Final eylandt-hop for 2016 - stumbling start, superb finish

Gwen and Chop returned to Groote mid-November for their 4th and final trip for 2016 refreshed, relaxed and ready to go after a solid stint back home…. but it wasn’t the best start to the trip. The plan for Day zero seemed simple – Step 1. Fly to Groote, Step 2. have a quick sunset beer at the Lodge, Step 3. grab a quick feed in staff quarters, Step 4. watch Socceroos play World Cup Qualifier. What could go wrong? 

Return to Groote | a doggy-friend | back to the usual coffee stop in Umbakumba | Chop co-piloting

We got to Groote no worries, Step 1 sorted.

Gwen decided to go for a sunset walk with her doggy-friend, so Chop grabbed a beer at the Lodge and headed down to the Sunset viewing deck. He saw Jaime (ex-Wilsonite-labber) having what looks like a casual beer (Its 6pm)….with a few people he didn’t recognise. After surprising Jaime by pulling her out of her chair into a hug, he casually sat down, said hi and started enjoying his beer. After about 20 seconds he worked out he’d actually just barged into a work meeting. What followed was a super awkward 2 minutes where chop focused on the delightful sunset having an internal debate about how long he should stay there before getting up and casually leaving (picture the scene out of Ferris Buellers Day Off where Cameron’s sitting in his car ……. “He’ll keep calling me……..He’ll keep calling me”). Step 2, fail.

With his tail between legs, he headed up to the staff accom where Gwen had already found some food and was eating dinner. A quick scan of the fridge revealed the standard potato salad and sausages leftover from the buffet. Not overly inspiring. But hello….what do we have here…..some delicious looking stuffed capsicums…this is a step up. A couple of minutes later saw Chop scoffing into a couple of these things like it’s his last meal on earth. Enter one of the staff members, a lovely French girl, we had met just before we flew off the last trip. She looked at Chop eating and instantly her face took on an expression like he’d just stolen her new puppy, which was given to her for xmas, by her ageing grandmother, and sold it to a Chinese restaurant. She sheepishly let him know that she had made the stuffed capsicums specially for her boyfriend who has been working 18 hour days lately and had a late security shift that night until 4am. Step 3, fail.

All good, we can still salvage the day with some soccer. Now the Northern Territory is not big on soccer, so it gets bumped down to FOX 4 up here. We only get Fox 1, 2 and 3 in our rooms at the Lodge (tough life). Not to worry, the Socceroos games are shown on free to air, a quick Google reveals Channel 9 is showing it Live. But alas, as we checked in on arrival, we were told that everything should be ready in our rooms, but for some strange reason Channel 9….and only Channel 9 hadn’t been working lately …. “No worries, there’s nothing much to watch on that anyway is there?”  Step 4, fail…….. Ps. The Socceroos drew 2-2 against Thailand to add salt to the wound.

Mining port from Alyangula beachfront

New things we have learned from the later half of 2016:

·       6-weeks on island is the limit

·       When a frill-necked-lizard is sunning itself on the road, it has right-of-way….even on the highway

·       Most butterflies have a longer life expectancy than a $10 Ebay coffee grinder

·       Sometimes its best for Gwen to communicate science chat to Robbie via the Chop-conduit

·       The curry cook-up is the never-ending meal, and gets better with age

·       Chop’s new sunnies with green tint were a good investement – yep, there were daily updates on how amazing they were

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     Manual coffee grinder v6 | curry cook-up | Chop’s morning routine | the cereal mash-up | the Lodge sunset

Manual coffee grinder v6 | curry cook-up | Chop’s morning routine | the cereal mash-up | the Lodge sunset

On a sunnier finish, the research side of things went splendidly this 5-week stint. Data collection was super successful - busy but smooth sailing all the way – and, we got to meet so many more amazing people!  A perfect trip to end the year :) 

Groote – an emotional rollercoaster

A lot has happened since the last update in June ’16 – Andrew (aka Chop) has been going modeling-mad on his PhD, Gwen had a Euro-summer break, Selena Uibo got elected as Member for Arnhem and the Dust n’ Health research team completed an epic roller-coaster of a 3rd trip.

Alyangula sunset | modeling-madness @UQ | Swiss-ing around | Uibo campaigning | The Lodge beachfront

The August start to the 8-week stint was a jolly one, as Groote Eylandt was in a festive-mood. The annual trivia night, Picnic Day, a brightly bobbing colour run and the One People One Voice festival was a welcoming return to Groote. Spirits high, we jumped straight into dusty community liaising & all things researchy, only to land in the front seat of a ridiculous roller-coaster ride that was the 3rd Groote trip for the year. 

Ballooning fruit @trivia night | playing up @Picnic Day | the colour run | One People One Voice @Angurugu | softball shenanigans at One People One Voice | sunset at Marble Point

The festive incline took its peak with an awesome Learning-on-Country cultural camping trip on Bickerton Island with the Milyakburra crew. Together with the Land & Sea Rangers, yellow-shirts, school principal and teacher – we spent some priceless time with the local kids making spears, walking some beautiful country & fishing. On return to Groote Eylandt we joined the Quoll team, Skye & Tom, who were in fine-form. Island life was good - the research teams were going well, there were happy yoga times, beautiful sunsets & cinema viewings in Chop’s room – until the weekend begun declining…

Sunset fishing on Bickerton| flaming yogic-stands with Skye, Chop & Tom | sunset beauty on Groote | Tom & Chop’s cinema

Saturday night rolls around and there’s some sort of function at the Golfie (Groote Golf Club) so we all plan to head on down there. Having been invited out fishing on Bro’s boat at 5am Sunday morning, Chop’s prior knowledge of what a day on the boat with Bro means, sensibly ejected himself a bit after midnight. This however was to be Tom’s first trip out on Bro’s boat, so he kicked on. Chopper’s alarm went off at 4:45am and after banging on Tom’s door for a bit, the bushranger emerged and they headed off fishing. Tom is looking slightly underdone but also super pumped because this is his 1st trip out on a boat up on Groote. So the crew tried a few spots and were quickly hauling fish in. Tom was loving life. At about 9.30am though his hangover really kicked in. And after refusing sea sick pills, he was soon feeding the fish. This continued for 2 hours - he was absolutely hating life. With Tom indulging in a little kip as the crew drove from one spot to another, they got to the next destination and started fishing again. Tom was starting to feel a bit better and the sleep must have somehow reconnected some neurons allowing him to recall a memory from the previous night – which, upon sharing, sent Chopper and Bro rolling around on the boat giggling for the next 5 minutes (Tom’s expression a mix of bewilderment and pride).  He then went on to catch the best fish of the day, a massive Trevally. Lets just say that 24-hour-period was an emotional rollercoaster for poor old Tom, but the weekend had ended on a high.

Bro & Chop on the boat| Tom’s first fish | Chop’s broken joy

About three weeks in, the dust & health project’s best day on record came through in the small community of Milyakburra, Bickerton Island. The cracking work-week was then brought home nicely with the weekend – a visit from Gwen’s aunty for some scenic-flying, relaxo-boating & river-adventuring. But of course, this super summit of amazing-ness wasn’t without a crash all the way down the following weekend. What started off as a much-needed peaceful trip for Chop & Gwen to the beautiful Wayne’s World camping spot, turned into a hellish hot sand 4WD gauntlet, carved by blistering hands in a dire thirst-inducing sweat-a-thon. After several hours of digging, continuous-Haviana-blowouts and Chop’s finest driving moment, the research duo finally exited the sand-dune desert.

Andrew on Gold-winning day at Milyakburra | Gwen preparing for flight | scenic views of Groote from the sky | Wayne’s World camping spot| Haviana pluggers lasted 5 more weeks!

By the 6 week mark Umbakumba became a well-known scene for the research-duo and the daily research routine began to take its toll. The long drives, usual Friday-Umby-malaise and community happenings led to the creation of a Groote Pump Up playlist (Link to Spotify playlist ) for the journey home after difficult days. Literally living and working alongside each other in remote field research naturally means there is little solo time – which can inevitably lead to some grating moments and, let’s say, interesting communication break-throughs. Skye & Tom had flown off, and for the dusty-health-research duo the final 2 weeks played out with blunt-to-the-point communications, tense laughter and itchy feet to get off-Eylandt – but not before a visit from the boss.

Work meetings in Umbakumba | Andrew preparing the Groote-Pump-Up playlist | cleaning dust filters| close living quarters

Robbie & Nat (new Quoll-PhD-er) arrived on Groote to two highly-strung-worn-out versions of Chop & Gwen – Eylandt fever had well and truly set in. Gwen was pleased to be relieved of deciphering Chop’s stories (which she had begun to ignore) as they were then directed towards Robbie – who suitably shares Chop’s wavelength (much to Chop’s satisfaction & relief of having to constantly explain at length to Gwen). Just in time for the weekend (and the duo’s sanity), the 4-person Wilson team headed out for a camping trip, well started to anyway – 30 minutes in, a tyre bursts nearly pushing Gwen to break her year-long-sober-thon 9 months in. Looping back to replace a crucial spare tyre, the team headed out for a 2nd time, this time successful – setting up by the beautiful shady tree at Wayne’s World. Lots of Bohnanza-bean-cards were played this camping trip, we pulled off a delicious lamb roast in the camp oven, and decided that the ability to instantly repair the roof of your mouth after burning it on hot food would be the best ‘useless’ super-power.

Eylandt fever setting in| Tiring tyre antics | sunset camp fire | haloumi cookin’ off camp-oven heat

Gwen flew off Eylandt soon after the camping trip, putting an end to data collection for the Dust and Health Team. Oddly, Chop decided to stay on for some more punishment and help Skye and Nat with trapping for a couple of weeks. This turned out to be a poor decision. A week of hard work under Skye’s whip took its toll with a golf ball sized boil growing in Chop’s armpit. This left him bedridden for a few days and shaved about 5kg’s off his Adonis-like frame. It finally ‘drained’ a couple of days before he flew off leaving him fit to travel…..and chomping at the bit to get out of Dodge.