Near Ballarat there is a small zoo. There I had a bizarre experience and a sentimental one. I went into the reptile house alone. Anne abhors reptiles, mistakenly once I dragged her round a reserve north of Brisbane. The first exhibit was a rather pretty snake rarely seen and non-poisonous. By the time I’d got her to the last enclosure which was an extremely dully coloured snake which, highly poisonous, lived in letter-boxes, she was determined never to expose herself to reptiles ever again in any shape or form. One of the reasons Lord of the Rings disappointed her was the reptilian aspect of some of the monsters.
In the Ballarat one there were the normal displays of snakes and lizards, but at the far end there was a big enclosure with a relatively large crocodile behind the glass. The entrance to the reptile house was open to people. And kangaroos. There was this large one resting on is tail looking inquisitively and safely at the reptile. I stood beside it looking at the dozing croc. I looked at the mammal. It returned my look with interest. I waited to see what would happen. It waited to see what I was going to do. Eventually I tired first – there’s only so much excitement watching an immobile crocodile. I wonder how long it remained there. And what was it thinking?
Outside I rejoin Anne who’d been happily feeding emu and wallaby. Wallabies have such soft muzzles. We walked over to the koala bear enclosure. A fairly large one bounced up and down by the gate. I’ve never seen such an energetic koala. As he went past the young keeper said “there, there, Charley, I know what you want but you’ll have to wait.” So we stood round until he returned with gum branches which he took in to feed them. Charley didn’t stop. He remained near the gate continuing his unslothlike antics while his fellows slowly moved to eat their full of the new leaves. Intrigued, Anne asked the keeper what the koala was waiting for, expecting it to be some special food. No! It was a cuddle. “If it’s not long enough he bites, so I leave it till I’ve finished my chores and can give him a longer spell.”
My mind romanced about being able to have a job where you are paid to cuddle a koala. Once, at a literary festival I was asked what I would like to be if I had a different existence. My reply surprised myself. It was along the lines that I since I didn’t have the body or the innate skills to be a ballet dancer it would have to be a zoo-keeper.
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