Australia!

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Sunset in the Yarra range
Sunset at Melbourne

‘Hey! If you gonna take me pictures of me plants, you gotta pay me!’
I freeze hearing the gruff angry voice coming from a short old man standing by a land mover. It is the first sign of hostility I have encountered in Australia. Then I notice another old man standing nearby grinning and chuckling and I realize that the comment is a joke. I quickly cover up by retorting to the old man that I have no interest whatsoever in getting pictures of his ugly plants and that I am only interested in the cockatoos sitting on his roof.

‘What the cockies?’ The old man is genuinely puzzled. And with good reason. This is the Yarra range in Melbourne and the entire area is ablaze with them flying and screeching all around.
‘Well I’m from India and I don’t get to see these birds back home’ I explain.
‘Take em with you! They make a bloody mess o things around here…I’d shoot them if I could!’ comes the reply.

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Cockatoo

I know of course that he is joking. From what I’ve seen most people appreciate having birds and other animals around them. Many people actually put out bird boxes and feeding stations to attract wild birds from around them.

This is now the beginning of my second week in Australia. Getting here had been the longest journey I’d ever made so far. First an overnight bus to Bombay to pickup my passport, then a flight to Bangalore. Next, a flight to Kuala Lumpur and then twenty four hours at the airport. Then an eight hour flight to Sydney and another twenty hours at the airport before my flight to Tasmania. I left my home in Goa on Saturday evening and arrived in Tasmania on Thursday morning.

Coming in to Launceston I’m so exhausted that half an hour before the flight lands I need toothpicks to hold my eye lips open! Stepping out of the aircraft into thirteen degrees and a strong wind has me wide awake in a jiffy.

No time to rest, I have only four days in Tasmania. So despite my friend Daphne’s apprehensions about me being ok to stay awake, I just dump my backpack at her house and drive off with her into town. There’s a well know gorge there that she thinks I’ll enjoy seeing. As we drive out of her house I still can’t believe I’m in Tasmania! The land of the Tasmanian devil and all the other bizzare marsupials and monotremes that I’d only ever read about in school books!

I tell Daphne that just driving around makes me feel like I’m in a movie. Coming from India where there’s always loads of people around this whole place seems deserted to me. Daphne laughs when I tell her it isn’t unlike a zombie movie where after a virus infestation all the people have fled leaving their homes behind. But then I’ve always loved zombie movies. And my first impression of Tasmania is very good!

The gorge turns out to be a fabulous spot. I walk along a track cut into the mountain on one side of the river and it takes me upriver to some very scenic locations. It is by now almost mid-day so I don’t expect to see much bird life. I have my camera ready though and it pays off when I spot a few ducks and some silvered gulls. Suddenly I hear the unmistakable call of a peacock. I’m a bit confused since peafowl should definitely not be found here! I continue along the track and eventually get to a small restaurant and a picnic spot. And there sitting in full view are three gorgeous peacocks! I click away and end up with my best shots of peacock ever!

At Daphne’s house I have a cozy room to myself and a very swanky bathroom. Noticing me shivering at times Daphne wants to turn the heating on in my room. I will have none of that. What is the point of coming all the way to Tasmania only to have comfy warm weather like back home. And if I get really cold there’s always the fireplace.

I first met Daphne about a year ago when I took her as a client on a birdwatching trip back in Goa. When I found out she lived in Tasmania I wasted no time in dropping hints that I would really like to come and stay at her place. She had been gracious enough to pick up the hints and also pick me up from the airport, and now she was worrying that she wasn’t feeding me enough!

With her help I book a trip to the famous Cradle mountain. The trip is gonna cost me 140 dollars (yikes!). I travel in a large van along with five other people and it’s a three hour drive to the mountain. I love the countryside which seems to get better and better as we get nearer to our destination. Our first stop is by a lake. As I get out I realize what one degree centigrate with a wind chill factor feels like! I pull off my gloves since I can’t fell the camera buttons wearing them. Within minutes my fingers are numb. Now I can’t shoot cause my fingers won’t move anymore!

I take a few shots of the strange looking vegetation around the lake and the friendly wallaby who seems to make a living playing cute to all the visiting tourists. Within a short while we leave for another spot. There’s a Pademelon (another marsupial) grazing not far from where we park and I manage to get a couple of shots of it.

A Pademelon
Pademelon

Our guide then takes us for a short walk through the forest. The walk is fabulous. The forest is quiet, old, covered in moss and reminds me of stills from the movie ‘The Lord of the Rings’.

Cradle Mountain

Once we get out of the forest our guide takes us to a grassy spot. He wants to find the Wombat he often sees there.

Wombat Tasmania

After about ten minutes of scanning the spot he’s found him. I approach the animal cautiously. Its about the size of a dog but much shorter and stockier. It seems unperturbed by me even when I’m only about five meters away and continues chewing away on the grass.

‘Don’t get any closer…those things can suddenly bolt at you.’ Warns my guide. I don’t need to get closer though as I have my trusty 400 mm lens with me. Already at the distance of five meters I can barely fit the Wombat’s face in the frame!

I learn later that while the Wombat is also a marsupial its pouch opens backwards unlike the Kangaroo’s which opens forwards. Apparently this is to prevent its baby from getting a face full of mud every time mommy starts burrowing underground.

A Curruwong (a crow like bird) eyes my food greedily when I open up my lunch box.
Currowong

I finish my snack and we head home. On the way back we spot a couple of echidnas feeding at the side of the road. Our guide, noticing my interest, decides to turn the car around for one so I can get pictures of it. When we do get close enough to photograph it though the damn thing beats a hasty retreat into the bushes. This isn’t an Australian thing though. Infact this is typical of animals all over the world. Drive by a wild animal at 120 kilometers an hour in a noisy motorcar and the concerned individual won’t even blink. But get out of the car and approach the same individual cautiously and suddenly someone finds you very suspicious!

The next morning Daphne takes me on a long car drive across Tasmania. We are going to be driving from Launceston to Hobart and even with no traffic on the road it will take the better of three hours to get there. Daphne has organized for the two of us to stay at her friend Maggie’s place and she says we should see some decent birdlife out there. She also says that she has some work to do with Maggie but I have a feeling that this is just an excuse to refuse gasoline money from me!

The landscape along the way is surreal in places. Beautiful rolling hills of different shades, blue skies, and a virtually deserted road. I enjoy my conversations with Daphne who has a quiet sense of calm around her. The drive is finishes and wisps away as quickly as a pleasant dream.

We meet Maggie and her husband Brian at a café in Hobart and head out to a national park on the outskirts of Hobart. I am totally unprepared for what we find on the walk in the park. Giant ferns and the tallest trees I’ve every seen in my life! If I’d done my home work I’d have realized that these are the second tallest trees in the world. Only the Coastal Redwoods in California rival them.

Giant eucalyptus Tasmania

But even homework would not have prepared me for the sheer gigantic size of these trees. Several of them were over seventy meters tall and some were several meters taller still! I struggled to try and fit the trees into my camera frame to no avail. Getting a shot like that needed an unobsructed view of the entire tree from atleast a hundred meters away which in the forest was simply not possible.

Tasmania

As we exit the forest I get my first good shots of birds in Tasmania. The concerned avian is a tiny bird called a Fairy wren and it keeps flitting around the place.

Fairy Wren Tasmania

As we are driving out of the park I find a pair of wild Tasmanian hens with chicks. Entering Hobart I force Daphne to bring the car to a halt yet again. This time it’s a flock of Black swans. Some of them are walking on the narrow road we are on and the others are bobbing around gracefully in the big river all around us.

The light is fading fast and I barely manage to get some usable shots of the swans. I am mesmerized by the beauty of the big birds. They have brilliant red beaks which contrast beautifully with their black bodies and were it not for the cold wind and Daphne worrying that she might lose her remaining license points for parking in the wrong spot I would certainly have spent some more time admiring them.

Black Swan Tasmania

As we near the driveway of Maggie’s house we catch a Possum in the headlights of the car. Possums are also marsupials and about the size and shape of a large monkey. Over my four weeks spent in Australia I will come to learn that possums are so common that for many people they are simply pests that wreck gardens and vandalize anything left outside the house in the night.

Being noctornal I have no chance of getting a shot of one of them in the day. So I jump out of the car to get a shot of this one but the animal quickly makes off into some bushes. It will the first and last Possum I will see in Australia.

Maggie and Brian live in a mansion. Not the gaudy kind of mansion with gold coloured door handles but a very tastefully built wood and concrete house practically on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea. After a fabulous meal I’m off to bed. The next morning I’m the first to wake up. Maggie had mentioned over dinner that there would be quite a few birds in the trees around the house.

I take up position at a porch on the side of some eucalyptus trees and wait. Maggie’s right. Pretty soon I have some shots of the New Holland Honeyeater, Musk lorikeets, Green Rosellas and the gorgeous Rainbow Rosella. The Rainbow rosella is undoubtedly not just one of the most beautiful parrots but also the most multicoloured bird I’ve ever seen.

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Rainbow Rosella

New Holland honeyeater

Wattlebirds are all over the place squaking their strange metallic call. When Brian wakes up he takes me for a drive around the island and I add excellent shots of the Flame robin, Silvered gull, Spurwinged Plover, and the Wattle bird to my collection.

Spurwinged Plover
Spurwinged plover

Flame Robin
Flame Robin

We leave Maggie’s house for Launceston in the afternoon. On Monday morning I’m on a flight to Melbourne. From the airport I take a skybus to Spencer street and then a train to Mooroolbark station. I have a friend Salus living here in the Yarra range who has agreed to put me up for a few days. Salus and his entire family are actually Goan and they moved to Australia only about ten years ago. In ten years though Salus worked his way up to a comfy job, a large house, bunch of cars, a Justice of peace post and an Australian citizenship!

I meet his son Roger first when he comes to pick me up from the station and then get introduced to his wife Linda, his daughter Jeanne and his father when I arrive at the house.
Linda ever hospitable as I will learn later, won’t even let me pull my shoes off before she’s served me some amazing chicken curry and rice. ‘I have to run to work and Salus will be back soon ok so eat up and take whatever you want from the kitchen.’

Salus returns an hour later. He’s a lot smaller and less intimidating that I thought him to be. He doesn’t have the mustache he sported in his passport photograph. I’ve seen the passport since he sent me a copy of it along with a very flattering letter of recommendation and invitation for when I was applying for my visa with the Australian High Commision. Without all his help I seriously doubt I’d have gotten the visa at all. But Salus wants to hear none of this now. He doesn’t want my thanks and appreciation either.

‘If you’re not too tired let’s go for a drive’. We drive up the mountain behind his house in the Yarra range. It’s very un-Australia like which I had imagine to be all quite flat and brown. ‘Victoria is the greenest of Australia’s states’ explains Salus as he pulls the car into a parking lot at the top of the mountain. We get out and walk around and I’m enthralled by the massive eucalyptus trees all around me. The trees whistle and shiver as a strong chilly air blows through them. ‘Count me out of a night trip here’ laughs Salus as we get back into the car.

As we continue our drive I spot a brilliant red bird flying across the road and into the trees. Its gone before we can stop though. A little ahead is another bird with a thick bill which I’m almost certain is the famed Kookaburra. ‘Stop stop quickly’ I shout at Salus.

Salus of course can’t stop cause only in India can you pull your car to a halt in the middle of a highway without risking someone ramming a ton of steel into the rear end of your automobile! I’m disappointed since I really wanted a picture of the Kookaburra. I needn’t have worried though. The next morning under Salus’s recommendation I walk the two odd kilometers to a spot that I simply will call the Park. About an hour later I have very good shots of not just one but a pair of Kookaburras!

The Famous Kookaburra!
Kookaburra

Kookaburra

The Park is a small yet charming place with big trees, well maintained lawns, a big winding pond and a single trail running all around on which people come to walk, jog or walk their dogs. I’m the only one searching the canopy of the trees with a camera. Over the next couple of days the Park becomes one of my favorite places for photographing birds in Australia. Besides the Kookaburra I photograph Sulphur crested cockatoos, Rainbow lorikeets, Long billed correllas, Australian wood ducks, Buff banded rails, Australian Magpie, Chestnut teals, and Purple swamphens.

While the Rainbow lorikeets stick to the trees almost all the other birds would often come to the ground and root around in the lawns making for some very interesting eve level shots.

Rainbow Lorikeet
Rainbow Lorikeet

Chestnut teal
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Buff banded rail
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Crested Pigeon
Crested Pigeon

Long billed Corrella
Long billed corrella Melbourne

Wattle birdWattle bird

Almost every evening when Salus comes back from work he drives me to a new spot. One of our visits is to Lilydale lake where Coots are in plenty. I’ve seen Coots back home in Goa but never as close as this. I’m less than seven meters away and getting some very interesting shots of them grazing on the lawn right beside the lake. Salus is as easily chilled as I am by the cold wind blowing in from the lake. I notice though that he and me are about the only two people seemingly overdressed for the weather.

Most of the Australians walking and running around are dressed in shorts and t shirts! Eventually Salus is too cold and he makes off in the direction of the parking lot to sit in the car while I continue photographing birds. I’ve barely finished getting shots of the Coots, some Mallards and a large australian raven of some sorts, when I see Salus running towards me while gesturing in the direction of the parking lot. My first instinct is to quickly scan the area around me wondering if I’m breaking some law that I’m unaware off.

Turns out I’m all legal where I’m standing and Salus actually wants me to get to the park on the otherside where he’s seen this very strange looking bird. For a person who’d otherwise only notice a bird if it were lying in a plate at the dinner table he’s showing a might big interest in birds lately! The strange looking bird is an Australian Ibis who’s seems to be shamelessly searching for scraps of food dropped around.

I stalk him for a bit and then get distracted by three Noisy miners (yes that’s their actual name!) who come calling and marching out in single file from underneath a slide at the children’s park. The next evening when we visit another water body near the local library I get shots of the Hardhead, Magpie Lark, Australian wood ducks and Dusky moorhens.

For Wednesday morning I’ve managed to persuade Roger to drive me to Badger’s creek. Jeanne comes along under persuasion from Roger and me and by the end of the trip I know she surely regrets it. I suspect Roger does too. Why wouldn’t they? Apart from being a gorgeous forest with massive trees and some beautiful birds, Badger’s creek has only freezing cold and a chilly rain to offer.

Besides, both my victims had to wake up at 7 am in the morning (an hour Roger has not been awake at for the last several years at least!) and now the combined sound of their chattering teeth is scaring away the only lone wallaby in the park.

Wallaby

I keep complaining that the light isn’t enough to get good pictures and they keep pointing to their bare toes that are now definitely looking stuck together. The truth is that in the end I get what I want and that is some smashing photographs of the Red rosella which I find to be one of the most beautiful birds in the world.

Red Rosella melbourne

Red Rosella melbourne

On Friday I decide to spend a whole day exploring Melbourne city. Roger drops me off on his way to college and I work my way from there by train to Flinder’s street. Melbourne is extremely well organized for tourists. The city not only has a tourist centre with free brochures and maps but employs tens of its old people who are strategically located with the sole purpose of guiding tourists.

They all wear red uniforms and caps so you can find them easily and they are extremely helpful with directions and suggestions. I work the free tram and the free tourist bus the whole day and get a pretty good overview of the entire city.

‘It’s clean, friendly, jazzy and well organized but still not my thing’ I tell Salus when he comes to pick me up at Mooroolbark station.

‘Not my thing either!’ says Salus before we head out for a drive around the countryside. I’m looking forward to tomorrow morning. It’s the weekend and Salus has the time to take me for a drive on The Great Ocean Road. This spectacular drive will become one of the highlights of my trip to Australia.For almost two hundred kilometers we chase one of the most beautiful coastlines I’ve ever seen. On our left we have azure blue water, rocky crags and deserted beaches. And on our right we’ve got moutains that don’t just change their shape but also their vegetation every ten to twenty kilometers.

The Great Ocean Road

We use the map to find the Eucalyptus forest where the Koalas live. The Koalas take some finding since they hardly move at all and they are quite camouflaged against the browns trunks of the trees. One of them has a baby clinging to her back and I’m thrilled that I finally have shots of these strange looking animals. It is interesting to observe how an absence of predators and a diet of nutrient poor eucalyptus leaves has shaped these animals into extremely slow moving creatures. A simple head turn takes the better of half a minute to complete!

Koalas in Melbourne

By the end of the day Salus has done almost six hundred kilometers of driving. I have pictures of not just Koalas and spectacular landscapes but some pretty smashing shots of King parrots, Galahs (another kind of parrot) and a lone White faced heron perched one just one foot on a rock at the beach.
Galah

Galah in Victoria

King Parrot
King Parrot in Victoria Australia

I also have a belly full of fish and chips and an invitation from Salus to do this again the next time I’m back there. I think back to the first time I’d chatted with Salus when I was still in India. He had made it very clear then that all he could offer me was accomodation when I got to Melbourne. I realized now that he’d been lying all along! I leave early morning Monday for Sydney.

I am taking the bus instead of the flight despite the whole family laughing at me for doing so. ‘Well you will see plenty of road kill for sure…that should make life interesting for an animal lover like you.’ Sneered Roger. I could see their point of view. The flight and bus both cost about the same and the bus takes fourteen hours when the flight takes less than two.

I don’t regret the long journey though. I see some very interesting landscapes along the way and, despite Roger’s cocky comment, one large and very live wallaby. When I get to Sydney I take a train to Epping where another friend of mine Sapna has offered to put me up for the night. Over the next ten days I spend in Sydney I’m in and out of their house several times. Sapna ever helpful, picks me up from Epping station however late I arrive and whips up a quick breakfast no matter how early in the morning I have to leave.

At 11.00 am the next morning I’m warming myself on a bench just outside Springwood station. Over the hour long journey from Epping station the train gradually climbed and wound its way around the beautiful Blue mountains of Sydney. I will stay here for a few days with another acquaintance of mine Josna. Josna wastes no time in working up a schedule for me. In the evening she takes me for a walk in the mountains.

The next morning she’s made arrangements for me to go for a city walk in Sydney with four elderly gentlemen. ‘Assuming that’s ok with you of course’ she looks questioningly at me. Now under normal circumstances I always avoid any walking unless I really have to. But considering this sounds like an interesting way to see Sydney city I reckon I’ll go. After all how much can four old men walk.

Sixteen kilometers over six hours is the answer! By the end of the walk we are finally at the famous harbour bridge and the Sydney opera house and my feet are toast. To add insult to injury the oldest man Bob walking with us is seventy three years old! At the opera house I tell them that if they plan to walk anymore I will take the train home. ‘Well it seems we’ve walked our young friend here to exhaustion Bob’ says Peter who’s not much younger than Bob either. Back home I thank and curse Josna for the day. My comments seem to bounce off her though and she is already on to planning my next adventures in the Blue Mountains.

The next morning Peter has agreed to drive me to Katoomba and the Three Sisters Echo location point. Peter says that he’s helping me in exchange for me looking at his shoulder and offering some advice as a Pain therapist. But really I think he’s going out of his way to show me around. Literally! Since this time we will climb down what seem to be only about about two thousand steep steps cut into the side of mountain all the way to the bottom of Wentworth falls.

Peter is in the lead again. On the way up my right foot is seriously hurting now and will stay hurting for the next week after that. Peter on the other hand has barely broken a sweat. Realizing that I won’t walk anymore Peter agrees to spend the rest of the day driving around in the car as we visit Katoomba and the Three Sisters echo location point. When I get back Josna is busy packing a tent for me. She’s decided that as a wildlife lover I must camp atleast one night in the Blue Mountains.

‘I’ve already booked you a spot at the campsite and I’ve packed a tin of tuna and some beans for you for the night’ she says as we drive off.

Australian Magpie

The landscape we drive through as we enter the national park is mountainous and very beautiful. There are plenty of trees but this isn’t the forest I’ve seen back in Goa. Its much drier and eucalyptus trees replace the broad leaved deciduous and ever green trees I find back home. For me ‘different’ translates to ‘interesting’ and I love this place.

The camping spot is a flat circular patch of land with a small shed at one end of it housing a toilet. There’s a group of boys from a local school lead by two leaders and another young couple from Scandinavia already with tents pitched in the same spot. Right now the boys are having fun with a pair of Kookaburras who are literally snatching food right from their open hands.

The forest is alive with the calls of birds. Some I recognize now as coming from Sulphur Crested cockatoos and Rainbow lorikeets, while others are brand new to me. I go to sleep in my tent with a bright moon shining above me. The last thing I hear is one of the leaders telling the boys to shut up so everyone else can sleep in peace.

The next morning I’m up before everyone else and I take a short walk. Not far from the campsite I spot a donkey like head staring at me from around a bend in the path.Kangaroo! I can’t believe I’m seeing my first Kangaroo in the wild!

Grey Kangaroo in the Blue Mountains

I move slowly forward and the head immediately disappears around the bend. Then the suspense. Has the animal fled? I hope and pray it’s still there. As I round the bend I’m in for a treat. There are three Kangaroos grazing at the side of the path. They are about twenty meters away from me and all of them now have their heads lifted and facing me. I know hardly anything about Kangaroos but I know enough to keep a safe distance and let them get used to me.

It’s a cloudy day and the light is horrible to take pictures. I have no choice though so I do the best I can. Meanwhile I’m also slowly closing the gap between me and the Kangaroos. Everytime they lower their heads to eat I move a few steps towards them. When they look up I freeze pretending that I’ve been there the whole time!The Kangaroos hop around every now and then but don’t move very far. Eventually I’m only about six meters away from them and I know that I shouldn’t push my luck. Besides I’ve already got atleast some usable images of them. Eventually the Kangaroos move off into the undergrowth and I walk back to the tent.

The others have already left and I’m the only one around now. Josna had told me that she would be there by 8.30 to pick me up. By 10.30 with no sign of her I began to get a bit worried. I have no cellphone reception, there is not a soul around and I know the entrance gate is literally miles away. Even the cockatoo nonchalantly walking on the ground now appears to be stalking me! But just when my imagination has run wild enough to make me feel that any moment now the circling bird will move in for the kill Josna arrives! I am back in Epping by noon and an hour later I am in Rob Ambrose’s sedan driving to attend to a snake call.

Rob works for a company called Sydney Snakecatchers and he works full time rescuing snakes. I’m excited at the prospect of seeing some of Australia’s venomous snakes. Since the time I started learning about snakes I’ve been fascinated by the fact that Australia has the most venomous snakes in the world. And now as Rob chats casually about Tiger snakes and Brown snakes I can’t believe that I’m going to actually get a chance to see some of them!

After driving for over an hour we’re finally at our destination: a small industrial estate of some sorts surrounded by vast tracks of flat land and spare vegetation. To me it seems typical of what I’ve seen of Australia but Rob says the vegetation is special and therefore might hold some very interesting snakes. After meeting with the worker at the site and an unfruitful search Rob and me do some ‘herping’ around. There’s plenty of corrugated metal sheets and old plastic drums that look very promising but upturning all of them doesn’t find us anything.

It isn’t long before Rob has another call and we head off in another direction.
‘This is a sweet old lady Rahul, I probably won’t charge her much at all you know.’he says turning his head towards me while we drive through some beautifully forested area. When we get there Rob runs his introduction of me. Over the next few days that I spend with him Rob will run this routine introduction of me so many times and with so much enthusiasm that I’ll have unwittingly memorized all the punch lines to a T.
‘Rahul is a snake catcher from India!’
‘Yeah! He catches cobras in India!’
Then the rhetorical question ‘So have you met anyone who’s traveled from India?’
And then the punch line ‘Of course not! Its too expensive for them, they never make enough money to travel so far you see!’

All this thanks to me mentioning my yearly income to Rob. Rob decides that he needs to take care of my expenses and from then on will refuse to let me pay for any food we buy on the move. Eventually I will find out that Rob doesn’t really make much money either. Atleast not by any Australian standards. But that won’t stop him from looking out for me like I’m his younger brother.

While Rob gropes around with his bare hands in some thick bushy ornamental plants I marvel at three cockatoos perched only four feet away from the old lady. Noticing my astonished look the old lady explains that she and her late husband took to feeding some birds about twenty years ago when a drought devastated the area and the birds were left starving. The area has long since recovered but the birds don’t wanna let go of the free meals. Besides they’ve told their friends as well, so now the old lady has her hands full putting out food for the birds everyday.

‘Come and take a look at this she says’ I walk up to the porch and she disappears into the house and returns a few minutes later with some minced meat.

‘Kookaburra…here Kookaburra, come on down now, come here Kookaburra’ she’s calling out into the trees. I’m incredulous as a Kookoburra comes flying out of nowhere towards us. The bird seems awfully suspicious of me and lands five meters away on the roof of neighbour’s hourse.

‘Kookaburra what in God’s name are you doing. Come on down now…Now don’t be ridiculous Kookaburra, KOOKABURRA!’

The chiding is just too much for the bird and he looks quite embarrassed. I watch amazed as he jumps to within two feet of the old lady and hops the meat balls she’s tossing at him. Other birds are soon on the scene and a feeding frenzy develops while the old lady barks orders at the birds calling all of them by their species name!

‘Off you go Kookaburra, you’ve had enough! Butcher bird, come on Butcher bird, Not you Curruwong!’

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Rob spends more than an hour looking for the snake unsuccessfully. As darkness settles in we leave for Janine (Rob’s girlfriend) house. Janine has obviously being seeing Rob, and by default – snakes, for sometime now since she displays hardly any concern when Rob pulls out a six foot long highly venomous Eastern Brown snake he’s been carrying around all the while and proceeds to handle it right in her living room!

Then while he cuddles up with an Australian tiger snake on the floor she watches dotingly like a young mother would while papa plays with their ten month old toddler. Except in this case the toddler is a five foot long adult reptile and only the second most venomous snake in the world!

On the weekend I shift base from Epping to Bossley Park. I stay with Anita (an aunt of mine) and her husband Albert and their sons Andrew and Mathew. I have a very relaxed time there courtesy of a nice comfortable room and some fabulous cooking from my aunt. On Saturday evening Albert and Anita take me to a local club for more food and some great stand up comedy acts.

Albert is great company and he will go out of his way to show me the local sights around including Sydney city and Bondi and Manly beach. More than once we visit a casino. Its always an unfair deal with him around since he buys all the tokens and then shoves all the winnings into my pocket! I make great friends with Andrew and he gets me back in the loop with Wrestling matches that I haven’t seen in a long time. I enjoy my stay with them so much that I return to their place again for a few days just before I leave for India.

On Monday morning though I’m back with Rob. He’s got another snake call to attend to. This time we’re lucky since the snake is coiled up right under a tile. Rob flips over the tile to reveal a gorgeous Red bellied black snake. I know it’s a venomous snake but for some reason I feel confident enough to try handling it. I’ve been watching Rob handle snakes for the last few days and to me these snake’s don’t seem very different in behavior from the one’s I handle back in India.

Red bellied black snake
Red Bellied Black Snake Australia

The three foot long snake behaves well and I am soon very confident handling it. We take the snake to a small forest and before releasing it I get a few pictures of it. Rob has worked with snake photographers before and it shows – he knows exactly how to handle and position the snake so I can get my shots of it. I spend the next few days hanging out with Rob and have a swell time with him. When we’re not out searching for snakes and spiders I’m accompanying him on a snake talk he has to conduct or meeting up with his biker friends.

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Rob used to race and he stills owns a Honda CBR 1000. Twice I sit pillion on the bike and experience a thrilling and relatively scary ride as Rob wheelies the bike while moving at 120 kilometers an hour! Rob also figures that instead of going back to Sapna’s house everynight it would be better if I just stayed with him since that saves him the hassle of picking me and dropping me back every day. That suits me just fine. Rob lives with his parents, several snakes, turtles, lizards and a nineteen year old lorikeet who’s lost just about all his feathers but none of his appetite and enthusiasm for screaming!

Rob’s mother is extremely apologetic about the room I’m sleeping in since Rob’s snake books, snake bags, jackets, and biking helmets are strewn all over the place. She doesn’t have to worry though since all the mess is the final ingredient in making me feel very much at home! I leave Australia on the 1st of November. Back at the airport I can swear that everything is the same and not a chair has been moved out of place. Only I feel very different. 23 days earlier I was in the same spot feeling very anxious and quite out of place.

Now a sense of confidence has descended over me. That’s because for the last three weeks I’ve been figuring out things while I’ve been traveling around to all the places I’ve visited so far. But that’s not the whole story. For in the process of traveling I have built friendships that will last me for a long time to come. And when I do return to Australia it won’t just be for the fabulous wildlife I saw while I was there but also for the generosity, hospitality and humour of the people there.

Rob and me with a tiger snake!
Tiger snake

But for the moment I need to go away. An airport announcement has unleashed butterflies in my stomach again. For I have another adventure beginning. In less than four hours I will be in New Zealand!