After returning to Oregon, Robert wrote and circulated a letter (text below) to his friends and relatives about his trip to Australia. He also told us of his plans to go into Veterinary Medicine...... follow your heart Robert and you will realise your dreams!

Dear Friends, Family, and Fellow Animal Lovers,

From the first day I brought my beautiful Labrador Retriever home with me, eleven years ago, I knew that animals would always have a special place in my heart. Slowly through the years I realized that I didn't just want animals in my heat but also actively in my life. This past year I have searched for opportunities to experience the world of animals in more detail. The expedition to Australia is an example of this. The purpose behind my letter is to strengthen contacts with the many people that have been a part of my life and that I hope to be a part of my future. I hope you enjoy my story.


Robert circulated the above letter to his friends
and relatives after his return home to Oregon.
The full text is reproduced below.
A Whale of a Good Time
(Robert Bennington's two week expedition to Australia)

It all started at about 11:00 p.m. Thursday night, August 8th, 1996.

My aunt, Tanya Alston, dropped me and two bags off at the Honolulu airport, marking the beginning of my adventure. As we said our goodbyes Tanya reminded me to call her if there were any problems, but what could go wrong? I had been planning this trip for months. As I checked my bags in I waited patiently to receive my boarding pass and be directed towards the gate I had to catch my plane at. "May I please see your Visa, sir" asked the Qantas Air check-in attendant. Being the teenager that I am I said 'no problem' and proceeded to open my wallet to hand her my Visa (credit card). She smiled graciously and handed me back my credit card, and replied "I meant your Visa to enter Australia, sir." Now, this is where the problem arose. I had neither heard of nor was I in possession of such a thing. I spent the next hour and twenty minutes trying to figure out how I missed such a big factor in my trip to Australia, while Qantas Air tried to persuade the Australian Embassy to allow me into the country. It was not until 12:28 a.m. (two minutes before my flight was scheduled to leave) that I was given the "ok" and both my bags and I were loaded onto the plane.

After a day and night of flying, I finally arrived in Hervey Bay, Australia where I was to spend the next two weeks. I was greeted by Wally Franklin and later by Trish Franklin. Wally and Trish presently operate The Oceania Project and have operated it since they created it in 1988.

"The Oceania Project is a non-profit organization established to raise awareness about Cetacea (Whales and Dolphins) and the Ocean Environment through Educational activities and Expeditions," replied Wally to one of my many questions I asked him during my two week stay. Wally's extraordinary memory and knowledge made me soon realize that with every question I asked him, I had obtained the same amount of information that I could from reading an encyclopaedia for a week.


Alyssa, Katie and Damiem share research duties with Robert.
While on the Expedition other participants and I were involved with The Oceania Project's Whale and Dolphin Research Program, which entailed direct experience in field research and the collection of scientific data on Humpback Whales, Dolphins and the Marine Environment of Hervey Bay.

A day on the expedition usually consisted of waking up at about 6:00 am., measuring and recording the temperature, salinity and turbidity of the sea water and also taking a sample of the water to be examined later that year in a laboratory. We would set out to find the Humpbacks at about 7:00 a.m. from our anchor spot along the beach of Fraser Island (the world's largest sand island).
We would usually encounter a playful group of Bottlenose Dolphins that would enjoy about 5 minutes of gliding back and forth through "Karma's" (the catamaran sail boat we were aboard) bow wake, before swimming off to play some other game. Once we spotted a "pulse" (the name Wally gave to groups of whales entering the bay because they go through the bay more as pulses than as a long continuous flow) we would head in their direction. We stayed a safe distance away from the whales to try not to disturb them too much, but nothing seemed to keep them from wanting to disturb us.
Some times I questioned who was really watching who. The Humpbacks almost seemed just as interested in our activity as we were in theirs. At one point I dangled my hand in the water off the back of the boat and soon found myself 3 feet away from a 40 ton Humpback.

We normally encountered two to four pods of whales in one day (pods usually consisted of two to three Humpbacks). Some pods would spend two or three hours hanging around the boat watching all the silly looking creatures waving and clicking little boxes at them. Others wouldn't even acknowledge that we were there and would swim right past us.


Roberts relaxes with Evan and Alyssa after an arduous day in the field.
At about three o'clock in the afternoon we would set sail and head towards our new anchor spot along Fraser Island. Following dinner and a brief visit to the island, we were treated to a video, slide show, or a group conversation about whales and dolphins. Most of us would then retire to the bow of the boat where we would climb into our swags (canvas bags we slept in to keep out the cold - has sleeping bag and pad inside. With the rocking of the boat, the beautiful star lit sky above us, and a long day of cetacean paradise behind us we would soon fall to slumber.

Robert with some of his new Australian Family at the end of his two week adventure. (click to enlarge)
Being the only teenage American to ever be a part of The Oceania Project made my experience even more amazing. I was treated with large amounts of kindness and with an occasional "Bloody Yankee" joke. The combination of the extraordinary wildlife, beautiful weather, and the cheerful and caring Queensland personalities of my hosts Wally and Trish Franklin made my trip absolutely breath taking. I will forever remember the whales and dolphins that touched my heart during those two amazing summer weeks (winter in Australia). And I will always cherish the memories of, and hope to one day see again, all the warm and friendly people I met on my expedition - the people I now consider my Australian family.

The Expedition Journal pages were created with the help of a Canon Compact Digital Camera Canon Compact Digital Camera

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