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UNCP student wowed by semester in Australia

By Colleen Griffiths
Senior Staff Writer    

Australia is a nation most recognized by Americans for its obsession with surfing, cute koalas and bouncing marsupials.

Thoughts of Australia bring forth images of the shell-shaped slopes of the Sydney Opera House, of the desolate Outback and the rugged people who dare to live in harsh conditions of extreme heat and isolation.

The sun over the Pacific Ocean from Kuata, an island in Fiji.

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After living and studying at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia,for five months as an exchange student, I realized that some of these preconceptions of Australia are true - the nation does have beautiful beaches and the Opera House is an amazing work of art that can only be fully appreciated in person.                     

However, I also came to understand that the notion that Australians are miniature clones of characters such as Crocodile Dundee and Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin is incorrect.

Over 80 percent of the Australian population lives in or near cities by the coast, and the usage of words such as ‘crikey’ are rare; I heard the word used for the first time after I had been in the country for almost five months.

Wild Aussie Nasties

Before I left to visit the country, I made a list of the creatures to avoid in a notebook conveniently labeled, “Things in Australia that Can Kill Me.”        

All fall under four basic categories: spiders, snakes, marine life and the Outback. The land Down Under is home to many of Earth’s most venomous creatures, such as the inland taipan, whose venom is 50 times more toxic than that of the king cobra’s.

A colorful Sydney tour bus waiting for passengers.

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Also native to the island continent is the world’s most dangerous animal: the box jellyfish. The box jellyfish is found only in the coastal waters of Eastern Australia, and people who have survived encounters with the jellyfish say that the sting is more like an electric shock than a burn. Death can occur within three minutes of being stung.
Strangely enough, many Australians are unaware that they are sharing their backyard with extremely venomous animals. When I asked an Australian classmate about the box jellyfish and other dangerous creatures, she responded with a casual, “Just stay away from the water during the summer.”
I adopted a general philosophy of ‘don’t mess with the wildlife’ during my stay in Sydney, but I soon realized that the odds of crossing paths with these creatures is low.
I experienced two encounters with deadly Australian wildlife during my five month stay, and there was no actual contact with the animals. I saw two redback spiders (cousins to the black widow) in a hollow brick; the other animals I saw, such as carnivorous insects called meat ants, I viewed from zoo enclosures.
By the end of my stay in Australia, I realized that although the animals in the country may be much more deadly than anywhere else in the world, they are treated with the same amount of thought and respect that we give to water moccasins or the black widow. Their presence is accepted and we prevent an attack by staying away from them.

A parrot at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia.

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Tropical Bird Paradise
Although Australia may appear to be a hostile continent, it actually contains some of the most amazing wonders in the world.                        
Ancient rainforests are located in Western Australia and Queensland, a state in the northern part of the country. Tropical birds such as lorikeets and parrots are as common as pigeons, but the bright reds, blues, greens and yellows of their plumage make them an amazing sight to see.                                 

During my first week in Sydney I was caught in a sudden downpour. The rain had disturbed a flock of birds, who were screeching their displeasure at the unexpected storm. I looked up and was surprised to see dozens of white cockatoos in flight. I had never seen cockatoos outside of a pet store, and it was then that I realized that these birds were wild, like the cardinals or sparrows in North Carolina.
It seems obvious that cockatoos and lorikeets are wild animals, but I had always known them as pets. Over the months in Australia I was to have many similar realizations about the differences in life in Australia and the United States.

Clockwise Toilet Water

Wallabies at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney.

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One difference that everyone assumes to be true is that toilet water in the Northern Hemisphere drains in the opposite direction of toilet water in the Southern Hemisphere.
No matter how good of a conversation piece, that nugget of information is just not true. I flushed dozens of toilets and ran the water in sinks many times to determine whether I could see the water drain any differently than it does at UNC Pembroke. The problem was that I couldn’t actually see which direction the water was flowing.
It wasn’t until I did a little research online that I realized that there is no visible difference in the direction of water flow in a toilet flushed in Lumberton to one flushed in Sydney.
The reason, according to a web site run by Pennsylvania State University called ‘Bad Coriolis’ (, is that the deflection of wind and water due to the rotation of the Earth is too weak to have any effect on the direction of draining sink or toilet water.
The deflection, called the Coriolis Effect, curves to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere. It is because of the Coriolis Effect that hurricanes rotate counter-clockwise and cyclones  rotate clockwise.
Despite my disappointment upon learning that draining toilet water does not change within hemispheres, I had a lot of fun in Australia. I highly recommend the experience to anyone who is willing to travel and explore. Just be sure to keep an eye out for jellyfish.

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Updated: Tuesday, September 12, 2006
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