A Travellerspoint blog

August 2005

It's All About The Wildlife

Kangaroos & Koalas?

A major part of what makes Australia so unique from the rest of the world is the wildlife. For millions of years the various critters that roam this red land were left to their own devices and allowed to evolve in whatever way they saw fit. As a result, when the first Europeans came to Australia they were somewhat baffled by the various furry creatures. One of the first englishmen to observe a kangaroo described it as a "small bird of beautiful plumage."

Today there are more kangaroos in Australia than when Europeans first arrived 250 years ago, due to more water and food sources being created by the development of agriculture. This however has both positive and negative outcomes. It's obviously good for our hopping friends as it helps keep the population strong and growing but the flip-side to this is that a larger population means they are harder hit during times of drought. As the tucker dwindles in the back of beyond, the roo's come closer and closer to the road in search of food and the outcome is gruesome. And due to our furry friends being nocturnal, they generally meet their maker on the steel bars of a hurtling road-train. The more unfortunate encounters for both man & beast are when the average car hits a kangaroo. The animal being likely to either end up somewhere inside the engine of a Ford or Holden or apparantley, if you are unlucky enough to hit one whilst it's mid-hop, it could end up coming through your windscreen. A close encounter with the wildlife that you really didn't count on having! On the long drive between South Australia & Western Australia, there is a stretch of road between the Cocklebiddy Roadhouse (which incidentally has it's own time-zone! That's got to screw up your TV guide.) and Caiguna where around every 200 metres lies a kangaroo carcuss. It's about 150km's between the afore-mentioned destinations so without doing any calculations it's easy to see that's a lot of dead fur.

It was on this very stretch of road, on a cold, misty morning that my good lady and I added to the carnage on the tarmac. We set off from the Cocklebiddy roadhouse at an hour which we thought reasonable enough for the kangaroos to be settling down for the day. Ten minutes into our days drive I happened to look to my left, through the passenger side window, only to lock eyes with a wedgetail eagle standing in the low shrub at the side of the road. I only caught a glimpse for a millisecond (we were going 110k's) but it was one of those moments where your brain takes a snapshot and it sticks in your memory like glue. Seconds later my girlfriend emits one of those high-pitched lady yelps reserved for times of extreme fear. I turn around and see a kangaroo directly in front of the passenger side of the car and doing it's best to outrun our hurtling Ford Falcon. I slammed my feet on the brakes so hard that if we hadn't been wearing seatbelts we could have flown to Perth through the windscreen. Everything went in slow-motion. The poor little bugger must only have managed a couple of bounces before he tried to jump out of the way and slipped onto his side on the wet road, but it seemed to last for minutes. By this time the car had come down to 60k's but we still hit little skippy with a loud thud. Fortuneately for us and the car, the kangaroos final bounce and slip meant that we drove over his legs as he lay on the road and there was no damage to the car and no roo in the windscreen. The bad news was that our furry friend was left lying on the road with broken legs, unable to walk/hop but still trying to pull himself up. We pulled over and got out of the car, unsure of what we could do to help. We flagged down a car but the lady inside was as useful as a boat in the desert. We tried another car. A gentleman in a 4-wheel drive pulled over and we explained the situation, hoping that perhaps he might know of some kangaroo hospital just up the road staffed by disciples of Rolf Harris. His response to our story was,
"I'll hit it on the head with something."
And drove of before we could say,
He pulled up next to the kangaroo, rustled around in the back of his car and pulled out a golf club. He stepped up to the roo, swung for Australia and then pulled the body off the road before jumping back into his car and carrying on with his journey. All in a days work. We stood for a full 10 minutes with our jaws at our ankles. Stupid tourists.

Another major Australian icon is the Koala. These furry little marsupials live in and on gum trees throughout Australia. They sleep for up to twenty-hours a day, perched on a limb of a gum tree. And when they awake they spend most of their time gobbling up gum leaves. This latter fact is thought by many to be the reason why Koalas have the "drunken" slouching look that they often have in the few hours they are awake. Many people think the chemicals in the gum leaves drug our furry chums. Although according the the Australian Koala Foundation this is a myth. The latter organistation are also responsible for these two, interesting facts:

  • When koalas are born, they are only 2 centimetres long, which is about as big as a jellybean!
  • When koalas become upset and worried ("stressed") by the loss of their homes, they may get a disease called " Chlamydia".

Koalas with STD's? Interesting. However, koalas actually become quite aggressive and noisy during their mating season. When a male koala feels the urge of nature, he climbs out of his tree and goes hunting for a lady. To go near a koala whilst they are on the ground and searching for some lady-fur is a very bad move indeed. Something tells me that the folks at Taronga Zoo in Sydney who charge $3 to hold a koala, either know when these cute furballs are in the mood for love or only use lady-koalas to keep the tourists happy. I've been lucky enough whilst in Australia to see a few wild koalas but when you see a male one on the ground, it's a strange sight.

At the beginning of the year, my girlfriend and I found ourselves looking after a small property in Gippsland, Victoria for a friend who was on a trip to Sydney. The property was a small hobby farm with a couple of horses, a couple of cows, a cat and two dogs. Our job was to keep the animals happy and fed. One night after feeding our assortment of 4-legged friends we sat down to watch the saturday night movie, Apollo 13. The film had been on for around an hour (better make that 30 minutes of movie & 30 minutes of commercials, shocking country for adverts) when Tas, the German Shepherd leapt out of his comatosed state and ran towards the window, barking and baying for the blood of whatever was out there. I went to the window, gazed out for a moment then shouted,
"Naomi, there's a fucking monkey in the back yard."
I immediately started to think about what kind of monkeys there were in Australia so as to try and identify the two and a half foot tall ape. I couldn't think of any. I decided on the next best course of action. I went and put on my glasses and quickly realised that I had made a mistake that any short-sighted tourist to this unusual land would have made. It was of course a frisky koala, out hunting down some ladies. The thing is, because you always see koalas in trees, you don't realise how long their back legs are. Even on most postcards, koalas are sitting on their bums and not showing off those fine pins. I went outside, after a brief tussle with the dogs at the doorway, and found the little furball almost jogging towards the nearest tree. I watched as he climbed up about 8 feet to a spot where he felt safe and could get a good look at the surroundings in order to spy any blood-thirsty dogs. Instead, all he saw was a bespectacled Scottish tourist staring back at him. I wandered around the tree, looking at him from various different angles and not once did he take his eyes off me. I eventually left him to his own devices and went back to the adverts/film on the TV. When I went back out after the movie he had gone, drawn away by the power of lust!

The Kangaroo & Koala are probably the most famous of Australias furry wildlife but there are dozens more characters out in the vast expanses of bush. It's just finding them thats the problem.

Posted by scotsman 23:29 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

The Stolen Generation

A few months ago I was flicking through the West Australian when an article caught my eye with a mention of the fine city of Edinburgh. I read on, curious to find out what was happening in the Scottish capital that might merit a half-page feature in an Australian paper. It turned out to be the story of an Aboriginal man who was a victim of an Australian government policy of removing Aboriginal children from their families and assimilating them with the white population. These children became known as the Stolen Generation. The gentleman in question was one of these children but had not only been taken from his family, he had been shipped out of his country and sent to an adopted family beside Edinburgh. This wasn't altogether that unusual as there were children sent all over Europe. What made this particular gentlemans story unique was that his brother had been sent to Lancashire, England and he knew nothing of him. It wasn't until years later that they found out about each other and made contact.

I was hooked by the story. When I'd finished reading it I wanted to know more. It was like one of those films that finish leaving you with a dozen unanswered questions swirling around in your head. I'd heard of the Stolen Generation before through the film Rabbit-Proof Fence but when a story like this comes out so close to your own home you instantly become more interested. So I thought myself very lucky indeed a couple of days ago when as part of my working-holiday Australia experience I was opening up the Overlander Roadhouse at 5am and was greeted by a couple of Aboriginal fellows waiting to fill up on fuel. One of whom had a Scottish accent stronger than my own and the other as broad a Lancashire accent as you'll hear anywhere in the shire itself. Despite the time of the day being against me for a flowing conversation, after a coffee a 45-minute conversation ensued. Having the chance to speak to someone who is a living example of history really makes the story hit home. Between 1910-1970 100,000 children were forcibly taken from their parents. Many were put into catholic missions, some were adopted by white families and others were sent overseas. The Aboriginal parents never had a say. In the case of the "Scottish" Aboriginal (I never did get his name, it was 5 in the morning though) his mother tried to fight against her son being taken and his adopted family denied any contact with his blood family. It might sound a bit over the top to say but the reasoning behind the Australian governments policy would easily sit in a copy of Mein Kampf. It was an attempt to try and solve their "Aboriginal problem" by wiping out the culture. The following is a list of motives & actions; (taken from the website) http://www.eniar.org/stolen.html

  • The main motive was to ‘assimilate’ Aboriginal children into European society over one or two generations by denying and destroying their Aboriginality.
  • Speaking their languages and practising their ceremonies was forbidden
  • They were taken miles from their country, some overseas
  • Parents were not told where their children were and could not trace them
  • Children were told that they were orphans
  • Family visits were discouraged or forbidden; letters were destroyed.

The following is an extract from an essay by Robert Manne on the Stolen Generation:
If they were to be effectively absorbed it was imperative, he believed, to get hold of the babies or infants before the age of six. By puberty it was too late. Under Western Australian law, he pointed out, he had the power to seize by force, and to institutionalise, any native under the age of twenty-one.

These days [white] Australia is trying to make up for it's mistakes. A National enquiry was set-up to investigate what wrong-doings were done during this period. And the country has set 26th of May as "Sorry Day," as a day of apology & rememberance for those children taken from their families. On a more progressive note is the National Reconciliation Week which looks to encourage a more unified Australia. Although from an outside perspective it's sometimes difficult to understand a country that has problems with the indigenious population but is at the same time one of the most multi-cultural nations in the world. It's all politics...

Posted by scotsman 17:38 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Australia On The Move

Ode to The Roadhouse

sunny 24 °C

The Australian Roadhouse, an institution itself in outback travel. According to a questionable Canadian source there are approximately 180 roadhouses scattered across this girt by sea. All varying enormously but with one thing in common, your a hell of a long way from anywhere. Some roadhouses you can chow down on a focaccia and slurp a latte, whilst others you question the origins of the meat in their pies and wonder in amazement how on earth they made coffee so weak it tastes like tea!? However, if you by chance happened to spend an entire day at one of these outback establishments you would likely see the most varied cross-section of Austrlian society in a single spot in of all of this land. All with little more in common than sharing the same strip of tarmac connecting one distant horizon to another.

One of the most consistent of roadhouse frequenters is the common "Gray Nomad." These geriatric travellers fall into two distinct categories; the caravan or motorhome crowd & the tour bus traveller. The former are the more independent minded of the two but despite this personal freedom they sometimes find it difficult to see life past their home on wheels, as though somehow living on the road insulates them from outside world. I suppose in a way it does, but when it gets to the point where you witness an elderly traveller verbally abusing a roadhouse employee about how corporate roadhouse mongrels charge more for fuel than service staions in town, you quickly realise perhaps their 4-wheeled home should be confiscated until they once again come to grasp reality. The second category of gray nomad, the tour bus traveller, is however fully entitled to lose all grasp of reality as they are shuttled from one platter of roadhouse sandwich's to another. Indeed anyone who decides to see Australia by bus should be automatically placed on the queens new years honours list. I challenge anyone to sit in a tin can for 3 to 4 days straight, watching "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" and come out of the ordeal psychologically undamaged. The fact that the gray nomads are already teetering on the verge of senile dementia is a recipe for disaster. In my roadhouse experience there is nothing scarier in this world than being behind a counter whilst an elderly woman with a wispy beard, backed up by 40 other senior citizens, screams,
"HAMMMM," across the counter.
You calmly reply with,
"in what form would you like your ham served? Sandwich? Roll?"
"Sandwich it is then."
You place an order for a ham sandwich only to find it 20 minutes later still in the packet on the table but with the ham missing. These people are a step ahead of us all!

Another common sight at an outback roadhouse is the long-distance truckie. Amazingly easy to spot in a crowd. The uniform is generally a singlet (vest), thongs (flip-flops) and the kind of shorts that normally you'd only see on Kylie Minogue (nothing shiny or skin-tight, but definitely short enough for a full-leg tan.) Again they could fall into two categories; those who are desperate to have a conversation with anyone and those who are desperate for conversation but too mind-numbed to make any sense. The latter are the most interesting. They normally only stop at roadhouses for a caffeine hit and to buy as much greasy consumables as possible. My first encounter with a numbed-brain truckie was a moment of joy and disappointment. I thought I'd found a living example of the evolutionary stage between monkey & man. When posed with the standard Australian greeting "How's it going?" the gentleman in question responded with a series of noises along the lines of,
"Ughh, Ugghhh, Ahhhh."
We resorted to sign-language after this which proved to be even less useful. I quickly found out he had little control over his arms as he randomly pointed to an assortment of objects including "ladies towels." Maybe he's got a nose-bleed I thought? No such luck. In the end we managed to narrow down his arm-waves to an area generally containing mugs for coffee and the problem was solved. After his injection of caffeine he began to mumble a few more words, incoherant at first but clearly originating from the english language. It was the breakfast however that managed to turn him back into a semi-normal person and we even had a small-talk conversation, which considering the initial start to our time together was a small miracle. After this I bid him farewell and watched as he ambled across the road to his truck, my jaw dropped. He was driving a road-train so big that it needed an escort car with it to warn approaching vehicles. I couldn't believe that someone would voluntarily give this loose-limbed man a licence to sit behind the wheel of a truck that could drive through a house and keep going. These drivers are supposed to be responsible for the maintenance of their trucks as well as safely driving them from one destination to the next. Yet if they are struggling to stay awake and drive the long distances who knows what kind of condition some of their trucks are in. One example here in WA would be an incident whereby a road-train had been poorly maintained by the owner and on one journey one of the trailers broke off, careered onto the opposite side of the road and straight into an oncoming car:http://www.safetyline.wa.gov.au/pagebin/pg003258.htm. The Australian governments roadside advertsising campaigns of "stop, revive, survive," are exactly what all the brain-dead truckies need roadhouses for.

Another vital service that the roadhouse provides to Australians is that it keeps many of them fat. According to an article in The Age, more than 25% of children in Australia are now classed as overweight and adult obesity in Oz has doubled in the past decade according to Overweight and Obesity by Justin Healey. When I first arrived in Australia nine months ago I spent a few weeks staying in the Sydney suburb of Cronulla. I slowly became convinced that I was possibly the whitest, puniest and least attractive person on the continent as all around I was surrounded by bronzed boobs & biceps. However, once you leave the beach and experience other parts of Australia you realise that the American influence isn't just prevalent on the TV but also in the diets, and subsequently on the bodies, of many an Aussie. The Overlander Roadhouse in WA goes through 3 or 4 boxes of chips every day and enough cheesy delictables to keep an army of mice well fed for years. I have seen people come in who could easily be descirbed as "morbidly obese" and order a couple of burgers and a bucket of chips for themselves, "oh and maybe throw in a cheese sausage as well. For while I'm waiting on the burgers." Add onto this the mountains of Mrs Macs pies and Iced-Coffees that most roadhouses will go through on a daily basis, plus the nitbits for the car that help stave off the boredom, and the roadhouse well and truely does it's share to help keep Australians fat.

The Australian Roadhouse, an institution itself. With hundreds of characters and thousands of stories to be told as well as a place your sure to get a portion of chips....

Posted by scotsman 17:24 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

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