Some Aussie Fun: Tours, Treats, and Trains

Following my many uni visits, we had a few days of vacation time!

The Tours: We took two tours in Australia–one guided tour in Brisbane (a full-day guided bus tour that ended in a visit to a koala sanctuary, and one self-guided tour in Sydney (following “Sydney in one day” advice from a blogger). Both tours had us visiting incredible botanical gardens and taking relaxing ferry rides. Aside from the convenience of a human shuttling us around and answering our questions, the online suggestions were a great alternative!

The Treats: My treats are art galleries and fun festivals. We hit up the free art galleries in both Brisbane and Sydney; the latter gave out free pencils and easels to practice sketching sculptures (mine showed great effort and heart). Because Australia is hosting the Commonwealth Games, we were also treated Indigenous storytelling and other group fun events (pub choir!) in the cultural district.

The Trains: The fun train ride was a 12-hour overnight trip from Brisbane to Sydney, where in first-class we had a sleeper carriage with our own bunks, snacks, and a bathroom that converted into a shower! The not-so-fun train rides were, in fact, buses: on our one day in Sydney, a good number of the trains weren’t running and free bus shuttles were offered instead, As you can imagine, these confusion was great an the buses were packed!

Bum rests in Brissie!

And now we must say Cheerio and Hooroo to the fall Australian sunshine, as we return to what I hear is cool spring weather in Canada!




Initial Summative WSIEP Reflection: Boring for Readers, but Useful for Me


Partially shown here: Lovely silk scarf.

This week I headed up to Griffith University, Mt. Gravatt campus, which is one of five campuses in the area. I met with the energetic Dr. Christine McDonald, an open and busy senior lecturer, advocate, supervisor, researcher, instructor, and director of the EdD. Over lunch we chatted about a wide range of issues, making me slightly late for my second meeting with the visionary Craig Camamile, organizational psychologist and learning and development manager. With a different position but a similar sensibility, we also had much to discuss! The day was organized by Chelsea from International, whom I never met but who was extremely generous with her support, even sending along a gift of a lovely silk scarf.

What follows is initial reflections I will take back to my role at Western. I have other thoughts on the value of the WSIEP program for future Western participants, but I’ll describe them in another post. (I also went nose-to-nose with koalas and native lizards this week, but these activities deserve their own post as well!)

Griffith University in Brisbane is similar to Western in many ways: a top tier university that cannot rival the biggest institution in town, but has many unique characteristics and strengths nonetheless (and its secondary status forces it to be innovative). They have similar departments supporting academic work, but emphasize different elements. Their doctoral programs are similar to those in New Zealand; faculties are constantly asked to do more with less. Leaders have heavy workloads, and find respite from their administrative duties to do research over the holidays. 😐

All three institutions I visited had lush but hilly campuses. Some are more centralized, while others are decentralized, a product of their distinct culture and geographic location. I met few folks who were fully immersed in online learning, so this was one element that went under-discussed in most of my conversations.

However, I spoke with academic and professional staff in a range of different roles. There were usually equivalents with those at Western, but the different structures, roles, and responsibilities led to new opportunities and innovations at these campuses. At the same time, Western has comprehensive supports and services for staff compared to other institutions. There is a range work responsibilities—while academic staff seem to have less supervision and teaching responsibilities compared to Western’s faculty, there also seems to be much more in the way of administrative responsibilities. But (and crucially for me), learning and development folks are afforded academic posts, or at least more in the way of academic responsibilities, including research and supervision.

From an EdD perspective, I encountered a newly designed program (only 2 years so, and optimistic), a program in redesign (much to the concern of some faculty), and a program in decline (following required admission changes). A combination of contexts, policy, and staff have shaped the possibilities and constraints of these programs. There are also inevitable trade-offs, and wishing for something different inevitably means other complications would emerge. Finally, there continues to be disagreement about how EdDs should be viewed, though here more traditional notions prevail.

It has been a real pleasure and gift to meet academic and professional staff from three Australasian institutions with a range of similarities and differences—in relation to Western as well as to each other. I’m grateful for this opportunity and wish I could have visited more, but alas my trip comes to an end with an overnight journey to Sydney tomorrow.


3 Ways Brisbane Does it Right

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At the beach on Easter weekend  with many families having a barbie.

It’s sunny and beautiful here in Brisbane, Australia, but of course the weather is something the Aussies can’t do anything about. However, I’ve noticed that there are a few things that are done pretty well here–Canadians could learn a lesson or three!

1.Cute/Easy Names: Just imagine you are describing stuff to a six-year old: Sunglasses are “sunnies,” barbecues are “barbies,” and vintage clothing are “vinnies.” There are fun variations on our abbreviations: McDonald’s is not Micky D’s but Macca’s. Some foods have derivative names: chiko (Chinese egg or spring) rolls, spag bol (spaghetti bolognese), and paw paw (papaya). Who wouldn’t want to order a three-course meal just to be able to say, “I’ll have the chikos, spag bol, and paw paw.”

Oh, and when you’re done ordering your cute-sounding food, the taxes will be INCLUDED in the advertised purchase price. How convenient is that?

2.Free Stuff: Many large cities will have free parks, etc. as tourist attractions, which may be pretty but are also low maintenance. Today, in Brisbane (or “Brissie,” see above) we went on a cruise along the river for over an hour, visited an exotic rainforest walk and a tasting garden, enjoyed a beach with multiple pools (in the middle of downtown!), then watched a show at the planetarium on how Indigenous peoples use stars for history-telling and wayfinding…all for free! The only cost was for public transport.

Above: “Epicurious,” a free garden with herbs, fruit, and veggies for sample. The Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium, which ends each show with a forecast of what the sky will look like in the next week and months. One of the many pools downtown…seriously, they blow our local London, Ontario waterparks far, far out of the water.

3.Public Transport: Brissie has a convenient tap on/tap off card (for deposit, not for purchase!) that you load with $$, and the fares are deducted when you leave the station. There are express trains that whiz right across town, stopping only at large but convenient stations (or at least convenient for us because one is our station). Finally, and perhaps showing the best sense, Brissie has quiet train “carriages” in which loud talking and cell phone usage is discouraged. Sweet, sweet silence!

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Oh, I did find one bad idea in one of the tourist shops: Placenta Cream.


Even though this locally “grown” may seem like a good deal–just…no.

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Blood, Bikes, and Bars: A weekend in Wellington

This weekend was a holiday from WSIEP! The highlights were the Te Papa Museum, an electric bike ride along the Wellington coast, and experiencing the downtown vibe.

Museum, art gallery, education and meeting space, Te Papa is free to the public and open every day except Christmas. The award-winning building is one of the safest in town during an earthquake, and both physically and symbolically enacts the division and coming together of the natural and urban as well as Māori and Pākehā. Exhibits explore the country’s history with the Maori, incredible wildlife, and dangerous environmental phenomenon (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis, oh my!).

Peter Jackson’s special effects company, Weta Workshop, teamed up with Te Papa for re-telling the events of Gallipolli in World War I. With plenty of blood, poop, flies, and death, it was easily the most visceral but stunning museum exhibit I have ever seen.

Above: The life-like statue of real folks from the war are created at least 2x human size. Interactive videos show how the body is impacted by different artillery fire. The weta is one of the GIANT NZ insects. The English Treaty of Waitangi (1840), with a slightly different version in Maori, faces opposite one another, representing ongoing tensions but the desire for full repatriation. 

Outside Te Papa, the views were stunning as well. We took a four-hour bike ride along the jutty coast of Wellington and surrounding areas. It was hella windy, but popping the “hired” e-bikes into high gear during the blustery bits got us back safely. I might just look into purchasing one when I get home!

Above: What started out as a serene day got increasingly tempestuous. But we still had time to see much of the city, including the hilly suburban areas that were “tsunami safe.” I got up to 36 km/hour on my e-bike!

At night, the streets are vibrant. The clothing fashion draws equally from the last four decades, and the music is firmly in the 90s and 00s. Unlike the big cities that seem to divide ethnically, food of many different kinds is available in a mishmash of dine in or take out restaurants. One thing they share, however: high prices.

Above: By day, downtown has beautiful, bustling streets filled with shoppers and city-goers. At night, the bars come alive: this Western-themed one offers bull riding. A take out Indian restaurant makes naan and roti in a circular oven resembling a drum. Delicious!

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Last day at Vic

It was a fantastic last day at Victoria University of Wellington. In addition to meeting some excellent professional staff in IT leadership, we received a tour of some of the institution’s flexible learning spaces. I had further meetings with a seasoned academic staff developer and the program director for the Education faculty’s new EdD program.

This busy day was called for no less than three soy “flat whites,” which is essentially a cappuccino with less foam. I also bought myself some swag and many books. (So I’m still awake after midnight, but at least I have some good reading.)

This city also gives strengthen one’s legs with its hilly climbs. Tomorrow we may stay by the waterfront just to give our calve muscles a break!!

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Discovering Te Aro and Victoria University of Wellington

Today was an awesome day in Wellington! Not only did I get a great workout walking uphill to “Vic” campus, but I sat in on a course for faculty development, facilitated by Bernadette Knewstubb at the Centre for Academic Development. I also spent time with the folks from Victoria Abroad, and learned about their initiatives for supporting abroad students, international students, and recruitment agents. I even gave a little presentation to some NZ students interested in studying abroad.

There are some interesting differences between Western and Vic:

  • With the new government, all NZ university students will have their first year for free.
  • Australian students are considered domestic NZ students.
  • International students have paid domestic fees for some time now.
  • It is a required consultation process that all programs go through the recruitment office for feedback.

Then, we spent a quiet evening browsing in a used bookstore and strolling the harbour, Te Aro, the inner-city business district in Wellington.


Now, I am going to get what I’m about to explain partly wrong, but here is my imperfect understanding following my conversations today:

  • New Zealand in Māori (pronounced “Maow-ree”) is Aotearoa (which means both fishing and discovering).
  • Education, healthcare, and increasingly environmental sciences and business are integrating Maori language and worldview into the culture of Pakeha, who are the New Zealanders of European (or any non-Maori) descent. For example, Te Whare Tapa Whā suggests that the health of one’s family, or whānau, is directly related to one’s own health.
  • Whanau (pronounced fan-now) is family, and that includes extended family, not just blood.
  • All students who come to campus participate in a pōwhiri, which I believe means community, house, and gate. This is a welcome ceremony that invites outsiders to become part of the group.
  • Manaaki means to conserve and sustain but also to cherish, and this word is used to describe cherishing the land (manaaki whenau) as well as the everything that inhabits the land (manaaki tangata whenau).

I believe that we have a lot to learn from New Zealand in terms of a true and genuine decolonization and Indigenization of Canadian culture, education, and language. I look forward to learning more in the remainder of my trip.


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From the Sails to the Beehive

On my final morning in Auckland, I spent 2 hours chatting with Dr. Barbara Grant, whom I now revere and adore. A feminist scholar who examines identity and academic work, we spoke about a number of issues close to my heart: how to teach theory, how to facilitate writing development, how to negotiate norms of engagement with adult learners, how to undertake the complex work of academic supervision. We shared about the importance of building vulnerability and reciprocity and commitment, and the challenge of doing these things in an online learning environment. In her kindness, she gave me guidelines, chapter readings, and assignment ideas to take back to the EdD program.

Barbara reminded me of my earlier mentor Dr. Jennifer Gustar–someone whose beauty and brilliance I could just bathe in all day long. Barbara organizes week-long, all-women academic writing retreats…so I’ll be flying back stat here if she ever hosts one to which I could get myself invited.

We returned the rental and hopped on a domestic flight to Wellington, capital of New Zealand (practically chosen, apparently, because it’s located in the geographic centre of the country). We are staying in the central Cambridge Hotel, a downtown heritage building that operates as half boutique hotel, half backpackers’ lodge. I had a ginger beer and a vegan cheese pizza for dinner in this windy, seaside city the night before my next round of meetings at Victoria University of Wellington!

The Beehive is the common name for the Executive Wing of the New Zealand Parliament Buildings.


A delicious vegan and gingery dinner at one of the (hundreds) of restaurants downtown.

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