Great Southern Land

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June 16th 2015
Published: June 17th 2015
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Way back as a toddler one of my earliest memories is of a constant companion of my sister who went by the curious name of Coochie. He was frequently to be found on her lap, or when she wasn’t around contentedly chilling on her bed, but I never really got to know him that well as, in common with most stuffed toys I’ve met over the years, he really didn’t have much to say for himself.

Well, not to me, at any rate.

Apparently, though, Coochie and my sister chatted all the time and they were the very best of pals. While I’ve never been exactly sure what I did to offend him, it’s plain looking back that Coochie wasn’t all that fond of me. Whenever I stumbled into my sister’s bedroom and began randomly rummaging through her things he'd have a sly whisper in her ear, and she’d promptly announce that “Coochie thinks you should go now...”

He was a weird looking character, an outsize triangular head with little black beady eyes atop a fat grey stumpy body, and could easily have been mistaken for an obese and spectacularly furry cousin
White CockatoosWhite CockatoosWhite Cockatoos

Halls Gap, Grampians, Vic.
of Yoda’s. Apparently, though, Coochie wasn’t from a galaxy far, far away, but from a country far, far away, and was supposedly some sort of bear. This seemed odd to me, as he was nowhere near as big or scary as the polar bears down at the zoo, or the great brown ones who’d pop up alarmingly in episodes of Grizzly Adams. Indeed, on the one or two occasions I’d managed to get the little gob-shite on his own and challenge him to a fight, I’d always come out the clear winner, as he seemed remarkably reluctant to so much as throw a punch. Far as I could tell, claims of him being any sort of bear were total bull. Having said that, further surreptitious investigation on my part later revealed that Coochie wasn’t full of shit at all, but full mostly of old pyjamas. These spilled out spectacularly should you release the zipper running right down his back, which may have explained his perpetual curious musty odour.

I was relieved to find as the years went by that Coochie and my sister seemed to drift apart, and I have to confess I hadn’t seen sight nor sound of him in several decades until, one day while strolling unsuspectingly through Australia’s Cape Otway National Park, well, bugger me, there was the old bastard staring straight down at me from the crook of a tree.

And it has to be said, in the intervening years he really hadn’t changed all that much. A few more white hairs round the ears perhaps, a few more pounds round the midriff, but hey, look who’s talking. He certainly still seemed to know me, his eyes carrying that exact same glassy Piss Off stare. One thing had most definitely changed, though; Coochie had finally grown a pair. This was immediately evident when he revealed a previously unsuspected trick.

Coochie could growl.

In fact it wasn’t so much a growl as a full on roar, which came as something of a nasty surprise.

Let’s face it, koalas are second only to kangaroos as iconic Aussie animals. They’re cute. They’re cuddly. Their sloth-like temperament is perfect for disarming foreign dignitaries at awkward photo-ops (turns out the only thing the prime-minister shirt-fronted Putin with was a koala). Their only downside is that, even

Cape Otway NP, Vic
in real life they have that exact same pungent musty odour I recall from all those years ago, presumably a direct result of their constant adherence to a strict pyjama diet.

At least that goes for the doped up ones down the zoo. Wild koalas, it turns out, are a whole different kettle of fish. Lord knows what the earliest settlers imagined might be stalking them out there in the forest as they sat within earshot around the campfire.

Cos’ let’s not beat around the bush here; when the mind takes them, koalas can really let rip. It’s a quite unfathomable racket for such a small feminine fluff-ball, a weird spine-chilling shriek which is not easy to convey on pen-to-paper. Perhaps picture a drunken Chewbacca indulging in his very first back, sack ’n’ crack and you’ve pretty much got it.

Had such ghastly howls emanated from my sister’s bedroom all those years ago I’d have been considerably less keen to enter, particularly given my Mum’s insistence in dressing me every night in freshly laundered pyjamas. In fact, mulling things over all these years later, knowing such a beast resided in the
The Twelve (?) ApostlesThe Twelve (?) ApostlesThe Twelve (?) Apostles

Great Ocean Road, Vic
house makes me wonder if perhaps she didn’t like me all that much either. Fortunately back before my sister started giving him the cold shoulder he’d been considerably less vocal. Evidently when she finally abandoned him for her first proper boyfriend he’d fled to the other side of the world to channel his inner Incredible Hulk. And, believe me, you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. Frankly, I didn’t like him much even back when he was the placid little flavour of the month.

Happily we needn’t have been alarmed, as Coochie’s wrath wasn’t aimed at us, but at the surrounding trees. This, it turned out, was his evening mating call, which may go a long way to explaining why he and my sister never did end up getting engaged in the first place.

Our belated re-acquaintance was down to our decision to explore Australia’s Great Ocean Road, which passes Cape Otway as it wends its way along Victoria’s south coast west of Melbourne. The clue as to why we’d done so lies in its title, as it’s a ballsy move to call yourself Great unless you’ve got something truly spectacular to back it
Sunset TippleSunset TippleSunset Tipple

Brackenwood Vineyard, S.Australia
up, something Britain is having to increasingly face up to in its more modest modern role. The Lucky Country, though, has no such worries, and there are Great things sprinkled here, there and everywhere: the Great Barrier Reef, the Great Dividing Range, the Great Artesian Basin, the Great Australian Bight and the Great Victoria Desert, to name just a few. They even once had a conflict called The Great Emu Wars, which presumably featured some particularly feisty flightless birds.

Early next day we left Coochie still nursing his Sunday morning hangover and headed off further west, winding down the Great Ocean Road as it fronted the Great Southern Ocean choc-full of Great White Sharks. Our destination was the most famous of all the road’s attractions, namely the giant free-standing limestone stacks lying just offshore known as the Twelve Apostles.

And I have to say, a bit like Coochie, the Twelve Apostles may have seen better days. For a start, and rather conspicuously, there are no longer twelve of them. The pounding oceans which caused them to cleave from the cliff edge in the first place have severely reduced their numbers. It’s as if more than one or two apostles accidentally consumed too much Last Supper wine, leaving some tottering and others already collapsed face first into the sea. These days, in truth, there are only around 5 and a half Apostles, their numbers dwindling almost as fast as church attendance figures. In fact it’s quite likely that someday soon folk will be stopping off in confusion at the huge new car park and gift shop to gaze in wonder at the No Apostles.

Even so, I’m sure the Great Ocean road will continue to live up to its name, providing a great way to travel from Melbourne to Adelaide in picturesque style. Well, at least that’s true as far as Warrnambool, only a little over half way to South Australia, where the road officially ceases to be Great and turns back into the plain boring old A1, only to be demoted even further shortly after crossing the border into the B1. What’s in a name, you might be thinking. Well, to the good honest folks round here, quite a bit it seems, as where the Great Ocean road is a box-office gold, the B1 is distinctly more B-Movie, a subtle hint from the Victorians that, at least in their minds, there’s nothing Great about South Australia.

In any case we chose to miss out on our Sunday afternoon matinee and drove north instead to the Grampian Ranges. Climbing here proved a far lusher, spectacular and it has to be said sweatier experience than in their Scottish namesakes. Not so many wallabies in the Scottish Grampians either, as far as I recall, though in these days of globalisation I could be wrong.

From here we headed straight to Adelaide to visit our newest relatives.

Visits to new relatives can be somewhat underwhelming in my experience, as they tend to do little but cry, poo and spew; luckily I’ve never felt the need to take this personally. These new relatives, though, were different, on account of being not so much new as long-lost, a random phone call a while back revealing Debbie had a second cousin in Adelaide she’d never previously met. On visiting us in Cairns shortly thereafter they’d happily proved to be great company, all of us managing to get clean through a pleasant afternoon without the need for any nappies, tears or burping. Even more happily (frankly ecstatically as far as I was concerned) they just happened to own a vineyard in the Adelaide Hills and we’d be welcome to come stay any time. As long-lost relatives go, these are exactly the sort I like to discover, so if any of you out there happen to own, say, a luxury super-yacht or a private Caribbean island and suspect we might share some common ancestry, please feel free to get in touch...

Staying at Brackenwood allowed us to indulge in our own private wine-tasting with Laslo, the Hungarian winemaker. In contrast to the genteel and somewhat pretentious tastings I’ve attended in the past, this one was a bit more spit and sawdust, quite literally as the wine was scooped straight from the barrels and any excess spat directly onto the warehouse floor. Still I learnt a good deal more about wine-making and grape varieties in this one session than ever before, as Laslo was very clued-up, having studied viticulture in his native land. This led me to question the startling omission of my own school’s careers advisor in never informing us that you could go off and study what was basically a degree in drinking, presumably in fear that the whole year might have signed up en-masse and put him out of a job. It sure would have made studying for the exams more fun, though the fact that I’ve promptly forgotten almost all of what Laslo taught us due to the sheer volume imbibed may have led to more than one or two re-sits.

Having got us nicely half-cut Laslo sent us off for a swim at a beautiful nearby beach, discovering on arrival that whether by Hungarian eccentricity, omission or design, he’d neglected to inform us it was nudist. Still, counter to what the Victorians might have hinted it was still a Great Beach on the Great Southern Ocean, and its crystal blue waters revealed not a hint of a Great White Shark, so what the hell, we’d shed our Victorian values, and head straight in. When in Budapest after all...

Coochie had shown no need for clothes all these years, I reasoned, so if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for us, and happily without any need for roaring or growling on our part, it proved a Great if somewhat revealing way to mark the end our trip to this Great Southern Land.


18th June 2015
Drinking up the shadows

South Australian wine!
Sounds like a lovely trip - I love this photo :)
18th June 2015
Drinking up the shadows

Thanks... Good to throw in an 'arty' shot once in a while!

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