Works and Days



Winter Fellowship for International Travel: Emmeline Hill

Emmeline Hill, senior biology major, traveled to Australia on a Reed Winter Fellowship for International Travel. The following post describes her experience getting to know the insects and sheep of the island continent.

 “You haven’t seen a funnel web yet? Ah, if you like critters, we have to find one. You can just tell they’re predatory when you look at them.”
Thus began my tour through the garden of a friend of my host family on a search for Australia’s most deadly spider. We spent a good 20 minutes tramping barefoot through the dead leaves and branches littering the yard. As we went, Jon turned over various rocks and boards and investigated different crannies, hoping to come upon a funnel web spider. There are several species of funnel webs in Australia, six of which are severely venomous to humans (though there have been no known deaths since the development of an anti-venom in 1981). I’m still not sure if I am disappointed or relieved that no funnel webs decided to make an appearance.
Before I left on my trip, countless people warned me about dangerous spider this and poisonous snake that, don’t go in the ocean and be careful in tall grass. But after a very short time in Australia I learned worrying about every potential threat was a waste of time (though I did check under my bed each night for Huntsman spiders, not because they are dangerous but because I didn’t want to wake up with one on my face). In Australia you don’t run away, you don’t say no because of the vague possibility of danger, you go searching for funnel web spiders, and you poke blue tongued lizards, and you back the truck up to get a second look at the red bellied black snake. I did my best to adopt this philosophy of not saying no. Even when I was exhausted or nervous, if a new opportunity was offered to me, I took it.

For the duration of my trip, I stayed with the Taylor family in the tiny town of Kentucky, New South Wales, on the 1,000-acre sheep farm that has been in the family for six generations. Currently, three generations of family live on the property together, creating a vibrant community of artists, intellectuals, and adventurers, each family member more often than not encompassing all three of those descriptors. I was on the farm as a helper; in exchange for room and board I worked 4-8 hours a day. No two days on the farm were the same, some days I herded sheep from one paddock to another, other days I set to work removing an invasive species of thistle, and sometimes I supervised the kids who almost exclusively wanted to play cards.