We have been told that Brisbane is the closest city in Australia to our home city, Newcastle. On route, we couldn’t decide if this was a good or bad thing.
In the mean time we had something to take our mind of it. Today was the day we headed to the Steve Irwin Zoo. Kangaroos, Koala’s and Crocs, that is what we came for!
Arriving in the baking heat we wandered to the entrance where we had our first glimpse of Australian wildlife. A school trip was starting and the little animals were excitedly playing around in their herd and barking at one another. As we slipped through, hoping to get ahead of them, we noticed a zoo employee holding a baby alligator. As we approached we were allowed to hold the small creature for photos, one of the only things we seem to not get charged for. The reptile seemed totally placid, hard to believe the monsters they turn into.
With map in hand we were ready to circumnavigat the whole park. Our first stop was a small koala pen where Holly fell in love with the cute, cuddly animals. Taking her phone out, an insect landed on her hand, “AAAHHH!” she screamed as she fumbled, dropping her phone and painfully watching in slow motion as it plummeted to the ground. It didn’t smash but slipped through the gaps of the raised walkway to the ground beneath. There was no way I was crawling into the crevices of a Zoo to rescue her iPhone. Luckily, a young Aussie volunteered and dove straight under simultaneously shaming me and saving the day, the little tyke.
At the crocodile show an eerie message from Steve Irwin played on the large screen TV, and I would be lying to say it didn’t make us both a bit emotional. A show of the Zoo’s birds opened proceedings with a vulture being the most astounding which, to my disappointment, did not have a scouse accent. We watched as crocs were led out and the show did absolutely nothing to ease worries about seeing one in the wild, demonstrating their predatory instincts and extraordinary power and brutal bite.
This was different to any Zoo I had been to. In Roo Heaven, home of the Kangaroos, we were allowed side by side with the marsupial. Feeling slightly nervous approaching them, all I could see was a cartoon Kangaroo in Boxing gloves waiting to knock me out for invading his space. The friendly animals were quite happy to let us near and smiled for our photos and we patted their heads.
At the Koala walk through we could stroke the Koalas hanging around us. There was a grid layout of Eucalypti trees with a handful of Koalas hanging around, mostly sleeping. Holly stepped up to the singular awake Koala and raised her hand to his head, “Not the head!” hissed the autocratic zoo keeper, “Further down”. Holly managed a smile for the photos, stroking the Koala’s bum.
We alighted a Zoo bus to take us to the “Africa” section of the park. Holly felt a tap on her shoulder. One of the school kids we there, holding her phone. I was starting to wonder if she was purposefully trying to misplace her phone. These things are bound to come in threes, and it was just a matter of time before she lost it again.
The Zoo was amazing. Seeing all these animals, even those previously seen in other Zoos, alights a sense of childish wonder and fascination. Seeing the tiger reminded me of my childhood love for them, and I asked Holly if we could have one as a pet. “No”, she replied, “I’m allergic”.
Amongst the spectacle there was an unfortunate sadness. The elephant population that had once occupied in the Zoo, were now only one, down from three. And the solitary mammal was in captivity, too sad for public viewing.
We headed for the photo lab where Holly mulled over getting her picture taken holding a Koala after the bum stroking incident didn’t quite satisfy her love for them. As we waited near by, the Koala was right beside us, happily relaxed on a little tree. As one of the employees came to collect him from his branch, he wouldn’t let go. Clinging on for his life, sorrow rushed to his face. The sulking and clawing at the tree wasn’t enough and he was put to work, being mishandled and groped by the tourists in his gloom. Although not exactly animal cruelty, we still felt a sense of exploitation of the cute little creature. We decided to not get our photo with him in protest.
After plans to free the oppressed koala contingent of the zoo never materialised, we headed off to our heat box van and set our sights on Brisbane.
We had our first shrimp on the Barbie that night! A cocktail of shrimp skewers and meatball skewers were on the menu and after some experimentation, we were happy to eat our food in confidence of not poising ourselves. We met Zac, an old chatty man who was stationed next to us on the site. He talked of life and his happiness at roaming around, helping friends out in markets and staying on camp sites. The usual travellers experience exchange ensued before we hit the hay.
A short bus ride into town and we were in the centre of the city which, to me thankfully, didn’t remind me of home. We slowly made our way through the clean streets to the river. At Southbank we saw another man made lagoon, where families and people of all ages enjoyed the warm weather. Minutes away was a small market selling hand made souvineers and tasty treats. We ate lunch at a café, wondering how much luck you need to be born into a place ike this. Again the relaxed atmosphere washed over us and got under our skin. It’s hard to feel any stress in this country.
Our bus tickets let us onto the ferry where we could tour the river. Getting to the half way point of the round trip, we witnessed a cruise ship leaving the city. A monumental vessel, blasting its deep brassy horn, crept towards the sea. I have never seen something in water quite so big, and was blown away by the size, guessing what each compartment might contain. We waved at the passengers as we set off again, flying past the holiday makers.
That night would be the arrival of one of Holly’s best friends, Laurie, and after back and forth of a few weeks it was decided we would not be meeting her at the airport. Or so she thought.
We headed out, eager and excited, plotting our surprise. We waited in the airport where I was happy to have a nice coffee while Holly necked a red wine to ease her nerves. Sitting at about the time her plane arrived we peered over towards arrivals, hoping not to miss her. We moved closer as time passed. As each passenger emerged, we felt flashes of hope as each young silhouette floated past the frosted glass, only for a different disheveled youngster to surface. Time passed. Half an hour and we were getting agitated. Forty-five minutes and we started our game where we judge people around us, guessing what they’re like, hoping that Laurie’s host wasn’t one of the locals we deemed a twat.
With the video camera ready, after an hour of lurking by a bin, Laurie stepped out, and we made our run for it. Ducking behind the waiting families, I filmed as they set their eyes on each other. “Eeeeeeeeee Hello!” she screamed as they embraced. In shock and quite possibly jet lagged she introduced us to the family who was taking her in. My Attenborough-esq documentary would forever immortalize the great moment.
Promising to meet up the following day, we went our separate ways into the night.
The following day we headed out to the house where Laurie was staying. The genial host, who promptly offered us drinks as we made introductions, welcomed us into her home. Now well acquainted, we walked to the coast, still with no plans. As Kath made a phone call we wandered the beach walkway, introducing Laurie and Sarah to the sights and sounds she would undoubtedly be encountering up and down the coast.
“We’re going to the boat club,” shouted Kath.
The taxi took us to the harbor where we checked in as guests. In shorts and a hoody, I did feel a tad under dressed but not a single fuck was given, I was on holiday. We were led to a table with three local Aussies, seemingly already a bit sauced up, who again welcomed us openly. Over lunch, and a few drinks, our relationships flourished with shrimp peeling lessons. “Bladdy English!” Peter exclaimed at every failed attempt by the girls to pop the prawn out its tail.
Peter and his wife Hanny invited us back to their house after lunch for the drinking to continue. The perfect hosts surved up plenty of alcohol and nibbles next to their swimming pool while we soaked up the last of the days sun in their back garden. The heat was too much for the newcomers and Laurie dipped her feet in the pool, standing on the steps.
A roar coming from behind Laurie alerted us as we turned to see Hanny, a woman in her mid 50’s, jump up and push a fully clothed Laurie into the pool.
“Never stand on the edge of the pool unless you wanna go in!” She screamed with laughter as everyone else broke into fits. The priceless look on her face of shock, panic and anger all in one slow motion movement as she plummeted into the water. Luckily the lighter side of the moment trumped all and Holly joined Laurie in the pool.
After a questionably sober Hanny drove us home, Kath toppled out the car, prompting the hero of the day (me) to carry her to the house. Despite her recent injury, our enormously inebriated host tried to make tacos for us all. In her drunken state, we feared for her fingers as she chopped the salad and winced at her tossing the mince beef in the pan for fear of her throwing it in her own face. With us concentrating on Kath not wounding herself, the taco shells burnt to a crisp in the oven. The menu was now transformed to taco beef salad. We ate on the deck as the winds whistled through as we received warning of a storm headed our way. That was our cue to leave.