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The Outback Story
by Dez Bartelt

The main reason I wanted to visit Australia was to get an up close and personal introduction to Australiaapostrophes iconic species of animals.Maybe I could meet a koala, hang with a kangaroo, or finally see what a wombat was. I didn’t have time to travel to the Outback of Australia. So, I did the next best thing. I went to the Australia Walkabout Wildlife Park, just 50 minutes outside of Sidney.

This park is an amazing 180-acre sanctuary in which you never know what you might see! You will get the opportunity to walk around with the wildlife and actually pet some of them. The fun thing about this park is that many of the animals are roaming free so you are not separated by a fence like many zoos. They have kangaroo, emus and six species of wallabies hanging around near the visitor centre and along the three kilometers of walking tracks.

Let’s tell you about a few of the friendly you may encounter along the tracks. Zoë, with her diamante-studded collar, is probably the most-photographed kangaroo on the Central Coast. Her joeys(young kangaroo) are always close by including the recently-named Bounce. Bounce loves a good scratch on the ear. Leila the female red kangaroo is ever popular as well as Ally, the baby wombat. Don’t let the baby part fool because this little thing is built like a tank. Blaney is the most adorable brush tail possum- the eyes alone will get you every time. Dexter the cockatoo is a well-known character- he and I had a game of hide and seek, which was more like me hiding and him trying to seek and bite me. Bad Dexter! Marni, the eastern pygmy possum, is everybody’s favorite! He is no bigger than a 50 cent piece and the sweatiest thing I have ever seen. They let me hold this little guy in the palm of my hand. He was sleeping rolled up in a tight ball so I spoke softly to try and ease him awake, but he would not be denied his day time nap. I just wanted to put him in my pocket!

Ok I am getting ahead of myself. When I arrived I was greeted by Tassin, the owner of the park and her somewhat mischievous Dexter, the cockatoo. They both looked at me from head to toe and gave a small shake of the head. Really, I think the bird was judging me. I had this strange feeling I did not meet the correct dress code. I was in shorts, a summer top and sandals. What? I thought I was going to a zoo, but I guess when they say Walkabout Park that’s what it is. It may be just 50 minutes outside of the city, but you would never know it. It’s as if the outback is right on your doorstep.

As Tassin and her mischievous bird gave me the rundown of what to expect, I became more and more nervous; a little uneasy and somewhat fearful- even as far as frightened. Now you’re thinking what she is going on about? Why would Dez be so apprehensive in a walkabout park with cuddly koalas and hippity hoppity kangaroos? I WILL TELL YOU- SNAKES! That’s right- big, deadly, slinky snakes. The one thing I fear most in life is encountering a snake and they have free run of the place just like in the outback. My palms began to sweat and I felt a little unsteady the more she gives me the safety speech. In the end, my survival would be based on my acting abilities for it all came down to me posing as a tree. You heard me a tree. If I happen to run in to one of the ghastly creatures, I was to act like I was a tree and stand still. That’s hilarious- a tree! I was thinking more like an express train and get the heck out of there. But ok really, what are the chances I will run it to one of these wicked things? Well, we will leave this for later. For now, I’m going to move onto the mind-blowing and astounding sites of the park as well as the bonus Aboriginal art along the way.

So, we start our walkabout on a better note as Tassin points out the stories told in the rock art. The tales behind the art are handed down to each generation of Aborigines. It is amazing when you think about it that today’s Aborigines can interpret the meaning of art that is tens of thousands of year old such as a hand print or a picture of a bird pointing in such a way. The paintings communicate direction, hunting grounds, and even where to get water. Can you imagine doing this all without our computers and blackberries of today? Maybe we should try this - what do you think girls? Chaos?

As we head further up the path we meet the Dingo, the legendary Australian wild dog. These Australian animals are descendants of Asian dingoes that were introduced to the continent some 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. I am told that Munji and Kirraka are the purest of the breed and what an amazing treat they are. They are two of the most beautiful wild dogs I have ever seen. Now, I know what you’re going to say. The dingo ate my baby! -The silly line from the movie. But not these two loveable dogs. As much as I would love to have one, I’m told they are still wild animals and much to my regret. I have to say goodbye to Munji and Kirraka and move on to the koalas.

Holy cuteness! I’m now face to face with 3 of the most amazing creatures I could ever meet. Livingstone, Daiquiri, and Saligna. I’m in pure heaven. When God was creating cute cuddly animals, he got it right with these three. Livingstone is quite a character! Known for his grumpiness, they tell me this grouchy old boy almost lost his life when, as a wild koala, he sustained an injury that was to leave him permanently crippled. He was operated on at the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie, where his kneecap was removed. Unfortunately, Livingstone would never survive in the wild with this handicap. So, the Walkabout Wildlife Park welcomed him with open arms and provided him with a new home and the company of two females. He does have a little bit of a complex though due to the other females pushing him around a bit. Silly girls!
Now Daiquiri was born and raised in captivity at a wildlife park in Queensland. She came to her new home in 2008, where she discovered a new and happy home. After her playing coy with Livingstone, she fell in love and she has recently given birth to her very first joey. Her little boy is now comfortably in her pouch, but it will be a few months before he pokes his head out to start experiencing the world. I tried to get a peek but it was a no go- maybe next time.

Saligna, also captive-bred, is everyone’s darling. I fell in love with her at first sight. There is nothing that this koala loves more than cuddles, which is very unusual for a koala. Dedicated volunteers know quickly- leave her enclosure so that she doesn’t climb up their legs! Still, she gets her fair share of daily cuddles from the rangers and is thriving under all the affection shown to her by staff and volunteers. She is a hit with the visitors, too! Saligna also has a very young joey in the pouch – so young that they don’t know yet whether it is a boy or a girl. It was sure hard for me to leave. I wanted to pet her all day. I mean look at that face! I start to wonder what the Koalas are thinking about every day. They seem to be very happy with a smooth tree branch to stay in, nice sunshine to keep them warm, and a delicious branch of leaves to eat... Seems like a pretty good life, isnapostrophet it? Haaa, the simple life of a koala.

Ok it is time to meet the baby wombat, Ally. What a little tank she is. Tassin asks me if I would like to come in to her pen. Heck yah! I wanted to get a closer look at this amazing little creature. Wombats tend to sleep during the day, so Tassin had to wake the little darling. With sleep still in her little wombat eyes, Ally hesitantly journeys fourth to meet the day and myself. As Tassin points out, some of her finer attributes to me. Ally becomes a little bored and now that’s she awake she wants to play. Ok more like chase and although she may look small she sure is fast. She had me on the go and I soon found I was no match for the little truck. As I’m jumping over the fence I say yell my farewells to Ally.

I am now suddenly surprised by Tassin with a little treat; an up close and personal introduction with Neil the Diamond Python. Yep, back to the snakes. Now I could have just said no way and thank you for the kind offer, but I wanted to make a challenge out of this. May I point out for a 2nd time that snakes are my worst fear in life. So, I sucked it up and took the