Category Archives: Animals

Expectations versus reality. The Esplanade Lagoon, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Most people who visit Cairns have no idea that although it is right on the coast, it doesn’t really have a beach. Cairns has dark, sticky, smelly mudflats instead. Not only do the mudflats only gradually slope off into the water, requiring a slog of hundreds of metres (yards) through the stinking ooze to water deep enough to swim in, there are sometimes also salt water crocodiles (the worlds largest crocs) out there that think that people are on the menu.

Tourists fly in from all over the world to Cairns which is the hub for trips to the Great Barrier Reef and they come looking for what Australia is famous for; beaches. Trouble is that Cairns has no beach that anyone with any sense would swim at so the local council has built a large salt water pool that is known as “The Esplanade Lagoon”, which backs up to the seawall that separates the city from the mudflats.

The Esplanade Lagoon in Cairns

Although crocodiles are very dangerous and there have been a few attacks around Cairns there is usually only one death a year, on average, attributed to them nationally. To put things into perspective, bees kill three people a year here in Australia.

The trouble with Kangaroos

Whenever I see scenes like the one in the photograph below, that I took at Sawpit Creek in September this year, it puts me on edge.

Don't let your kids get this close

Kangaroos can seem to be so benign.  Let’s face it, they look so cute and harmless.  For the most part that is the case, but I know from personal experience that things can change very quickly and with absolutely no warning that all. 

As you can see in this next photograph the kangaroo is holding the little girl’s hand in place as she feeds it so she wouldn’t go away and it wouldn’t let her go until all the food was gone.

Don't let your kids do this

The kangaroos in the photographs with the girls are immature Eastern Grey Kangaroos (Macropus giganteus). A fully grown male grey kangaroo can grow up to about 6 feet tall. Red kangaroos (Macropus rufus) can grow over 6 feet tall and the largest of the kangaroos.

I had an experience up in Queensland at the Currumban Wildlife Sanctuary, with a smallish immature grey kangaroo years ago. It was just sitting in a field and I walked up to it and it made no movement as I came closer.  When I was within about a metre (about yard) of it, it reached out to me with its paws.  So I reached out my hand and touched it on the paw, to which it just raised its paw and touched me back on the hand.  This little exchange repeated itself several times until without warning the kangaroo leant forward to place its paws on the ground, bringing its back feet forward to come closer to me. It then leaned back on its tail and, BANG!!! It kicked me full force, fair and square right in the chest.

There was no warning.

No change of facial expression.

No growling.

No bearing of teeth.

I couldn’t believe with how much force it hit me, and it wasn’t even a fully grown kangaroo, but it had knocked me back about a metre.  To make matters even more disconcerting it leaned forward again to drag itself forward and leant back on its tail to wallop me again, BANG!!! I backed up another step, to which it just followed up with another kick to the chest, BANG!!!

Again, without warning.  

As I backed up another step I was starting to get a bit concerned as I couldn’t tell when the kangaroo was going to stop kicking me. Once again, the kangaroo dragged itself forward to wallop me again, BANG!!!

It was starting to get beyond a joke and I was starting to think I was going to have to punch it out. I took another step back and readied myself to get kicked again, but the kangaroo just went back to eating.  So, I can most assuredly inform you, dear reader, that those cute fluffy little kangaroos can turn on you without any warning at all. I was lucky because I was an adult and the kangaroo was a small one.

I think the reason why I was kicked, was because kangaroos spar a little with their arms before they get stuck in with their back legs and the kangaroo that attacked me may have thought I was going to fight it, so it got the first shot in.

I’ve met other people who’ve told me stories that didn’t end so well as mine.

Some friends told me recently about a couple they had met up in Queensland. The guy was an older Englishman and he had a Thai wife, and they’d been complaining to my friends that they had not seen any live kangaroos. They went on to say that all the kangaroos they ever saw were road-kill by the side of the road.  My friends thought that they would have a bit of sport with these foreigners, so they told them that they weren’t dead kangaroos by the side of the road, but kangaroos that were asleep. These friends of mine then told me that at a few days later, they saw the couple again and they were covered in deep lacerations. When they saw the state of the foreigners, they asked them what had happened to which they were told that they had been driving along a dirt road out in the middle of nowhere when they saw a kangaroo lying by the side of the road. The husband thought it was dead and told his wife not to worry about it but she insisted on him stopping the car and getting out to investigate.  Apparently, she picked up a stick as she came closer to the kangaroo and poked it to see if it was alive. Quick as a flash, the kangaroo was up and grabbed a hold of her with it’s upper arms and leant back on it’s tail and started trying to disembowel her with it’s back legs. The husband ran to help to help his wife, and the kangaroo gave him a kicking as well. They were pretty unlucky as it’s very hard to sneak up on a kangaroo.

Here’s a video to show how unpredicable kangaroos can be.

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In area where kangaroos are hunted you can’t get anywhere near them.

Usually kangaroos in groups are known as mobs. A mob of grey kangaroos can be up to about 30 individuals. Usually, the females and the young eat in a group surrounded by males that usually lay on the grass and keep an eye out for predators. 

Another time in Queensland, I was out taking photographs in a field near the Glasshouse Mountains, when I unexpectedly came across a large mob of grey kangaroos. I had just walked up the river bank over a small rise, and suddenly I was within about 3 m (about 9 feet) of a very large male lying in the grass. It didn’t get up but it turned around to look at me right in the eyes and then it flexed it’s muscles in it’s upper body (to illustrate what happened I’ll show you two photos that I took last weekend). 

I've seen this behaviour before and I know it sometimes leads to tears

As it flexed a few other males bounded a little bit closer to me and started flexing their upper bodies as well.

Let this be a warning

It was as though I had been sized up, and they knew they could take me.  They certainly weren’t scared of me, and after the experience that I had before with a small kangaroo; I wasn’t going to take any chances, so I beat a hasty retreat.

Just in case you think you’re “well ‘ard”, and that kangaroos aren’t a threat you can’t handle, check out this video.

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As the video shows, kangaroos have plenty of heart and won’t back down so easily.

The “Big” Trout. Oberon, NSW, Australia

I’m fascinated by those old fashioned “big” things that are built for advertising purposes.

The Big Trout in Oberon

They are always so tacky and surreal but they interest me on several levels.

  1. They always look so roughly made.
  2. I always find myself thinking about the decision making process that led to them being built.
  3. They are quite often very ugly.
  4. I’ve never seen one that is associated with anything that is good.
  5. They hardly ever look like they get maintained.

They are basically huge 3D billboards and as such I’m reminded of what that old wag Ogden Nash once said; “I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree. Perhaps, unless the billboards fall, I’ll never see a tree at all”.

In short, “big” things seem to be monuments to the waste of resources and a lack of taste.

Why I felt I had to leave Vancouver in 1983

I lived in Vancouver for about three years, back in the early 1980s, and on the surface of things it looked like I had a good life. It’s a fairly picturesque place; I was making easy money as a freelance carpenter in the theatre and on television commercials; I was getting out into the outdoors often and to paraphrase Tom Waits, “I was getting more arse than a toilet seat“.

What more could a guy in his mid twenties want?

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So why did I leave?

After travelling for a few intense years in Asia, I worked for another couple of years in America as a laser light show operator. My years in America had been one big blur of drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll.  For a young man in his early 20s it was like a dream come true but after a while, the ennui of such a life began to pall.  By the time I went back to Canada it was a case of “done too much, much too young”, and I was having a hard time forming lasting relationships with the people I was meeting because I had so very little in common with them. 

Many of the young people I met in North America back then, seemed to be spending an awful lot of time high as kites, spaced out on sofas in dingy basements panelled in fake walnut veneer listening to Pink Floyd.

When I look back at that time and think about how I was relating to people, it reminds me of those wildlife documentaries about wolf society. The alpha male and female get to mate and have a great time, while everybody else stands around in a circle watching, wishing that they were in the centre.  I found that the average North American of about the same age as me at the time, was quite passive socially, in that they wanted to treat every situation as though they were watching a performance on TV.  They just sat and watched, immobile.

I’d get up and tell my stories to a rapt audience but there wasn’t really any two-way communication. I guess that’s one of the reasons why I had such a good time in the States when I was working in the laser show. It was like I was some kind of low-rent rock god and people wanted to know me, because of what I did for a living, not for who I actually was. Back when I was younger, I didn’t really care why people (especially women) liked me, as long as they did.

By the time I arrived in Vancouver I was so different from the people I was meeting. I was beginning to feel very disconnected.  Just about every social gathering I went to was fuelled by alcohol and drugs and often times ended up with me wobbling home with some strange woman I didn’t give a damn about other than for some ephemeral gratification.

It was at this time in my life that I discovered how empty, casual sex really was.  After one particularly party packed and eventfull month I ended up in the sack with yet another strange woman who I had met that day, and I found myself totally disinterested in the promised pleasures of her offered flesh.  As I lay there, I thought to myself, “what the heck am I doing here?” “Who the hell is this person lying next to me?” For the first time in my life I got a sense of the complete “otherness” of another person.

I was also getting very sick of being high all the time. It seemed that everywhere I went the first thing that would happen was the marijuana would be taken out and a few joints would be rolled. It was just starting to get really crazy. Snowshoeing up in the mountains and half your party is sitting down in the snow tripping on acid incapable of taking care of themselves as the weather was changing for the worse. Lazing around naked on Wreck Beach with large groups of friends, all off their faces, high on magic mushrooms.  The party just went on and on and on.

the Razzbuffnik in his prime or so he thought

One day I was sitting on a park bench, much like the photograph above, tripping on magic mushrooms with a new-found plaything, who happened to be a woman, when I looked down at myself. I noticed how threadbare my jacket was and I thought about how I had nothing to show for the last couple of years in Vancouver other than millions of slaughtered brain cells. And who was this woman on the bench with me anyway?

In a flash, I realised I had to get out of Vancouver, before I was destroyed by my own sybaritic nature.

Within a month I bought an old bicycle second-hand and cycled back down into the States to do a 2000 km bicycle trip.

But that’s a story for another time.

Gulls. Coalcliff, NSW, Australia.



I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

(An extract from “Sea Fever” by John Masefield)

Stormy trip to Canberra and Tallong.

All last week, my wife (a senior analyst specialising in computational fluid dynamics) had to work late to get ready a tender that was due in Canberra on Friday at 2 p.m. Due to various hiccups involving upper management not being available to sign off on various documents and contracts due to vacations and various other commitments, the last courier down to Canberra was missed.

After a discussion between my wife and her boss at about 8:30 on Thursday night, it was decided that the tender was to be delivered by hand.  Both my wife and I didn’t mind being asked to take the tender down to Canberra because we are always happy for an all expenses paid, drive in the country.  The other pluses were that we could stay at my wife’s parents holiday home in Tallong on the way back and I would get to take some more photographs with my new camera.

Since it is the middle of winter here in Australia we had fairly stormy weather nearly all the way down. I kept wanting to stop and take pictures of the dramatic skies but we didn’t because we wanted to make sure the documents were delivered in time. We reached our destination, with one and a quarter hours to spare.

Just outside of Canberra is a fantastic little restaurant known as the Poacher’s Pantry, which specialises in smoked meats. To reward ourselves for our dash to Canberra we had a very delicious lunch that consisted of a smoked duck ragout as an entree and a red curry of smoked chicken for a main all cooked and presented in the style of “mod Oz” (modern Australian, which is a blend of European and Asian cooking).

After lunch, the weather, alternated between pouring rain and brief moments of light drizzle.

Since our car is continuous four-wheel-drive, I don’t really mind that much driving in the rain, but I was being constantly distracted by how dramatic the skies looked and since we’d already dropped off the tender I was able to use a bit of time to take a few photographs.

Every now and again the rain would ease off enough for me to get out of the car and take a photo

Every now and again the heavy cloud would open up to reveal little patches of an almost electric blue sky.

I only adjusted the levels in this photograph and I have not increased the saturation of the colour

About 30 Minutes Drive northeast from Canberra, the highway to Sydney passes by Lake George. Due to the weather conditions here in Australia, Lake George is quite often dry and usually just looks like a grass covered plain.

The rainy conditions turned this usually bland vista into something a little more interesting

After about another hour and a half,  just as the light was beginning to fade, we arrived at the small village of Tallong. My in-laws holiday home is 10 km down a narrow and winding dirt road, which really isn’t that big a deal in the day time, but at night, there is a very real hazard of hitting a wombat. Wombats are sometimes described as being the “bulldozers of the bush”.  Although they are not very big (about the size of a very fat corgi), they are solid muscle and gristle that will badly damage a car if you hit one.  Driving down the dirt road is always stressful at night due to the chance hitting one of those brownish-grey, gristly speed bumps, as it darts and out in front of your car.  In the past we’ve had to dodge about 6 in one night and there are always dead ones on the side of the road.

Another little known hazard here in Australia is that eucalypt trees are made up of extremely hard (much, much harder than oak) but very brittle wood and the branches are known to break off during high winds. Every year, there are a few people who are killed by falling tree limbs. It is common knowledge here, that you never camp under a tree.

By the time I got to my in-laws holiday home I was absolutely shattered. The pouring rain had made visibility especially bad and my nerves had been racked by the noise of falling branches, hitting our car. Only last year some unfortunate guy had been crushed while driving his car by a falling tree.

I cooked a dinner of rolled chicken (chicken breast and prosciutto with basil wrapped around weisswurst) and wine sauce on a bed of wilted English spinach. My mother-in-law made a delicious crumble for desert which we had with some of my homemade calvodos sorbet.

The rain poured and the wind shook the house all night but by the time morning came around, the weather had eased off and the skies were once again clear and blue.

My in-laws holiday home

The view from the guest bedroom window is spectacular.

The property backs onto a large national park

I got up early and drove the 20 km round trip to Tallong to get the weekend paper, so we could have a nice relaxing Saturday morning.

This is one of the more open parts of the dirt road

On Sunday, my wife and I helped her parents remove noxious weed (fireweed, poisonous to livestock and fast spreading) and retrieve logs for firewood from the bottom of their property.  As we would move the logs with the aid of a tractor, little Eastern Yellow Robins (Eopsaltria Australis) would appear to take advantage of the uncovered insects.

I couldn't get any closer than about 10 m

As we walked back up the hill towards the house we came across this poor old battered Swamp Wallaby (Wallabia Bicolor).

I was able to get about 20 m away from the wallaby

It had chunks of fur missing from the base of its tail and from its shoulder plus its ear was torn up. My guess is that it had been mauled by feral dogs.

Deck class (part 2). Gulf of Siam 1974

This is part two of a two part story.
Click here to read part one.

After hellish day and night in Hat Yai all three of us (a Belgian guy I met called Beet, my girlfriend at the time and I) resolved to get out of town as quick as  possible first thing in the morning and go to the nearby coastal town of Songkla. I had heard that you could get passage on tramp steamers up to Bangkok.  Since I’d never done a sea voyage before, I thought it would be a great chance to try something new. The other two I was with, thought it was a good idea as well.

When we got to the Songkla port area we made a few enquiries to find that there was a steamer leaving to take timber to Bangkok that afternoon, and that although they didn’t have any cabins for passengers, for a small fee they offered to take us “deck class”.

Deck class literally means that one sleeps outside on the deck. Since it was so hot in the tropics, we didn’t mind the idea sleeping outside at all and being out at sea, we knew that there wouldn’t be any mosquitoes to bother as.  So the prospect of sleeping alfresco seemed quite attractive.

The ship we travelled on from the bow

When we boarded the boat, we were taken to the deck at the stern. We were told not to go anywhere inside of the boat and to keep out of the way of the sailors as they went about their work. 

Luckily, the aft deck had a small awning that gave us some protection from the sun, and there was also a rickety old table with a couple of chairs, that we could sit at. Most of the deck had a guardrail, except for one section where the top railing had been bent and broken from one of the posts, to shiver in space, rhythmically to the throb of the boat’s engines.

The boat or should I say ship, didn’t have much freeboard and its gunwales were disturbingly, only about 1.2m (about 4 feet)  higher than the water, but luckily, the aft deck was about five meters (approximately 15 feet) above the water.

It was quite a nice afternoon, as we sailed out of Songkla. There was a pleasant breeze that kept us moderately cool as the sun went down.  The price of our passage included food, and since we hadn’t paid too much, we weren’t very optimistic about the quality of the cuisine, we were going to receive.  Our pessimism was well founded when we each received a (thankfully) small portion watery rice gruel with a wilted boiled piece of lettuce and fish heads for dinner.

Ya pays ya money and ya take ya chances!

Although the surface was hard, sleeping on the deck was surprisingly comfortable. Unlike the land, we were not enclosed, and there was a comfortable breeze that blew over us as we slept. It was nothing like the usual sweaty, ordeal by mosquito that we usually endured on land.

For a breakfast we were brought….. you guessed it, more watery rice gruel!  But with a difference. This time it didn’t have any fish heads. I guess they’d seen that we hadn’t eaten much of what they had offered us the night before. They probably thought we didn’t deserve the best bits.

Now when one travels deck class, there aren’t a plethora of activities one can indulge in, other than just look over the side and watch the fishing boats go by. One thing that did surprise me was the amount of sea snakes (Stoke’s sea snake Astrotia stokesii ) and we saw. I’m not exaggerating and I am certain we saw hundreds of them. I’ve read that although sea snakes are very poisonous they don’t usually bite people unless they are touched. I have met people who have said that sea snakes are very curious and will swim right up to you for a better look, but they won’t bite. All very comforting to know now, but at the time I can remember looking at all the snakes and thinking to myself that I hoped I wouldn’t
have to go into the water for any reason.

By about lunchtime we arrived at Koh Samui. Back in 1974, unlike nowadays, there wasn’t very much at Koh Samui. We had heard that it was a nice place to stay but to tell you the truth we were both so over the whole tropical beach with coconut trees and grass huts thing. Lazing on a tropical beach might be great if you only get one or two weeks holiday a year and you have a stressful job.  But I’d already been in South-east Asia for about three or four months and to tell you the truth, one tropical beach is pretty much the same as another.

After some cargo had been un-loaded and some more timber loaded we headed north, up to Bangkok.

As the day wore on, the clouds rolled in and it became very overcast.  By nightfall is was starting to rain and the sea was beginning to get rough. Our little awning kept the light rain off us as we had more watery rice gruel for dinner. Later in the evening out little bit of rain turned into a full blown thunderstorm.  The wind had picked up and the rain was being blown horizontally under the awning and we were saturated. We thought for our safety that it would be prudent to move inside to one of the passageways but the crew blocked our way, pushing us back outside and locking us out. So we had to stay on the deck as a storm raged. By now, it was starting to get ridiculous, the occasional wave would break against the side of the boat, and we would get hit with its crest.

To give us a bit of protection, we turned the table on its side and put the legs against the wall where the door was and the three of us huddled behind it. We were still getting wet, but at least the full force of the waves weren’t hitting us directly.

One of the fears I had before I had boarded the boat was that I might get sea sick.  People had told me horror stories about how they had been so sea sick, they didn’t care if they lived or died at the time. I wasn’t looking forward to that sensation.  Strangely enough, even during such a rough weather I didn’t feel seasick at all.  I guess I was distracted by the fact that I had to try and stay on the deck and not get washed overboard.  Although I wasn’t getting seasick the same couldn’t be said for my girlfriend (Mala).

We were all huddled behind the table, sopping wet and frightened when Mala started to vomit. She suddenly got up without warning, and ran to the guardrail and leant over the edge and puked her guts up. She was in such distressed state that she was totally oblivious to how dangerous her situation was. It took me a couple of seconds to register what was going on, and to my horror I can see that Mala was leaning over the broken guardrail and it was bending under her weight and leaning out over the water a short way with her attached to it. I quickly ran out and to pull her back. The sky and sea had merged into one dark heaving entity but the large incoming waves could be seen due to the onboard lights.  The scene struck me with fear as I knew that anybody who fell over board would be lost for sure and there would be no way of saving them. Mala didn’t even realise the railing was broken, and she struggled against me, because she wanted to stay there and continue being sick. Luckily I was much bigger than her and I was able to wrestle her back to behind the table.

So there we spent the rest of the evening, all wet, curled up behind the table, while poor old Mala dry retched for the rest of the evening and I constantly replayed in my head what I had seen when I had gone to pull her back.

I kept thinking over and over again, about what would have happened if Mala had been washed overboard. What would I have done? Jumping in to save her would have only meant that two lives would have been lost. The visibility was so bad that there was no way that even if I could convince the captain a turnaround to look for her that we would have ever found her again. There were no life jackets or preservers. Maybe I could have thrown in the table, if she hadn’t been swept too far away by the time I could get it. I sat for hours wondering what I would have done. It made me almost sick with worry and fear at how close I had come to losing a friend.

Some time just before dawn, the storm broke, and we were able to get a modicum of sleep and some badly needed rest.  It had been a very stressful night and oddly enough Mala wasn’t enjoying herself any more. Trouble was, we were out sight of land and in the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t like we could just step off and walk away. We had to just sit tight and wait until we got to Bangkok.

Fortunately, the next evening wasn’t as bad as the night before. We did get some rain but it was child’s play in comparison to what we’d already experienced. Mala was sea sick again.  Maybe that was the function of the watery rice gruel. It gave the body something to chuck up instead of just trying to turn itself inside out, dry retching all night.

On the morning of our fourth day, we arrived at the estuary of the Chao Phraya river that the water craft follow up into Bangkok.

We finally arrived at Bangkok in the early afternoon but since the ship we were on couldn’t get a berth straight away it anchored in the middle of the river, so we caught one of the amazing long boats that ones sees in Bangkok (click here to see a similar, smaller type of boat at the floating markets). The boats are basically very long canoes with small car engines mounted on the stern like an outboard motor with very long propeller shafts down to the water.

Funnily enough, I haven’t felt the urge to ever go on an ocean voyage again.

Been there, done that, didn’t like it!