Fraser Island is a considerably sized sand Island off the coast of Queensland, Australia. Some say it is the biggest sand island in the world (and some find meaning and significance in hierarchising anything and everything).
I set off for my six-day, 90 Kms, hiking adventure on Fraser Island from mid-winter Melbourne. Queensland is warm all year round, which is disastrous for human perspicacity but is ripe for hiking. Hiking on Fraser island is best in the winter as 1) there are fewer tourists, 2) the snakes are asleep, and 3) your brain doesn’t boil in the heat (it is a mild 24 degrees Celsius). I flew into Brisbane, then hopped on a small aircraft with two propellers to go to Hervey Bay.
Hervey Bay is geographically bright, but culturally grey. A go-to climate-fantasy for captive Modernists escaping from Modernity by creating an even worse version. I checked into my Air BB in a laconic ‘Queenslander’ (a type of wooden house on stilts), then went for a walk along the boulevard of mistaken dreams. I had dinner in an obese fish-and-chip shop, a pint of Guinness in a grim gambling den masquerading as a sports-bar, then walked back to the ‘Queenslander’ for a laconic night’s sleep.
At the crack of dawn, I was on the ferry to Kingfisher Bay, a quick 40-minute ride across to the Island. The ferry master discussed the European history of the island through a tedious frontier narrative; the stuffed dingo toys for sale at the bar were a lot more intrepid.
As soon as I disembarked, I started walking, eager to escape from the 4-wheel drives full of families with babies inviting to be devoured by the dingos. It is illegal to feed the dingos on Fraser Island, there is a $10,000 fine, however it isn’t illegal for the dingos to eat the babies as dingos aren’t legal persons under Australian law.
Day 1: The first day I walked from Kingfisher Bay to Lake McKenzie. This was an easy walk along wide, sandy paths through scrubby bushland. There is a beautiful wooden pier on the way, and thankfully, I didn’t meet any other people. I really wanted to do this walk by myself, to experience solitude and refection, to read in the evening, and listen to the birds. Admittedly I was feeling a bit dark before I left, but the life in the Fraser Island rainforests buoyed a starved Modern soul.
Lake McKenzie is special; a large fresh-water lake in the middle of the forest. I pitched my tent in the well-equipped campsite surrounded by a hysterical dingo fence, then went for a swim in the beautiful lake. In the evening I watched Netflix on my phone (pre-downloaded) and listed to ABC Radio. It was pitch-black dark by about 5.30 PM, so luckily I bought an excellent re-charge battery for long, lonely evenings in the tent.
Day 2: From Lake McKenzie to the utilitarian named ‘Central Station’ was an easy stroll. I stopped and had lunch at the deep Basin Lake, fringed by reeds and home to frogs and freshwater turtles. I walked through the rainforest with towering trees, banksia woodlands, melaleuca wetlands, and eucalyptus. Just before Central Station, there is a spectacular sandy creek traversed by the meandering wooden walking trail. The walkers camp was in the middle of a rain forest that rained. I set up camp, hydrated my dinner, and settled in for the night.
Day 3: From Central Station to Lake Wabby was a very long way, and I welcomed the physical challenge as the past could of days had been pedestrian. I walked through the vast rainforest with mammoth trees, and I still hadn’t met anyone on the path, which suited me fine. I set up near Lake Wabby, then walked to the lookout. Lake Wabby is beneath a giant ‘sand blow’; the sand island fights the trees, attempting to reclaim the island.
Day 4: Lake Wabby to the Valley of the Giants was again a very long day, but I wasn’t weary. It is amazing what you can achieve when you are a little bit scared. I walked through the central high dunes, cloaked with open eucalypt forests and woodlands. Most of the day was through the cool, dense rainforest with a cacophony of birds, and the odd ray of sunlight shining through the canopy.
The Valley of the Giants walking camp was deserted like all the other places I had camped; just me and my post-apocalyptic fantasies. The camp is within a forest of giant satinay and tallowwood trees. I set up camp, and walked about, too scared to stop in case the existentialist catch me.
Day 5: After deep sleep, I made some strong coffee, then walked through inspiring stands of brush box, satinay trees and never-ended cool rainforest of piccabeen palms, and kauri pines. Lake Garawonga was a handsome lake, big, bold and fresh, like Lake McKenzie. I set up camp but was starting to feel a bit Kurtz, the horror, the horror.
Day 6: The last days’ walk was the easiest of the hike, and I was in the village of “Happy Valley” (which was neither), by noon. I found the local bar, bought some deep-fried, salty fat chips and beer, and waited for my 2.45 PM ‘taxi’ back to Kingfisher Bay to catch the ferry. The taxi (a 4-weel drive) cost me a reluctant $160 but was worth the expense. It took about an hour to drive back to Kingfisher with a number of embarrassing piss-stops. The driver told me stories of nubile attracted dingos and that there were only 200 on the island (there must be at least eight warning signs for every dingo).
I arrived back at Hervey Bay at dusk and rested before my flight back to Melbourne the next day. A great winter hike and Queensland has a whole series of ‘great walks’ similar to this. I am looking forward to discovering the others.
Uluru is a massive rock in Central Australia. Some say it is
the biggest rock in the world; some say many things. I was a bit sceptical to
see Uluru at first as it reeked of ‘’ínstrumental tourism’’, a place defined by
the outcome rather than the journey (in teaching we call this “constructive
So, I started the ‘’unaligned’’ journey in Fitz-Roy (the illegitimate centre of Australia), rented a car in Coburg, strapped in my wonderful co-pilot Paul Sebastian Garate Peralta from Cuenca in Ecuador, and set off for The Rock. I had done some superficial research before I left, so I knew it was a very long way, and that it was hot, but both these things are comfortably intangible until you actually live them.
Day one: Port Fairy
The first day we drove along the coast to Port Fairy, a bucolic,
old village a few hours from Melbourne. We didn’t want to overdo it on the
first drive; to ease our way into the dawn-to-dusk driving essential in the
never-ending Outback. The Victorian
coast along the Great Ocean Road is gorgeous; long white beaches, sandstone
cliffs, and roads languidly winding through the forest. The problem is that the
Great Ocean Road attracts many ‘’urban modernists’’ that find anything other
than straight-lines confusing; 60 KMH becomes 20 KMH, break lights gleam
through corners, and turn-out bays for slow-drivers are ignored in favour of a robotic
industrial rigidity that holds everyone back.
Thus, a 300 KM journey took most of the day, and we didn’t arrive in Port Fairy until early in the evening. We pitched a tent in a well-serviced caravan park (caravan parks n Australia are usually pretty high standard with lush grass and free bar-b-ques) and took-off to the local pub for beers and pool.
Day two: Adelaide.
We perhaps drank a little too much on the first night, and I had a restless sleep, so I was tired, grumpy, and thus worried about how well-equipped I was for a full day driving. Still, after a bucket of espresso and some breakfast, I felt a lot better, and the stretch of road from Port Fairy to Adelaide was again gob-smacking with a lot less timorous urban modernists attempting to drive so we covered a lot more kilometres.
The highlights of the day were the township of Robe, and Coorong National Park, a thin strip of coastline with untouched beaches and an abundance of sea-life including Pelicans and giant fibreglass lobsters. We stayed in an Air BB this evening, in a rambling, dilapidated house in a no-where suburb of Adelaide and had a good nights sleep, but I was a little nervous about the long drive ahead to Coober Pedy, the start of the Australian Outback.
Day Three: Coober Pedy
From Adelaide to Coober Pedy is a very long way and fortuitously our eccentric Air BB host gave us a large flask of black coffee, which was effortlessly drunk by the first stop in Port Germein. The road out of Adelaide hugging St Vincent and the Spencer Gulf is pretty grim, a sort of battle between provisional Australian modernity and arid desert flatland. Still, Port Germain had a dignified sense of decline, and the longest pier I have ever seen. And it was beginning to get hot, very hot, a harbinger of the apocalyptic Christmas heat-wave we were driving into.
We arrived in Coober Pedy early in the evening to witness the sun-set over the hotch-potch Opal mining town with the ant hill landscape beyond. Like many hotels and houses in Coober Pedy, our accommodation for the evening was under the ground to escape the Martian heat. Our motel keeper was straight out of Wolf Creek (a reference lost on my Ecuadorian companion). We had to wander around a few dark mine shafts before we found our room, which was literally a hole in the ground. But still, we had a wonderful nights sleep, and I would recommend sleeping in holes to anyone.
Day four: Uluru (Xmas Day)
This was the toughest day of driving as it was the longest distance across the somnambulant plains of the Australian Outback. The highlight of the day was nothing, thousands of kilometres of nothing, the happiest place on earth as there is no need to compare yourself to anyone else (except that Wolf Creek bloke in Coober Pedy, he was a bit scary).
We stopped at a rustic, deserted truck stop for Xmas dinner of ham and salad wrap and a bottle of red. It was apocalyptically hot, around 42 degrees Celsius, but this didn’t seem to matter as our first Outback Xmas was pretty special, a long way from Santa Claus.
We arrived at the Uluru resort early in the evening, pitched a tent, and drove the twenty kilometres to The Rock. Seeing Uluru for the first time is dreamlike; most world icons are pretty banal once packaged by consumers, but not Uluru, there is awe-room for the instrumental tourists as well as everyone else. We got as close as we could and had a picnic of supermarket roast chicken and red wine and met a cute young couple from France and Ireland and watched The Rock change colour at sunset (from bright orange to ochre to brown).
Day five: Uluru
This day was a rest day, at least in terms of driving. We had found ourselves in the middle of an extreme temperature heat-wave in one of the most inhospitable places on earth. Thus we were up at 6AM as the temperature was in the 40s Celsius by 11AM (and the park rangers close many of the walking tracks because of the heat). We did the four-hour walk around the rock which was pretty special as there are lots of informative signs about the importance of certain aspects of The Rock to various aboriginal peoples. I particularly liked the way in which climbing The Rock hasn’t been completely banned by the Aboriginal owners, even though it would be easily achieved. It is left to the individual to decide; thus it becomes a reflective choice and ‘virtue ethic’ which is a much more powerful learning experience than merely banning Modernity.
Day six: The Olgas
The Olgas are another weird rock formation close to Uluru. Today was hotter than hell, so we were up early morning to do the Valléy of the Winds walk (or the Valley of heat with no wind walk). I liked the Olgas even more than Uluru, there were fewer people, it was more scruffy, and the few tourists that were there mysteriously knew where to stop on the track; their leash only stretches so far I suppose. We sauntered past them and did the complete Olga circuit with my broken hiking shoe flapping, aggressive blow-flies buzzing, and the big-heat sucking at my body. It was one of the best short walks I have ever done.
In the afternoon when the Venus temperature reached 462 Degrees Celcius, we went to a unimaginative
bar called The Outback and drank beer, played pool and chess, and sat in front
of a giant fan that didn’t help in the slightest.
Day seven: King’s Canyon
The drive to King’s Canyon from Uluru is a long one, about four hours of arid, shrubby land. The Outback is not really a desert, it is dry and scorching, but there are many forests and shrubs and waterholes for animals to quench their thirst. The moving sand-dune type of desert in South America and Africa is quite rare in Australia, with most of the vast interior of Australia covered in sparsely wooded and grassed planes.
We pitched our tent at the King’s Canyon campground that was
virtually deserted; the Outback is too hot for most people this time of
year. We spent the afternoon in the one
and only pub for about 500 KMS and escaped the heat with chess, pool and beer
into the early evening. During the night some Dingos decided to have a
howling-match, metres from our tent (and I wondered if Dingos only take
Day eight: King’s Canyon
Today we woke at the crack of dawn and made our way to King’s Canyon. The circuit walk was challenging in the heat, but spectacular; the track has an initial steep climb and then meanders its way around the canyon edge with rich ochre outcrops of rocks and desperate plants clinging for their life. When it rains, waterfalls cascade into the gorge, which seemed hard to believe in the height of Summer. Deep in the gorge is a long, dissident waterhole that attracts all sorts of in-the-know bird-life whose calls echo on the steep walls of the canyon.
Day nine: Alice Springs
The next day we went to Alice Springs. There was a shorter route to Alice Springs from King’s Canyon, but like many roads in the Northern Territory, it required a 4 Wheel Drive vehicle and our city car may have fallen into a pothole and disappeared. So six hours later we arrived in Alice Springs, to a cute 1970s caravan in the desert about 14 KMS outside of the Alice. The caravan was a welcome reprieve from camping for the past 5 nights (thanks Air BB). In the evening we explored Alice Springs which is an ugly Modern town wrestling with the environment (it is no Palm Springs). Still, it has some pretty good supermarkets and air-conditioned malls where most of the population congregate to escape the heat. We purchased some steak and beer and went back to the caravan and settled in for the evening.
Day ten: Alice Springs (New Year’s Eve)
Today was one of the few days on the trip that didn’t involve driving (or so we thought). Our Air BB host had suggested a water hole for swimming, the fabulous Ellery Creek Big Hole, which ended up being 80 KMs away (a short distance in these parts). The drive to the hole and swimming in it took most of the day, which didn’t seem to matter as the hole was worth the drive and a welcome reprieve from the relentless heat.
In the evening (N.Y.E.) we went to the nasty Lasseters
Casino (only because I had seen it in the movie, Priscilla Queen of the
Desert), and then a cheesy Western Style bar, which was the only two options in
town it seemed. But as we were staying
14 KMS outside of town, we didn’t drink much alcohol, and instead got some
takeaway beer and went back to the caravan which seemed the sensible thing to
do given the hostile appearance of the local constabulary.
Day eleven: Coober Pedy (again)
The drive back home seemed daunting, and for the first two days, we were covering the same territory. But 10 KMS effortlessly turned into 100, and 100 turned into 1000, and before we knew it, we were in the same underground room in the same motel. The same Wolf Creek bloke greeted us, and in the evening, we explored the Mad Max town relishing in the post-apocalyptic future.
Day twelve: Laura
The road from Coober Pedy to somewhere else is tough; it is
flat, dull, with few distractions except for moments of lucid self-reflection (and
But if there was one thing that made the long-drive home worth it, it was the pleasant town of Laura in South Australia. It has a grand, broad, and laconic main street straddled by shops in various degrees of decline. We stayed in a stately old stone house with tastefully decorated rooms (and air-conditioning). We bought a bottle of wine from the local pub, some fish from the supermarket, and cooked up a feast. This was the first genuinely comfortable place we had stayed in the whole journey (again, thanks Air BB).
Day thirteen: Dimboola
The drive from Laura to Dimboola was a leisurely one, the B-roads along the Clare Valley are winding and uneven, passing through many towns with slow speed limits (and places to buy coffee and cakes). It took most of the day to get to an A road and back into Victoria.
We arrived into Dimboola in the Wimmera region of Victoria early evening and pitched a tent under a tree and a noisy flock of cockatoos near the Wimmera River. We then sauntered to the legendary Victoria Hotel. This vast expanse of Victorian splendor has an overly friendly front bar and a dining room in the rear along with a warren of rooms bursting with Victorian bling. It has a huge veranda overlooking the town claiming its place as the most essential institution for miles around.
We had a shepherds pie with chips and salad and a beer or
two or three before we made it back to the cockatoos.
Day fourteen: Fitzroy
The last three or four hours back to Fitzroy were tough as I was tired and the driving had lost its adventure. It was an A to B sort of a drive, instrumentalism again wasting my time. We arrived back home to Fitzroy (the centre of Australia) in mid-afternoon.
Overall, it was a great introductory adventure to the Outback, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes litres of coffee, and I am looking forward to driving the Oonadatta Track or Birdsville tracks one day soon.
Over the Christmas break, I plan to drive the immortal distance from Fitzroy in Melbourne to Uluru, Central Australia. I have never driven this far in Australia before, and luckily I will be with my dapper co-pilot, Sebastian from Cuenca in Ecuador (who I met during that other monumental road trip).
Thankfully we will be in an air-conditioned car with an icebox full of Coopers beer, and not on a moto, that wouldn’t be wise in the Australian desert during the height of broiling Summer. We only have 14 days, which is relatively tight given the distance to The Rock, so an itinerary is obligatory. Here it is (and I will blog along the way).
Port Fairy, VIC (22/12)
Adelaide, SA (23/12)
Coober Pedy, SA (24/12)
Uluru, NT (25/12)
Uluru, NT (26/12)
Kings Canyon, NT (27/12)
Kings Canyon, NT (28/12)
(somewhere in the desert) (29/12)
Alice Springs, NT (30/12)
Alice Springs, NT (31/12)
Coober Pedy, SA (1/1)
Laura, SA (2/1)
Dimboola, VIC (3/1)
If anyone has any suggestions, I would love to hear from you.
I recently led a session at the eResearch Australasia conference on the ethics of AI in higher education. It is a big topic to handle, and I’m pretty new to this stuff, but the conversation went pretty well, and the awareness of both AI and ethics is high in this community. The ethical challenges posed by AI are significant, but the benefits are also great, and it is vital for educators and citizens to be aware of both. Here are some of the key points made by the audience (and I am pursuing the topic, so will post some more later on).
Off the shelf solution of AI can influence the decision making of research
There need to be transparency in machine decision making (or avoid certain decisions). And we need to avoid a dependency on machine decisions
Perhaps a certification of AI products from a regulatory body
AI may have a negative impact on the job market
eResearch Australasia Conference, 2018
After many false dawns, AI may be gaining traction. Chatbots, Natural Language Processing, robots, autonomous vehicles, and the combination of big data and AI are all findings applications in a myriad of commercial, educational and other contexts. AI was once about explicit commands; what you put in is what you got out, but now it is largely about machine learning and big data, about machines that not only learn, but also make decisions. This is behind a number of new and emergent applications in medicine, transport and education that hold great promise but also ethical challenges.
In particular, it is an ability to ‘make decisions’ that poses numerous ethical dilemmas; can an autonomous Volvo car chose to collide with either a pedestrian or a dog ‘ethically’; can a Google chatbot impersonate a human for nefarious purposes, and can an autonomous military drone decipher images of illicit activity and then take autonomous action? These are not dystopian projections of a sci-fi future, rather these ethical issues that exist now well within the province of AI and its applications.
Whilst ethicists have provided critique, debate, and numerous ethical frameworks for an AI future, (indeed the Australian Government has just proposed a “technology roadmap, a standards framework and a national AI Ethics Framework”, and regulation in the space), higher education has been relatively quiet in terms of debating the impacts of AI on teaching and research and the broader HE education system. Indeed, while AI applications are not yet fully realised in research, this could opportune time to think about them, before they are (and this change could occur quite rapidly as did the use of data in research across both the humanities and the sciences).
Some of the ethical issues posed include the stalwart of IT ethics, being privacy, but also new issues arise, particularly around transparency and the interpretation of data using machine learning and how these interpretations may influence later research findings, be credited as research work, and indeed impact upon broader society. This is a particularly difficult issue as AI does afford many benefits in terms of the researcher’s ability to deal with the scale and complexity of big data, but there are things that machines are good at and things that people do better, and this intersection of machine and people intelligence, including ethical decision making, needs to be considered from the very emergence of AI in research.
This Birds of Feather session proposes to discuss the ethics of AI, big data and research, with the purpose of providing a basic ethical framework for emergent AI and in broader research practice. This framework could be used as a stand-alone guide for researchers or as an addendum to existing research ethics, privacy and data processing guidelines
Anthony Seldon, “The Fourth Education Revolution”, University of Buckingham Press, 2018
Rose Luckin, “Enhancing Learning and Teaching with Technology: What the research says” Institute of Education Press (IOE Press), 2018
Bostrom, Nick. “Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies”, Oxford University Press, 2014
Next week at the ASCILITE conference, I will be conducting a debate about the pros and cons of ‘Constructive Alignment’ in higher education, especially as it relates to digital learning tools. Debates are a really good pedagogy in terms of outlining the pros and cons of a topic and building the soft and hard skills of participants.
Constructive Alignment has been with us for quite some time. From its origins in education theory in the 1990s, partly as a means to address some of the pedagogical challenges of scale in mass, higher-education, it has now become the dominant pedagogy in Australian higher education. Originally intended as a means to consistently and holistically design syllabi around learning outcomes and delivery and assessment methods (Biggs, 2003), it is now—as claimed in a recent book on the subject—an overly mechanistic, industrial process that may stifle innovation and creativity, some of the key skills of a 21st Century workplace and society (Nelson, 2018). This is because of its slavish, uncritical application and lack of imagination regarding refreshing and building upon its significant legacy. Is there a Post-Constructive future and what may this future look like? And what does this mean for digital education, in its various guises, one of the more transformative areas of higher education? In this debate, we will survey the various applications of Constructive Alignment and perhaps imagine a Post-Constructivist future!
Significant efforts have been made to integrate constructive alignment principles in all aspects of the learning process. From writing the subject outline, the inclusion of subject content to align with the learning outcomes, the methods used to engage with the students and communicate the subject content, and the methods used to assess students through rubrics and fine-grained quantification. As a means to explicitly delineate the architecture of learning, it is, at times, a useful solution; however problems arise when this architecture becomes too rigid, reductive and pragmatic, as it engenders conformity, passivity, and a strategic, instrumentalist approach to education that undermines the independence, judgement, curiosity and creativity of both educator and student (Nelson, 2018).
Digital mediated education, one of liveliest area of innovation in higher education, has a lot to lose from the uncritical embrace of Constructive alignment as computer technology can easily be co-opted for instrumentalist, industrial processes. It is rigid architectures that we must resist in designing our education as it was flexibility, creativity, risk, and imagination that brought us computing technology in the first place.
Is it possible to imagine a Post-Constructivist future, one with fewer rubrics, fewer criteria; with fewer pre-packaged learning outcomes and with more independent learning and creativity? Is there a limit to the extent of ‘constructive alignment’ that a topic may bare; the more fine-grained the rubric, it seems, the more it privileges the actual creator of the rubric, rather than the creators of knowledge that it seeks to quantify. Can we imagine something beyond Constructive Alignment; a scaffolding of the learning process in a less mechanistic, less prescriptive, and less reductive manner? Constructive Alignment may become the uncritical and unimaginative deference for an emergent generation of followers rather than leading creatives and innovators.
Can we revitalise Constructive Alignment or can we imagine a Post-Constructivist future?
Biggs, J.B. Teaching for Quality Learning at University. What the student does. Second Edition.Maidenhead: Society for Research into HigherEducation & Open University Press 2003.
Mimirinis, Mike. ‘Constructive alignment’ and learning technologies: some implications for the quality of teaching and learning in higher education, Seventh IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies (ICALT 2007)
Nelson, Robert, Creativity Crisis: Towards a Post-constructivist education future, Melbourne, Monash University Publishing, 2018.
I’ve been visiting the Black Cat Fitzroy for as long as I can remember. The first time I came to this bohemian dive was sometime around 1988. It has managed to reinvent and reinvigorate itself, perhaps a little more than I have. It was one of the original cafes in the district that helped build the artsy Brunswick Street of today. I come here every Sunday and chill and listen to some good Sunday arvo music. A legendary institution.
Late last year, I returned to Ecuador in South America on snug annual leave to revisit that agreeable country. I was there for just over a week, which was admittedly, a bit ‘loco’ considering I spent about a similar amount of time on aeroplanes getting there.
Flying over so much rich geo-cultural context like a Modern, instrumentalist corpse in a cheap-tin-coffin aeroplane was almost worth it to visit Quito, Cuenca, and my Ecuadorian mates again. I say almost worth it because it was frustrating not being able to explore and unpack some of the curious cultural layers and geography in Ecuador. I was restricted to the urban areas and did not see the jungle nor the coast, two regions of Ecuador I have yet to explore.
And, in Ecuador, a country where over 90% of the population has some degree of indigenous heritage, they celebrate Columbus day as a national holiday 600 years after contact. Sure it has been “indigenised”, but they do not deny this history, it is what they are, contradictions and all.
As one of my favourite Australian historians once said, it is as though Australians cannot hold two (contradictory) ideas in their head at the same time; especially regarding our national ‘Australia Day” holiday it seems (which is held upon the date the first fleet came to Australia from ‘Modernity’ in 1788).
Many Indigenous South Americans have appropriated ‘Spanishness’ and utilise it as a form of identity and resistance in a world dominated by slavish consumer conformity. Perhaps Captain Cook could also become a symbol of resistance to a much more pervasive and destructive form of contemporary Modernity.