11.28.2014

The Sanctuary District - Healesville Australia

The most poisonous snake on Earth is the Inland Saipan native to Australia, if the zoological experts at the Healesville (Australia) Animal Sanctuary are to be believed. Additionally, the top 10 most poisonous snakes in all the world live in Australia. While there are no documented human deaths from the Inland Saipan, it is a moody and unpredictable beastie. The key word, of course, is documented. I can imagine someone deep in the Australian bush getting bitten and, with no way to get help, never being seen again. That would be an undocumented death. Still, it seems to me anyone who goes out into the Australian bush ought to know what they are up against, so maybe no one has died from that particular snake. But people have surely died, with documentation to confirm it, from the bites of the other nine species of venomous* snakes in Australia, like the Brown and Black Snakes.

Today, my family toured the Healesville Sanctuary, a zoological park (zoo) filled with native Australian animals. My sister and I have been there before, when we visited Australia as kids. I remember being allowed to pet kangaroos and wallabies as a kid, but that has changed a bit now. While you are not strictly speaking forbidden from petting these animals, you can only do so if they come to you, and this is highly correlated with whether you are presenting them with a foodstuff that they like to eat (and is legal to feed them). Suffice to say, no petting occurred this time, but we still got up close and personal with them in their enclosures. They are quite tame, so they mill about in their areas separated from the people by just a rope that signifies the edge of the walking path. They have monetized the official animal petting experience now, charging $12 for what they call "Magical Moments" with the animals, complete with photographs of your animal encounter available for an additional cost. I am not one to succumb to such marketing ploys. If the animals don't want to come get petted by me of their own free will, I respect them all the more for it. We did see some other people having their magical moments with the beasties. The vicariousness of that was sufficient.

In order to get some much needed exercise after all the delicious but not low calorie Australian food I have been eating, I parted ways with my family for an hour or so to pound out some power walking through the fairly large zoo grounds. I spent some time in the Lyre Bird aviary talking to a zookeeper who was there to feed the elusive birds. The Lyre Birds did not show, although a Bower Bird did. Apparently, the male Lyre Bird had recently shed his showy tail feathers and when that happens he becomes very reclusive and shy, like a woman might be hesitant to go out in public without makeup or decently stylish clothing...but if she is hungry enough, she might. The female Lyre Bird apparently does as the male does, because she did not show either. They Lyre Birds did not sing as far as I could tell, although this is questionable, because Lyre Birds can perfectly mimic other birds, and in fact almost any sound they hear. They have an organ in their throats called a syrinx that is made of keratin and it is believed to account for their amazing mimicry. The Lyre Bird's syrinx is the largest of any known bird species. The zookeeper said he once heard the Lyre Bird making a strange call he had not heard before and a Vietnamese visitor to the zoo said it was Vietnamese. They will also mimic the sound of a few dozen school children at a distance, because school trips to the sanctuary occur almost daily. It was quite educational talking to the zookeeper even if the birds were AWOL.

During the heat of the day, most of the animals were fairly dormant and just lying about here and there. The koala bears were asleep in their gum trees when we arrived late morning, but later in the afternoon, shortly before we were due to leave, I caught a koala milling about. Koalas are not pettable at any time because they have razor sharp claws. They may look cute but they will make every attempt to disembowel you if given the chance.

The dingos were also up and about later in the day. These animals fill the niche of wild dogs in Australia. They are, in fact, a type of dog and can interbreed with domesticated dogs (and sometimes do), but interestingly, dingos do not bark. They make all kinds of other howling and chattering sounds...but nothing that could be defined as a bark.

We watched a decent presentation about the Duck-Billed Platypus, a primitive mammal called a monotreme that lays eggs but nurses its young after they hatch on "milk" that comes out of sweat glands on the beastie's abdomen. They are not even developed enough to be called teets. Male platypi, but not females, are venomous. They have a bony spur behind each of their hind legs that is supplied with a quite painful venom stored in a gland in their thigh. If Creationists really wanted to make a compelling case for their bogus beliefs, the platypus would be a great specimen, albeit not a very intelligently designed one. It is almost like God's zoological technicians biffed and accidentally combined bird and mammal traits in one creature. In fact, Australian Aborigines believe that platypi are the result of that kind of "just so story." According to their Dream Time origin myths, a swan and a water rat fell in love and got married. The platypus was their ungainly offspring, part egg laying duck and part water dwelling, milk producing rat.

I learned quite a bit today. It was a marathon trip to the zoo to be sure. I had a couple of meat pies (Australian staple) for lunch at the zoo cafeteria, as well as an Asian salad of some type. I felt OK with that given all the calories I burned walking. A woman from Seattle stopped me to chat briefly about the Leinenkugel's beer shirt I was wearing as I was power walking my way around the zoo grounds. Apparently, she had stopped at the Chippewa Falls WI brewery en route from Minneapolis to Door County in some earlier chapter of her life and had greatly enjoyed the beer.

We hit a grocery store in Healesville before we returned to our hotel in Thornton, several kilometers away through the perilously narrow and windy mountain roads of the Great Dividing Range. These mountains are not huge by any means but the shoulders on the narrow roads are virtually non-existent and it is not easy to keep a large minivan between the lines, but my dad did so exceedingly well. The rest of my family was panic stricken in the rear of the mini. I am really hoping I do not have to do any driving while I am here, since they drive on the "wrong" (left) side of the road in Australia. America should make a deal with Australia that we will switch to the metric system of measuring things if they switch to driving on the right side of the road. I don't think the Aussies will take that wager, because they probably don't give a shit if America goes metric.

At the grocery store, we got some sandwich fixings for our long road trip tomorrow down to Phillip Island where there are penguins. Restaurant food here is ridiculously expensive, even given the fact that taxes and higher wages are factored into the prices. It is more economical to shop at a grocery store and make food at home (hotel). I got a whole kilogram of sliced turkey deli meat. This is over two pounds of meat, so I will be making some THICK sandwiches tomorrow morning before we hit the road. We also bought some fruit, which will supplement our cereal based breakfast. We have muesli and some ancient grain flakes (amaranth and shite) we bought yesterday to use up, along with a jug of damn tasty soy milk. I could live in Australia, I really could. And probably should.

Tonight, notwithstanding the grocery store run, I succumbed to the temptation of hotel restaurant food and that was not a bad choice, exorbitant though it was. I got grilled fish (not battered) and chips. The fish of the day was sea bass. It was great. I also had a tasty pint of Carlton Dark Ale, an Aussie beer.

This weekend we'll take a ferry across the Heads of Port Phillip Bay and visit Point Lonsdale where my dad's parents had a resort property my sister and I went to a few times as kids. The sale of said property is actually largely underwriting this trip. When my paternal grandparents built their "resort" house in Point Lonsdale in the 1950s, the area wasn't actually yet a resort area. Over the years, as people began to recreate there more and more, a resort community grew up around the property. The house on the property had been rented out after my gramma died (my dad inherited it), since we all lived in the States. Some bad renters gutted and vandalized the place a few years back and my dad decided to sell rather than remodel and rent again (the last time I was in Australia was actually accompanying my pops in this mission to determine the fate of the property). He still made bank notwithstanding the poor shape of the house on the property. Presumably the developer who bought the property demolished the house and built some new ritzy dwellings there for people who make far more than I do (but someday I'll be independently wealthy and swoop in to reclaim the family property again...hahaha!). So we will have to swing by the address and see what they have done with it.

Well it has been a long day and I suppose I ought to catch some ZZZs.

*I am well aware that the words venomous and poisonous mean different things zoologically, but I shall use them interchangeably here because my blog is for laymen and I do what I want to as a free agent in the cosmos.

11.27.2014

Golden Gaytime at Eildon Were

After making the long drive to Thornton, Victoria, Australia and checking into the hotel there, we went sight seeing to Snobs Creek Falls (described in a prior post) and Lake Eildon, specifically Eildon Were, the location of a legendary tale my dad tells of when he was a boy and the family dog, Dodge by name, saved him and his dad (my grampa who I never met) from getting sucked over the were spillway in a dinghy. The area has changed quite a bit because a new dam was built there and the water level is now 90 feet higher. But it was cool to be able to associate the place with the "Dodge Story" my dad often recounts.

At the time, my grampa had a campsite on the far side of the lake. It was a protected area then as now, but you were allowed to camp there if you had a mining permit. These must not have been to difficult or expensive to get because my grampa had one. Getting to the campsites required a boat and they had a small dinghy with an outboard motor moored on the lake close to the were spillway. As they started toward the campsite, the outboard motor died and they could not restart it. The lake level was high and the water going over the spillway was about five feet deep. So the powerless boat began to drift toward the spillway.

My dad admits that in a worst case scenario they could have jumped out of the boat and swum to safety, but that was a last resort because they didn't want to lose the boat and fishing gear. Dodge the dog was with them and the solution they settled on was to get Dodge, a Labrador Retriever, to swim out and fetch the mooring line of a nearby boat anchored in the were. Somehow this worked and they were able to pull the dinghy alongside the other boat until they could get the motor started again.

After seeing Eildon Were, we drove into the tiny outback town of Eildon for tea at a cafe where I made an awesome discovery. I found a mythical Golden Gaytime ice cream bar in the ice cream cooler of the cafe. I had only ever seen this as a Facebook meme and I was now able to verify, scientically, the existence of this humorously named dessert product.

We hit the grocery store in Eildon for some breakfasty type foods since the hotel was a bit sketch on breakfast availability and then returned to the hotel for a brief rest, when I actually wrote the precursor to this post, but it was lost to some kind of bug in Blogger's mobile functionality, so I am actually now re-writing the entire thing the following morning from memory.

We had a great big dinner at the hotel's magnificent dining hall. I am not clear why the hotels we have stayed at thus far do not offer the traditional hot breakfast" of the British Commonwealth. This would, if memory serves, be a smorgasbord of eggs, bacon and other pork meat byproducts, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, cheeses, bagels, pastries, and cereals etc. Perhaps some place we stay at will offer this before the end of the trip. It is not a big deal but I am a breakfast protein kind of person and this hotel room cereal and banana thing in the morning is not good for my figure.

Snobs Creek Falls

My family is quite risk averse. I guess I am the thrillseeker among us and that is not saying much. We had to wind the minivan up a rather narrow "mountain road" with a drop off on one side and a risk of falling rock on the other, in order to check out Snobs Creek Falls, something of a tourist attraction near our motel in rural Thornton Australia, northwest of Melbourne (in tje bush). There was ample width for two vehicles on this road...but barely. When a couple of large logging trucks came barreling down the hill as we were going up, my dad cautiously and skillfully navigated the mini to the left to allow them to pass. However, my mom and sister veritably crapped themselves with panic and immediately became convinced that we were surely going over the cliff, or in a best case scenario we would get a flat tire and have no way to call for help, and would be stranded in the bush to die of starvation, about a half mile from civilization. I have no idea why the stress hormones skyrocket when my family is together, but there is no reasoning with it once it starts.

They began a campaign of trying to convince my dad to turn around the next chance he got, but of course there were no chances and any attempt to try to turn or large mini around on the narrow winding road would likely have been more perilous.

I suggested to my family that the awesomeness of the falls we sought would be proportionate to the risk experienced in getting there, but this was clearly not a compelling case for my white knuckled kinfolk.

Of course, we made it to the falls, and while I cannot say with certainty that they were as impressive as I had proposed, they were still pretty cool. After we saw them, we were able to easily turn the mini around in the parking area of the scenic outlook.

This is trout fishing country apparently, and I have dropped some hints that perhaps taking my twin niece and nephew fishing would be a way to keep them from losing their minds from the boredom of sightseeing alone...