Saturday, 6 October 2012

Ups and Downs: Boyanup/ Yallingup/Dallyup

On a Thursday evening in September, four of us tossed in weekend bags and jumped in the van, heading for Busselton. We has arranged to stay with our British friends, Mike and Sue Miles. Sue and I were to participate in several Teacher Exchange activities, while our families carried on with sightseeing around Margaret River. It was a great plan. With blinding sunset light and a concern for possible kangaroos on the road, Kees drove west with gripping concentration. Nightfall is not a great time to travel through forest and farmland. We spotted one large bouncer several meters ahead of us, but he cleared the highway safely.
We took a break at a favorite sushi shop in Collie, about an hour from Williams, for takeout dinners. Driving on through inky darkness, we were relieved to arrive at our destination by 8 pm, happy to visit with Sue and Mike Miles for a while before settling into their comfy guest beds.
 Friday was a day to remember. Sue and I headed back up the highway 47 km to Boyanup, where the Primary School was expecting about 10 of us. We were introduced at the school assembly, which made all exchange teachers feel honored, indeed. Impressive performances and fantastic art work displays around the small school of 145 students kept us well entertained. We were toured around the school and beautiful grounds, with it's many examples of environmental stewardship, student projects and conservation strategies. Then we were treated to a delicious table of fresh home baking with our morning tea break, compliments of the Boyanup teachers. Next came our chance to teach a class or two about our respective countries. It was impressive to see the rapt attention and hear the many eager questions that students had for us. We felt like rock stars. They seemed to adore us. A short 20 km drive away was our next school to visit, Capel Primary. Friday was their "Clubs Day" , when students who earn good standing get to choose from a range of activities around the school. But first, as visitors, we were treated to a catered lunch of fresh fruits, sandwiches and desserts. Yum!
Next, we were invited to tour freely around the campus and observe any classrooms we liked, with one room assigned as ours to present to. Again, rapt attention and very interesting questions from eager learners followed our slide shows and speeches about our home countries. I noticed evidence of much cooperative teaching and learning at this school, with open concept classes of 48 students, led by 2 teachers, who share the planning and instruction. It was interesting to chat with lead teachers who train the staff on cooperative teaching strategies, following an American model and resources that I recognized from my teacher training some decades ago.
Club options included golf on the lush sports field, driver's ed using a golf cart, and fishing in the stream that bordered one side of the school grounds, just beyond a fringe of massive gum trees. Their principal admitted that he enjoyed taking groups down to the nearby beach on occasion, as there were more fish to be caught in the Indian Ocean. It was just minutes away.
What a great place this would be to work!
We left that school to convene for a special debriefing at the Capel Pub, where we enjoyed the intense spring sunshine and well-chilled beverages.
It was an important sharing of the day's observations, including a toast to Terry Syverson's birthday.
Never a dull moment was spent. Two more events were on our agenda. First, we doubled back to see the 4 pm milking at Kitchen's Dairy. Who knew that milking cows has become so technical? With a rotary milking station that read each microchipped cow, computerized testing and recording of data makes it possible for 2-3 people to milk up to 400 cows in about 2 hours! Automated testing adjusts feed levels for optimum milk protein and fat contents, while milking machines gather and chill product for collection by outside milk producers. All this happens in about 10 minutes per cow, which has walked into the rotary milking bay and backed out again, on it's own. All the farmers did was spray clean the udders and connect the pumps to the teats. Of course, they do many other things to get that 30 liters of milk per day from each cow, but the actual automated milking that occurs twice daily is very efficient.
We also observed newborn calves and learned about how they are trained to accept milk from automated stalls that read their microchips and monitor health. It is all quite an efficient family business operation, but one that requires long days and few holidays, due to the lack of willing new workers. With the huge draw of the mining industry, where workers can make impressive money, few are interested in dairy farming. It is a wonder how a few dedicated farming families can carry on providing this basic food for so many. Can it last? At a mere $1.00 per liter for milk in the grocery store, it is not priced high enough for struggling dairy farmers to profit.
I no longer take fresh milk for granted.

What next on our very full agenda, you might wonder? We returned home to Busselton, while the rest of the exchange teacher families went to farms where they had been billeted.
While Sue and I grabbed the bikes for a sunset spin down the beach, Kees and Mike whipped up a delicious Mexican meal, which we all enjoyed while swapping stories of our adventures.
It's particularly wonderful to have friends to share our time here with, especially other teaching exchangees who share an understanding of this challenging year-long experience. Sue and Mike also  make terrific hosts!
Saturday was a day to explore. We had breakfast outdoors on their pretty deck, then drove to Dunsborough, a beautiful coastal town about 30 km away. We checked out the shops, then picked up our picnic lunch at the Dunsborough Bakery and drove to a very picturesque spot called Meelup Beach, on the way to a lighthouse. I loved that beach! Crystal turquoise waters lapped gently over golden sand and a few rocky outcroppings, perfect for beach combing and climbing. Grassy parkland shaded by gum trees made it an ideal spot for lunch. I never wanted to leave!
Outvoted, I was led away two hours later, as our mission was to find caves to explore near Yallingup. We caught the last tickets and were led into the bowels of the earth, 11 stores underground. Ngingli Caves displayed fascinating limestone formations, including excellent examples of "shawls", which look like ribbons of fabric . Backlit, they can resemble limestone strips of bacon, created by groundwater seeping into the subterranean depths. Bands of color reflect mineral content and surface changes; grayish reddish bands carry soot from forest fires and whitish bands reflect years of heavy rainfall.
Density of the slow- growing stalactites astounds, as sample artifacts weighed heavy in hand. At a growth rate of only about 3 cm per century, the variety and size of formations were both truly awesome.
Still more on our agenda: return to Boyanup for a mix and mingle, then a hearty potluck dinner, served by the wonderful teachers and Parent Council of Boyanup Primary. Without a doubt, their hospitality and cheerful company made us all feel very welcome and appreciated. Coffee and more delicious homemade desserts were enjoyed as we visited with the colorful, interesting locals, who told many tales and invited us all back again soon.
With a fresh start on Sunday, we bade our fine friends goodbye and headed out seeking groceries for home, Farmer's markets and other points of interest. In Dallyup, we stopped at a small market seeking fresh fruit. I found apples and oranges. Gina found a duck. She was smitten with the wee fella, so as unlikely as it may sound, we bought a duckling. I have never seen her so happy!
Our plan was to visit the Peel Zoo, near Mandurah. It was a 2 hour loop out of our way, but well worth the drive. Gina managed to part with her new pet for a time, as we toured through a very interactive experience. There were snakes to hold and baby tazzy devils to touch, kangaroos to feed and birds to dance with. Upon inquiring about koalas, we were escorted into their enclosure and allowed to reach into the tree branches to touch the snoozers, who seemed not to notice us at all.
The most fun was chatting with cheeky cockatoos and friendly parrots within the aviary. We have great pictures and videos of our interactions with many of these friendly birds. With little coaxing, they rode on our shoulders and heads, all hungry for attention and snacks. After such close encounters, I have a much keener appreciation for those colourful birds that I catch glimpses of in the wild.

Home again, we unloaded the van and helped Gina joyously settle in with her new pet, delighted to have her own tiny pal to adore and care for.

On a very sad note: the wee duckling expired three nights later. Gina remains devastated, upset to this day. We hope time will help heal her broken heart.

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