From Austin to Oz. I'm planning to flee the country for 7 months - working for 4 and traveling for 3.
Departure = 03 Sep 2003 / Re-entry = 03 Apr 2004

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Australia Zoo

Sunday, 09 Nov, Ro and I woke up extra early (well, early for a Sunday) so that we could visit the famed Australia Zoo, home to the Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin. At our South Brisbane train station (a block from out apt.), we purchased two combination return/roundtrip train-zoo-shuttle bus ticket offered by Queensland Rail. Convenient.

On the way to the Beerwah train station, we decided to detrain at Caboolture so that we could go to the North Pine Country markets, advertised as offering 100% Australian made products. Expecting kangaroo leather belts, hand painted didgeridoos, eucalyptus coasters, Vegemite vittles, and the like, I found, instead, painted wooden ducks with polka-dotted baby-blue bows, quilts embroidered with cutesy sayings, puff-paint decorated clothes, and the ilk. I flashed back to the countless flea markets, garage sales, and thrift stores that I've perused Stateside.

We also were lucky to have seen a procession in honor of Armistice Day (11 Nov), presented by young military cadets. It was a very solemn presentation, and all gathered showed nothing but the utmost respect. Australia does well to remember her war dead.

On site is a Queenslander house converted into an antique store. The entire house is arranged like a museum and decorated as it would have been at the end of the 1800s / early 1900s and, for those seeking period pieces, everything under the roof is for sale.

Back to the station we trudged, not many purchased under our belt. Yet, I found the side visit worth the trip as I saw my first "koala crossing" sign approaching the market entrance. We then reboarded the northbound train to Beerwah. Altho the Australia Zoo website mentions that there is a regularly scheduled shuttle from the train station to the zoo, we learned upon detraining that there was a sign from the zoo that said to ring the provided number so that the shuttle could come retrieve us. Hmm... had we known that the regular schedule had been chucked in the bin, then we could have stayed a wee bit longer at the North Pine market. Oh well, I've learned more than once not to trust what I read on a website (PINCHE DR. PEPPER MUSEUM WEBSITE!)

So, on my handy Siemens A50 mobile phone, I punched in the 8 digits and connected to the zoo. Admittedly, I sometimes fumble for words when phoning for directions, closing hours, etc., but I think the conversation that transpired was a bit odd:

(ring, ring)

--Hello, Australia Zoo. This is (fill in some chipper young Aussie girl's name here).
--Hi. We're at the Beerwah train station, and we're calling for a courtesy bus to take us to the Australia Zoo. We noticed that there is a sign here a the station that says to call this number.
--You're at the train station and would like a courtesy bus to the zoo?
--The Beerwah train station?
--Umm, yes.
--OK, we'll send the shuttle bus right over.


Well, at least she was courteous enough to repeat my request. So, Robbo and I walked from the platform to the bus stop located aside the carpark / parking lot. There were about 10 people waiting there, some sitting on the steps, some talking about whoknowswhat, and a few arguing over who was going to call the number of the Australia Zoo shuttle bus. I interrupted them to say that I had already called and the bus would arrive soon. I learned that the group included about 6 early-20s, Irish female nurses and the rest, young British blokes.

The shuttle arrived, we all boarded, and it dropped us off at the zoo about 15 minutes later. Since the zoo is open everyday from 8:00 - 16:00 and we spent the morning at the North Pine market, we didn't have much time to spend at the zoo, about 3 hours. We arrived just in time to grab a seat for the 13:30 chat with Agro the crocodile! Altho not hosted by the Mighty Mr. Irwin himself, we were served up plenty of croc tales by the handler.

After the show, we had a right proper visit with the Grande Dame of the Zoo, Harriet the Galapagos Turtle. On 15 Nov, she completed her 173rd birthday! Yes, indeed, she was alive when Charles Darwin popped in for a visit to her and her mum on those small pieces of rock to the West of the Ecuadorian mainland. Now, she resides a bit further West, on the East coast of Aus.

From there, we saw other turtles and headed to the Venomous Snakes hut. OOOoooOOO!! Inside, we saw many beautiful snakes from all over the world, yet, 7 of the 10 deadliest stakes in the world are located in -- you guessed it -- Australia. No Texas rattlesnakes among the slitherers, yet our eyes grew big over the world's most venomous snake. In the center of the hut was a glass case containing a skeleton of a 10m -- TEN METER!! -- reticulated python. RAD!

We left the hut and to the pen of my favorite marsupial - the wombat! Cousin to the koala, the wombat is about the size of a javelina, but not piggy-looking. In the pen were two, one was named Dozer (like those small builders in Fraggle Rock, right?) and the other was named Minibus (like, well, a small bus).

Hungry the two of us, we went to the food court to have lunch but not before taking a peep into the raptor cage. After some fried whatever, we steered to the camel exhibit. (The camel reminded me of the small stuffed toy that I bought in a chorinho music club while visiting Cynthia and Jonathan in São Paolo back in April and later gifted to Priscila.) Did you know that camels were introduced to the Australian Outback in the early 1900s by Afghanis? Since then, the camels now run wild and free like in the desert back home.

Then, we came across the red fox pen. Well, the legendary Redd Foxx of "Sandford and Son" fame was not holding court at the time of our visit. Fortunately, we saw some of his tocayos midday napping in the shade. Unfortunately, the red fox is an introduced European pest (much like the Poms) that has spread to the entire continent in the past 100 years. Altho brought in to control rodents, it has overstepped its function and now threatens native fauna. The fox even hunts the wombat -- the noirve! All the while at the den, I thought of Jen, Jen Fox. Maybe it was the napping, maybe it was the pesting, maybe it was the naming --- or all three, hee, hee!

Nearby, we came across the fox's canine cousin, the Australian dingo. These are truly beautiful animals, of course, I am biased being a big dog person. I'm OK with that. One was atop a large rock. He has a regal stance about him, a watcher of afar.

A few steps past the dingos awaited Robin's must-see: the Tasmanian devils! Small li'l buggers, those are. Tips of red/black mottled fur line their inner ears and paws. Normally nocturnal, the two devils in the pen were wide awake and sniffing visitors.

It was approaching 15h30, time for the last feeding/show of the day -- OTTERS! While Robin rushed towards that area, I took a detour to see the Komodo dragons and some indigenous Aussie lizards. I finally made it to the otter exhibit in time to see the keeper feed a few live crustaceans to the small, furry logs.

At 16:00, the Australia Zoo closes its door. After having peeped on the otters grabbing a bit of a munch, we zipped past the snack bar but were arrested by the cool, nonchalant demeanor of the kookaburras. And, yes, they were sitting in an old gum tree, well, a stump, if you will.

We concluded our visit to the zoo with one last exhibit, one where several people had crowded to watch an 8m python eating a goat. I forgot her name. She had not eaten since last March. Exotherms! Onward to the exit we went.

Mighty tricky this zoo is, forcing visitors to exit thru the gift shop. Mighty tricky. Reminds me of the Cracker Barrel. Granted, upon arrival hours before, I was hunting for a small kitsch of Steve Irwin. A postcard would be fine, y'no, just some small tacky souvenir. Because I'm gaudy like that. Yes, there were Crocodile Hunter videos, those Croc Hunter action figures, Steve Irwin bobbly-head dashboard figures, etc., yet (naively) I wasn't expecting so much Steve-centric stuff -- from floaty pens showing Steve Irwin falling to a Steve Irwin wig and costume. I was slightly appalled by how much absolute junk there is with Steve's mug on it. Reminds me of my visit to Vatican City, when I found so much kitsch with the Pope's face on it -- dishtowels, can openers, calendars, playing cards, etc., etc., etc. Further, Irwin's wife Terri has her own clothing line represented - "for real women", as does their mini-Irwin, Bindi. Bindi has a clothing line and she is four years old!

Aside from the intense marketing penetration going on in the gift shop, that pales in comparison to all the enormous work that the Australia Zoo does to conserve and preserve. For example, the zoo is a working animal hospital, accepting new patients due to accidents, shootings, traps, deforestation (land clearing), or other (in)human(e) intervention. In addition (of which all Australians should be proud), the Irwin family has purchased thousands of hectares in Australia with the specific purpose of leaving it alone. They use the land to release animals back into the wild that the zoo has acquired due to animal rescue. Moreover, one can adopt zoo animals via the website.

So, back to the shuttle for a lift to the train Beerwah station. As we were leaving the zoo, a white SUV passed us and entered the zoo. The shuttle driver told us that we had just past Steve Irwin, causing the young Irish nurses aboard to revert to 13-year-old screamy girls who had just seen Elvis or The Beatles. Having about 30 min. for its arrival, we popped into the local pub across the street for a coupla Toohey's Olds to refresh us from a sunshine's worth of daytrippin'. Then, back to the station for the hour ride back home.

A few days ago, I put all my photos of our visit on our website: > Web Albums > Australia > Australia Zoo

PS: When we returned to the apt. later that evening, we popped on the teev/telly/TV to learn that we and the giggly gaggle of young Irish nurses were deceived. In no physical way could Steve Irwin have been in the SUV that passed our shuttle bus because he was, in fact, in the USA at the time searching for wonky Yankees for his upcoming reality show where he trains new croc hunters and each week, one person is given da boot à la Survivor/Joe Millionaire/American Idol/whatever.

PPS: Since, yes, I admit, I subscribe to the Australia Zoo e-mailing list, a few days ago, I received this e-mail message:

Get ready for the ultimate CROC HUNTER EXPERIENCE !

In a nationwide search across America, the producers of The Crocodile Hunter and The Crocodile Hunter Diaries will select ten American contestants to live and work at Australia Zoo in Beerwah, Australia under direct guidance of Steve, Terri and Wes, while at the same time being assessed for performance capabilities. Contestants will take on some of the most dangerous tasks that could include mowing crocodile enclosures, raiding croc and gator nests, caring for injured animals and learning the hazards of croc/gator feeding demonstrations, rescuing wild snakes and feeding everything that bites in the zoo.

Contestants will live together in bunkhouse-style accommodation within the zoo grounds. The toughest challenges of all could be acclimatizing to strange Australian customs and surviving close quarters with fellow competitors.

The challenger who is best able to learn and perform these tasks under the watchful, and sometimes critical, eyes of Terri, Wes and Steve himself, will earn the title of ultimate zoo champion and win the major prize of a trip of a lifetime around Australia from the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the heart of Ayers Rock, from the depths of the Great Barrier Reef to the remote red desert of the Aussie outback!

Are you ready to take the CROC HUNTER CHALLENGE?

You must be at least 21 years of age, be a citizen of the United States and reside in the United States to enter!


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