Professor travels to 'amazingly
In fact, everything in New Zealand seems to be backwards or upside down, according to University of Montana biology professor and Fulbright Fellow Fred Allendorf, who was down under from September 2000 until his return to Missoula in mid-May.
"I went outside at 6 a.m. to see the full moon one morning, and Orion was high in the sky," Allendorf said. "However, it wasnt until the next morning that I realized that Orion was upside down; his head was at the bottom, and his sword at the top."
Allendorf divided his time in New Zealand between Christchurch and Wellington, where he studied genetics and the conservation of small populations. He also taught a graduate seminar on conservation genetics. His stay is funded by a Fulbright Scholar Program grant, one of about 800 awarded to American educators and professionals in 2000-2001.
"I chose to go to New Zealand because its an amazingly interesting place for a biologist from North America," he said.
In letters home to friends and family, Allendorfs observations about life south of the equator sometimes bordered on the bizarre. Whether wading with eels -- "They feel like a tube of Jell-O wrapped in smooth satin" or learning about scientists efforts to create "fart-free" sheep, he takes a keen, playful look at New Zealand and Australia.
So that Research View readers can learn more of Allendorfs adventures down under, weve reprinted here selections from his letters and snapshots in a travelogue format.
Sept. 17, 2000
Everything here seems to be backwards or upside down: the seasons, the stars, the sun, the moon, the cars, the light switches, etc. I went outside at 6 a.m. to see the full moon one morning, and Orion was high in the sky. However, it wasnt until the next morning that I realized that Orion was upside down; his head was at the bottom, and his sword at the top.
The mountains were beautiful and full of native plants and critters. ... Keas are large alpine parrots that live a life of mischief. They love to pull anything rubber windshield wipers, etc. off of parked cars; they also ride on the back of grazing sheep, peck through their skin and eat their kidneys.
Oct. 10, 2000
The scenery throughout New Zealand is beautiful: great mountains, the ocean and interesting vegetation. However, there is a real "emptiness" of animal life. Birds were the only native large terrestrial vertebrate, and nearly half of them have gone extinct since the Maori people colonized New Zealand less than 1,000 years ago. All of the large flightless birds, such as several moa species, are extinct. A beautiful but empty landscape remains.
Oct. 24, 2000
Nov. 21, 2000
Dec. 21, 2000
The biggest point of conversation at tea over the last two months has been the U.S. presidential election. Dubya is viewed down here by the media (and people) as being poorly qualified to be President. The media keeps mentioning that Bush has never been out of North America.
Jan. 10, 2001
Feb. 12, 2001
Darwin visited New Zealand in December 1835 while on the Beagle. It wasnt his favorite place, to say the least. According to Darwin, the welcome cry of Maori to calling ships was, "Come on shore and we will kill you and eat you all." Here is Darwins last New Zealand journal entry: "Dec. 30th In the afternoon we stood out on the Bay of Islands, on our course to Sydney. I believe we were all glad to leave New Zealand. It is not a pleasant place. Amongst the natives there is absent that charming simplicity which is found in Tahiti; and the greater part of the English are the very refuse of society. Neither is the country itself attractive." Unfortunately, Darwin saw very little of New Zealand. He spent only about 10 days at the far north of the north island.
Feb. 25, 2001
The award for most unusual experience goes to Aussie rules football. Aussie rules is a game invented to make use of cricket fields in the off-season; it resembles a combination of soccer and rugby. ... There are 18 frenzied players on each team who run around for two hours. There are also eight officials on the field. To make things even more confusing, four water boys also run around on the field during play. The Brisbane Lions made short work of the Adelaide Crows .... Aussie rules was not a big hit with Kiwis. According to the local newspaper, "the sight of heavily concussed Adelaide ruckman David Gallagher groggily trying to convince the trainers to leave him on the field received the biggest cheer of the night."
The Maori came to New Zealand about 1,000 years ago [most likely from nearby islands]. Their culture is based on relationships, living and dead. "Real" Maori can recite from memory their entire 20-generation ancestry since arrival in New Zealand. They have a selective memory; after all, there are over two million ancestors in a 20-generation pedigree.
New Zealand is currently struggling with conflicts between Maori and pakeha [New Zealanders of European descent]. This became real when we left the marae [a traditional Maori meeting house] ... with great affection for Maori and their struggle. The pakeha shuttle driver immediately told us that "Maori are OK, but they just cant accept the present. They complain about all the land that was taken from them a long time ago, but they dont appreciate all of the wonderful things that the pakeha have given to them."
March 24, 2001
The last month has been relatively uneventful. In fact, the most exciting event was a cricket match, a sure sign that Ive been down under too long.
The highlight was a trip to Perth to give a seminar and visit the University of Western Australia. Perth is a large, modern city on the coast of southwest Australia. It has a fantastic Mediterranean climate that is similar to San Diego. ... Perth felt like the United States in many ways. From the air, Perth looked like western Montana without the mountains. Large expanses of trees and brown hills surround Perth. I felt like I was in "anywhere" western USA on the drive from the airport. ... It felt good to be on a continent again and see large numbers of native birds and other animals. We saw kangaroos bound across the road just like mule deer in Montana.
Some people from the Northern Hemisphere who havent been to Australia and New Zealand have the impression that they are biologically similar since theyre less than 1,000 miles apart. However, Australia and New Zealand are very different worlds. The trees of New Zealand are actually most closely related to trees in the forests of South America because of continental drift. New Zealand is lacking all of the "neat" things from Australia: kangaroos, snakes, eucalyptus trees, etc. The only similarities are a few birds and a bat that managed to cross the Tasman Sea from Australia and colonize New Zealand.
Michel and her friend Judy Christy just returned from a fantastic two weeks in Bali, which is near the equator 2,000 miles north of Perth. They had a very warm and humid time. Im now sure that Michel still loves me. She got a fish tattoo on her left arm while in Bali. She claims its temporary; well see.
Enjoy your Northern Hemisphere spring!
Professor Fred Allendorf returned to his position in UMs Division of Biological Sciences in mid-May.