In which I have to pretend to be a tree
Starring Minty the reluctant hugger and Smiggins who had completed a basic obedience and behaviour course.
Obviously I was looking forward to seeing my family in Brisbane – my aunt and uncle I’d not seen for 20 years live just north of the city and one of my other aunts was out visiting from South Africa – but to be totally honest the other thing I was looking forward to was western food. And in particular cheese and wine. Thankfully both were supplied in abundance.
And my introduction to Australia food was an “oker” one – a steak barbie (gas of course) down on the Gold Coast (where my cousin lives) complete with beers kept cold in an eski and then drunk from stubbie holders. Oh it was good. Over the next few days I covered off cake, flat-white coffee, chicken wraps, avocado, biltong, bread and salad - some of which was purchased in what I’m told is another Aussie institution – food courts. The two we went into were enormous and buzzing with people eating every conceivable type of food you could imagine. The thing that struck me most though was that pretty much everyone was white and pretty much everyone looked rich or at least middle class. Takes some getting used to after 5 months in SE Asia.
There is no getting away from the wildlife in Australia – there are signs everywhere warning drivers about crossing kangaroos and when I asked to go and see some possums that I’d read live in the trees in the botanical gardens I was told there was no need as my aunt and uncle have one living in the roof their shed. Just walking around the neighbourhood we saw a huge guano (lizard), a pelican and several other species of birds that all looked like they had just escaped from a tropical pet shop. We also spent a very happy morning at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary just outside the city - a very convenient way to see a large number of Australia’s extremely weird animals all in one place. It’s a centre for housing injured animals that can’t be rehabilitated into the wild and for breeding koalas – the wild population is being decimated by habitat destruction and a drug resistant strain of chlamydia.
They do various performances and shows but the mainly you just wander about. We spent quite a bit of time pottering in a field of kangaroos and wallabies (some with feet protruding from their pouches) feeding them handfuls of pellets. There were quite a few with babies in their pouches who were loitering peacefully in the shade until they were spotted by a class of Chinese children in bright pink t-shirts who pursued them with vigour across the grass. They also had a lone platypus in a big tank who swam about in a most obliging manner as his lunch of live worms was dropped into the tank. We were all bemused by a framed certificate hanging on the outside of the Dingo cage that proudly announced that Smiggins had completed a basic obedience and behaviour course. And who knew that Cookaburra (of the old gum tree fame) is an enthusiastic consumer of microwave defrosted whole white mice? I mean what kind of name is Smiggins for a Dingo? I paid the required cash to have a koala cuddle and was handed a somewhat reluctant Minty. Her handler explained that the trick was to pretend I was a tree. Seeing my confused expression she explained that meant to keep really still.
We also spent an afternoon in the city – wandering along the banks of the river. It’s really hard to imagine that just over a year ago this was all under water. Practically the only sign that remains of the devastation is that the mangroves on the far bank are considerably sparser than they were before and in some places the grass hadn’t fully recovered. There are a number of lovely bridges, some huge concert halls and theatres and a beach with a huge swimming pool complex that even on this weekday, was full of people enjoying the sunshine.