatics like Steve Irwin, leaping on poisonous reptiles. They stayed very close behind us while the kids checked out the tracks, and didn’t leave us until the carpark was in view. PA240601

Then began the looong trek south again, with the vague view of settling down somewhere there, overtaking cattle-filled road trains….


…..past the opal diggings at Coober Pedy….


….and the last desert sunset for a while.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Travels, part 1-Melbourne to the Fleurieu, with a side trip to Queensland.

  I’ve realised I haven’t shared any pictures of our travels at all. Some people must suspect we never actually went anywhere. So here’s the gist of it, as quickly as possible. This covers last July-September

First up, Melbourne to the in-laws, and a trip up Mt Donna Buang for the ‘snow’. We timed it badly, but our Queenslander children were still quite impressed.


After watching her nanna and I start a granny squares rug (my long, ongoing travel project) Oods mastered it and began her own. Not bad for a seven year old!


Most of our time was spent inside-it was July, and cold, and the husband worked for much of the time. Then our property SOLD (I still can’t quite believe it), we bought an awesome car and drove back up to the property to finish it all up.


With no gas, a solar system that didn’t work, and a snake skin hanging from the ceiling things were even more primitive than when we lived there. But we tidied it up, fixed a few things and packed what remained. When it got too much, a few days at the beach sorted us out.


Then with all done, we went to Lismore (just to check it out) with our very……….us load on the back of the mung bean (as we christened the green, rounded car). Yes that is a chook house, with a chook dome on the roof. The nesting boxes made excellent food storage for the trip.


We decided Lismore was OK but had to give the job offer in Melbourne serious consideration. So off down the gorgeous but frosty New England highway we went to Melbourne again.


The husband began working, I began looking for a rental (no-one rang us back for an inspection. Not one.) and the kids slowly started to fall apart. When Frosty started to wet himself regularly and ignore his daddy (formerly light of his life, to be barnacled onto at every opportunity) we decided a qualification isn’t worth that right now. We have plenty of time, it’s not like we’re approaching middle age or anything, so family can take priority now.

Plus, the husband was having kittens at the thought of having to face this every day. My poor bumpkin isn’t cut out for inner-city life (and neither am I).


So we went on Puffing Billy.


And to Sovereign Hill. Below is lolly making.


We liked the gardens and housing. (Jealous! JEALOUS!)


While the girls made moony eyes at the horses. They were extremely impressed with their carriage ride.


My workers got into gold panning with gusto, convinced they were going to strike it rich-unfortunately not. As an aside, does every former Victorian schoolkid remember doing this on camp?!?!?!


This is about the time we decided to go travelling, as we couldn’t work out what else to do or where else to move to, so in between getting attacked by too-tame cockatoos at Kallista and doing the family rounds, the husband welded up a big cage and turned our trailer into a box trailer, we packed what we needed and hid the rest in the in-laws shed, and took off along the south-west coast. Mostly because we hadn’t been that way, and because we had no interest in moving there there was no ulterior motive!


First stop, Kennett river. Lovely beach, pity about the exorbitant caravan park.


Then the fantastic Blanket Bay, on Cape Otway. Which is FREE! As we subscribe the the ‘buy it when we need it’ philosophy we had no chairs, or lighting, but we got by pretty easily. We did, however, have shovels, and managed to re-route the creek flowing across the beach.


The leeches decided Shorty was extremely tasty…………


……..but the kids weren’t so impressed with my first attempt at camp oven damper. The inside was good!


There were koalas everywhere-seriously, by the time we left they were a bit ho-hum. Yawn, another koala? We also spotted rufous wallabies and an echidna.


Then time to leave Blanket Bay and head along the coast. There’s something called the Twelve Apostles there. Seriously, it’s magnificent along that stretch. The reality makes the photos look like nothing (especially my crappy pics ). And the formations go for miles…….definitely somewhere i’d like to explore more, in better weather.




A stop at Dartmoor amid the carved trees for lunch.


Ogling wind turbines!


  Then it was across the SA border……..and quarantine. Silly us thought that if our plants could have been sent to SA we could take them there, but no. I couldn’t bear to throw them in the pit so labelled them, begging someone to take them back to Victoria and plant them. Other travellers said they weren’t there a few hours later, so here’s hoping someone was happy to find $150 worth of berries, potatoes and crowns. Sob.


Mount Gambier, and the Umpherston sinkhole by day…………..



  And night, feeding the possums that live in the sinkhole.



And the Blue Lake-would you believe we knew absolutely nothing about this area before we reached it? I’d never heard of any Blue Lake.


Then onto Naracoorte to check out the World Heritage caves and megafauna remains-this was where our first wind troubles appeared, and we had to pack up and fork out for a cabin rather than sleep in this.


The caves were truly spectacular, and I look forward to going back and doing ALL of them soon!



Then a rather too-big driving day to Normanville, on the Fleurieu Peninsula, south of Adelaide. Picked completely at random from an accommodation directory. We camped just behind the dunes, and bonus! Another creek to dam! Out came the shovels again.


And we found the eggs of an endangered plover.


  We also checked out the whaling museum at Victor Harbour, among other things, and that is where the camera finally decided to die, after months of not zooming and having to be smacked to turn on (let no-one say we are wasteful).



  We were getting heartily sick of the cold by now-we were in bed by seven each night because it was simply too cold to do anything else. September in a tent in the south is not exactly comfortable. So we decided to head generally north and see where that took us.