Scenes from the Skeens

Archive for the 'Melissa’s updates' category

Trailer Park Skeens

July 8, 2007 12:23 am

We spent our two-week winter break driving in a rented campervan heading towards the Whitsunday Islands. We knew that we couldn’t leave Australia without seeing the Great Barrier Reef (not actually the whole thing, but a very small part).

Britz Campervan

After a very slow start in Brisbane, where we rented the campervan we set off for day one of our trip. Our goal was to reach the town of 1770 by dark. I was actually quite excited about seeing this town as I had just taught an Explorer’s unit to the Grade 5/6/7 class I was working with and I had learned a lot about James Cook and his contributions to Australia. The town 1770 is named after the year that Captain James Cook of the Endeavour and his crew landed on the shore here. Unfortunately after five hours of driving and reaching long, dark winding roads we decided to park the campervan in a park in Miriam Vale for the night and recuperate for the morning when we would have another seven hour drive before reaching Airlie Beach.

The next morning we drove (I should say Dan, as he did all the driving) to Airlie Beach. We were feeling a little glum about the trip at this point as we had driven through some very wet areas. We had also been experiencing our coldest temperatures in the Sunshine Coast (13 C) and had pulled out our long pants for the first time. We had all decided though that we were not going to let the weather ruin this long awaited trip. It also helped to know that we would be staying at a resort on Daydream Island for four days. It sounded a lot more appealing than a campervan.

We had heard from some Aussie friends that we would see a lot more roos at this end of Queensland. We just didn’t realize they meant mainly along the side of the road as traffic casualties. I had visions of one jumping out of the bush and having to somehow explain to Maddy that we had just killed a kangaroo. She gives Nate a hard time for stepping on ants so I knew she wouldn’t let us off easy.

On day three we took at ferry from Shute Harbour over to Daydream Island. It is the closest of the islands to shore, only ten minutes by ferry, and it is also the smallest. We were very pleased to be greeted by a host waiting for us with shell necklaces and tropical drinks. It made us think that somehow they were going to make all those clouds in the sky disappear. We spent a good part of the first day exploring the island. You can walk from one end to the other in under an hour. They have also constructed the world’s largest man made reef (as Maddy will tell you more about in her blog post.) All in all our time on the island was probably the best time of the whole trip. It is hard to believe that one small place provided us with a diverse range of boating activities, stingray, shark and fish feeding, amazing wildlife along with all the other activities such as swimming, snorkeling and bird feeding.


Maddy and Nate spent each morning feeding the large barrimundi fish or petting the shark stingrays. These experiences were as Nate described them to a friend of ours today, ‘so nervous and exciting at the same time, I almost cried!’ We were sad to leave after four days and I think it will be something the kids remember as a favorite part of their time in Australia.

Wallaby with Joey

Our last four days were spent at campgrounds; all were appealing for different reasons. After driving up Queensland along the coast we wanted to experience the hinterland or outback part of Australia on our way back.

Our stay at Eungella National Park was quicker than we would have liked it to be. We had a breathtaking view from our site and it was the morning we woke up to bright sunshine that continued for the rest of our trip. This was also an area where you are almost guaranteed a sighting of a wild platypus at a place called Broken River. Unfortunately after several days of hard rain they all seemed to be off in drier areas. We drove a little farther inland to Emerald and it looked like the weather was finally on our side. The drive was unlike anywhere else we had been before, although parts of it reminded us of Arizona.


You could see absolutely nothing besides trees, sand, termite mounds and a few hopping kangaroos for over a 100 kilometers before reaching a town that consisted of four houses and one shop (which had the four home owners sitting out front of it). A friend of ours had warned us about filling up with petrol at any station we came across so luckily we didn’t run dry. We also passed hundreds of termite mounds on our way. It took us a while to figure out what these massive mounds were. It seems obvious now as I explain it but they resemble massive anthills spread out throughout the deserted fields. I didn’t share out loud the thought of what would happen if you stomped one of these mounds because I knew Nate would be the first to volunteer for the experiment.


Our last two nights were spent at the Cania Gorge. This camping ground was set within the Cania Gorge National Park. The drive into the park was incredible and again breathtaking. I think the thing that surprises me the most about Australia and the areas that we have visited is that every place is so unlike the other. The array of wildlife also changes and we were happy to see that this particular area had a large variety of birds.


Maddy had spent her days on Daydream Island mothering the lorikeets that would feed out of her hands so she was doubly excited to see King Parrots and cockatoos flying around our site. Each day in the late afternoon you could feed the birds that lived in the area. We soon gave up our favoritism toward the lorikeets and bonded with the King Parrots who were a lot gentler and quieter than the lorikeets.

Rainbow Lorikeets

The absolute highlight of this park was the bettongs. A lot of you are probably saying, ‘the what?’ Bettongs are the smallest of the marsupial family and are very rare in Australia. For some reason this area was crawling with them. Every night while we were sitting around the campfire you would look down and see these small creatures digging holes in the ground looking for food or just snooping around the campsite for some scraps. They are incredible to watch as they hop just like a kangaroo but resemble a large hamster. It took all the kids strength to not try and pick one up. If they have the kangaroo’s hop I am sure they have the kangaroo kick as well.

Our drive home was thought provoking. We all agreed that it was going to be strange to arrive home and not have an over excited dog to greet us, but we also agreed that what we had missed the most about this ‘home’ was the beach. We have become so accustomed to seeing the ocean every day and walking along the beach. Now that our time here is down to ten weeks and counting it seems like too short of a time to do everything we would like to do. We do feel extremely lucky to have experienced all that we have. I just know I plan on spending each and every day here on out in some way or another on the beach………that is when I am not in the classroom!

A Rare pic of Dan and Mel

June 2, 2007 8:48 pm

Here’s one that Cathy shot when she visited recently.


Noosa Beach

8:36 pm

We’re about an hour’s drive from Noosa and that has quickly become our favorite weekend day trip. There is a national park there with amazing coastal views. We were lucky enough to find a koala bear munching eucalyptus leaves one day. Snorkeling is great too – just jump in anywhere and you’ll see dozens of large fish everywhere you look. And the beach… well, see for yourself.

noosa beach




Melbourne, (that’s Melboune if pronounced correctly)

April 21, 2007 2:41 pm

Upon booking our trip to Melbourne, I didn’t think one part of Australia could be much different than another. Granted, Australia is huge, although not as big as Canada. The distance between Brisbane and Melbourne is over 1,600 miles, which made the decision to fly rather than drive an easy one.

We arrived at Melbourne airport late Saturday evening. We took a rather expensive cab ride into St.Kilda where we had booked accommodation for two nights.

St. Kilda, Melbourne
I had read a few website descriptions and Lonely Planet guides on St.Kilda and knew that it was once an area mainly populated with druggies and prostitutes but the majority of information I read supported the areas recent upgrades and rising real estate costs. I did leave our hotel booking to the last minute and had a difficult time finding any vacancies at the Lonely Planet’s suggested hotels. We ended up finding an apartment right in the heart of St.Kilda, walking distance to the beach and Luna Park. Our host, Somer’s directions were to drive to the corner of Fitzroy and Canterbury and flag her down, she would be the blonde in jeans on the corner. I had visions of a nice, quiet street corner her being the only person in view. Our cabbie dropped us at the corner and we decided to hop out with the kids and luggage in tow and walk down the street a bit to find Somer. Our drop-off point just happened to be right next to the streets busiest bar. The kids watched in amazement as one bar participant (who had obviously drunk past his limit) puked onto the sidewalk. I was trying to think of a spiel I could give Nate and Maddy on this gentleman’s behavior. Something to the effect of, ‘He was obviously not feeling well and should have stayed home instead off drinking massive amounts of alcohol in a public place.’ Luckily he helped me out by moaning between hurls, ‘I’m such an idiot, I’m such an idiot.’ No discussion necessary.

Our second interaction with a Melbournian was with a lady (sober) who was walking down the main street with her friend and stopped to ask us if we were looking for someone. Our heavy suitcases and tired children must have given us away. We explained our situation and she was very welcoming and then spent the next few minutes telling us everywhere we should visit while in the area. We did find Somer after ringing her on her mobile. She was on the street looking for our cab, along with hundreds of other people, blonde and in jeans. She settled us into our apartment for the night, very welcoming with a cold bottle of wine in the fridge waiting for us.

The next morning we woke up refreshed ready to visit all of the spots our lady friend had mentioned the night previously. I knew I was going to like Melbourne right from the start when Dan brought breakfast to us that morning. Fresh chocolate croissants from the corner French patisserie. We were free from our local breakfast place whose specialty is baked beans on toast with as much greasy bacon as you like.

Our first stop was the St.Kilda market. In Queensland it is normal to be up at around 6 a.m. 5 a.m. if you surf. Again, I didn’t think one place would be much different from another. Wrong, the Melbournian way seems to be to stay up as late as possible and get up as late as possible. The market was just setting up at 9:30 a.m. when we arrived. The displays of artwork were very impressive and it was difficult to not want to make a purchase to take back home as a very nice souvenir item from our trip. Nate settled on a small silver wombat and Maddy picked up some hand drawn cards of her favorite dog breeds. Dan and I, as usual left empty-handed.

On our walk we came across Luna Park and promised the kids we would return the next day when we hoped things were not as busy.

We then decided to visit the Melbourne Museum. Melbourne MuseumWe took an easy tram ride over and spent the majority of the day looking around. We skipped the Wall of China exhibit but we were very impressed with all of the museum offerings, especially the Forest setting. There are huge gum trees growing right within the museum building with a natural forest setting around, including slimy skinks and large lizards. The kids were very impressed with all of their interactive activities.

After a day at the museum we returned back to the apartment to prepare for an evening cruise I had booked to see the little penguins that swim into St.Kilda pier upon dusk. I didn’t know too much about the actual boat except where to meet the owners and that we would be out on the water for approximately 90 minutes. Dan and I were both hesitant to take the trip, as we didn’t like the idea of the little penguins being bothered. We were happy to see that we were not part of a big boat expedition but a small fishing boat expedition with only one other family. They directed us that no flash pictures could be taken and that they would be waiting until the other big boats had passed. While we waited the kids were served one of their favorite Aussie meals, sausages on white bread as they counted 53 jellyfish off the boat side. We also got to see an amazing sunset around the city.
Melbourne skyline

We then noticed our little penguin friends making there way over to the rocks, ready to settle for the night. We took a very slow sail along the rock sides and started our penguin spotting. Nate and Maddy, along with another child passenger counted 103 penguins in total.

The next day before heading to our next destination we fulfilled our promise to the kids with a trip to Luna Park.
Luna Park
Poor Dan stood in an hour-long line (even though we were there before opening) so we could get a few tickets for the kids to ride on the roller coasters. I guess Dan thought this was the least he could do, as I was the one who had to accompany the kids on their rides. We all survived and then headed off to meet some extended family for the first time in nearby East Brighton.

We were all looking forward to meeting some family connections after three months with no Stacey/Skeen gatherings. Even in California we had a group of close friends who spent an amble amount of time with.

Chris and Merilyn were very welcoming when we contacted them through e-mail and as our trip was fairly last minute, they were very accommodating to put us up for three nights. To the kids delight they had an inground pool in their backyard. And as is the case with every pool we vacation with the kids swam until they couldn’t see straight the first day.

Chris is one of seven (maybe eight, my memory is failing me) brothers in the Ludowyk family along with Anne the only girl. My Mom grew up with her first cousins in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and until this summer had not seen then in over 30 years. Anne had organized a family gathering at her place in honor of our arrival, which was fantastic. Tim and Paul had come all the way from Geelong to meet with us. And David and his wife were also there. It was nice to meet some of my Mom’s side of the family and make a connection with some people whom myself and my brothers look a lot like! Most appreciated of all was how accepting everyone was of the kids, especially Nate and his entertaining ways.

We continued our week by visiting several other places in the little time we had. We had planned on doing a good part of the Ocean Road but only made it as far as Torquay. We made the mistake of getting out at the beach and not returning to the car until late afternoon.

One of the highlights of the trip was a top secret trip to Yarra Golf Club’s ninth hole at dusk. Ed, Anne’s husband volunteers with an environmental society and counts the flying foxes that take off from some trees within this area. At last count, Ed with some assistance, had counted over 18,000 in one evening. We waited patiently as the group of bats chattered away, eventually they took off all at once, slowly over top of us. It was truly an amazing, once in a lifetime sight. Maddy, animal enthusiast as she is, just sat and looked up, awestruck. Nate, of course had to take flight with the bats and ran all around as their take off lasted at least 20 minutes or longer. Both the penguin sightings and the flying foxes were nighttime adventures that we can only share through our memories, which make them even more awe-inspiring.

After a final day spent in the city (visiting Melbourne Cricket Grounds, Federation Square, Flinders Station and the Royal Botanic Gardens) I think what I enjoyed the most about Melbourne was how much it reminded me of the good parts of Toronto. Melbourne Cricket GroundIt is a very cultured city with so much to do and see. We will find it difficult to not spend more time there before our trip is over in November.

A Visit to Fraser Island

March 13, 2007 7:33 pm

As it is with any type of writing, if you don’t do it while it is fresh in your brain, the details will soon disappear. This is a task I find difficult now that I am in the swing of assignments at school and spending less time (but still a lot of time) exploring Queensland. One offer I could not turn down came from my Workplace Learning tutorial leader, Chris. He sent out an invitation to all Canadians to visit Fraser Island for the weekend, what he called ‘A Canadian Induction.’ He played light of the fact that the trip was completely paid for by the university and that we would be staying in cabins on the island. It also included free Aussie catered meals.
As soon as Dan heard he told me I had better accept or that he would be going in my place. So, I quickly accepted and packed for a night of ‘camping’ knowing full well that we would not be outdoors while sleeping, so my chances of being attacked by any reptiles, snakes or spiders was fairly unlikely.
We left USC campus at 6 a.m. on Adventure Tour Guides all terrain buses and drove to Rainbow Beach. Along the way we spotted several kangaroos and we also saw a dingo pup, all black in color, crossing the street. The drive from campus to Rainbow Island was a bit bumpy at times but not anything close to the rough terrain we were about to travel across on Fraser Island.
For those of you who have not heard of Fraser Island, it is the largest sand island in the world. It is approximately 123 km long and around 11 km wide, (if I am remembering our tour guide facts correctly!)

It is home to several different species of animals and plants…just like every other part of Australia basically. It is referred to as the dingo island as it is the only place in Australia that still has the original dingo breed. The rest of the dingo breed has been interbred with other dogs. Unfortunately we did not come across any dingoes during our stay and our tour guide told us that there is said to only be around 160 dingoes left on the island. Almost all of the walking areas and accommodation areas are fenced off, preventing the dingoes from entering public terrain. This is not to say that they cannot find ways in to feed off the garbage and food tourists leave behind. (Not that I was thinking about that when I had to walk to the toilet in the middle of the night from my cabin!)
fraser island
From Rainbow Beach we traveled on a barge over to the island. We were told you could see anything from dolphins to sharks and even manta rays. Unfortunately we did not see any of these. Being with three buses of 17 Canadians on each I can honestly say that everyone was completely amazed at the beauty of the island once we arrived on the shore and began our drive along the beachfront, often through water, to reach the rainforest trail where lunch would be waiting for us. Now because the tide was too high we had to drive onto an island ‘road’ as they call it, but it truly is just a one-way rocky path of sand. This is not a trip that could be taken by anyone with a slightly bad back or anyone who may have been drinking the night before…luckily there was neither of those on my bus.
After driving for quite some time we came to a hiking area (Wanggoolba Creek at Central Station) where we parked and our tour guide took us for a walk through the rainforest while our lunch was being prepared. Now, I was much more relaxed about this walk then our first walk through a rainforest for two particular reasons. For one, this walk was guided and on a boardwalk and second there were over 30 people with me. The chances of me spotting the first sand goanna were less likely! I also had a one in thirty chance of being bitten by a poisonous snake rather than one in four with Maddy, Nate and Dan.
fraser island rainforest
I think the thing that amazed me the most about the whole trek was the different type of plant life around us. You would think that it would be just tropical vegetation but we would walk through areas with redwoods and red gum trees as well, all growing in the same soil environment. Most significant is the angiopteris ferns, an ancient species boasting the largest single fern fronds in the world. That and the Wanggoolba Creek that can be missed if not looking closely enough at the sand, realizing that in fact there is clear water, not moving, on top of it.
fraser island stream
It was difficult not sharing this time with the kids and Dan but as luck would have it several of the boys/men on the trip partook in all of the child like scenarios Maddy and Nate would usually fulfill, like swinging from the tree vines and making jungle noises as we walked through the bush. Actually I should give Maddy and Nate more credit than that, they are great explorers and know how to keep quiet to spot any hidden wildlife. Luckily our only discoveries were tolerable from my point of view: an eel, and a few skinks.
After having a very quick delicious meal that was ready for us we took another bumpy drive to Lake Mackenzie. This lake is a crystal clear freshwater lake, bluey green in color and as warm as bath water. After swimming for half an hour I feel very much at home, probably because I am in a body of water that is not whipping me around and the quietness of the still water is so relaxing. Anyone who has swum in Lake Mackenzie will tell you how smooth and healthy your skin feels afterwards. One rewarding experience after another.
fraser island beach
To make a long weekend short I will skip over our evening festivities at the cabins and instead express a big thank you to the Education Department of USC. Especially Chris Dann who did a good job of incorporating education into the experience. Chris always reminded us when we were having fun that there was a way to turn the fun into a classroom experience (minus the wine). I also feel much more secure walking into an Australian classroom, having had some education in Aussie slang and sports! I had an amazing time.

Uni (or as us Canadians call it, university)

February 24, 2007 2:57 am

I thought the first week in to classes was a good time to write something inspirational rather than three months from now when I am in the thick of assignments and bored with the lectures.

For those of you who do not know, I am attending The University of the Sunshine Coast in Sippy Downs, Queensland completing my Graduate Diploma in Education. I spent last week attending Orientation week (for those Canadians reading, otherwise known as ‘frosh week’). I can see why they have toned it down to ‘orientation week’ here rather than ‘frosh week’ as things are a lot more tame and academic oriented. I can’t say I was too disappointed with that as I think I would have been pretty perturbed if I was attacked with shaving cream or had beer poured all over me on my first day on campus.

uni Sippy Downs is in a new area of the Sunshine Coast, around a twenty minute drive from the coast of Mooloolaba or Maroochydore. I have heard from students that are living on campus that they are a little disappointed by the school’s distance from any bars or drinking establishments. The closest and only tavern is a twenty minute walk away. And there are no bars on campus. I have decided this is the perfect setting for a post grad, who has been out of university for several years now and beyond the drinking years. OK , maybe not past the drinking years, but definitely past Monday night binge drinking.

We had heard from several people that the university was a wildlife reserve and that kangaroos were in abundance around campus. After three days of visiting, including one day with Maddy, with no roo sightings, I began to think I had to search some unknown area of the campus in order to see them. Then the day came, I was walking across campus along a paved path that is surrounded by grass and open fields. I could see a group of kangaroos ahead within a metre or two of the path I was walking on. I considered myself lucky to see them from a distance and continued walking slowly, hoping not to scare them off. I continued to do this until reaching within an arm’s reach. The most amazing thing was that they could care less that I was walking past them. One just politely hopped away from the path, almost to give me more room to get by.

I now see the kangaroos almost daily and although I never tire of watching them while eating my lunch, they have become another reality of life for me in Australia. This very long vacation is the start of an amazing year for all of us for different reasons.

My first impression of the classes at the university, like my impression of so many things here in Australia is a satisfying one. That is almost putting it too mildly but like I said it is only my first week in. I have to write all of my success stories early.

The University of the Sunshine Coast is small in comparison to most Canadian universities. This may explain the more interactive lectures and tutorials. My ‘Primary Curriculum’ class consists of 30 Canadians and one Aussie. Most profs would continue teaching the class as planned, with the Australian content, but this particular lecturer truly wants to see us succeed and is changing the content to match the Ontario guidelines.

My other lecturer for ‘Becoming a Teacher’ is a Canadian. He is the only prof who doesn’t post his lecture notes online prior to the class as he hopes to have all his 250 students show up. That and he doesn’t like to give away his Canadian jokes ahead of time. My brothers would be happy to know he is a Montreal Canadians fan and he has a collection of NHL Power Point presentations of the Canadians in brawl with the Leafs. His lectures are full of comic relief as well as verification from the students that every one is still awake during his lectures.

So, maybe it is the Aussie way of life that has us feeling so welcomed and satisfied or maybe it is the way that Canada has mingled in so well with our daily lives here, always reminding us where our true home is.

A Day at the Zoo

February 20, 2007 9:46 pm

We visited Steve Irwin’s Zoo, which is only about 15 minutes’ drive from here.








Thirty Minutes in an Australian Rainforest

February 4, 2007 2:09 pm

waterfallIt felt like hours! After watching a tourist channel on our resort’s television, advertising a ‘nice, family park with a beautiful waterfall.’, we decided to spend our Saturday afternoon doing a small hike at Buderim Forest Trail Park. It sounded quaint enough.

Upon parking in the empty lot, the first sign advertising the park got Maddy extremely excited and me immediately apprehensive and nervous. ‘Rainforest,’ it said, ‘300m.’ As I have done several times so far when experiencing something new and not so inviting, I talked myself through whatever worries and concerns were entering my head. The one thing that made me feel at ease was that most of Australian’s creatures are nocturnal and we had at least 4 hours before the sun set!

Within 700m of walking one of my worst fears appeared. I was very proud of myself when my first response was, ‘Look a lizard!’ I also waited at least a full minute before jumping onto a bench nearby. What in fact we had come across was a goanna. Around three and a half feet in length, resembling a thin hela monster, this reptile was not interested in being anywhere near us and slowly walked back into the bush.


‘O.K.’ I thought ‘If that is what we see at the start of our walk, what do I need to do to prepare myself for half way through?’ Maddy, my brave explorer too my hand and lead us all through deep into what I can only describe as my most eerie experience. Looking back (from my safe, air conditioned apartment) I can say that it was an amazing place, unlike any other setting we have ever been in.

We didn’t see any other wildlife besides the goanna, much to the kids and Dan’s dismay and my liking. As we traipsed on through the jungle setting I did become a little more comfortable with our surroundings. The most disturbing part of the experience was everytime I did feel my shoulders unhunching, the cicadas would chirp to a deafening sound (you had to cover your ears), just like you hear in a horror movie right before something terrifying happens. I guess it was just a fair warning that you never know what you may see when walking in an Australian bush!

Here we go again!

2:05 pm

I told myself I would never do it again. After three years in the Bay Area of California I didn’t think I would ever leave Canada again for more than a couple of weeks at a time. My mind was quickly changed when on a whim I applied to The University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia and was accepted into the Primary Teaching program.

Having gone through probably the most difficult and stressful month of our lives in our first month in California, (Maddy was only 15 months at the time) I knew the transition here couldn’t be anywhere as difficult. I can honestly say now, 11 days into our stay here in Australia, things have definitely been easier.

As you can see from Maddy and Nate’s ‘Top Five Things they love about Australia’, a lot of it has to do with the hot climate and the water. Lucky for us there is endless amounts of both here. I have to agree with the sun and heat vote as one of my top five. There is nothing better than waking up at 6:00 a.m. to the sun shining and the temperature already at 24 C.

Dicky Beach

As for the water, I love being so close to the ocean. Unlike Northern California, you can actually put your feet in without them immediately freezing. It is much different being close to the ocean versus a lake as much as I love that experience also. The smell of the salty air and the collection of seashells that wash ashore are different everyday. For now we haven’t seen anything too exotic clouding my peaceful viewpoint.

My travel partners (Dan, Maddy and Nate),love the ocean for other reasons, mainly they love to be IN the ocean, as much as possible. I am definitely a watcher and not a partaker in that respect. And as Maddy kindly vouched for me after seeing some photos I had taken while they were bodyboarding, ‘Wow, Mom! I can see why you’re always freaking out when we are in the waves.’ I am sure by the end of our trip here you will see at least one picture of me on a body board. Just as long as I can get one of the other Skeens out of the water to take the picture.