Summer of 69 – Australia Zoo

Friday 10th December
3 years ago one, if not my biggest travel regret was failing to go to Australia Zoo. I was all set to go on my free day at Surfers Paradise but those that I was going with pulled out, the tour guide didn’t seem enthusiastic to book it (mainly because he didn’t rate it). Since then I’ve matured and I’m not prepared to miss out on something just because no one else wants to do it.

Going to Australia Zoo for me had become a pilgrimage. When I was growing up I used to love Steve Irwin’s TV show. I still remember when I was volunteering up in North Wales and sitting in Boston Lodge on a coffee break when news came through that he had been killed by a stingray during the production of what was his latest series. I think he successfully got a generation of kids across the world interested in wildlife, especially crocs and snakes.

I made my way to the Brisbane Transit Centre and the “Croc Express” wasn’t exactly hard to miss. It wasn’t long before we were out of Brisbane that it began to rain with a great ferocity. It was obvious that despite being on the ‘Sunshine Coast’ it was not going to be a dry day. Almost predictably this was perhaps the first day I’d taken my rain coat out of my day bag.

The bus driver gave us some tips of what to see and when. I have to admit I’d done very little research about what to see so I found this quite useful. Having held koala’s and fed kangaroo’s else where those activities were not high priority. Instead it was mainly about seeing the live shows especially at “The Crocoseum” and the tiger feeding show, the newly born tiger cubs whilst also visiting the wildlife animal hospital and the ‘Croc Hunter Museum’. Any enclosures I’d pass en-route to these would be a bonus.

The driver also gave us a history of the zoo. I hadn’t appreciated for example that the zoo was started by Steve Irwin’s father and that the name of his daughter “Bindi” means little girl in the local aboriginal language. The Crocoseum was Steve Irwin’s own idea and despite the concept of having different crocodile enclosures with a central, shared waterway leading to the arena being ridiculed he was eventually proved right and it was finally completed in 2003.

Arriving at the zoo I attempted to see whether I could survive the seemingly endless tropical downpour without a poncho. After about a minute of walking I realised the answer was a no so headed back to the gift shop. At least I now had a souvenir and carrying a poncho in my day pack in future would be lighter than my thick raincoat. I headed towards the Crocoseum as that was the location of the museum and the food courts. I figured if I got a late breakfast/early lunch I wouldn’t be caught in the queues and I’d be free to see the afternoon shows.

The croc hunter museum had a whole wall of various photographs of the Irwin families animal encounters with a number of stills from included from the various tv shows. There was also a display case with a lot of items that had been sent in my fans and friends following his death including some quite emotional poems and newspaper articles. There was also a small display case containing some dead/preserved spiders and snakes. Finally towards the back of the room a TV played footage from one of the series and I felt like I’d gone back to my childhood.

I ordered some food and even though it wasn’t busy still had to wait about 20 minutes to the amazement of the guy that ordered just after me. Getting food an hour before lunch now seemed a sensible idea if I wanted to see the 12.00 Australia Zoo Wildlife Warrior Show and then make it to the tiger feeding show at the other side of the park at 14.15.

Bindi Irwin was performing a song and dance routine prior to the main show during the summer season. This was probably because on sunny days the Crocoseum fills up early and it’s a nice way to provide some entertainment however as it was raining the park wasn’t as busy as I feared it would be and whilst by 11.30 some had already taken their seats there didn’t seem much urgency. A lady at the counter gave me the tip to sit towards the middle on the side so that I got the best perspective of the crocodiles shape under water whilst also having a good view of the big screen to see the action replays.

The set by Bindi was a bit, if not very cheesy but if she follows in her dads footsteps and successfully gets children to look after the environment then such a show has my support. I knew I wasn’t the target audience, I was there for the next show but in some ways it was an added bonus. I have to admit I didn’t really expect any of the family to be at the zoo and even if they were I thought the entertainment side would be left to those working there.

The main show began with a bird display one of which I felt came unbelievably close to my head though their various flying path must be well rehearsed to ensure there are no full impacts. The most impressive aspect involved a random member of the audience being picked to hold up a $5 note. The bird flew up took the note and gave it to the ranger who then pretended to keep it before giving it back to the bird to return to the audience member. There were also snakes that were carried amongst the audience but the main reason we were here was to see the Croc display.

As previously mentioned i didn’t expect the family to host the show so imagine my surprise and joy when the main crocodile show started and the whole family came out. Again the dialogue was a bit cheesy and over the top but then the dialogue of tv show had been in the same vain and it wasn’t a bad thing.

We were going to be introduced to Mossman a relatively new crocodile to the park. As he is fairly new he still has a lot of habits from his time in the wild and therefore he was in control of how the show would develop. Terri made it clear how it was important to keep an eye on him at all time and to keep a distance because he was slower out of the water and it would be possible to get out of the way.

First however we were told that as Robert was now 10 it was felt he was old enough to feed the crocodiles. He was therefore given some food and the doors to the arena opened and atmospheric music played. The crocodile that slowly entered was a little baby and whilst it was all part of the act it was quite funny to see Robert pretending to look brave. Saying that when it did reach launch itself from the water it still did so with a good deal of ferocity.

Eventually the main act began and Mossman slowly entered the arena and it was evident that swimming under water he made no ripple. If he had been in murky water there would not have been any evidence that he was travelling through the water. One of the game keepers stamped in the water to create vibrations to tempt him over and then Terri tempted him with food to demonstrate how he launched himself from the river to grab his prey. At one point Mossman pretended not to be interested however this was a ploy in the hope either Terri or the game keeper would turn their back so he could get more than a small lump of meat.

Next Bindi fed Mossman from a platform to sshow how crocodiles can also jump up and attack vertically with equal ferocity. Finally Robert did get his chance as well though Mossman again pretended he wasn’t interested. Finally with a piece of meat on the end of a rope the gamekeeper demonstrated by pulling on the rope how a crocodile would act if its prey tried to escape. Mossman pulled the meat and rope in to the water causing the gamekeeper to fall over in the process and then did 2, possibly 3 ‘death rolls’ which if the meat had been a live animal would have probably drowned it, if it had survived being caught between the jaws in the first place. With that Mossman was tempted back to his enclosure and the show ended. As Steve Irwin said “Crocs Rule”.

Next I began to make my way to the tiger enclosure but to get there I had to pass through the aviary, the wombats, an open area of Kangaroos and the snakes/lizards. Eventually I arrived and saw the two cubs with a small crowd around them. Those people had paid $400 each, which is more than the cost of my 3 day tour round Alice Springs not that it’s probably fair to compare the two experiences, it just seems a lot to me.

I arrived at the tiger temple and despite there being no adverts anywhere else in the park this confirmed the show was at 14.15. The arena is quite small and according to our driver the solution to keeping spectator numbers within capacity is to not advertise the time as much as the other daily demonstrations. I was about 20 minutes early and took a seat as I saw people were already doing so.

The demonstration was very impressive, with lots of interesting facts. Apparently if you took every tiger either in captivity or in the wild there would still be less than 5000. No wonder I didn’t see one in India. The gamekeeper managed to get the female tiger to perform a number of the hunting moves including climbing up and then jumping from a tree.

After this I headed to the new Africa safari section and I saw the Cheetah’s being walked (again an expensive hands experience) as well as the Zebra, Rhinos and the Giraffes but with the cloud cover it could easily have been Whipsnade. Perhaps because of the rain the walk didn’t really seem worth it and it may have been because there was no quick route back to the visitor centre and an area near by was under construction. Maybe once both are finished it won’t seem such a mission to get to. Maybe also when it’s hot and sunny it also looks more like the Serengeti.

Luckily as I wanted to go back to the entrance/exit I was allowed on the shuttle as the queue was getting ridiculous as people realised the only way to anything was in the rain back across the long route they’d just made. My intention was to leave the park and check out the wildlife hospital.

I got lost trying to find the entrance as there were I believe two, if not three including one for if you were bringing an injured animal. I must have looked a sad sight in the rain my poncho absolutely drenched and when I saw one of the shuttle trains I really felt a bit paranoid that people were watching me. Quite quickly a friendly voice at the back asked if I was ok and I explained I was looking for the tour entrance. I suddenly realised who it was. On the back of the train were the 3 Irwin’s and I assume they were doing a private tour. I quickly said how much I loved the show that afternoon and then explained I was looking for the visitor entrance. They pointed me in the right direction then asked where I was from and I said I’d come all the way from London. As they pulled away they wished me safe travels and waved/smiled. It was very touching.

The hospital exhibition didn’t have a lot going on as it appeared the vets were packing up but it was still great to see the work that is done to nurse injured animals back to health before they are released back in to the wild. It didn’t take long to see it all and I’d planned my time perfectly to be back at the entrance/exit for the coach back. The driver put on a DVD which would have probably been more appropriate to see before we arrived as along with highlights from the tv show it had tips of things to see inside the park.

I arrived back at the hostel and decided to do the $5 BBQ in the hope I might get to socialise with people in the hostel as I hadn’t seen much of my room mates. Luckily I hit gold. There were 4 other single travellers on my table and initially I think we all thought at least two of us were travelling as a pair because of the way conversations had began straight away. For example the girls Alex and Helga thought me and Karl a guy from Germany/South Africa knew each other because we sat down at the same time and having just met in the kitchen when trying to find cutlery were talking. Likewise I assumed they’d arrived together having been sharing the same room.

After the BBQ we went to the hostel bar where happy hour had been extended before we headed in to town. This was the first time since before Christmas I’d had a spontaneous night out with people I’d just met and whilst we weren’t allowed in to the first place (because I assume it was full) we eventually found an Irish Bar that was playing the Proclaimers. I performed my classic signature dance move and also had a good dance to Billie Jean and as i followed Michael Jackson’s moves on the the big screen all I was missing was the hat.

Me Lewis and Alex got back to the hostel where we agreed to meet for what would possibly be a hang over curing breakfast though it hadn’t been a messy night. Most of it had been chilled out and the topics kept to the standard where have you been/where are you going backpacker topics of conversation.

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