Three weeks is not a long time to spend in this huge country and it’s true that we only nibbled at it, but then what a satisfying nibble.
High points for me were the mammals, the birds and the coast. I really did not expect to see a koala bear in the wild, but I did. At first I thought I had spotted a swelling in the fork of small tree. I left the track and getting closer saw that it was a furry grey ball. Standing beneath the tree we watched limbs slowly disentangle from the ball and a face appear. The koala looked down at us blearily and we looked back at it smilingly. A lovely encounter.
Kangaroos we met earlier with wallabies too. And later, in a special reserve in Bunbury the tame ones
I doubt that the wombats could ever be tamed. The ones I met reminded me of a hairy log with short strong legs. One passed within a foot of my foot, just rooting about and minding its own business. Like kangaroos they are marsupials, but their pouch is reversed so that it does not fill with earth as they dig.
I did not dream that I would ever see a wild echidna; they are a little like a hedgehog with a long snout for rooting out insects. They are not marsupials: in fact they lay eggs! Such wonders. One night I met a possum, a creature hated in New Zealand as a destructive colonist. In the day along a little path leading to the famous limestone cliffs and islands near the Great Ocean Road we made the acquaintance of a bandicoot.
And the birds! They are so wonderful, so different. From the ibis that strolls around the streets of Sydney to the noisy and colourful parrots and lorakeets. Then there are the white and pink and black cockatoos who argue constantly. Everywhere there are Australian magpies which look like white and black crows and have a lovely, tuneful song, and we also spotted the splendid fairy wren, the male of which is an iridescent blue. Of course, we also saw the famous kookaburra often sitting on a telegraph pole. Margaret sang her song (learned as a brownie) to one of them, but it did not laugh. Oh, and not to forget the pelicans, and emus, and on and on.
I paddled in the sea with sting rays measuring at least a metre in width. They were flapping around taking food from the hands of children. On the same beach we watched the biggest catch of salmon that I will ever see in my life. And the waves, such mountainous waves that attracted the brave or foolish surfers bobbing about waiting for a big one on which to practice their admirable skills.
Whilst travelling I read the book The Fatal Shore, recommended by Fergus our son (he was the reason that we traveled to this great continent). It is an excellent account of the conditions in Britain that gave rise to transportation and the whole history of the use of the aborigines’ continent as a dumping ground for our felons. What a story, and what a country.
We did not meet any aborigines (it seems from the stats that many of them are in prison) but we did meet plenty of resident Australians: helpful, straightforward, friendly, and unpretentious people on the whole. Many own large 4by4 trucks and they live hard and play hard. Yet surprisingly, we found that there were many petty restrictions, but these were leavened for the locals by the freedom to surf in the lunchtime and generally take advantage of the wonderful country life.
Pubs, the best ones, were enormous: they often have a large public and lounge bar, a games bar for pool and darts, a bistro, and a pokey room for gambling. The beer is cold and fizzy on the whole. One place actually advertised “tooth crackingly cold beer”! In one remote place I met a man who had visited Manchester and complained to me of the flat, warm beer he had to drink there. “Lies heavy on the stomach,” he said, “no fizz to lighten it up.” There is no accounting for taste or for the willingness to buy expensive keg beer at more than £10 a pint in some places.