Boats in the bay, wrecks in the water and paperwork to process. Entomologist Jacquie Rescei recounts the very beginning of the Museum's terrestrial expedition to Timor-Leste.
Why is the Australian Museum in Timor-Leste? To assist with conservation planning and more.
The one hour time difference from Sydney meant Dr Dave Britton and I were up early taking photos along the shore of Dili Bay, where people were out fishing. I ended up taking lots of pictures of fishing boats on this trip whenever we were near the coast. I also quickly developed a Pavlovian association between the fishing boats and roadside stalls with tasty BBQ fish, but that's another matter.
There was a time not so long ago when occupying forces leaving Timor-Leste destroyed a large percentage of the infrastructure including fishing boats, thereby depriving people of a way to feed themselves. It was good then to see boats on the sea. The people have had a long tradition of fishing and apparently the world’s oldest fish hooks were found there.
I assumed that some of the boat wrecks on the beach were there because of the troubles. There are also submerged wrecks just off shore, now popular dive sites. Some are from World War II.
While we were taking photos down at the bay, some of our colleagues went off to buy supplies in readiness for the collecting trip. The eight of us would be split into two teams; one team travelling to the easternmost part of the country, and the other to the mountains south-east of Dili and down to the southern coast.
We arrived just after the celebrations for the ten year anniversary of independence. It was also around the time of elections. Somewhere in the middle of all that was a public holiday for a religious festival. All in all, not the best time to try and get paperwork done, field gear released and meet with government staff to obtain our collecting permits.
We had planned to miss all this but we had some 'issues' with our overland delivery service in Australia and then the shipping company cancelled the next boat we were planning to ship our equipment on. So we were all now in Dili and ready to go, having collected the hire cars, met up with the Timorese students who would be assisting us and done the shopping. There was just one small problem.
That first morning, that had started so peacefully with a spot of amateur photography down on the beach, was actually the start of a two-and-a-half tiring, confusing and frustrating days trying to retrieve our gear from the sticky mire of customs.
In the end we realised we were lucky, it usually takes five days. Once we were on the road and off to work, I'd soon forgotten the delay and remembered mainly the beautiful sights I'd seen on my first morning in this special country.