After being in Exmouth (population 2,500), arriving in Champion Bay and approaching Geraldton (population 33,000) seemed like entering a huge metropolis. It was somewhat disheartening to see a McDonalds, KFC and Target not far from the pier. Proud our American companies span the globe but sad to see that even a town such as this can’t remain purely Australian in nature.
We boarded the bus to begin our tour and were instructed that in Australia everyone must wear a seat belt. The bus could not leave until we were all buckled up. My first thought was that this would be a wonderful policy to enact on school buses back home.
As we made our way to our destination of the Greenough Wildlife Park, our guide began with a short history lesson. Geralton began some 40,000 years ago when various Aboriginal tribes lived in the area. The first European exploration of the area was in 1839 and the first farmers began to settle here in the late 1850’s.
Because of its fertile soil, the area is considered part of the “Wheat-belt of Western Australia”. This port city is also a center for manufacturing, tourism and fishing. It is home to a thriving rock lobster industry. We are here at the height of the harvesting of these lobsters, which are small and resemble what we call crayfish. They will be sent to locations throughout the world and in Australia each could be sold in a restaurant for approximately 15 Australian dollars. As with all other things, living in Australia is expensive.
We made our way past large sand dunes that are along the coast and protect the city from the ocean. We were told that strong winds over time will shift the location of these dunes and they will eventually cover the neighborhoods in their path. Our guide said that later in the day we would stop by a tree whose trunk had been turned on its side by these strong southerly winds. The “leaning trees”, as they are called have become something of an icon for the region.
We continued our drive, passing wheat fields, which were covered with bails of hay. We went past the hamlet of Greenough, which was a thriving agricultural center for the original farmers and where buildings have been restored so that visitors can explore this representation of early life in the area.
When we arrived at our destination, rangers, who were holding two baby kangaroos wrapped in blankets, met us. We were told that this was a rehabilitation facility with a collection of indigenous Australian species. Many of the animals were brought to the center after being injured or orphaned. If possible they will be released back into the wild and those that cannot be will stay here for the remainder of their lives. The animals we would see are comfortable being handled by humans. We could feed the kangaroos and the sheep, but only observe the birds, emus, dingoes and later there would be a time when we could watch the feeding of a salt-water crocodile.
When she was a little girl, we would sometimes call Marcee, “Marsupial”. Later we discovered that a marsupial was an animal that had a pouch and that the kangaroo fit into this category. Here we were face to face, feeding Macopus Rufus, Macropus Fuliginosus, and Macropus Robustus (Even Jon couldn’t have come up with better names). We left the reserve, on this early part of our journey to Australia, feeling as if we had been greeted by some of the animals most associated with this country.
We boarded the buses to make our way back to the ship, visited the hamlet of Greenoch, saw a leaning tree and finished with one more stop at the Aliinta Wind Farm, which is the largest wind farm in Australia, where over 50 wind turbines stand like giants against the backdrop of the rolling hills and the ocean… a fitting representation of the area’s past and future.