Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Snowy River Project
Corryong, Victoria, Australia
Dr. Lucas swings the white Toyota mini-bus into the graveled covered parking lot of our home-away-from-home called the Pinnibar Hotel. He gathers us all together and begins the drive across the beautiful Murray Valley landscape. He says, “We’re going to eat our evening meal at a place called Walwa.” We all say the name out loud like school children in the third grade. “Walwa.” As we drive along the highway, we stop for pictures at a beautiful overlook, stop at a huge monolith (big rock) called Pine Mountain, and we finally arrive at the unique and colorful pub where Dr. Lucas made reservations earlier in the day.
As the food arrives, the group of folknographers seems filled with excitement. The aroma of the local cuisine sets our mouths to watering and we dive in with great enthusiasm. We enjoy our meal. Near the end of our meal, Dr. Lucas begins to entertain this diverse group with his amusing rendition of the American Hillbilly. His humorous antics leave all of us, including the Australian bartender and waitresses, in tears of riotous laughter. Little did I know then that the laughter was just beginning.
My trip to Australia would never be complete without the opportunity to see a real, Australian kangaroo. To the folk that live here in this beautiful land, kangaroos pose driving hazards much like deer on the highways back home in Ohio. Yet, like many of my research colleagues, I yearn to see a kangaroo. Certainly that is not all Australia is to me…but I admit that I need this kangaroo confrontation.
As we lumber, full and satisfied, back into our mini-bus, Dr. Lucas announces that now “we are going on high alert and into Wombat/Kangaroo Patrol.” We all laugh thinking that he is continuing this humor attack, but we quickly realize that he is serious as he drives slowly over the now dark stretch of Australian bush roadway. We are not only in search of the Man from Snowy River on this research journey, but tonight, we are in search of wombats and kangaroos.
Dr. Lucas guides the mini-bus very slowly up the highway while his colleagues, Dr. Bob Culp and his wife Carol, ride posse on an all-out lookout for any glowing eyes, moving fur, or hopping heads. We hold our breath as we scan the dark terrain for any sign of local wildlife. Cameras held ready, all twelve folknographers wait in anticipation for the expected moment of truth.
Suddenly, screams of delight and excitement pierce the quiet mini-bus and the Australian night air. “There! There! There!” someone shouts. Indeed, to the left of the bus, runs (hops) several kangaroos moving deeper into the bush. All we can see are the backs and big bottoms of these unusual creatures. They hop swiftly away and disappear into the night. Then, in concert with the kangaroo sightings, we see two wombats at the side of the road. They look like two small, black lumps of fur positioned carefully by the roadside. Now, only a little further, we see several more kangaroos hopping in the distance. Shouts someone, “They’re going to cross the road up ahead…see the path! The path leads them across the road right in front of us!”
Dr. Lucas brings the mini-bus to a screeching halt. Two, grayish kangaroos politely hop right across the rode in front of us. Sure, they are a little small, but they are kangaroos. For this moment…for these few seconds in my life…time stands still. Here I am…out in the dark, Australian bush…sitting in a mini-bus with eleven other Yanks…watching through the front windscreen at two creatures I have previously only read about and gazed at through pictures and my imagination. Now I see them. I see kangaroos! This, by far, is the best way to view kangaroos. I see them live and in person.
The moment passes and Dr. Lucas guides the bus further down the Murray Highway. Once again we encounter brown and black wombats with their heads down and their shoulders rolled. He backs up the van for better pictures and better views but the little creatures sense danger and move off before he can position the van for photo ops. One young lady says, “He crawled off into the cracks of the bushes!” This cracks all of us up and we have a series of minutes in the van of several wise-cracks.
I have to be honest here. I never knew of such a creature called a wombat. I didn’t even know that they existed. Additionally, I never had a clue that I might come to the thick, Australian bush and actually get to see one. We continue the trip back to the Pinnibar and we see foxes, cats, cows, sheep, and a few more kangaroos and wombats. These creatures, all a part of this unusual and fascinating country, appear and disappear before us like opportunities in life. If you blink or even hesitate you’ll miss them. They appear before you on the road and then slip off into the night.
I made sacrifices to come with Dr. Lucas on this journey. In fact, everyone in the group has given up a lot to make this trip. Yet, and I am sure I speak for most of the team, that if I had to leave today, I would do so with a happy heart because I have finally experienced a life-long dream. I have seen, with my very own eyes…out in the wild bush country of Australia…I have seen a kangaroo.