The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
We catch the bus in Adelaide Street for the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Established in 1927, it is the oldest and largest koala haven in the world. It is notable as one of the few to let people handle the creatures, though no koala is handled for more than 30 minutes a day. This is an opportunity for us to get up close and personal with some of the indigenous species: principally koalas, but also wallabies, kangaroos, platypuses, emus, dingoes and lizards. Actually, lizards appear to have the run of the place, it's difficult to take more than a few steps without stepping on one. They're not captive. They just like living there.
The day is punctuated with short displays of the birds and animals when the keepers put their charges through their paces and then offer visitors a chance to be photographed with (say) a python, or a sea eagle. The highlight is the koala show. Koalas do nothing but look cute. But it's enough. They're the biggest draw. We have lunch in the Koala Centre and admire the photographs of celebrities covering the the walls, each captured holding a Koala: Michael Johnson, Carey Mulligan, Pope John Paul II, Michael Jackson, etc. They all smile for the birdie. The Queen is there too - in 1954, but she didn't hold one and avoided looking ridiculous.
There are about one hundred and forty koalas in the reserve. There are different enclosures for different age groups: mothers and babies, young males, retired koalas, etc. They all look cute but identical. A keeper informs us that they all have names and it is possible to distinguish them by their ears and, failing that, the mottled markings on their behinds. Many of them are asleep. This is because their diet of eucalyptus leaves is not very nourishing, and sleeping helps conserve their energy.
We watch Tasmanian Devils being fed: they look rather like possums, and are so named because of their fierce cry. The species is being decimated in the wild by a contageous cancer, so breeding them in captivity is now viewed as a means of saving the animals from extinction. I say to a keeper that I had thought they were already extinct. No, she says, that is the Tasmanian Tiger. It's difficult keeping up with Australian wildlife.
After looking at the dingo, which stands still to be photographed, and the hyperactive duck-billed platypus which doesn't, we go into the kangaroo park to feed the animals. Now, what little I know about kangaroos was learned from a late 60's TV series called "Skippy the Bush Kangaroo". This animal was perpetually young and, in every episode, saved some child who had fallen down a well. It seems to me that the park was either filled with a host of Skippy 'wannabees', or that these were wallabies. (See what I did there?). We feed them, anyway: those that were interested. They get fed by everybody, and so are accustomed to people and a bit bored with the diet. 'Real' kangaroos, Big Reds, are in another park not open to the public and refuse to approach the fence.
We've run out of pellets by the time we meet the emu. We've seen how these creatures behave on the Michael Parkinson Show - I'm sure you can stll catch the Rod Hull & Emu incident on Youtube. Anyway, without food, the wisest policy seems to be to give them a wide berth, which I do. Monica, however, throws caution to the wind and pretends to have food - a sure way to infuriate the giant birds. We escape with our lives.
Finally, we see the fabled cassowary. These are a prettier version of the emu with a blue neck and fancy head cone. They are treasured in Daintree, where we started our journey: they are essential to the health of the rain forest. There were signs everywhere exhorting drivers to avoid killing the birds. We never saw one. Now we have the chance, and the bird won't come anywhere near us. We leave with a fuzzy photograph. It's the best Monica can do without a zoom, and better than her efforts with the platypus, which are unprintable. Who knew they could swim so fast and with their eyes closed?
We end the day with a demonstration of sheepdog work and shearing. I know we could probably see sort of thing this back in Wales but here we have Dave: a proper Australian shearer of thirty years experience, in a proper shearer's hat, with two eager Australian dogs: Ringo and Rusty. The former is a short-haired collie and the latter a Kelpie which is a dingo/collie cross used for mustering (don't ask). After the dogs do their thing with the sheep, which involves Rusty running about on the backs of the penned sheep (something to do with mustering). Dave shears a sheep before our very eyes - this takes less than three minutes. In his heyday, Dave would shear 200 sheep a day, every day during the season.
In the evening, we dine at a riverside restaurant, totally flooded in 2011. The flood waters reached the ceiling and the place was filled with mud and debris when the waters receded. It was back in business after six weeks. Nearby, the Story Bridge is lit up as are the skyscrapers that surround the riverside complex. It is our last night in Brisbane. Tomorrow we catch a flight to Sydney.