How Much is That Koala in the Window?

Cardwell is another one of those Australian towns that, minus the different accent, might be mistaken for a town in the mid-western US. Sad looking buildings? Check. Shops that close at mid-day on the weekends? Check. Locals eying us suspiciously? Check. We stayed in Cardwell because we wanted to go to Hinchinbrook Island which is close by. Our plans were thwarted by the steep price of $85 per person for a ferry ride there.

The most exciting thing about Cardwell is what happened before we got there: I got to hold a koala bear. I had read about a place called The Billabong Sanctuary that was pretty much a small zoo that housed mostly native Australian wildlife, but also had somewhat of a petting zoo aspect to it. Kangaroos roamed free waiting for people to feed them, and there were opportunities to pet and handle many of the animals including crocodiles (I’m assuming baby ones). The petting of all the animals and handling of the reptiles was free, but if you wanted to hold a wombat or a koala, you had to pay. Just tell me how much.

When we arrived I got a bag of food and went after the kangaroos. Adam kept reminding me not to pet the wild kangaroos that we had so often seen around the campgrounds, (I wasn’t going to), so I took the opportunity to get up close to them. As is usual with petting zoo animals, they wanted little to do with the petting and everything to do with the food. I got some good swipes in, though. We wandered around, finally got to see the elusive wombat and some squirrel gliders (all asleep), and headed back to the koala enclosure so I could do my thing. Before the koalas, the employee giving the animal talks brought out the wombat. If you’ve never seen a wombat, they look pretty much like huge guinea pigs. He hauled the sleeping wombat out of her burrow carrying her under her two front legs so that her stomach and back legs protruded comically. It looked a bit uncomfortable, but the wombat, still groggy, didn’t seem to mind much. Not willing to pay to hold two marsupials in one day, I opted to sit next to the handler and give the wombat a pet. They’re quite wiry, almost like a pig.

Then came the big moment—the koala encounter. I had already bought my ticket, so I was first to get a hold of him. The handler put the koala into my arms and he immediately grabbed on and snuggled up to me. It was all too brief. We posed for some pictures and then, unfortunately, it was all over. Looking back, I don’t know why I didn’t just make a break for it. We have plenty of eucalyptus trees in California.

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