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Melbourne May 27, 1988 - Zoo Australia offers different mix of animals

By Bob Van Leer

BettyKoala  (MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA, May 27, 1988) - Several of us this morning visited the Melbourne Zoo, reputed to be one of the world's oldest. We were able to see a number of Australian animals I had never seen in the flesh before.

  The odd creature, the p latypus, that has a bill like a duck and lays eggs, but the body and fur of a small animal, was on display in a tank of water in a building with the unlikely name of Platypusary.

  Several kinds of wombats were on display, all of them rather homely. Lots of kangaroos and wallabys were there, from giant red kangaroos to medium-sized ones that climb trees. Another display held echidnas, a cat-sized creature that appears to be a cross between a porcupine and an anteater.

  An unusual building was a butterfly house, a building full of tropical foliage and alive with thousands of butterflies of what appeared to be hundreds of different species. They were not in cages, but mixing in the building with people, alighting on shoulders and hats and hair.

  {highslide}trips/1988_australia/Bob-Kangaroo.jpg{/highslide}A special treat was the viewing of a pair of giant pandas, on loan from China for Australia's Bicentennial celebration.

  In the afternoon our group loaded on the bus for an hour and a half drive to Phillip Island, south of Melbourne, to see a unique sight. At dusk hundreds of Fairy Penguins suddenly appeared out of the surf and waddled across the beach to the underbrush at the edge of the sand. These are small penguins, about a foot high, but of the characteristic shape, standing upright with little wings akimbo and waddling with their peculiar gait.

  Floodlights were on the birds but they appeared to pay no attention and had no fear of us. They came by close enough to touch but we were told not to handle the birds. Other penguins appeared to be waiting in the brush and there was a lot of talking between the birds. We were told they live in burrows in the brush and go out to sea every morning to fish.

  We had a dinner of Australian lobster at a nearby restaurant. It was good, but we thought not as good as Maine lobster.

  Then it was back to our hotel to go over the day's newspapers. The Labor government appears to be rather close to the U.S. Republican party on fiscal matters; just announced a new budget which appears to be fiscally sound yet doesn't step on many special interests and seemed to make most happy.

  The Australian stock market is up; the Australia dollar hit a new high of 80 cents compared to the U.S. dollar. (Two years ago it was 60 cents.) The budget is projected to have a surplus of $3 billion. On the basis of population this would be the equivalent of the U.S. having a $40 billion surplus instead of a $200 billion deficit. But along with this goes high interest rates. The prime rate went up a fourth of a percent to 14 percent. Home loans are expected to follow from the current level of 13.5 percent. Certificates of deposit pay 12.5 percent on a 12 month certificate.

  The architect of the fiscal policy is Paul Keating, the treasurer, who is getting so much favorable publicity it appears to be beginning to concern his boss, Prime Minister Bob Hawke.

  Melbourne has one unusual traffic control device I've never heard of before. A vehicle-actuated camera is placed at random intersections with stop lights. Our bus driver said that if you run a red light there is a flash visible to the driver. The camera takes a picture of your vehicle running the red light in enough detail to read the license plate. The vehicle owner gets a notice in the mail which can be settled with a payment of $45.00. Our driver said you can protest in court, which will probably cost you $90.00.

  Tomorrow ten of our party are returning to the U.S. The rest of us will leave in the afternoon for Christchurch, New Zealand. Our Australian tour is almost over. It has been an interesting and educational experience; one we won't forget. Tomorrow night we will be in New Zealand.

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