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A Letter from Phillip Island - Part One

Nobbies Sunset

Phillip Island, situated in the Bass Strait between Melbourne and Tasmania, was clearly settled by people from the Isle of Wight in England. Approximately the same shape, it boasts the Wight towns of Cowes, Rhyll and Ventnor, and even tails off into a crescent of rocks where The Needles would be, only because these are rather more stumpy, they are here known as The Nobbies. It is also something of a retirement and tourist resort, as well as being home of the famous race track.

None of these facts figured among the reasons why we chose to go there on Easter weekend. Newly arrived in Australia, we wanted to see these famous Australian animals that every schoolchild learns about, and Phillip Island is not only home to a number of native Australian animal sanctuaries, but also has an unrivalled position as a fertile piece of coastline poking out into what is effectively the Southern Ocean, thus attracting a number of creatures that you would perhaps be more likely to expect to find in the Antarctic. It's also a convenient day's drive away from Canberra, and, if you ignore the highway, you can take an entertaining 4WD route through Kosciuszko National Park.

After an exhilerating nine-hour drive into Melbourne, we stopped at a convenient hotel and went out to check the local nightlife. A bar with a pool table caught our attention, and before long we'd met any number of local people, staggering eventually back to our beds in the small hours of the morning. A few hours later, fortified by immensely strong coffee, a pile of fried food, and hiding behind darkened glasses, we set off once more for the southern coast.

There is a stretch of toll road that takes you through Melbourne, but there are no toll booths. Officious signs warn you regularly that Your Car Has Been Photographed, and If You Have Not Paid Then You Will Be Fined, but there was no way of actually purchasing a toll ticket.

A Koala awake for once

Eventually we saw a sign that said Ring This Number For Queries, so I called it on my mobile. I explained to the nice young man that I was a stupid tourist from Canberra and that I was driving on his motorway without a permit, and he told me that I could pay by credit card. There followed a selection of voice-activated automated instructions, number of credit card, registration number etc - how the hell are you supposed to do this while simultaneously driving on the motorway - after which I was dumped into 'Please wait for operator assistance'. The same man came back on, and said laconically, 'Oh yeah, the automated system doesn't recognise out-of-state number plates'. And this in one of Victoria's premier tourist regions...

Our hotel turned out to be a typical leisure complex fronting onto the beach, with spades, frisbees and sandcastles. After a restorative bite to eat, we headed off to the koala sanctuary. Now, everybody knows what a koala is supposed to look like, a kind of sleepy cuddly teddy bear, right? So, obviously, the real thing must be completely different. Er, no. A koala genuinely is a sleepy cuddly teddy bear. Their chosen foodstuff, the eucalyptus leaf, is so indigestible that they spend several hours stuffing themselves, and then a load more hours just sitting there asleep, waiting for their stomachs to get enough energy out to enable them to wake up and stuff themselves some more. It's a pretty sedentary life, which means that each morning the sanctuary staff can go out into the forest, and underneath each koala high up in it's tree, place a sign that says 'Here's One!', secure in the knowledge that it's unlikely to move very far in the coming day.

The Virtual Reinhard



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