I have been living in Australia for the last 15 months. By and large, I have loved it here. This is partly because of a phase of personal happiness in my life but mostly because both Australia and Melbourne, the city that I live in, are likeable and liveable in equal measures. I moved here from a fairly longish stint in the UK. So right at the beginning I fell in love with the weather. I moved here in spring and experienced a glorious summer, the kind that is equivalent to a dozen UK summers. The people here are nice and friendly – barring a few exceptions. But then I guess if you take any cross-section of society, you will get some not-so-nice people. After living in a rabbit hole sized apartment in London and paying through the nose for it, I love the spacious house I am currently living in, in the eastern suburbs. I have a front yard and back yard and the living area is almost equal in square metres to my London pad. Of course, living expenses are horrendously high here and for the first few months I kept comparing prices to those in the UK and wincing. However salaries here are much higher as well and so I guess, I cannot complain on that front either.
So all is well, except that till recently I had this one niggling sense of disappointment. The reason behind this was that I had not seen a single kangaroo in all the time I have been living here. Now to the external world and I was a part of it up till 15 months ago, Australia is in some ways synonymous with those large hopping creatures quite unlike other animals everywhere. So when I moved here, it was with a sense of excitement that at last I would be seeing kangaroos in the wild. Whenever we would go on long drives out of the city and I would spy one of those yellow signs with the picture of a kangaroo and the word ‘next 2 km’, I would lean forward in my seat and scan all the surroundings. But I met with no success. A couple of times, I saw some movement amidst the trees and I almost whipped myself into a frenzy, only to realise that it was a horse or a cow. I did not want to go to the zoo or to one of those petting farms; I wanted to see kangaroos in their natural element. I read up about where to see kangaroos and came to know that kangaroos were generally visible at dawn or dusk. We tried to follow guidance provided (it was a little difficult I was pregnant at that time and at the mercy of raging morning sickness most times – still we tried our best) – still no luck.
Then my parents came to visit us from India. The main purpose of their visit was to see their first grandchild. To a lesser extent, they were also here to see another thing – kangaroos! Hadn’t I mentioned that the external world is besotted with the notion of Australia and its kangaroos? Still our dry spell continued and my father would provide a grim sort of countdown ‘It has now been a month and we haven’t been able to see any kangaroos’ , ‘Two months now and still no kangaroos’ and so on. My mother started to despair about what she would tell her neighbours back in India. There was talk of buying a bunch of kangaroo post cards and distributing to all acquaintances in advance just to stall the dreaded question ‘So did you see any kangaroos?’ It is not easing going kangaroo chasing when you have a fussy infant who does not understand road safety rules and hates her car seat harness with all her heart. I started toying with the idea of giving in and taking the whole family out for a day at the zoo.
Then I had this discussion with a colleague who apparently sees kangaroos the minute she steps out of her house (well, it sounded that way to my kangaroo-starved senses!). She mentioned the Wilson’s prom, the Grampians and Apollo Bay. I decided to give it one last try. We had already tried Apollo Bay with no success earlier. The weather prediction for Wilson’s prom was not too favourable. So we planned a last minute overnight trip to the Grampians.
The baby was fussy throughout the long drive and for most of the drive westward, we saw only miles of dried yellow grass. I began to get the feeling that this trip too was doomed. However once we reached Halls Gap and checked into our lodge, we saw our first living breathing kangaroo. What an exciting moment that was for all of us! At dusk, Halls Gap town centre filled up with kangaroos by the dozen all grazing unperturbed by the humans goggling at then. Next morning we went on an early morning stroll and saw more herds of kangaroos having breakfast or jumping about. We took enough pictures to fill a dozen albums. And we saw not just kangaroos, but also emus, cockatoos, wallabies, deer and a lone magnificent stag.
Well I guess this story just proves that we as humans love our preconceived notions about places. Talk of Paris and we think Eiffel Tower. Talk of Netherland and we think of tulips and windmills. Talk of Belgium and we think of chocolates. Talk of India and we think of Taj Mahal and cows on streets and slums. Each of these places is much much more than just the associations we make with it. But we love to pigeon-hole things by firmly sticking a couple of descriptive stickers on to them. With places it is perhaps not such a bad thing to do at times. But often we go beyond just that and try and label people or cultures or religions. That is when things go wrong. Pre-conceived notions should not prevent us from getting to know someone or some place better. There might be some truth in clichés but there is lot of life to discovered and lived outside of them.
For now my parents are a happy lot. When they go back home to India in another months’ time, they will have dozens of photos of them with kangaroos in the background to prove as they have indeed visited Australia.