Bicultural Urbanite Brianna Wild Things

Wallaby. | © Linda Summers

Over the years I’ve shown dozens of visiting Australian and European friends around my adopted hometown of Berlin. But recently I found myself playing tour guide in Melbourne, a place where my local knowledge is woefully out of date. Instead of bluffing my way through the sights of the city, I decided to go bush with my international guest.

While I was back home in Australia this January my German friend Viola was schlepping a backpack down the east coast from Sydney. Our travels overlapped briefly in Melbourne and I had access to my mum’s wheels, so I offered to take her out for a day trip. But where to take a German tourist on a tight schedule? What Victorian road trip destination provides a snapshot of our sprawling suburbs and bizarre yet lovable wildlife? You guessed it. Healsville Sanctuary.

It’s 64 kilometres to Healsville, we have a full tank of gas, it’s sunny and we’re wearing sunglasses. So, like the Blues Brothers before us, we hit it. Behind the wheel sat my brother, who I had seconded to be our chauffeur, as my own driving skills are in an advanced state of decay after nearly 13 years of cycling around Berlin. His co-pilot and fiancé took control of the navigation. I volunteered to be the meat in the backseat sandwich, between Viola and a massive toddler car seat, allowing her a better view of the suburbs flanking the Maroondah Highway.

A motionless, comatose koala enthrals foreign tourists. A motionless, comatose koala enthrals foreign tourists. | © Ryland Summers At Healsville Sanctuary we were greeted by blistering heat and an army of prams and pushers thundering over hot gravel. The animals were very sensibly reclining under trees or hiding in their favourite cubby-holes. A wombat’s backside sagged from the entrance of a hollowed out log. Koalas sat motionless in clouds of water vapour, drips from their frazzled fur instantly evaporating on the parched earth. The Tasmanian Devils were on holiday. Or sick leave. Even the nocturnal marsupials were playing hard to get.

Classic Tourism Stuff

Redemption came when we witnessed the adorably fluffy head and gangly legs of a rock wallaby joey emerging from its mother’s pouch. This was classic Tourism Australia stuff. The kind of fair dinkum imagery used to lure would-be backpackers from all around Germany and the world. I breathed a sigh of relief: we hadn’t risked heat stroke for nothing. (Later we also witnessed the rare sight of a dingo being fed half a dead rabbit, although I am yet to see that classic Australian scene depicted in a Qantas inflight magazine.)

Caught off guard inside the lyrebird enclosure. Caught off guard inside the lyrebird enclosure. | © Viola Conrad Inside the cool darkness of the platypus exhibit, I had ample time to tell Viola all about Australia’s weird “missing link” mammalian wildlife. In fact, I will happily tell any tourist who will listen about the reproductive idiosyncrasies of marsupials and monotremes. I find echidnas and platypuses fascinating, but also enjoy the shock value of a warm blooded animal that produces milk and lays eggs.

Our very sweaty excursion drew to a close with the ‘Spirits of the Sky’ bird show during which a variety of falcons, cockatoos and eagles circled above the crowd’s floppy sunhats and a parrot dutifully talked and danced. With almost all the Australian animals ticked off Viola’s antipodean to-do list, it was time to reward our efforts with pints and hot chips at a Healsville pub.