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Down UnderObservations: Kangaroos

On 30 May 2004 from Port Hedland, WA | comments closed

Kangaroos are the quintessential Australian animals, and are prominently featured on postcards and in travel books (e.g. Lonely Planet. The main reason for this of course, is the fact that kangaroos only live in the wild in Australia, and there are quite a few of them here.

The first time I saw a kangaroo it was really fascinating, especially the way these creatures were bouncing around. But the novelty wears off, and by now kangaroos are mostly annoying, especially when driving at dusk or at night. That is the time when they are most active, and I saw a lot of them bouncing over the road, or simply sitting still in the middle of the road. They seem very suicidal as well, actually making an effort to jump right in front of the car. Apparently this behaviour is caused by kangaroos being blinded by car headlights, but I think they are simply suicidal animals. Either way, it is essential to watch out for kangaroos (and straying livestock, for that matter) when driving at dusk or at night. If it were not for quick braking responses we would have hit a few kangaroos driving up to Port Hedland. And hitting a kangaroo in a normal car driving 100km/h is dangerous, since at best they break a headlight, but at worst they jump and go straight through the windshield. That is one reason a lot of cars have bull-bars on them, to at least avoid broken headlights by kangaroos.

We also saw a lot of death kangaroos along the North-West Coastal highway up to Port Hedland. Most of these got killed by road trains: a truck with up to 3 (sometimes 4) trailers. These vehicles are so heavy it takes at least half a kilometre to stop when they go at cruising speed, so they do not even worry about kangaroos, the bull-bars in the front take care of them. We drove over one dead kangaroo though, between Geraldton and Carnarvon, and scraped a bit off it with the bottom of the car. So every time we got out of the car afterwards, there was this terrible smell of dead kangaroo, and the town of Carnarvon will always be associated with that in my mind (also because the name sounds like meat).

Nevertheless, kangaroos are still interesting to see when they are far from the road, and very cute when they are given bread and holding it with their little hands while eating.

Down UnderAlive & Rolling

On 21 May 2004 from Mandurah, WA | comments closed

I admit, I have been terribly lazy updating my website. I will try to make up for it later on. The weird thing is, the more access I have to computers and the internet, the less frequently I update my website or reply e-mails (note to self: should ask my sister what the psychological bla bla is for that).

Anyway, I have been busy the last month with shopping for electronics, installing computers, filming & video-editing, webdesign, surveying roads, and I am currently setting up an e-commerce website. Pretty good stuff to do as a backpacker, especially the road surveying: I have to navigate and press space-bar, and for that I got to see every sealed road around Mt Barker and Albany, including driving on the Albany airport runway. I guess I will spend another month setting up websites and doing road asset management around Port Hedland, 16 hours north. Life is not bad around here, especially not when I’m laying in the spa looking at the stars before going to sleep 🙂

Also, I bought myself some wheels yesterday. A silvery Holden Jackaroo ’84, 4WD (!), 4 cyl. 2.0l rebuilt motor (bought it off a car repair shop, car itself has done about 300.000 km), power steering, air-co (not expecting too much of that), radio/cassette, and 6 months registration (WA rego is easy to renew anyway). I have to add a bull-bar myself, but I can get it off another car. Bull-bars (called roo-bar around here) are fairly essential in the bush, since kangaroos actually make an effort to jump right in front of your car to get killed, or worse, break your headlights. All of this for 1450 euro is not a bad deal I think. Since I don’t have a clue about cars myself, the neighbour (a typical aussie who lived all over WA) went along and checked it things out for me as well (otherwise I would probably buy a car based on the colour). This 4WD was mainly a trade-off between economy (it should be pretty fuel-efficient, a good thing with rising fuel prices due to the unstable security situation in Iraq and the upcoming driving season in the USA) and accessibility (a 4WD is necessary to drive through the Kimberley, upstate WA) on one hand, and speed (highway cruising speed would be about 90 km/h) on the other hand.

Down UnderObservations: Distance & Size

On 2 May 2004 from Mandurah, WA | comments closed

I do not need to tell anyone that Australia is a large country, but I also think that it is hard to understand long distances without actually experiencing them. And Western Australia is definitely the best state to experience distance. With 2,5 million square kilometres it is about the size of Western Europe, but only 2 million people share all this space, and 2/3 of those live in metropolitan Perth. So there is a lot of empty country out there.

The fact that distances are so large has quite an effect on the behaviour of people. Sandgropers (that is what people from W.A. are called in other states) have a love-hate relationship with their cars, loving them when they work, and hating them when they don’t. The reason for this is that a car is virtually a necessity to get around, unless you are living in metropolitan Perth. But it also causes the behaviour of going literally everywhere by car (same thing in the U.S.A.). A few examples of this: if a shop is 50 metres from another shop and has a carpark (almost all shops do), Australians will drive to that other shop, instead of walking there and back. Where I was staying in Mandurah, one of the neighbours (not direct neighbour, about 300 metres down the road) would always drive over when visiting. I also had to take these distances into account when shopping, because from the house in Mandurah where I lived to the nearest supermarket was about 10km, instead of 50m like I was used to.

Aside from behaviour of people, distance can also be noted on the goverment level. Each state is subdivided into different Shires (county in U.S.A., “gemeente” in Dutch, “Kreis” in German). When I first heard the word “Shire” my first association was with Lord of the Rings, but not only hobbits live in the Shire, a lot of Australians do as well. And like most things in Australia, Shires are quite a bit bigger than the European equivalent. The Shire of Plantagenet (around Mt Barker, north of Albany), where I drove on all the sealed roads, is a good example. It is about 100km from west to east, and with 5000 sq km about the size of a Dutch province, yet less than 5000 people live there. It gets much more extreme with the Shire of East Pilbara – the largest Shire in the world – which is 10 times the size of the Netherlands, with a population of less than 8000!