Initially, we simply wanted to gather experience abroad which is indispensable for young scientists. The ideal destination for our sphere of work was Townsville, Australia. But we soon warmed wholeheartedly to life in the tropics ‘down under’, and the same goes for our twin daughters Iris and Julia. In Townsville, the day starts with bright colours and noise at 6 a.m. One feels a magnetic pull that heightens productivity but seems to let time fly by all too quickly. In the school holidays we always explored some corner of Queensland – reef, rain forest, desert, all of it simply awe-inspiring. Nevertheless we are looking forward to returning to Austria, to having changing seasons and being in the mountains.
Place of research
We had frequently co-operated with Ross Crozier from James Cook University here before our trip. Ross is a lovely person, and the same goes for Ching, his wife and co-worker. At the start they invited the four of us to stay at their house. Ross is one of the most renowned evolutionary biologists in the world. Working at his laboratory was like a master class for us, including aspects such as research management and leadership. If there is an emergency, you are sure to get an appointment for a personal meeting with Ross no later than the next day (electronic help is available immediately). Always open for arguments and new ideas, he will take the time required to develop a solution together with you. Very impressive, indeed.
The team spirit of Australians is legendary, and we can confirm that. Take the laboratory seminars: criticism is voiced without any mincing of words; it is examined seriously and then rejected or accepted graciously. Thereafter we all sit together over cheese and drinks. Our children always tag along, and they are never bored – Australians are fond of children. This said, we are not idealising our time here. We have had our lows as well as highs and were happy to receive comforting words and advice from colleagues back home. With the help of emails this has become an intercontinentally productive period. With old and new co-operation partners we have been able to put out a few top-notch publications.
We had many plans when we arrived. Some have been left by the wayside, new ones have been added. We are particularly happy that we were able to realise a fundamental desire that we intuitively developed, namely integration in biodiversity research, through new data, studies of the literature and intense discussions with Ross. Building on a “classical” basis, relevant issues are addressed with a combination of “modern” methods, which often opens up unexpected perspectives. We did not, of course, reinvent the wheel, but we are playing in the premium league in this field. Just recently we were invited together with our team to write an overview article in the leading journal Annual Review of Entomology.
And what about the “Aussies” outside of the lab? Something that occasionally gave us problems was a character trait that many Germans actually criticise in Austrians: a certain unwillingness to make binding commitments. But perhaps our sample size was not representative (the scale was surely not at fault). It took a while until we became used to constant changes in all areas of life. The goods on offer, the dentist, the housing – everything changes at a speed that you would like to throttle back to a more sedate pace by adding a spot of Austrian moderation. But when asked about “typically Australian” qualities we see only positive traits: a spirit of equality, kindness and being open for novelties.