A Tale of Great Barrier Island by Gus

July 27, 2014

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For five weeks in June and July 2014 I went with 29 other boys and two teachers from school to Great Barrier Island  in the Hauraki Gulf.  We were there to learn some new skills, have fun, learn about the community who live there and be challenged.

I flew on to Great Barrier Island (GBI) on a tiny little plane, it looked and felt dodgy.  It was a noisy plane so we got given ear muffs.  Mr Hall,  Aaron and I landed at GBI “international” airport, and drove about 1h to Orama.  We arrived at night and put our bags in cabins and went to tea.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe went on two long uphill walks on Saturday and Sunday with just the teachers because the OPC staff were having a break from the girls trip.  Coopers Castle was a long, very steep walk with great views at the top.  We had to keep away from the edge because there was a big cliff with a huge drop but there was a great view over Okiwi.  It was hard to walk up because it was so steep and we had to scramble parts of it.  On Monday we had the power and water tour and it showed us that Orama gets their water from a stream and power from a generator because they don’t have mains electricity.

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Next Monday we went on our first expedition.  My group walked one and a half hours to a bay.  We found a big dead  mako shark on the beach. and mussel barrels that we kept throwing into the sea and they would float back into shore. We descoverd some good climbing rocks that we scrambled on. We also found some kina it looked like a hard spiky ball but you open it with 2 spoons and there is a mussle like fish inside which Teina ate. Mitchell also caught a rat with his bare hands and strangled it to death.

When we got back to Orama it started raining that night. It got really windy and rainy on Wednesday.  We practised how to belay then went white water rafting (aka brown water floating) down the so-called stream that became a river.  It wasn’t very fun and we got  cold,  wet and numb and then we had to carry the kayaks back to the trailer .

On Wednesday night at 11:59 pm we were awoken from our sleep and were evacuated to the Orama lounge because there was a big storm.  We had to get dressed quickly – luckily I had my waterproof trousers so I pulled them on over my fat pants, grabbed my sleeping bag and rain jacket and followed the adult with the torch – we had no idea where we were going because it was dark and wild.  It was tipping it down with rain, my cabin was shaking in the wind. it was kind of scary but not really, it was more exciting than scary.  In the morning  there was mud everywhere, tractors,  trees and a generator were washed out to sea.  We sat in Orama lounge all day because it was too dangerous to go outside because of all the debris around.teenage boys holding mops as if they were soldiers

The next day we helped Orama clean up. My group had the hardest task of cleaning the classroom and gym, which had knee deep mud and took 3 days to get out of the classroom. Then we ripped up the carpet and cleaned the walls. The tables and the couches had been washed from the classroom through the gym and into the foyer on the other side of the gym. I found my student book outside with mud all through it and soaking wet.

great barrier clean up

My group spent 4 days shoveling mud while group 3 went to Glenfern and got on TV, but luckily TV3  came to Orama for a little bit and we were on TV too. Glenfern is an island wildlife sanctuary that Scott and Emma look after, they are trying to regenerate the native populations of NZ  birds and skinks.  I found a Chevron Skink buried in the mud at Glenfern; they are very rare and so it was quite exciting finding one. 10502489_242198045974132_7513004355070039754_n

Shoveling mud was boring but seeing what we accomplished felt great. Orama lounge became our new hang out space which was way cooler than the old classroom. Unfortunately, there wasn’t another gym that we could use.

Sea kayaking was the most challenging activity and I didn’t really like it because we got wet and cold.  The day we did it, it was really windy, there were salty big waves and a big swell.  We had to turn back because it was too rough – the waves were 3m high they had big white caps and the wind was 50 knots gusting to 65 knots.

I loved coasteering, it was so much fun and I want to do it again.  It was epic getting pulled in and pushed out in the swell.  I jumped in off some rocks that were 9m high.  I did a swan dive off a 4m high rock – I was a bit sore after the swan dive but it was great fun.

10336627_236232233237380_5175793285606235730_nMy favourite was surf kayaking and I really want to do it again.  It was brilliant  catching the waves and getting tipped!  I got quite good at it and I came 3rd in competition but I got the highest score  of 7.5.  We had to different heats and do tricks but it was timed and I lost in the semi-final.

Sailing was fun but scary because we were in the middle of the ocean with big waves and it felt like we were going to flip.  I didn’t want to be the first to capsize but once we did, we realised that it was quite good fun and we did it lots!  The thing is once you flip you aren’t supposed to stay in the boat or the boat ends up completely upside down.  But my partner stayed in the boat and it completely tipped it so then we had to stand on top of the upside down boat to try to get it back the right way up!  It was hard but we did it.


Crossing the Bridge

June 22, 2014

Celia Lashlie, in her book “He’ll be Okay: growing gorgeous boys into good men” talks about “crossing the bridge of adolescence” and the need for boys to have the opportunity to have positive male role models and take steps away from the protective arms of their mothers.  To have a place that allows them to take some risks, to challenge themselves, learn what they can do, find out about the impact of their actions on others and learn to make good choices.

At the moment Gus is away on Great Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf.  He is halfway through a five week stay there as part of his Year 10 Curriculum at Hillcrest High School.  They have no technology except on Sundays, they are sharing accommodation with other boys, cooking their own meals, doing their own washing and learning to fend for themselves under the watchful eyes of two teachers and the OPC staff.

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As well as all that they have their lessons in classrooms but, more importantly, outside the classroom.  Learning as they play and work.  Learning as they kayak, tramp, coasteer, skipper boats, fish, swim.  Learning as they help in the community, visit local residents, talk to them and observe their way of life.

We are kept in touch with what they do through the FaceBook page where the teachers add photos and comments about what the boys are up to and we get a weekly, very crackly, phone call home.

However, this trip the boys have been hit with rather more than they bargained for!  Ten days into their trip high winds and lashing rain wrought havoc across New Zealand but was especially severe in the Hauraki Gulf.  ImageThe stream that had been a trickle became a raging torrent, sweeping mud and debris through the camp, into the classrooms and bringing down walkways and footbridges.  Fortunately they were all safe but were without power, clean water, or sanitation.  We received an email warning us that the boys may need to be sent home but in the end, the situation was assessed and it was decided that it was safe to keep them on the island and put them to work helping out with the cleaning up process.  What a fantastic learning opportunity for them!  Judging by the photographs and the news report, they have rebuilt paths, cleaned up buildings, helped local residents, moved debris and dug out water channels.

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The weather for the clean up appears to have been good and the photos show the boys enjoying sunshine and clear skies.  They have also still managed to go out on expeditions and have some fun.  We parents are all proud of our boys for the work they have been doing and food parcels have been winging their way to GBI at a great rate of knots if the man in the post office is to be believed.

teenage boys holding mops as if they were soldiers

I think our boy will come home having well and truly taken his first steps across that bridge.  He had mixed emotions about going away for five weeks – excitement mingled in probably equal measure with apprehension.  But I guess that is how it should be at the age of fourteen.  We have missed him and will be happy when he is home, but we have enjoyed scanning the photos on Facebook for glimpses of him (he has a habit of hiding!) and reading the updates from the teachers, hearing his voice in the crackly phone calls and knowing that he is having fun, he is learning and he is growing.

See you soon Big Gus!


A flying visit

May 6, 2014

I am fighting the lethargy and fatigue of jetlag.  It is inevitable that I will fall asleep if I stop moving.  However, it is too early to go to bed or I will wake at some unearthly hour and not be able to regain the deliciousness of slumber…  So, I have decided to ramble about our whistle stop tour of the UK that is the cause (partly) of my state of exhaustedness!

Eighteen days is not enough. Never again will I attempt to fit a trip to the homeland in such a short length of time.  I should have learned from last year’s trip to Spain.  But I thought that the fact that I was studying, immersed in a foreign language was the main cause for my exhaustion then.  Wrong!  It is a causal factor, but the main reason is that two weeks is simply not enough time to travel across the time zones, regulate a body clock, visit as many people and places as possible and then fly back across the time zones and actually feel human. Add to that a twelve week term, with two camps and a full term of teaching and organising Teacher Professional Development…

Nevertheless, I am glad I went.  It was wonderful to see my beautiful sisters, my nieces, nephews, great nieces and lots of dear friends.  Some things and people never change – how refreshing!  Isn’t it amazing how we slip so easily back into friendships as if we had never been away?  We lament that we don’t keep in touch often enough, our lives are so busy, we have so much to do, the immediacy of our lives and the issues connected with them impede maintaining contact with those far away.  But once together, it is as if we had never been apart.  Yes, water has flowed beneath the bridge, but we are the same people with the same interests that bound us and bind us still.  We say that we will write more often, speak more often.  But we won’t.  The reality is that we know each other, we know that our friendships run deep and we will maintain contact ephemerally if not tangibly.  We will pick up where we left off the next time we meet.

So where did we get to?  Our whistle stop tour took us to Olonzac in France, Ingleton & Kirkby Lonsdale in Cumbria, Harrogate in  North Yorkshire, Leeds in West Yorshire, Stanley in Newcastle, the Northumberland coast, and Edinburgh, Scotland.  How many people did we meet up with us? 41.

It was a trip full of nostalgia – visiting old haunts – fleetingly.  And a reminder of how bloody cold it is in Spring in the UK!  We really have acclimatised to NZ weather!

No more writing… here are some images to reflect ouir time away, the people we met and the things we saw.


The “Top of the North”: Sand and sea

January 19, 2014

90 Mile Beach has also been on our “to do” list for a while but we started off at Bayly’s Beach just because we ran out of time travelling north.  Bayly’s Beach is on Ripiro Beach which is another driveable beach over 100km long.  We took the “5 minute” walk from the campsite down a steep hill and arrived on the beach just as the sun was going down.  It is a beautiful spot, several photographers were set up with tripods so it is clearly a well known place for a sunset.  The 4WDs making circles on the beach were a little alarming but they quickly raced away into the distance. 

Wide, sandy beach.  Tide going out has left wet sand in which the setting sun is reflected, Clouds in teh sky are also reflected in the wet sand.

 

 

The quick way north is to get the car ferry from Rawene which is an interesting place.  Once a thriving little port with some historic buildings, most notably the courthouse and gaol and a great little cafe on stilts in the harbour “The Boatshed Cafe”.  Nowadays, it seems to survive on the basis that the car ferry transports tourists and locals across the harbour, so avoiding a long drive around windy roads. On the way we stopped at Koutu in Hokianga Harbour to look at the boulders.  We spent a good hour wandering up the beach climbing on the strange spherical boulders that look like giants have abandoned their huge bowling balls right in the middle of a game!  It looked like the best ones were further along but we didn’t have time to linger – if we had realised how extensive they were we would have made more time, but we have made a mental note and will return!

Large spherical boulder ion a sandy beach.  Mountains in the background, clear, blue sky.

Our next beach stop was Rarawa Beach.  What an awesome place!  We could just as easily have gone to Henderson’s Beach but missed the turn off!  The sand was so white… and squeaky!  Silica sand, really fine and the blue sky made it like a tropical beach.  Aonghas and I had great fun in the waves while Nigel watched camera in hand.  There is a lot of work going on to regenerate the sand dunes as there is all over New Zealand.  The plants vital to stabilising the dunes are being re-introduced and visitors are discouraged from walking across the delicate dune environment.  Last year, my Year 12 students helped out with some planting and maintenance of a regeneration project in Raglan.  We were amazed at the photographs of the area just 50 years ago when extensive dunes were in evidence.  Some of the erosion is natural as high tides wash the sand away and deposit it in other areas, but the activities of tourists and building developers contributes significantly too. 

White, sandy beach. Clear blue sky.

 

After our play in the waves we went for a walk along the beach to the rocks where we fossicked in rockpools.  Lots of crabs scuttled away as we approached; we also saw small fish, deep red sea anemones and a small octopus hiding in a crevice.  Just its eyes were visible and the regular sweep of a tentacle as prey swept past in the waves.  The rocks were unforgiving on bare feet as they were covered in barnacles but the pools were just too enticing to ignore!  The tide was coming in  so we had to be careful not to get cut off and we ended up diving into the ocean again to cool off and play in the breakers.  As the waves rolled in we saw shoals of fish seemingly trapped in them.  Where do they go to when the waves break?  We also felt little lumps in the water and soon realised that they were bits of jellyfish!  The people in the water with us said that they had seen them at 90 Mile Beach before but didn’t think they were dangerous.  We certainly suffered no ill effects but made sure that we showered well on return to the campsite. 

Boy jumping in the waves.  Clear blue sky. Beautiful summer day.

 

We visited 90 Mile Beach on a day when the wind was blowing hard off the Tasman Sea.  Apart from the tourist buses and some other families braving the chilly gusts the beach was deserted.  It only served to illustrate just how vast this place is.  Blown up sand on the horizon as far as you can see north and south and the Tasman Sea stretching out to infinity to the west.  We wandered to the water’s edge to dip our toes – as you have to – and when our attention lapsed were swamped by rogue waves that threatened to reach our thighs!  It is a wild and beautiful place and I was sorry that we did not have time to go back again on a different day.  It was also strange to see buses going up and down with the Tasman in the background.  We decided that it would be foolish to attempt to get our car onto the sand despite the fact that it is a public highway; the sand at the entrance to the beach was soft and we watched the buses taking a long run up to get off the beach! 

Tour bus travelling alon 90 Mile Beach with the Tasman Sea in the background

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Heading further north next ….


The “Top of the North”; Kauri & Gum

January 18, 2014

teenage boy standing in front of signpost showing directions to all parts of the world.  White lighthouse in the background, clear, blue sky. This is the lighthouse at Cape Reinga, the northernmost tip of New Zealand.

After last year’s trip to the “Top of the South”, this year we thought we would follow up with a trip to the “Top of the North”.  Very little planning and very late too but but we have car, tent and a map  - all you need for a road trip.  Lachlan didn’t get to come again as he was working.  Hard life when you are a teenager needing money to fund an extravagant lifestyle of Magic cards, trendy clothes and nights out with the boys!

We decided to head up the SH1, peel off at Brynderwyn and up to Dargaville.  This is Gumdiggers country – the whole economy from the mid 1800s to mid 1900s was predicated on digging the gum out of the ground where Kauri trees had fallen centuries ago  to ship back to Lancashire and Birmingham to make into varnish.  The gum is a bit like the white blood cells that form scabs to help the healing process when we cut ourselves.  When the Kauri trees are damaged the gum leaks out to heal; it collects in the crooks of branches and on the tree trunks.  Where the trees had fallen the gum was buried with them.  The gumdiggers probed for the buried Kauri trees and then dug down to find the hardened gum.  In areas where the Kauri trees were still standing they “bled” the trees for the gum.  Many of the diggers came from Dalmatia (what is now Croatia) and were known as Dallies.  They lived in shanty villages in huts made out of sackcloth or corrugated iron and baked earth sods.

Dargaville was once a thriving port but looks a little sad nowadays.  Nevertheless, there has been some effort at regenerating the place and we found a great little cafe for lunch.  It is situated on the curved reaches of a wide, brown, muddy, tidal river which is quite impressive from above.  The Dargaville museum is definitely worth a visit – we spent a good couple of hours in its tardis-like depths.  It is a treasure trove of collected memorabilia of life in the area; all manner of trinkets, household objects and tools of the trades undertaken by the inhabitants of the area.   However, despite an impressive display of lumps of gum and carvings made of  gum, gumdigging equipment and detailed explanations of how it was extracted and the lives of the gumdiggers, we left the museum still not knowing why the gum was mined!   We found out a little later in the day when we stopped at a shop selling Kauri woodware and gum jewellry.  The main market for the gum was England and the USA where it was made into high quality varnishes.  As the supply of gum dwindled and the good quality lumps were dug out, the smaller, low grade gum was used to make glue.  Eventually, the trees that had been “pegged” to bleed the gum out of them died and fell, the deposits in the already fallen trees was too deep and difficult to dig for and the gumdiggers had to find something else to earn a living.  Many of them stayed in the area, some had made enough money to buy land and turned to farming, others had other trades such as carpentry, building or ironmongery.  It was mostly single men who came over from Croatia; they settled with Maori women and stayed, others went back to their families in Croatia or had already brought their wives and children over.  It is strange to see the many road names with the “ich” suffix and shops and businesses with Eastern European names.

We found a great DOC campsite at Trounson on the edge of the Waipoua Forest where we stayed a couple of nights.   It seemed quiet when we first arrived late in the afternoon but by 10pm the place was full.  We are used to DoC sites with minimal facilities so were surprised to find that there were proper toilets, hot showers and a fully equipped kitchen.  The place is well known for being able to see kiwi at night, so as the sun went down we headed off into the bush with a red torch trying to walk as silently as possible.  (Not very silently with a teenage Aonghas!) The forest was like Piccadilly Circus, red lights beaming everywhere and the footfall and whisperings of  probably a hundred or so people along the 3km of track!  We were excited when we heard kiwi calling and scuffling in the bush but we didn’t see any.   Nigel and I decided to do the whole walk the following night; we set off early to avoid the crowds but despite sitting quietly in several spots for extended periods of time and hearing them again, we still had no luck sighting any kiwi.

One of the main reasons we had gone to Waipoua was to see the giant Kauri.  We didn’t manage to get this far north when we came to NZ in 2005 on holiday and the Kauris have been on our wishlist ever since.  Once upon a time the Kauri covered the northern part of New Zealand.   Huge swathes of forest were buried in some sort of cataclismic event hundreds of thousands of years ago, but the forests regenerated and when the European settlers arrived in the early 1800s they quickly recognised that these mighty trees with their long straight trunks were invaluable for ship building, houses and furniture.  The timber industry, like the gum digging was to decimate the Kauri population as trees were felled to send to America and Europe.  Thousands of tons of timber was wasted as the methods for getting the logs from the hillsides down to the ports was brutal.  Like anything that seems plentiful, the people benefiting from it don’t see the long term effects of their actions.  Now there is a huge conservation and regeneration project underway to re-forest the land with these beautiful and majestic trees.

We were amazed at the number of large Kauris that are in this forest.  Up until now we have seen the odd large Kauri and stands of young Kauri in the forests in the Coromandel, and in the Waikato.  Here in Waipoua Forest there seemed to be a significant number.  It is difficult to know how healthy the Kauri are as the 21st century has brought a new blight – Kauri dieback disease.  Interestingly though, whilst we had to disinfect our footwear to prevent spreading the disease in the forest area around Trounson, there are no such measures in the tourist areas where the large Kauri trees are.

Tane Mahuta is the tallest Kauri tree in New Zealand and it is truly impressive.  So too are the other trees we walked to; The Four Sisters – four Kauri fused together at the lower trunks that then soar high up together;  Te Mata Ngahere, the second tallest Kauri.  We also walked past Cathedral Cove which is a group of Kauri in the middle of the forest that tower up like the columns of a gothic cathedral to Yakas whose roots are protected by a boardwalk which means that you can get up close for some “tree-hugging”.  The walks through the forest are all on prepared paths and boardwalks and visitors are urged not to stray from the path as the shallow feeding roots of the Kauri are delicate and easily damaged.  The Kauri are inspiring and I am ever reminded about how small we are in a world that can produce such beauty and splendour.


Long time, no see (or write)

November 30, 2013
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boys playing card game

 

I don’t like to look at the last date that I posted here, it seems to have been so long!  Work seems to have subsumed all of us and when it hasn’t been work that has been taking up our time, it has been other stuff!   Like getting eldest son back from Canada after he lost his UK passport with NZ Residency Permit in it!  Or getting youngest son to hockey, football or squash trainings or matches.  Writing exams, presentations, going to conferences, replacing dead dishwashers, taming wild gardens, entertaining guests, working ….Pink Magnolia blossom

So, eldest son is safely back in NZ, has job, is treating house like a hotel, and youngest has finished winter sport and is now busy with summer hockey and mountain biking.  I am busy with the “end of year, you must be winding down now that seniors are on study leave, manic time” when we play catch up with all the planning we don’t have time to do during the rest of the year whilst still trying to maintain “valid and meaningful” programmes with junior students who are not taking your subject next year so couldn’t give a s**t!

Oops!  I am being cynical!  Having to write reports for my form class after a week away at camp at a rate of two an hour is a daunting thought, so I am procrastinating!  Glass of red wine in hand, DS106 on the radio and a full belly are not a good recipe for report writing at 10.30pm so I have given up and will go back “refreshed” tomorrow morning. Young man wearing climbing helmet ready to support a group

 

So what of this year?  Well, Lachlan has been away for most of it in Canada working at Camp Jubilee in British Colombia.  He seems to have had a ball and has been offered a “proper job” there next year from March to October.  He just has to earn enough money to buy his airfare and pay for his life saving qualification which is a pre-requisite of them giving him a contract.  Fortunately, he has managed to get himself a job working in an outdoor clothing shop for the next couple of months.  He also has the possibility of some work with the outdoor providers that I use for my camps – Bigfootadventures - early next year.  For the last week he has “volunteered” on our school camp at Raglan and has made a pretty good account of himself so Bigfoot are keen to have him on board for next year.

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at a rugby match. Boy with flags

Aonghas is nearly at the end of his first year at secondary school.  He has done pretty well – prefers anything that doesn’t require writing – and considering that he has done very little study, he seems to have achieved in most of his subjects.  Think we may need to pin him down a bit next year!

How do you get boys who prefer to be doing sport (or computer games) sit down and study?  We didn’t get it right with Lachlan and we are struggling with Aonghas!  Both bright but no drive to achieve highly.  I guess they need to have some clear goal to aim for?  I worked hard because it was what was expected of me and out of sheer pigheadedness; my Dad made some off the cuff comment at some point about their being no point in girls studying and going to university because it would be a waste of money since all we would do would be to get married and have children!  My boys seem to have no real idea of what they want to do and with no goal there seems to be no impetus to achieve more than is necessary.

school group in kayaks

However, we have really good feed back about how well Lachlan worked in Canada, he has survived, and colleagues and friends compliment us on his demeanor and the way he interacts and communicates with other people.  It is heartening to be reassured that he has the qualities that we hoped we had encouraged him to develop – honesty, integrity, compassion, a sense of what is right and what is wrong, common sense, flexibility…..

So, what have we done this year?  Looking back at our photos we have managed to get out and about but not very far…

January – Top of the South – holiday in South Island, Wairarapa and then back to school

February – Back to school, My first MOOC, Karangahape Gorge

March – saying goodbye to Lachlan, Raglan, Blue Lake

April – Dickey Flat & Akwakatting

May – Spain

June – hockey, football

July – Fiji, hockey & football

August – mid-winter sports

September – tourist visiting out and about

October – not much! gardening,

November – gardening, Yr 10 Camp

Time to make some plans for Summer!  Head north or south?  Gus wants to go to Oz. Lachlan will be working.  Me and Nige just want to chill – anywhere!!

So many options…. will let you know.

Boy beneath trig point on top of hill.  Clear blue sky


Pukete Spaghetti 2013

April 7, 2013

Boy on the winners podium after coming 2nd in mountain bike raceWell the first year we were here Lachlan’s first mountain bike race was the Pukete Spaghetti – the race run byHamilton Mountain Bike Club of which we have been members since we arrived here.  Lachlan was taken under someone’s wing and raced in the six hour event as part of a team. He has raced in it every year since then either in a team or solo.  Gus rode two years ago in a team of  boys of similar ages but last year the race was cancelled.

Boy riding bike in mountain bike race

The 9km course is pretty much the same as we ride (I say “we”, but I haven’t ridden this year at all for one reason or another) every week; it is quite gnarly, lots of bends and wiggles (hence the Spaghetti!) and quite a lot of uphill.  Gus was going to ride with some friends but in typical thirteen yr old boy fashion, they just didn’t get themselves organised.  So at the eleventh hour we entered Gus in the three hour solo U17 race just so he could get out and ride as well as to support the club.

Well, “the boy done good”!  He managed five laps in three hours of continuous riding which we reckon is pretty impressive.  Well done, Gus!  The benefit of a small competition is that there is more chance of winning something; there were only two boys in his division and the other one seemed like he was a good couple of years older, bigger and stronger than Gus, so Gus was second! He also won a spot prize, so came away with a $10 voucher for Velo Expresso, a tin of Spaghetti and a tyre! A good day out!

 

 


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