From Reef to Rainforest to Cyclone Yasi

Quite the experience so far! I’ve had some exciting days since flying up to Northern Queensland to visit from friends who I used to live with back in Kelowna. KB and Douggie were my flatmates in my first year of college. They both work on a large commercial reef ship, KB is a hostess and Douggie is an engineer for the ship. My second day here in Port Douglas included a helicopter ride out to a pontoon in the middle of the corral sea. From there I went on a glass submarine for a tour of the underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), it was absolutely amazing! Soon after I went on a private snorkel tour of the GBR with a marine biologist who taught me about the fish, corral and their ecosystem. I enjoyed some lunch and fine Australian wine on the pontoon, it was an amazing afternoon. Another interesting day included a trip through the rainforest to cape tribulation. This rainforest is immaculate, the most amazing forest with endless amounts of things to see. There is a large bird which looks similar to an ostrich, they call it a Cassaware. It’s a magical thing to see during the rain forest expedition, but most people who have lived here 5 plus years have never seen one. I kept saying to KB I think we are going to see one, and she kept thinking no way. And right in the middle of the road on our way home, a big beautiful Cassaware, with a peacock blue head and red feathers, was standing there looking at us. We stopped at 4 different beaches and found shells and crabs, went for a walk through the botanical forest and saw amazing tree structures that have been around for ions. It was pretty cool sensation being underwater looking at the amazing environment, now being in a rainforest, two different worlds only a few kilometres apart. We have spent a few days touring through port Douglas, a beautiful city built on tourism, nice fresh seafood by the seaside and trips to swimming holes in the gorge. We went into the native reservation here and KB explained how their social systems work here in Australia. They are quite different from the Ministry of Social development back home. Our Income Assistance policies are much stricter and we constantly battle for affordable housing. Here the ‘Doll’ – which is income assistance, is 320 weekly in BC, it is 610 monthly. Here those on assistance are provided with safe and affordable housing; back home most of my clients can be waitlisted for 2 years prior to getting into affordable housing. The main different I have noticed is the lack of homeless people on the street and buskers asking for money. Very interesting. I’m guessing the large amount of taxes and heavy tourism contributes to their social success here in Queensland. It has been hot and sunny until just a few days ago when the lurking Cyclone Yasi starting coming our way. Of course I choose to be in Australia when they have their worst flooding in 50 years and now their biggest cyclone ever seen in the past documented generations. Just perfect! The eye of the cyclone was due to hit 50 km south of us at Cooya Beach, and the eye being 100 km wide, would pass right over us. We prepared for the worst, getting fuel, perishable food and boiled tons of water. Gas stations ran out of fuel, markets ran out of food, it was an insane time. We taped all the windows so when the winds hit them they wouldn’t shatter everywhere. The storm was due to hit at 10pm on Wednesday night Feb. 3. We waited with extreme anticipation, watching the news and listening to the radio for constant updates. We put their two year old Xavier to bed praying he would sleep through it. Our bed for the night was a safe room in their walk in closet, where we had two mattresses on the ground for all of us to crawl into once the winds picked up. They forecasted 300 km winds with water rising to 7 metres. Very scary for the small town Canadian. Once Xavier was sleeping and the power cut out, we sat in the living room around a small tea candle and listened as the wind grew more forceful. We had a glass of wine to calm to the nerves and swapped stories of close calls with Mother Nature. Mine topped theirs as I was a survivor of Tsunami when it hit Thailand. It was a scary evening, however we were very lucky, as Yasi came inland it veered south and the eye moved towards Townsville, lessening the winds to 125km and leaving less destruction. We did some yard work the next day to pick up after the snapped trees and cleaned up the landscape. We lived without power for the next 48 hours, which is not easy in a hot environment. Their fridges and freezers defrosted very quickly, leaving perishable foods and yummy classic vegemite for our meals. All in all, an exciting but nerve racking adventure. I am due to fly to Perth on Feb. 12 where I will hopefully find affordable accommodation near the campus.

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About Nicole Ripley

Chosen as the 2011-2012 Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar for District 5060. I will be studying a Masters in Counselling Psychology at the University of Notre Dame in Fremantle, Australia. I will be hosted by the Rotary Club of Attadale and South Bunbury in District 9465.
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