Or: Why you should do fieldwork

By Tanja

After last weeks post covered “why you should do fieldwork” this weeks post covers “why you should do fieldwork”. As promised – a sort of daily account of all the fun and action.

Figure 1: A bit of Rottnest island. Still haven’t booked it? How will you ever see the adorable quokka?! Google images just won’t do it justice!
Source: AustralianTraveller.com

Day 0

Free day before the actual work. Spent it on the Rottnest Island (Figure 1). Beautiful place, highly recommended for a 2-3 day vacation. Lots of cute quokkas (Figure 2), two amazing lighthouses, scenery galore and – oh my god – the beautiful beaches.

Go. Book it.

You can cycle the entire island in one day and you will still have more to see.

Figure 2: Artist impression of a quokka.

Day 2

After servicing a station with the rest of the crew (three guys) somewhere in the red bush outside of Esperance, I had to quickly pee before proceeding. So I moved away from the cars and squatted. As I was relieving myself, from the bush across from me (~2m away) a snake crawled out and started moving towards me. First I cursed silently and since that didn’t stop the snake and didn’t minimize the chances of it crawling right past my backside I had to throw away my pride and modesty, risking the guys to see me – and I stood up.

The snake stopped. I looked at it. It looked back at me as it caught me (literally) with my pants down.

I guess it decided “Daymn I don’t want to bite THAT” because it turned around and crawled back where it came from. After visually inspecting the area around me I squatted back and finished my business.

Coming back to the car (the guys luckily didn’t witness this brave battle) I told the rest of my party what happened. Christian (the trip leader, and the person who actually needs the seismic array) had this to say: “Figures, I’ve been here so many times, never saw a snake and you get to see one on your second day”.

Day 3

After installing a station I touched onto my pants pocket where I could feel the outline of my camera and asked my trip leader if he needs a photo of the location. We needed some before because we installed two in the Cape Arid National Park and the park ranger asked us to take and later send her photos so she knows what they look like. The trip leader said this wasn’t necessary as we’re not in the park anymore. Leaving my camera in the pocket I walked back to the car, where I remained until we reached our next camping spot in the middle of nowhere. As I sat down on the camping chair and popped open a can of EMU beer I asked “where is my camera?”. Searched everywhere in the car, in and around it and the camping gear, everywhere on the camping spot – camera was nowhere to be found. We weren’t that far away from the station we just installed and the guys assured me it is probably still lying there. Umar and I will go and look for it in the morning.

In the middle of the night something wakes me up. Through the opening of my swag I observe a dark outline of something grazing next to Umar’s swag. It looked like a camel or a horse. I fall asleep.

Day 4

First time that our party separates into two groups (one car in each group, two people per car). According to our trip leader Umar and I had three easy stations to service. Not very far away, easy to reach… we will be finished by 2 o’clock, three at the latest.

Figure 3: Fraser range station. This photo taken from the logo of www.fraserrangestation.com.au features the cottage where we stayed

Umar and I started very early to get my camera and start this easy service as quick as possible. We wanted to reach Fraser Range station (our stay for the night, Figure 3) as soon as possible as it was our 4th day without a shower. Went back to the station, looked everywhere – couldn’t find a camera. And you’re wondering why there are no photos in this post that I shot myself? The camera is still somewhere out there. The guys reckon it might be found when someone comes to service the station next time (3-6 months from now). It is game on for all the fieldies in WA now.

Anyways… It took us around two and half hours to reach the station we had to service. It was a really shit road with lots of obstacles and holes and bumps. When we finally reached an approximate location of the station, the GPS informed us that the station is now 560m from the car. In the bush. Through the very thick f***ing bush. And so Umar and I started through the bush, him hauling a heavy recorder. Found the station and replaced the battery. Walked back to the car (we exited about 200 m to the right of it, as stupidly we didn’t take its position – it is easy to get lost in the bush). At the car, I check the data on the laptop – no good. We have to change the recorder entirely. This time we took the position of the car and walked back through the bush, exchanged the recorder and then again got back to the car. This whole endeavor of servicing took just over 45 mins. By the time we were ready to go to the next station it was lunchtime and we knew – we are not finishing by 2 o’clock.

Took us another hour and a half to reach the second station. We had a flat tire on the way there. When that happened, Umar started freaking out about all the smushed crackers in the back of the car. They got smushed because of all the holes, bumps and bush bashing. Which is also what caused our flat tire. I said something like “so this tire”“Nevermind that, look at these crackers!” Umar interrupted. “They’re all over the place! How am I supposed to eat them now?! Don’t worry about the tire, that’s no biggie”. True to his word, he changed the tire in 15-20 mins, all the while cursing the crackers.

The second station was around 200 m into the bush, after another bumpy track. Also required a change of recorder.

By the time we reached the third station it was five o’clock, and we were still around ~1.5 hours drive from Fraser Range. Since we were in government vehicles and they are not really allowed to drive in the dark (it is frowned upon) we didn’t have much time (WA doesn’t have daylight savings). The third station was installed on an ants nest. Umar didn’t take his gloves with him that one time and payed for it. Everything that could have been wrong with this station was wrong – in other words, it didn’t work at all. Whenever we turned it on, it turned itself back off. We exchanged three different recorders and two batteries to try and correct for this but nothing happened. This means around 6 trips to and from the car through the bush. Eventually we didn’t know what to do and we took the recorder with us and left. Meaning there was no station there when we finished.

Figure 4: A part of Eyre highway that I have actually seen. This bit of road turns into an airstrip if needed. Umar tells me that what happens is you see an airplane descending towards you and you wildly swerve over to the side to let it land. Cursing everything and everyone as you do that. Straya.
Source: bonzle.com

On our way back when we finally reached a wide enough dirt road we pushed our side mirrors out again (we kept them in for bush bashing of course). In my mirror – horror – we see one of the flaps on our car broke and a seismic recorder is hanging over the side. Emergency stopping – quick check, everything seems to be ok and not missing. Keep going. Almost hit a kangaroo. After about 45 minutes of bush bashing and another ~40 minutes on Eyre highway (Figure 4) we reached Fraser Range station exhausted and pissed off around 7 o’clock. Luckily showers were available.

Aftermath: In the fridge my bacon was marinated in Corona beer that spilled all over because of bumpy tracks. Cherry tomatoes were smushed all over the fridge. Fatigue. And the necessity to go back to that last station again to put any recorder there sometimes later in the trip. Comfortable bed.

Day 5

Staying at trailer park in Norseman because total fire ban and 40+ degrees. Unexpected shower and bed.

Day 6

Camping in the bush again. While setting up camp I realize I have no idea where my sleeping bag is. Did you guess it? Fell out of the back of the car when our flaps broke.

Day 7

Returning to the station that was left empty – traveling back on the same road. And what do you know? In the middle of the road (about ~30 minutes from the spot where we realized our flaps broke two days before) lies a big, blue bulge of my sleeping bag. So much win!

Day 8

Fraser Range station again. Showers and bed again (yay!) Doing the laundry (yay!). Cleaning the smushed tomatoes in the fridge (yay!).

Apparently Billy the python (yes, the python) sleeps in the roof of the cottage where we are staying.

Days 9-13

Various hilarity. Moments worth of a photograph, but no camera in sight.

Towards the end of the trip, one of the last stations to serve…. We are very close to private property, farms and paddocks. We stop at a supposed location of our station, right next to the dirt road and the fence of someone’s farm. The GPS tells me I’m basically standing right where the station should be!

But it’s not there.

Umar observes the tracks on the side of the road leading straight to where I’m standing and with Sherlock-like precision breaks down the events: Someone brought a heavy vehicle (of bulldozer type) and pushed dirt and branches and whatnot to the side of the road, right where our station had been. Our station was hence buried a few metres beneath the visible pile of dirt I was standing on. Why would this happen? Maybe there was a reason. And maybe the farmer thought ANU is spying on him. Be as it may – as Umar put it: that station is half-way down to China bro.

Today we finish early. Obviously. 

Day 13

Kalgoorlie-Boulder. Showers and bed (yay!) Mining town, seems a bit dead but otherwise it’s good. I have phone reception!

Day 14

Visit to the Super Pit (Figure 5) – it is big. It is mind-boggingly big.

Super Pit_0
Figure 5: Kalgoorlie Super Pit.
Source: kalgoorlietourism.com

A tour of one of the last still working brothels in Kalgoorlie. Yes, you read that correctly. Mind you – and I have to stress this – we did this at our own expense. University or government were not involved in this. It was an… interesting… experience. A middle-aged madame was telling us stories while sitting next to a few massive…. Toys. Enough said.

Skimpy bars. The only type of bar you get to see in Kalgoorlie. Enough Said.

Taking all of this into account – this was probably the best Valentines day ever (and yes, it was Valentines).

Day 15

Flying Kalgoorlie-Perth-Canberra.

Moral of the story? You should do fieldwork, because you don’t just learn something. You get to laugh out loud, visit dodgy places, visit beautiful places and you get to lose your camera. Don’t take your camera.

Fieldies of WA – I get you a crate of beer if you find my camera and no photos end up on the internet! Game on.