Sydney was never on the list. As we’d set off on our trip around the world, we had ideas of places we wanted to see, some specific and others rather vague notions. Although we knew we’d like to go to Australia at some point, we’d not included it on our “go lists” for this grand adventure. It was too much like home, we were off to places to be immersed in history unlike our own, and surrounded by people who did not look like us or at least did not speak our language.
When we realized we would be heading home a couple of months earlier than we’d anticipated, we made our final list. We’d each had the opportunity to pick places we most wanted to visit, but Hannah could never make up her mind. Or, rather, the two places she’d wanted to see had presented some logistical issues with location and time on our EU – Schengen visa. She’d not had her choice.After some sorting through ideas, she settled on seeing Tasmanian devils and platypus. The tassie devils are on a path to extinction in the wild due to a highly contagious cancer. Captive breeding programs are being set up in places all over Australia and Tasmania to preserve the species. It seems this facial cancer does not live in the environment, so after the wild population has become extinct, the hope is that the animals bred in captivity can be released to establish a new population.
Although they forecast that they will be able to preserve 95% genetic diversity in the gene pool, there is a huge risk to the species. The platypus made her list not by being endangered, but for being just plain odd. So, Australia was added to our short list. Sydney had both species in their zoo, and there were wildlife parks not far which were also a part of the breeding program for the tassie devils. Chances of seeing a platypus in the wild are about the same as finding our daughter Marlie cleaning the kitchen without being asked or me swimming in ice water. To be sure of finding one, a zoo was the answer: Sydney, then.
Turns out, we all loved Sydney. Just as water sustains life, it gives vibrance to the city. Parks and promenades line the water’s edge. Sailboats bob quietly in each small bay. Ferries create a scenic public transportation system as they carry passengers from pier to pier. The water itself sparkles with the reflection of the sun by day and the famous opera house and city lights by night. Sydney Harbour creates open space, an expanse of unobstructed viewpoints.
We took the tourist trail, visiting the Australia Wildlife Park, and the Aquarium. I’d have to say, our wannabe marine biologist Marlie has dragged me to aquariums all over the world, and this might have been my favorite. The only downside was determinedly staring into the platypus enclosure for over a half an hour with no success of spotting one. We’d come a long way to peer into an empty tank.
The Sydney tower was a must, if only to compare with our previous visits to towers in Tokyo and Paris. Because Sydney has the largest IMAX screen in the world and John and I share a hero in Ernest Shackleton, we took the girls to see the oversized documentary about his Antarctic Adventures on the giant screen. John chose the Sydney Maritime Museum and we all enjoyed it far more than we’d expected, with its depictions of life at sea and Australia’s relationship with the water.A favorite was the Australia Museum. Well, other than the giant crowd of completely out of control school children screaming and pounding on the exhibits. The museum has a remarkable section for aboriginal people and history, and we especially appreciated the exhibit about the stolen generation. About 100,000 aboriginal children were stolen from their families over the course of sixty years, to be raised in orphanages or white foster homes. Most were told their families had died. Another frightening example of racism and eugenics; it always shocks me what atrocities humanity is capable of. Surprisingly, this practice by the Australian government did not end until 1971.
We found our animals at the Taranga Zoo. We were almost the only people who stood in the drizzle for the zookeeper’s talk about Tassie Devils. Because the group was so small, we were able to have answered all of our question about the devil facial tumor disease and the animal’s habits. We also walked in the platypus house to find the little guy happily swimming about. We giggled and watched and fell in love with yet another amazing critter.
We did not make it out to the wildlife parks we had researched in the Central Coast. It would have meant a night away, and we were so enchanted by Sydney we opted not to leave town.