May 21

May 21st: Pelican Sheep Station and CSIRO Discovery

This morning we woke up very early to catch the train. We got little box breakfasts and were on our way. The train left on time at 6:50 and took about 3 hours. Rather than take the train all the way to Canberra, we stopped in a little town called Goulburn. Once we were in Goulburn, we took a bus to the Pelican Sheep Station. This was a large sheep farm covering 970 hectares, or 2,300 acres for those of you in America. Our tour guides name was Phil and he was the owner of the farm. He gave us a lot of information not only about his farm but other issues as well.

The farm at any given time has approximately 3,000 sheep and 160 head of cattle. Unfortunately Australia has been experiencing a drought for the last 7 years and for the past 16 years have had below average rainfalls. As you can imagine, this has been devastating for the sheep farm and other surrounding farms. There is barely enough water to give the livestock, so if it doesn’t rain, the grasses, vegetation, and crops can also die. The farm used to get 2 1/2 tons to the acre of grain, now they are lucky to get 1 ton to the acre, which ends up costing the farm even more money. I can’t imagine living as a farmer and having to rely so much on circumstances that are beyond your control. It’s so hard for farmers here to make a decent living, especially because Phil is trying his best to be sustainable. One of his goals in life is to make the world a better place when he leaves than it was when he got here. In order to do that he has added a solar-powered water pump, and is attempting to regenerate native bush. Hopefully these techniques will allow him to create a more sustainable farm for the future.

After our tour of the farm, we learned about wool and sheep shearing. We even got to watch Phil shear a sheep for us. Two members of our group were allowed to help with the shearing. It was really cool to see some of the work that has to go into making the wool we buy. Following the shearing we went outside and were allowed to hold a lamb. It was so cute! Definitely my favorite part of the trip. Then Phil took us to one of his paddocks (we would call them fields in America) and showed us how he herded sheep. The dogs were very well-trained and also very cute. Next we had lunch and prepared to get on the bus for more traveling.

An hour later we arrived in Canberra. The first place we stopped was the CSIRO Discovery which is the National Science Agency of Australia. There they do a lot of science and research. It was ranked in the top 1% in 14 different research fields and has 6,500 workers in over 55 locations. There are trying to develop more efficient crops that can survive with less water, this is even more important now since Australia is currently having a water crisis. The first thing we did was listen to a talk about preventative medicine. We learned many new facts about colorectal cancer, degenerative diseases, and obesity. The CSIRO is studying all of these things and trying to find ways to prevent them. One of the main things they are looking into is the effects of fiber in the diet.  

Afterwards we got to see stick bugs, turtles, and a cockroach. The CSIRO is currently studying how the temperature of the turtle’s nest affects the gender of their eggs. By teaching us these topics and animals, the CSIRO is helping to educate the public about being better stewards of the environment.

Later in the day, Andy and I went to the grocery store and picked out snacks and some breakfast for the group. We had a lot of fun doing it. We also stopped and got some good old-fashioned Pizza Hut for dinner. We ordered 12 large pizzas and ate everything except the last 3 pieces. We tried to recycle the pizza boxes in order to be sustainable, but the recycling facilities were not available for our use. This made us very sad, and made us more aware of the fact that being sustainable can sometimes be a challenge.

We had a great day traveling to Canberra and we look forward to visiting the Australian Institute of Sport, the Australian National Museum, and a beautiful scenic view of the city. We miss you all but we are having a great time! Look forward to seeing you!


Laura 🙂



  1. Glad you are having fun Laura (and everyone else too!) I think I would go nuts over there if I couldn’t recycle though lol. What do you think Laura, would I like working with sheep better than cows?! Not that it would take a whole lot haha. All the drought over there kinda makes us thankful for the rain we get at home here for our crops. Sounds like you guys are seeing all sorts of things over there, I’m a little jealous! Well keep having fun. I love you Laura.

    -Ryan (Laura’s boyfriend she left forever for a month!) 🙂

  2. What a great picture of everyone with the flag, and I love the group shot on the train. Jenna you were never a morning person!!!!

  3. What a great day with all that you experienced. Too bad about the pizza boxes. I once saw a kid come into the emergency room with a pizza box folded around his broken arm to stabilize it. Any other good uses for used pizza boxes? A $5 Hot n’ Ready for the best answer when you get back.

  4. Another one of the sustainble practices that Phil Sykes uses on the Pelican Sheep Station is a minimum tillage practice. Phil only works up his fields when he sees rainfall running off the surface. By doing minimum tillage, he ensures minimum disturbance of the soil minimizing erosion and maximizing soil nutrient retention. This is just another way that farmers are trying to maintain a living off the harsh Australian bush.

  5. In addition to Andrew’s comment, Phil explained that the price of wool has dramatically decreased over the last decade which changes the way his operation runs. Because the value of wool is so low, he must focus on selling premium meat and give ag-tours of his farm to tourists in order to make a living. He also offers lodging to visitors in the area who need somewhere to stay short-term.

  6. The struggles of the farmer at pelican sheep station in regards to his difficulty in growing crops and sustaining his sheep is not unusual in Oz or throughout the world. Did you discuss the impact of government subsidies in keeping farmers financially afloat? Often many environmental sociologists will argue that removal of perverse government subsidies will in turn help drive a more sustainable system. What do you think about the role of government subsidies in agriculture and how it drives or retards trying to reach a more sustainable system?

    Great post, keep it up! Sounds like you’re all having an amazing time! 🙂

  7. I found it really interesting how the government is giving farmers like Phil the option of fencing off areas in an effort to restore the natural grasses and trees to the area. I think it’s a good idea but the government needs to pay for more than just the fence. Giving farmers more of a financial incentive to participate would definitely make their effort more successful.

  8. I agree with your comment, Laura. The government incentives are helpful, but doing more than simply providing the seeds would boost the farmers’ desire to act on this plan. For farmers, taking time out of their busy day to plant these native trees is not the only problem. It is also costly to create an area for the trees to be planted, and to maintain them. Replanting native Australian trees and grasses is a step in the right direction when it comes to creating an sustainable environment, but more effort should be made in order to make this reality.

  9. I found the CSIRO incredibly interesting. I enjoyed learning about how technologically advanced Australia is particularly in health. One of the most interesting things the CSIRO research has produced is bone glue, a substance that can cure broken bones in a matter of days rather than weeks or months. They said this bone glue was really useful in getting athletes back on the field as well as regular people back to their daily lives.

  10. Going along with the above comments I would like to add how the government subsidies our oil costs to keep us driving cars. I always wonder if we would be a different country if prices were as high as Europe and Australia. Most action nowadays comes from economic troubles and people not wanting to pay more, so by giving farmers subsidies to continue a non sustainable practice I think they are only prolonging the inevitable.

  11. Not coming from an agriculture background myself, I found it suprising that non of the water that is used on the sheep farm is used to water the fields or for growing food of any kind for the animals, but rather soley as drink for the cattle and sheep. It just put everything in more perspective with the drought, and how much they have to rely on rains that might not come in order to keep up their way of life, a major reason for so man farmers being forced out of their professions and into other forms of work

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