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Kangaroos and Koalas

I am somewhat known in my family (and by some of my friends) as a thorough travel planner. I love the research process and looking at guide books and websites and figuring out what I want to do when I go somewhere. I will admit to spending hours online trying to find the best car rental deal and you know I am not booking a hotel before trolling tripadvisor forums to check out the good reviews and to avoid the horror stories.

So imagine my surprise when I was checking in on Air New Zealand at LAX and the woman at the desk asked where my visa was for Australia. I was like, uh, what visa? With all of my planning and research, I had failed to come across the teeny tiny fact that you need a visitor visa to come to Australia. I was all like, but I have a Canadian passport! She gave me a withering look and went ahead and applied for it electronically for me, thank God. What good is being part of the Commonwealth then, eh? 

All went well with the flight in the end and after a couple of days of recovering from jet lag and getting to know Maroubra Beach (Tammy’s neighbourhood) a little bit, we didn’t waste any time wading right in to the Australian stereotypes. Because, really, what’s more Australian than kangaroos and koalas? We headed north to Featherdale Wildlife Park on a bright Saturday morning with Tammy’s mum, Penny, riding shotgun. Our original plan was to go to the Watarah Park Earth Sanctuary which was listed in one of Tammy’s Sydney guide books, but apparently it was closed in 2007 due to lack of interest. Featherdale was more zoo-like than we expected, as some of the animals roam free and some are caged. I may not rock a PETA bumpersticker, but it’s always hard to see animals caged up.

All of the animals and birds at Featherdale are native to Australia and as we walked through the park, kangaroos and wallabies bounded about, kookaburras chortled and koalas snoozed. I was amazed that I had never even heard of a bilby, a bettong, a quoll, a quokka or a pademelon (all small mammals). We also saw echidnas, wombats and two goannas getting it on. I was completely fascinated by the colony of red flying foxes which gently stirred in their sleep, constantly unfolding and readjusting their wings, trying to find a more comfortable position, I guess.


And of course, like any tourist attraction worth its salt, the path through the park ended at the gift shop where amongst the fridge magnets, Akubra hats and tea towels were these delighful souvenirs:

I’m not really sure what to make of these golliwog dolls being for sale at the Featherdale Wildlife Park gift shop. There are few black people in Sydney (and I assume the rest of Australia) and you don’t really see many Aboriginal people either. Like in many other places, people stare at me, but it’s always difficult to know how much of that has to do with “Holy black person, Batman!” and how much of that has to do with solving the gender puzzle (I’m like sudoku, but cuter).

Of course there is racism everywhere, but Australia has a long, complex relationship with white-on-black racism from the Stolen Generations to the more recent Cronulla Riots. And a  study released last week by the Foundation for Young Australians showed that 80% of non-Anglo secondary school students across Australia have experienced ‘racial vilification’.

While violence and verbal abuse are always shocking, after 17 years of living in Canada, somehow it was even more shocking to see those dolls lined up for sale in a souvenir shop. So casual. So oblivious. So unrelated to Australian wildlife. I’m still not sure what to make of it.


One Response

  1. You like to research and plan?!?!? Huh. Funny that you missed the visa thing…we’ll all remember that story!!

    You are WAY cuter than sudoku for sure!!

    I had a doll like that when I was a kid, I think someone brought it back for me from Barbados…? So weird.

    It looks like you are having a great time, am enjoying your photos and blog comments very much. Makes me want to go back to Australia. But, alas, I mostly travel vicariously through you!!

    Miss you.


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