Monthly Archives: October 2002

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I resisted the temptation to name this entry "Crikey!"

Tuesday, my birthday, Bill took me to the Australia Zoo. Yep, that's Steve Irwin's place--the Crocodile Hunter himself. Thank goodness he wasn't actually there.

CoconutHe may be annoying, but his zoo is a blast. The first critters we met were American alligators. All the animals are named, and often a bit of their personality is included in the description. Mary is sweet-natured and loves her food. Barney is a naughty boy. Then there's Daisy, Fang, Fang 2, and...well I'm sure I'm forgetting a couple of those toothsome darlings. The zoo is home to over 100 crocs of different types. All through the day, visitors get the chance to see the amazing and frightening sight of a croc charging for a meal. And I don't mean on VISA.

Next we met Coconut, a Giant Aldabran Land Tortoise (pictured above), and her neighbor Harriet, from Galapagos. Harriet's handler showed us a trick that I'm sure would work on many of us. She rubbed a front and back leg of the old (165 years!) girl, and Harriet rose up on her legs, stretched her neck way out, and went into a little trance of pleasure. Can I be next?

Me, Bill, and the lovely BazzleWe wandered away from the tortoises toward the main building to find--yay!--we could have our picture taken with a gorgeous Burmese Python! Bazzle, to be precise. Bill and I are both very fond of snakies, and the Zoo has an excellent collection of well-tended reptiles. Unsurprisingly, the most poisonous are the most beautiful. There was an iridescent orange taipan that kept me mesmerized for ages. Her scales were perfect jewels that matched her eyes.

Bill wisely led me to the petting zoo, where I bullied small children out of the way to feed and pet baby goats and sheep and the most adorable piglets ever. Afterwards my hands were a mass of leftover feed and pig snot.

How to Pet A RooQuick stop to take care of that, and off we went to Kangaroo Heaven. Imagine you love to pet critters. Now imagine acres of open area full of tame kangaroos and wallabies. More like Kitty Heaven.

I noticed that most visitors, and certainly the children, do little more than give a tentative pat to an animal. Don't they know how to scritch properly? I, of course, took my time to give the critters a thorough scritch between the ears and some nice strokes down their soft, soft backs.

Yeah, I had to wash my hands again.

Naturally, we also saw koalas (I got to pat, but not hold one here). They don't wake up until about 2:30pm, so what we mostly saw were sleeping koalas, happily perched in crooks of branches. Eventually they awoke to stretch and munch leaves.

Checking the map, we made sure not to miss the birds of prey, monitors and dragons, deadly-mean cassowaries, and Dozer and Minibus, the resident wombats. Dozer and Minibus get along about as well as my cats. As in, not. The Tasmanian Devil was hiding from us, but everyone else was out and having fun. Especially the otters, whom Bill and I decided are the very definition of "cute". I mean, sheesh, two little furry animals, playing, watching us, snuggling, it was an awwww moment.

Best. Birthday. Ever.

(Thank you, Sweetie!)

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The woman was constantly on edge, waiting for the next thing the house would do. She had become increasingly afraid of her four-year-old daughter, as the girl seem undisturbed, even supportive, of the terrors her mother endured.

Still, she made a brave face and sat on the couch next to her little girl, reading a novel quietly as her daughter looked through a picture book.

Through the archway to the kitchen, she saw the receiver of the wall-mounted phone fall off, as if it were pushed. Horror and despair colored the woman's face. The little girl giggled and asked: "Mommy, why are you scared?"

The rotary dial began to turn.

As the numbers ratcheted, she was unable to resist getting up from the couch and walking slowly toward the dialing phone. Faintly, she heard the ring on the other end. She crouched to pick up the receiver. Once it was in hand, she slumped on the floor, bringing the ringing to her ear. A click, and something was on the other end. She heard a familiar giggle. She paled. Through a tinny connection came: "Mommy, why are you scared?"

Yeah, I have weird dreams, but at least they're cinematic.

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stairwayHoy, I'm so jetlagged today I can barely move. Gah.

On to more important things...

The second day we all piled into the car and took a drive toward a little tourist walk. On the way we made a stop at the surreal Bli Bli Castle.

Bli Bli is a Norman-style castle between the coastal towns of Maroochydore and Noosa in Queensland. Built by a pharmacist, the castle opened to the public in 1973. The castle includes a historical display in the Great Hall, a dungeon with what looks like a rack, and a number of armaments and suits of armor. The pharmacist (of unknown name, sadly) lived there until his death.

dioramaThe next owner added the doll museum. Throughout the castle are dioramas depicting scenes from fairy tales. The extensive work betrays a kind of quirky passion. Cheaply but creatively done, one gets the feeling someone had a lot of fun putting all of this together. Obsessive fun.

dancing dollsIn addition, some of the dioramas are animated, treating the visitor to hallways filled with "dancing" dolls, most clothed in national costumes of the world.

Adding to the surreal nature of the place, the same piped-in tune repeats over and over again as you explore the passageways. A chirpy cross between a country song and a polka, it has at last (thankfully) left my head.

Me and Judith on a walkwayThe 24-metre tower provides a gorgeous view, as long as you don't look straight down into the shoddy surrounding neighborhood.

In summary: A Norman castle in Australia contains armor, torture devices, dancing dolls, and weird music. Obviously a must-see experience.

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I had the most fantastic time.

Bill's parents (hi Judith and Barry!) are wonderful, and we hit it off famously. I'm officially hooked on Judith's Anzac cookies. I love my new family.

I landed, grubby but excited, on Sunday, 29 September. Bill met me at the airport (YAY! How I'd missed him!) and we went to his flat to get me cleaned up. Sadly, there were no snakes in evidence. We then headed off to Maroochydore (which I mispronounced "Moocherydore") and the beaches of Queensland, to meet the 'rents.

The weather was perfect almost the whole time I was there--it's like Australia was being nice to the hot weather wimp.

I'll be going over the cool stuff we did in later entries. To start, a few general things about Queensland:

  1. Toilets are plastic, not porcelain. They usually have two flush buttons (yes, buttons), one for a half flush and one for a full. The half flush is monstrous. The full flush must reduce sea levels.

  2. Queenslanders (in general) are white, impolite, and not bright. They drive so badly (consistent tailgating, pulling in front of other drivers) that I was constantly on edge in the car. But hey, Queensland isn't Sydney, so I knew what to expect. Let's just say I understand completely why Bill is happy to come to the States.
  3. The other kind of Queenslander is neat. Built for staying cool, the Queensland house is built on stilts, and often the lower story is walled with wood panels in a crosshatch or vertical pattern. Wrap-around verandahs are the norm, and a favorite railing is of intricate iron filigree, painted white. Finally, the front door will align with the back door for catching a cross breeze.
  4. Australian money is pretty.