They Will Come
Being a tourist in your own country can be both an enlightening and frustrating experience.
I haven't been a tourist for quite a few months now - because I don't think spending one Saturday night in Bendigo last month counts - but having pined for Sapphire when she visited her grandparents in SA; then waving Love Chunks off to Switzerland and, a day after his return, Sapphire on the school bus to Canberra for the week, I started reminiscing.....
On our first night in Tasmania earlier this year, fresh off the ferry (or as fresh as you can be sitting on a freezing boat for nine hours with pie crumbs withering in your crotch and a pen stripe across your cheek that your family couldn't be arsed telling you about) and bleary-eyed in Devonport, we were keen to eat something decent. Preferably something not made four days earlier and sealed in a plastic triangle. Thus we found ourselves at our first touristy experience, Dannenbrog.
It's a steakhouse. And yet their menu informed me that it is named after the Danish flag because 'our Mary' married 'their Frederik' and it was considered the right name for a restaurant that challenges you to eat two 800 gram steaks plus chips, veges and gravy and win a bumper sticker for your efforts. We three declined, choosing much smaller cuts of meat but we were still amazed at the number of bumper stickers emblazoned with proud meat-eaters' names in black texta that lined the caravan-panelled take away section. The place was packed with locals and visitors and it was even going well enough to feature quite regularly in the ad-breaks between WIN-TV programs.
Maybe it was these drivers who owned the beach shacks at Dootown, quite near the blowhole (a natural attraction that both Love Chunks and Sapphire suggested - rather unkindly, in my view - should be essential viewing for me). The Bruces and Moiras had got into the spirit by naming their wonky little wooden boxes. We saw Love Me Doo, Didgeri-Doo, Doo Nix, We Doo, Wanna Doo, Doo Licious Fish and Chips, Doo Come Again, Can Doo, Sheil Doo, Thisll Doo, Dr DooLittle, XanaDoo and of course, Doo Me.
At a chocolate factory on the Bass Highway, Mr and Mrs Morbidly Obese pushed their way ahead of Love Chunks and Sapphire to get at the free samples. Toothpicks were provided to take one small sample, taste it and discard it before picking up another toothpick for another different sample. Mr MO speared as many chocolate ganache truffles that he could physically squeeze onto the tiny sliver of wood so that it resembled a fat satay, slid them into his mouth and then used the same toothpick to do it all over again. And again. Then he moved onto the next little box and underwent the same process for that particular flavour.
We decided that it might be best to just take a chance on the chocolate and buy some untested. Mr and Mrs MO, on the other hand, wiped their mouths against the back of their hands and bought nothing.
As I was handing over a twenty, a tour bus pulled up and the tiny shop was packed with bodies trying to pass by each other without being accidentally shoved into the precariously stacked shelves of fudge via their camera bags. These guys had five minutes for a 'look inside' as Dennis, their driver, headed straight for the bog beside the cafe. There was no time for tasting. "I take ten of those..... those....... ten more of those..... and those...... plus those," one Japanese man said, pointing at the truffles that appealed to him. Over a hundred dollars of chocolate based purely on time restriction, not taste.
The wildlife park at unfortunately named (not just for insult reasons but also because, well, how many moles are native to this country?) Mole Creek promised oodles of Tassie devils and had the Discovery Channel and Harry's Practice logos on their entry sign. The fibreglass devil at the gate wasn't quite so welcoming as his back legs had disappeared into the dirt and a large open hole was gaping in his lower back.
The paths were overgrown, having not seen a mower in a year or two but probably quite a few happy sun-loving snakes. Signs were faded or non-existent and no information was in front of any of the dilapidated enclosures.
A wedge-tailed eagle was busy eating a wallaby leg inside a hut no bigger than a lawn mowing shed whose roof had already caved in. The 'devils' were two in number; both fast asleep inside a dark log. One part of their fence had a sheet of cracked plastic perspex sheeting as a viewing area no doubt installed by someone even less handy than I am. Two baby wombats were also sleeping in a child's playpen with an old woollen blanket slung over half of the top to protect them from the sun.
We heard several different languages being spoken around us and I ached with shame at them visiting such a forsaken place. Fifteen minutes of aimlessly wandering around in shock saw me grit my teeth, purse my already thin lips and say (quite difficult with thin, pursed lips) to Love Chunks, "This is crap. I'm asking for our money back."
Sapphire cringed and LC busied himself trying to get the sleeping adult wombat to move (was it dead?) but I stood at the front counter and dinged the 'please ring if the desk is unaccompanied bell.' I usually don't do that but clear my throat politely in hope. Not today.
Reluctant worker girl dusted down her jeans and popped her head in the door. "Yeah?"
"I'd like my entry fee refunded please. Here's the receipt. This place is shabby, unsafe, rundown and provides absolutely no information whatsoever."
Sighing, she walked towards me. "Got your credit card receipt?" and snatched it out of my hand before I could answer. My request clearly wasn't the first.
Back in the carpark, we decided to head towards our next overnight stop and look for an ice-cream on the way. It was highly likely that most of it would fall prey to the gravitational pull of my crotch but at least it wasn't scalding hot coffee.