Though it feels like we just landed in Cairns last week, we’ve been living in the Australian rainforest for over a month now! Life here at Warrawee has become comfortable (though never boring), and we have already developed habits and routine of the rainforest. Our morning walk to the center has become familiar, birds and insects crafting their daily cocktail of sounds as we wind through dense stands of trees and vines. It’s easy to forget that the way we experience Australia here at the center can be vastly different from the day to day experience of local people on the Atherton Tablelands.
Last weekend, we got a small taste of life in several Tablelands communities during our homestay visits. We were split up into groups of two or three and dispersed among families in several towns within about an hour of the center. We travelled along the Gillies Highway into Yungaburra where our host families picked us up, and then we were off! For the first time in almost five weeks, we were having different experiences from one another, seeing fresh faces after spending sunrise to sunset every day with the same wonderful bunch here at Warrawee.
My partner and I stayed with Rod and Mecki, who live in a traditional “Queenslander” style house in Herberton, about 40 minutes from Yungaburra. Mecki is a potter, so we spent a good chunk of time throwing our own mugs, cups, and bowls on pottery wheels in her studio. Two large barn-style doors opened up directly in front of the wheels, giving us a breathtaking view of the Herberton range while we slowly became covered in white clay.
A view of the Herberton Range in the “Australian Bush,” as Rod loved to call it
Rod and Mecki have both lived in the tablelands for over 30 years, and both were more than happy to share story after story about life in the tablelands with us. We quickly got the sense that Herberton is the epitome of a tight-knit small town, as our host parents seemed to know every last detail about the town and its inhabitants’ history.
A timber dam just outside of Herberton, with original logs from the 1800s still in place
The weekend flew by, and suddenly Sunday afternoon had arrived and it was time to return to Yungaburra to meet our SFS clan. Reuniting with everyone and hearing tales of their weekend activities, which were vastly different from my own, was enlightening. Some worked on farms wrangling cows, some spent the weekend on a little houseboat, and others took trips to hot springs. Coming together and sharing our experiences gave us a strong sense of what we’ve been learning in class with Justus for the last month- that life in the Tablelands is wonderfully complex, traditional and modern, diverse, and often directly tied to the ecosystem itself. Our weekend away was thrilling and new, but the best part (for me, at least) was winding our way along the access road to Warrawee, and feeling like I was coming home.