Australia Sustainable Food, Environment, & Social Systems 2017

Blog site for the 2017 MSU study abroad program.

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Day 20

Today we immersed ourselves in the Indigenous culture of the region. After packing up and leaving the hotel at Cairns, we went to the Wuchopperen Health Care Center. The center has been around for about 40 years and provides services for Indigenous people of the area. Health coverage is available to all Australians but Aboriginal medicine has historically been holistic in its approach and as such, many modern Western practices are not appropriate. We learned that around 90% of Indigenous people from the Center suffer from diabetes and heart disease. Even more startling was that the average life expectancy for men is 50 and 55 years old for women. This is due to the sudden introduction of Western food into Aboriginal diets that are not equipped to handle highly process foods. Despite these statistics, the Center has been doing a fantastic job at helping their people to live healthier and longer lives. To learn more about their work, visit their website at

After, we had the opportunity to go on a Dreamtime Gorge Walk in Mossman, Queensland. Our guide, Skip, was a Traditional Landowner and of the “Bama” People, or the People of the Rainforest. Before going into the forrest, we all participated in a traditional smoking ceremony where smoke from a bonfire cleansed us of bad thoughts, masked our smell to animals, and made it such that we all smelled the same and were able to “move as one” throughout the forrest. We learned about many native plants that are used for medicines, paint and even saw how they make soap! Unfortunately (or, rather, fortunately), there wasn’t much wildlife to see but there were King Parrots and wild turkeys that accompanied us on the walk. Skip also performed the Dijorido (something that the rest of us were massively unsuccessful at).

We had a nice lunch at the Junction Cafe in Mossman and then continued on to our hostel in Yungaburra. It’s a small lodge that’s working on being completely green. Check it out at A Traditional Landowner, Jai, met us there and shared information about the 7 local tribes, 3 of which were pigmy tribes! Jai also shared with us the resin of the top of a plant that is used to help improve memory. After a dinner, we had a Reflection and all went around and shared our favorite part of the trip so far. The Great Barrier Reef and the Grampians were common answers but we all agreed that the memories we’ve made and the friendships we’ve formed have been the best part. And with that sappy conclusion, it’s time for us to sign off.

Cheers mates!
Katelyn and Eriel




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Day 18

G’Day Mates!

Today, we left Adelaide and began our journey to Cairns. We had to say goodbye to our incredible guide, Flick, who has only made our adventures here in Australia even more extraordinary! It was bittersweet but we are so excited to make even more memories in Cairns! We had a layover in Brisbane and landed in the beautiful, warm, and sunny weather here in Cairns in the early evening. After settling into our hotel, we went to a presentation about the Great Barrier Reef held by Julie Carmody. We learned about how different industries are both positively and negatively impacting the reef, such as farming practices, climate change, and even tourism. We also learned about an invasive species, Crown of Thorns Starfish (COTS), that consumes the coral, which has degraded the reef over time. It was a great way to learn more about the marine ecosystems here before our reef trip tomorrow! Our night ended with a great meal at the Cock & Bull Pub in Cairns where we all sat together and enjoyed our meals as a group outside. It was a great way to end the day and we are all really looking forward to tomorrow!


The group at dinner at Cock & Bull Pub!

Here is more information about the Great Barrier Reef:


Alyssa Abendroth and Brooke Bain

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Day 17: Saturday, May 2017

Today we woke up at the Adelaide YHA, had a simple breakfast, and got ready to attend the Adelaide Central Market. Chris and I decided it would be best to split everyone into four groups of six. Each group was on their own at the market and had specific food groups to purchase for our tailgate later. 
The Adelaide Central Market is only open select days a week. Local farmers set stands up and sell their fresh fruits, veggies, meats, cheeses, etc. The market was very similar to the Queen Victoria Market we went to in Melbourne. However, the Adelaide Market seemed much busier and appeared to have more regular customers. Part of today’s assignment was to create a sustainable meal. As a group, we decided to make a nacho bar with guacamole, veggie trays, fruits, and beverages. Each group compared prices between the Adelaide Central Market and the local supermarket Coles. Locally grown foods are typically more sustainable due to the decrease in transportation involved (food miles), supporting local economy, and traceability of food products. Some groups found that the produce was cheaper at the market compared to Coles, while other groups found that since we needed such large quantities of food items that purchasing items from Coles made much more sense for our $50 budget for each group of six. 

Before the footy game, everyone got together and cooked/prepared our nacho bar meal and appetizers. We served this buffet style and stuffed ourselves. We then walked to the footy game, where all of us surprised Flick with a gift. This was our last night with her, so everyone chipped in and bought her a footy jersey for her favorite team, the Adelaide Crows. The Crows ended up winning 145 points to 43. Everyone was decked out in Crows gear and quickly learned the ins and outs of the game. After the Crows victory, we all headed back to the YHA to finish off our left over nachos from earlier. Tomorrow we are flying to Cairns up to warm weather! The entire group is very excited! 
G’Day Mates! – Alyssa C & Chris
These are photos from the Adelaide Central Market where we all shopped to find our sustainable tailgate meal! 

These are photos from the footy game and everyone in their Crows gear!

Adelaide Central Market:

Adelaide Crows Footy Team:

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Day 16: Exploring Adelaide

A photo of the front desk at the Adelaide City Council.

Picture 1: A view of the front desk of the Adelaide City Council

After enjoying a wonderful breakfast at the YHA, we all headed on foot to the Adelaide City Council building to have a talk with Peter Nattrass, a leader of Carbon Neutral Adelaide. He discussed how Adelaide has a goal to be the world’s first city that is completely carbon neutral – the same goal as the fellow Australian city of Melbourne. He explained that there were two main reasons for this transition: the fact that there is an economic driver because of the decreasing costs of renewable energy sources and the simple fact that it must be done due to the fact that non-renewable energy sources continue to become more and more scarce. The goal of Adelaide becoming a carbon neutral city was announced by the state (South Australia) government; but he mentioned that it is essential that the people are behind it as well. Peter discussed also how Adelaide is trying to get more people to move into the city area through the convergence of smart, green, livable, and creative. There are free buses and trams all throughout the city as well as widely available bike lanes. He finally put a large emphasis on electric vehicles, saying that the ideal is for everyone to have electric cars as transport currently accounts for around 35% of city carbon emissions. 

For more information on the Carbon Neutral Adelaide project, visit this website:

A view of the vineyards on site at Wirra Wirra Winery

Picture 2: The stretch of beautiful wine grape trees at the winery. 
After finishing up at City Council, we all hopped back on the bus to take about an hour drive to Wirra Wirra Winery. We met with Richard Wellsmore, a vineyard manager, and he gave us a quick tour of the grounds. The first thing he discussed with us was their technique of biodynamic viticulture, meaning that they use composting methods to help grow their grapes. This is a real positive on a sustainability standpoint because it allows for “waste” to be used as fertilizer for the crops.  It takes around 4-5 years until the crop is ready to be picked. Wirra Wirra own their own compost on site and are capable of finishing 200 tons of compost per year. Another interesting thing Richard mentioned was that they spray silicon on the crop according to the water signs (astrology), because silica has a drying effect on the atmosphere. He also showed us a flow form machine that would spin compost mixture two different directions, creating a vortex effect.  There is also a waste water treatment plant on site that transports the completed water to 128 on-site sprinklers that water 2500 native trees. After the amazing tour, we got to taste two different lovely wines and have a bratwurst lunch on the barbecue!

A display briefly explaining what desalination is all aboutAn outside view of the Kauwi Interpretive Center, where we had our brief presentation before the tour

Picture 3: A display showing a brief description of desalination

Picture 4: An outside view of the Kauwi Center where our presentation took place. 
Our final stop of the day was the Adelaide Desalination Plant, a facility where sea water is turned into drinkable water. We first had a brief presentation in the Kauwi Center; Kauwi being the translation for water of the indigenous Kaurna people. The plant has a full school and community education program so that the public knows what is occurring at the plant and how it is being done. The plant was born because of the Millenium Drought that lasted somewhere between 1997-2009. The land that was used to build the desalination plant was purchased from an oil refinery, cost $1.8 billion to build, and was completed in 3 years. The plant is able to provide 50% of all Adelaide’s drinking water needs. The technique used to convert the sea water into drinkable water is reverse osmosis, which means the water goes through a filter and will flow from concentrated levels to unconcentrated levels. For every liter that enters the plant as sea water, about 1/2 liter drinkable water comes out. This drinkable water is transported directly into treated water tanks run by Happy Valley to go straight to customers. The plant also uses 100% renewable energy and utilizes 200 KW solar power systems. We were then taken on a tour of the plant to see how everything worked for ourselves, but unfortunately no pictures were allowed. It was extremely interesting to learn about this because we may soon be faced with a situation due to global warming where natural fresh water is difficult to come by, so it is encouraging that this is a rather successful solution/option.

After this, we headed back to the YHA and everyone had a free evening to explore the city, have some dinner, and have a fun night out on the town!

We are enjoying our time down under and hopefully you’ll stay tuned for our remaining adventures!


Sarah and Alyssa K. 

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First Day in Adelaide!

We woke up bright and early today to make the drive to Adelaide. To help break up the day, we made two stops.

First stop, Nick’s estate! Nick is Flic’s brother and it was very kind of him to show us his property. It was simply beautiful, with a fairy garden and tea room, it seemed picture perfect. Better yet, some of the food they had came straight from their own local garden. They had a small amount of greenhouses where they grew cucumbers, and some lemon trees in the back. It was all powered by solar power too, everything on the property so they had those panels in the back.

This is a picture of a Fairy Garden at Nick's property

The Fairy Garden

The second stop of the day was at a site on the Murray River with aboriginal people. The site was uninhabited and was beautiful by nature. We went on a hike around the area and up a cliff surrounding the river nearby. On the hike we learned from an indegenious man named Sam, who graciously volunteered to tell us a bit more about their culture and history. He told us how the plants and animals in the area were used to survive and the types of resources they had available to them. At the bottom of the cliff, Sam showed us some carvings that the aboriginals used to communicate and record their history. There were somethings that were kept secret between the tribes of the past that weren’t recorded, and those still remain a mystery to the indeginous today.


Photo of the carvings from the aboriginals about 8,000 years ago

This is a photo of the top of the cliff from mid way through

View from the middle of the cliff towards the top with the blue sky

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Day 11: Last Day in Mildura

IMG_9925Day 11 started our last day in Midlura with a canoe trip down the Murray River and King’s Billabong. We had a beautiful morning, not a cloud in the sky and warm temperatures! We also saw some great wildlife! Our guides, Brad and Damian, gave us an overview of the area and the old and new water pumping systems used. The group had a scenic trip through the river with the occasional splashing war started by Collin and Nick. Our afternoon consisted of visiting the Sunsalt mine in Mildura. Phil and Alison Stone were great speakers about the process and details of salt harvesting. We were also lucky enough to get a taste of salted chocolate that uses the salt from Sunsalt. Part of the tour stopped at a water body with a very high salinity that some people chose to stick a finger in for a taste. Some people also got a sample of salt from the top of the ground we were standing on. At the mine we learned how the famous pink salt is extracted and used in many different industries. Now we are on to Calperum Station!

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Day 13 & 14: Calperum Station

We got a taste of the outback in our two days at Calperum Station. 
Our first morning, we drove out roughly 20km from the main camp to spend a few hours helping to restore Mallee habitat by planting almost 1500 trees. This planting not only contributed to the South Australian effort to conserve the at-risk population of black-eared miners, but it also helped us offset some of the carbon footprint our group created by flying to this country. Our leader, Chris, was even kind enough to buy the group a round of beers and share a meal with us after a hard day’s work, which couldn’t have been more appreciated!

Members of the pink team in action, digging holes and planting along drip irrigation linesMembers of the pink team in action, digging holes and planting along drip irrigation lines
The group poses with the MSU flag at the end of the work day. Who will plant 1500 trees? Spartans will!The group poses with the MSU flag at the end of the work day. Who will plant 1500 trees? Spartans will!

For day two, we began with a 5km nature walk along a tributary of the Murray River. On this trek, we learned about the ways in which indigenous tribes used the trees and plants on the river banks for varied purposes, from building canoes to sources of food. Some of us even tasted the berries of the salt bush the Aborigines would have commonly gathered! Perhaps the most special part of this walk, however, was that it was led by participants in the Australian Landscape Trust, which is a program aimed at reestablishing a connection to country for members of the Aboriginal community while working to preserve the native environment. 

Len Davis leads us along the river bank, sharing his knowledge of native flora and fauna
Since we need some “study” in study abroad, the afternoon was dedicated to writing essays based on the experiences we’ve had in the past two weeks in Australia. In the evening, we celebrated the completion of our first exam in true outback fashion—with a campfire, stargazing, and a few local brews. 

Flick's masterfully built campfire kept us toasty as the night cooled downFlick’s masterfully built campfire kept us toasty as the night cooled down

While we certainly enjoyed our time away, we’re ready to get back in the hustle and bustle as we move on to Adelaide. 


Tatum and Alex V. 
To learn more about either the efforts to save the black-eared miner or the Australian Landscape Trust, be sure to follow the links below!