By Nic Stoltzfus
Day One: Thursday, August 21st
Dad and I arrived in Australia around 7 am on Thursday, August the 21st. It was around a sixteen hour Quantas flight from Dallas, Texas, to Brisbane, Australia and we touched-down in the “land down under” weary, worn-out, and excited. After collecting our luggage (Tripod case? Check. Camera case? Check. Audio case? Check. Dad’s clothes? Check. My clothes? Check.), we headed to the lobby to get our rental car. It was here in front of the Europcar desk that we planned to meet our key contact for the trip, Dr. Errol Stock, a geoscientist retired from Griffith University in Brisbane. I scanned the handful of faces in front of the rental car desk and recognized Dr. Stock’s face from the picture he e-mailed us. As I walked up to him, he greeted me with a cheeky grin with crinkled crow’s feet and offered a weather-worn hand. “Hello, I’m Errol. I recognized you by your picture you sent me. Welcome to Australia!” He wore a thick jacket–– reminder that it was winter here–– work jeans, and hiking boots. Peeking out from underneath the jacket was a collared shirt with a pocket in front housing a row of ordered pens. Topping off the look was a shock of combed back white hair; he reminded me of the sort of jovial grandpa every child hopes for.
After we got the paperwork done for the rental car and purchased fresh coffee to warm us up, we loaded our gear into the Hyundai SUV and began our drive. As Errol drove, he told us that we would be heading south along the Pacific Highway, past the Gold Coast, to the Great Lakes region—where some of Australia’s coastal dune lakes are located.
We talked about many things, from Australian culture to politics to local cuisine, and Dr. Stock offered us a crash course on the dune lakes/coastal lagoons found in Australia: There are the Noosa Lakes, lakes and lagoons in and around Coorong National Park, the Great Lakes, Gippsland Lakes, dune lakes on Fraser Island, and coastal lagoons found close by the city of Perth. Some are very old, like the ones on Fraser Island northeast of Brisbane, near the Great Barrier Reef––they are around 600,000 years old. The ones we were headed to, the Great Lakes in New South Wales, are around 120,000 years old. This is much, much older than the lakes we have in Florida—mere children at about 5,000 years old.
Dr. Stock reaffirmed what I had learned from Dr. Kjerfve: sometimes coastal dune lakes around the world are also called coastal lagoons. “The scientific fraternity would probably put them all under the term “lagoons” simply because of the way that the study has developed from different parts of the world.”
After driving for a few hours and learning much about the local lakes, we stopped in a small town for lunch. I had a lamb burger with chips (As in the UK, chips=French fries. In the UK and Australia, chips=crisps. So, an Aussie would call a bag of Doritos “crisps” and a plate of French fries “chips.”). The dipping sauce for the fries was fresh sour cream and sweet chili sauce, a delicious combination that I told Dr. Stock I would take back with me to the U.S.
After lunch we switched topics to Australian culture, particularly slang, as we quickly discovered Dr. Stock’s phraseology was different. For example, a car pulled out in front of him and he had to slam on the brakes, cursing:, “Rotten rat bags!” Later, when talking about our schedule for tomorrow he remarked on how great it is, saying, “Well, that’s fan-bloody-tastic!”
Finally, after eight hours of driving, we arrived in the Great Lakes region, tired and hungry. Before heading out to the farm cabin where we would be staying, we headed into the local town, Buladelah, for supper.
We ate at a small shop specializing in pot pies and pizzas. The sole chef/waiter was a pot-bellied grizzled fellow with black and white checkered pants loosely tied underneath his gut, and a grubby white T-shirt partially covered with a flour-dusted apron.
He approached our table, wobbling forward like an unbalanced Russian nesting doll, and looked us over with two beady eyes set deep within his porcine face. “Watchu havin’?”
I ordered a sausage pizza and Dad and Errol ordered chicken pot pies. He wrote it down on a notepad dwarfed by his meaty hands. After slipping pen and pad into his pocket, he headed to the kitchen to make our food.
Our food arrived soon and I must say that it was pretty decent. When we left the café to head to the farm cabin, the sun had already set. The farm cabin was located in Boolambayte, a village around 15 minutes away from Bulahdelah (there is a tongue twister for you: Bob builds barns by Boolambayte, but Bob builds banks by Bulahdelah).
Dad had picked this place because of its relative closeness to our filming locations. As we drove to the farm, we missed our road and drove a few miles down a logging trail, but eventually made it to the cabin where we would be staying for the next few days.
I checked my phone before opening the door and it read 8:30 pm—what a long day! I stepped outside and looked up at the stars—brightest I’ve ever seen. I told Dr. Stock that even though we live in a rural area in Florida, the surrounding light pollution from the southeast United States still hazes over the stars. He said the stars are even brighter in the Outback of Australia since large cities are nonexistent in the interior of the country.
We unpacked, showered off the collected travel crud, and went to bed.
The journey continues with Australia’s Great Lakes Part II: Smiths Lake.