A bush holiday 50 years in the making

kangaroo-SQWhen I was 10, I read a book called “Bush Holiday” by Stephen Fennimore, a story of a young boy from America who is sent to spend the summer in the Australian Outback with an uncle he never met. Countless adventures await him. It’s a delightful story about a land so foreign to anything I had experienced. I fell in love with Australia at that moment. I knew that one day I would travel there, but my plans were detoured by life. So 50-some years later, I found that my grandchild Brittany and my newly adopted granddaughter, Rosanna, were making plans to go. I eagerly asked if I could tag along. They agreed and as the excitement grew, it rubbed off on my grandson Branden and he decided he would round out the merry troupe.

I assured them that I would not cramp their style; if they chose to hike Toohey Mountain in Brisbane, I would be waiting for them at trail’s end, or if they ventured into the Great Victoria Desert, I would tuck myself into the nearest friendly pub and buy the first round at their return. If they chose to swim with sharks or snorkel with stingrays, I would take great pictures as they emerged from the deep, safely from the confines of a boat. I knew they would be walking the Sydney Harbor Bridge, where I, with telephoto in hand, would cheer them on from 440 feet below. With these assurances and their good nature, the adventure began.

Brittany and Rosanna made all the arrangements. This was to include four cities in 16 days, so it was a pack-and-unpack kind of jaunt. Brittany, with friends from around the world, arranged to meet her friend Duane, who was from Australia and volunteered to give us a native’s tour for the first few days. He truly was a great guide who gave me my very first thrill. We drove into the hills and parked the car. This is where he promised kangaroos would be. As I got out of the car, camera in hand, I called out, “Any kangaroos around here?” With that, a kangaroo popped up not 12 feet from me. The picture I snapped (above) has been suspected of being photoshopped. I appreciate that someone might believe that I am that savvy on the computer, but truly I am not and this great photo is the genuine thing.

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We drove past great herds of eastern grey ‘roos grazing on open plains in groups, called mobs. Not always welcomed by the local farmers, who have asked the government for more culling programs, these ‘roos compete with cattle and horses for vegetation. With numbers growing, farmers struggle and have to cut back on their livestock due to these insatiable herbivores.

The creatures we saw in the wild are rather different than anything we have in the Hudson Valley, although I was surprised to learn there are no squirrels. The Australian variety of opossum are called possums and look like a flying squirrel. They are protected, as is the koala. The emu is similar to the ostrich, only taller. One of these birds brought her family into the parking lot as we were getting into our car one afternoon. Brittany, admiring the cute chicks, started to approach them. Like a typical mother, the emu decided she did not like strangers near her babies, and Brit made a quick escape into the car with momma right behind her. The exotic cockatoos spend the night together; they filled the trees in the lot across from our balcony. These gold-headed, stunningly white birds are a joy to watch. It is understandable why they are the most favored of the parrot world. But my favorite bird was the magpie. This black and white bird, about the size of our crow, is considered the country’s most accomplished songbird, with a great repertoire. Listening to them in the early morning, you would believe it was a symphonic choir.

With adventure in mind, the grandkids had scheduled the next jaunt from Sydney to Brisbane in a rental car, a 10-hour drive. After the first few days of driving on the highways of the Land Down Under, learning to drive on the opposite side of the road wasn’t as bad as the speed and complete disregard for conventional wisdom that seemed to pervade most drivers. I was able to convince the troop that a short plane hop might be more prudent. I wanted the Australian experience, but not from the view of a hospital bed. After three days with Duane, our unofficial tour guide and ostensibly retired race car driver, they agreed.

My next request was to eat kangaroo. The suggested restaurant served a steak large enough to feed a lion, broiled, rather rare much like venison, a bit gamey, but good eating. Crocodile was my next taste venture, a light, almost white meat, somewhat like chicken or frog legs, with a bit of fishy flavor. A “maybe” on my list to try again. I stopped short at witchetty grubs, a traditional stable in Aboriginal diets. Several of them are sufficient to provide the daily needs of an adult; you just grab the head and bite off the rest of it raw. I was told the taste was quite pleasant, having a fried egg flavor with a hint of nuts. I believed the description, but decided I was already full and could not try another bite, especially a grub.

Traveling to Australia with grandchildren was a journey like none other, a whirlwind of packing, moving and dashing from one escapade to another. There are many more accounts to this quest, which I may continue at a later date.

So until then, in true Aussie style, I wish you a g’day, mate.

Barbara Buono’s column appears monthly.