Thursday, 13 September 2012


Spring has sprung. It seems to me a contradiction that we have rolled into September without being greeted by those grim 'Back To School' posters in every clothes store and stationer. Leaves should be crunching underfoot, not sprouting overhead.

To be honest, I haven't got used to the 'Australian calendar' at all. This is partly due to my unbroken bond with English football (I talk in seasons, not years) while subconsciously I'm preparing myself for that strange, strange day in late December when we wave goodbye to Melbourne sunshine and embrace the gloomy chill of London Heathrow. Christmas in summer? I'm not having it.

A friend once told me "blogs can fall into the navel-gazing trap" and this entry's already in danger of boarding that slippery slide. So it's high time I took you to Dubbo, the scene of our latest adventure. By now, you may recognise some of our travel buddies (below). We spent the weekend with our Canadian cousins, the Jackson family - plus two of the boys' school-friends.

Left to right: Janice, Cody, Howard, Jesse, Kent, Khye, Dean, Rachel, Steve, Colt
Dubbo is a six-hour drive from Albury and slightly less from Griffith, where the Jacksons live. The Friday evening rush-hour consisted of occasional passing cars and a handful of huge trucks, meaning the journey was very straightforward. However, on such a remote route, petrol stations are like oases in the desert, so you don't take any chances when it comes to re-fuelling.

On arrival, we discovered the town was a reasonable size. Our accomodation was a rented house in the centre of Dubbo, with the 10 of us sharing three bedrooms. The reason for our visit was the highly-regarded Western Plains Zoo, who run guided behind-the-scenes walks every weekend before the general punters arrive.

This involved a very early start on Saturday morning but to be fair, all the boys had eaten breakfast and performed their oblutions by the time we hit the road. Just after 6.45am the walk began. The stillness of the zoo and the beautiful conditions immedately justified the alarm call. Above, the boys are stood across the water from the spider monkeys, listening to our guide, while another group is just ahead of us further round the bank.

In some ways, doing the walk was like having backstage access at a concert. We saw this gigantic rhinoceros before he moved to the 'on-display' area. His compound was large, if less luxurious than a pop star's dressing-room.

This hippo was just clambering out of the water when we walked past. We learned we'd have no hope of out-running a hippo as they can shift at 25mph for two seconds. "That's even faster than Usain Bolt", our guide proudly announced. Another reason for the Jamaican to work on that start of his.
Dubbo is a big zoo, with more than 1,500 animals all given proper space. It's a six-kilometre route to see everything and we hired a golf buggy. While it appears that carefree driving is about to send us smashing into a small tree (above), the vehicle was safely parked when this photo was taken.

The siamung gibbons were quite simply bonkers. The female (above, right) was carrying a tiny baby and the two adults spent a good five minutes screaming at the top of their voices to warn us off. As you can see, their necks inflated to the size of a football when they were really going for it. It was thoroughly entertaining and almost deafening. They ran around in unison and at one point the baby was tossed aside to facilitate even louder screaming.

We later overheard a conversation between two of the zoo guides.

"I can't believe how excitable the gibbons were this morning."
"Why, did you take a group to see them?"
"We're not supposed to do that while the baby is so young."

The five oldest boys cycled behind the golf buggy. Here, two riders appear to have been dropped by the main field.

The power of a good advertising campaign cannot be underestimated and when we stopped to see these little fellas, certain images and soundbytes inevitably came to mind. For international readers to whom this makes no sense, I've posted a handy video clip by way of explanation. Simples.


Visiting the zoo with the extended Jackson family was a real treat. I can't possibly do the place justice with this handful of photos but worthy of a mention were the pacing tiger, inquisitive giraffes, sleeping lions (literally), lazy cheetah and the camel who gyrated around a wooden post to itch his long neck.
Back at the house we watched Sydney beat Adelaide in the AFL finals before my team, Geelong, were dumped out by Fremantle.

Before leaving Dubbo on Sunday we wandered round the Western Plains Cultural Centre. There was some weird art and a museum. The general consensus was "it's alright but I'm glad it was free."

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