Tag Archives: Healesville Sanctuary


We pulled up to Healesville Sanctuary at 11am, grabbed our rain gear from the boot, and ran for the entrance.  The line wasn’t bad, since it was raining. We were handed a map, which looked like a bowl of, well, spag bol.

So we ran headlong, following signs to the platypus show, and rocked up as an employee was securing a chain across the entrance.

“I’m sorry,” she said firmly, “but it’s 11:15.  You can stand here and watch.”  Really.  You give some people a bit of power and it goes to their heads.

Still, we were close enough to get the gist of it; a ranger stood in a tank playing with a frisky platypus named Milton, and after the “show” we were allowed in to take a closer look.  This was the best of my photos.

In case you slept through 8th grade biology class and have never seen a Nat Geo special on Australian wildlife, here are some photos of platypuses from the Zoos Victoria website.

Did you know they are frisky as kittens? Did you also know they have a spur which can excrete venom that causes excruciating pain?

Milton sure looked like he was having fun.  The ranger had a devil of a time getting him to stop fooling around and get back into his pen.

You may be wondering, “what’s the difference between a sanctuary and a zoo?”  None, I don’t think, except branding.  I did some freelance grant writing for the Minnesota Zoo back in the 80s, and they were talking about it being a “living ark” back then.  That is, zoos/sanctuaries are the only place to breed endangered species until and if their habitat can be restored.

I’m sure they all struggle with conveying educational messages while allowing people to have fun.  And so there was the platypus show, a birds of prey show which was astounding, and all sorts of signage about not wasting water, etc.

At the end of the bird show they handed out refrigerator magnets about not using balloons at birthday parties.  One can only imagine what goes wrong when an eagle “captures” and eats a balloon.

It rained all day, but that meant we almost had the place to ourselves.

There were goannas and snakes.

And a building lighted with infrared, with every size and shape of hopping marsupial that lives in the Australian desert.

I have never claimed to be a great photographer, and they didn’t make it easy at Healesville.  I tried to just be in the moment.  When would I ever be back?

The bird area was a treat, at least for us humans.

I made a lot of—probably—annoying comments like, “Tasmanian Devils remind me of pigs!” and “I didn’t realize XXX were so small/big!”  But really I was delighted with everything; I really felt like a kid.

Did you know Tasmanian Devil’s ears turn red when they’re agitated?  I read that they make “spine-chilling screetches” but didn’t hear any that day. Goodness me—I just found a recording of the noise, and it is indeed frightening.

Milton was a hard act to follow, but as we left the Tasmanian Devils I gushed to no one, “Those are my favorites!”

Sadly, they are endangered by the highly contagious Devil Facial Tumor Disease.  This really is a case of separating out healthy individuals until a cure is found.

We had a late lunch in the nearly empty cafeteria while watching rangers play with echidnas.  That’s not a sentence you get to write every day.

I had really hoped to see a wombat, but only glanced the backside of one.

I felt sorry for the koalas until I read that doing nothing all day in a small space is their normal.

We sauntered through the kangaroo enclosure, then we slipped through a gate and there were the tree roos.  This really was my favorite.

After four hours on the road and five in the rain, it was time to leave for our friends’ house in Melbourne proper, which took an hour.  I was tired, but I managed to make conversation over a Thai takeaway before abruptly excusing myself and doing a face plant into bed.

Eternal Road Trip

Bedtime at the Paddlesteamer Motel.  The name makes it sound quaint, which is wasn’t. However, the décor was updated and it was very clean.

Heidi sat hunched over the guide book on the edge of the king-sized bed she would share with Danielle.  I had already crawled into my rollaway twin.  We were all testy after the long day on the road.

“We’ll need to leave here no later than 7am,” said Heidi firmly, not looking at Danielle.

“Yes, Miss bossy boots,” Danielle responded to no one.

Siblings. Heidi and Danielle got along remarkably well, considering the strains they were under.

I put in my earplugs, rolled over, and went to sleep.

We were up and out by 7am, Heidi stood at the open boot of the car and Danielle and I threw our bags over the balcony while the resident cat tried to trip us by threading our legs as we dashed in and out.

Our objective this morning was the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary just outside of Melbourne.

“The platypus show is at 11:15,” Heidi had read, “and it shouldn’t be missed.”

“We should be able to just make it, if we run from the entrance gate,” she went on.  “It’ll be close; I reckon it’s a three and a half hour drive with no stops.”

From my bolthole in the back seat, I panicked and leaned forward to get my head through the seats for maximum impact and whined, “But we will stop for coffee, right?”

“Eeyehsss,” Heidi confirmed, in that drawn-out way Australians say “yes.”

We stopped at a truck stop somewhere—Wodonga?  Wangaratta?  Benalla?  There were also English names along the route: Glenrowan, Swan Pool, Winton, Merton.

It was a truck stop like in rural America, with a couple fast food restaurants, a convenience store and petrol station, and showers and maybe nap cubicles. We had passed innumerable road signs that warned, “Trouble Concentrating?  Power Nap Now” And “Stop, Revive, Survive.” A couple of groggy, grungy truckers in baggy jeans, heavy boots, and filthy t-shirts stared blearily at the menus.

One moved ahead to place his order and I could tell he was speaking Aussie English but I couldn’t understand a word.

“What’s with the chicken schnitzel on every menu?” I asked Heidi as we gazed up at the board.

“I don’t know … isn’t that normal?  Don’t they serve chicken schnitzel at MacDonald’s?”

“No.” I replied. The undecipherable guy had left with his order and I asked Heidi, “Could you understand him?”

“Yes, but barely.  He had a real proper country accent.”

“Ah, it’s similar in Minnesota.  The farther from the cities people grow up, the more pronounced their Mee’-nah-soda accent is.”

We were up.  “What’ll ya have, doll?” asked the cashier.

I ordered a coffee and toast with butter.

The guy who was stocking the cooler nearby mimicked my pronunciation: buh’-der.  Aussies would say buh-ter’, I think.

Back on the road, and we listened to more Australian music.  “This one’s about the Vietnam War,” explained Heidi.


I was Only 19,” by Redgum, could win the “Most Depressing Song” contest.  The refrain is:

And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep?
And night time’s just a jungle dark and a barking M.16?
And what’s this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?
God help me
I was only nineteen

It’s important, though, to listen and learn and it might sound Pollyanna-ish, but I’ve got four nephews and two nieces to think about, since women can now serve in combat.

Don’t think it could never happen again.

We made one more pit stop, at a road house that was frozen in the 50s and run by a wizened Indian guy who was muttering to himself in front of a wood burning stove.  I bought a box of Shapes which I imagined would be his only sale of the day and hoped they wouldn’t be stale.

We wound along the Maroondah Highway, passing Yarck and Alexandra, then entered the Dandenong mountain range.  Heidi was asleep in the backseat.

“We have to wake her,” Danielle urged. But we couldn’t, and we couldn’t do justice to describing the scenery later.