Friday, August 6, 2010

Caversham Park: Kangaroos, Barramundi Wings, Horrifying Emus

The sign into Caversham Park. Yeah, I know. It's perfect. Sort of disgusting how much so.

Humans have a weird affinity for fondling wildlife. It may be fuzzy and adorable or scaly and horrific, but whatever it is, we want to poke at it. I suspect this is an extension of a childhood desire to poke at things with a stick to see what will happen - to touch an animal is to truly experience it, and to some extent, master it. We have poked it and has not bitten our hand off, injected us with venom, or pissed in our eye. The unknowable has become knowable.

Petting wildlife also provides Japanese tourists with endless, endless amusement.

Caversham Park is a privately owned wildlife park situated about twenty minutes outside Perth, just out enough in the bush to be comfortable, and close to the Swan River wine region. The park features a very impressive selection of native animals, grouped by their native regions in the Australian continent, and housed in nice and well kept-up enclosures. (Nothing is more depressing then a poorly maintained zoo, let me tell you). We're talking Tasmanian devils, horrifying emus, dingos, cassowaries, wombats, numbats, crocodile,s and a profusion of other beasties on display and for your amused perusual. There's a huge kangaroo paddock featuring a mess of kangaroos for the petting and fondling of admiring tourists. And there's koalas. A huge quantity of them, feeding on ecualyptus like brown, fuzzy, and obese parasites. Excuse me, "drop bears."

Not a koala but instead a kangaroo giving me the "Whassup man, pass the chocolate nachos and the bowl" sort of stare. I doubtless met this guy at a Tulane college party in a former life, holding a beer-bong and wearing an ironic dinosaur t-shirt. That guy.

Disclaimer: Folks, koalas don't do shit. They are like pandas: complete and utter failures at the basic act of existing. Their chosen diet of ecualyptus is so nutritionally unsound that they literally have the energy to do nothing but eat or sleep all day long. Why are people so bizarrely obsessed with the damn things? Is it because they resemble teddy bears? I hated teddy bears when I was little. I favored plush sea life, preferably with claws and beaks and a delicious flavor when sauteed in butter and shallot. Screw koalas. I hate them. Bet they don't even taste good.

Maybe I need therapy.

The park has a couple of Tasmanian Devils, one of which was this geriatric but well cared for specimen. This guy appears to be roughly 90 by Tasmanian devil standards and regarded us with the sort of stare one directs at kids you wish would pipe down, put away their Playstation thingamugs and let a tired old man sleep. We duly left. As a side note, Tasmanian devils have gigantic heads and jaws, and can doubtless bite the shit out of you when not incredibly aged. In case you encounter one out back sometime soon.

The Kookaburra is one of Australia's animal emblems, and for good reason. They make a distinctive, insane sounding laughing call, and they are absolutely adorable, with little feathered bodies perched on top of small and grasping feet. This lovely specimen was displeased with our presence and kept on making disgruntled "SQAWW" noises at us to register its discomfort and embarrassment. Scuse' me, small wetland bird.

Barn owls do live in Australia, although they are not particularly exotic. What they are is hilarious, especially in large numbers. I just have visions of these owls peering through the window at some unfortunate person showering, and visions of their horrified, wide-open eyes. The owls disapprove of you, sir. The owls are terribly disappointed.

Emus. These were agitated by my electric blue coat, and persisted in strutting around angrily and making throaty "thrum" noises at us. It is hard to express how profoundly unnerving this experience was, sort of the closest thing we humans can experience to being menaced by hairy and extremely stupid dinosaurs. I would probably piss myself if I came across one in the wild. We should eat them all.

The park puts on a Wombat and Friends exhibit, which basically entails a hefty park ranger hauling an equally hefty and profoundly laid-back wombat out onto a platform for the pleasure and edification of the public. The public in this case was a profusion of Japanese tourists, who squealed KAWAII NE over and over while shooting hundreds upon hundreds of photos of themselves con wombat. The wombat didn't care. I am not sure anything short of a nuclear attack could faze this wombat. As a friend of mine remarked on Facebook after viewing this photo, "I can picture him chilling on the couch smoking a bowl, trying to forget his social awkwardness and anxiety when dealing with strangers- but being adorable while he does it: "Man, you wouldn't believe work today- pass the Cheetos." This is, I think, accurate.

There was also a local possums out for the petting, which was a hell of a lot cuter and more charismatic then our reptilian American possums. They're really not closely related, other then their both being marsupials.

Then it was time for the Highlight of Caversham, which is, of course, up close and personal interface and interview with kangaroos. Which was, I must admit, pretty awesome. Kangaroos are pretty charming beasts and when properly socialized, are very good with people, who will good-naturedly shake you down for food and scratches under the chin. Sort of makes you wonder why they're not commonly kept as pets. The answer will be revealed by a cursory search for Youtube videos of kangaroo attacks. Male reds can get up to 6'6 tall on their hind legs and can kick hard enough to disembowel. Gracious. (Video of a kangaroo kicking the stuffing out of a guy in a stupid costume on a children's show. Life sustaining footage, really).

This guy was getting up in my bidness. They have a way of putting their weirdly human hands on your own hands to make damn sure you don't move away your roo kibble holding hands until they're finished. Kangaroo got your number, punkass.

D'aww. I think they're pretty cute. I like things with long noses. Former rough collie owner.


For lunch, we headed a little ways outside the park to the Feral Brewery, an artisian, well, brewery that just happens to have really fantastic food and a surprisingly daring menu. I didn't try the beer as I have not yet been able to talk myself into liking it (Yes, I know, and shut up), but my aunt and my cousin are very fond of their stuff, and it has won all manner of awards. I cut my losses and ordered a tasty and crisp glass of their house-made Chenin Blanc instead. We sat outside on the patio and enjoyed the uncharacteristically balmy winter weather.

My aunt decided to hedge her bets with small bites. These are polenta cubes with pear salad and blue "vein" sauce. Very elegant little bites, and the combination of blue cheese and rich, eggy corn was impressive.

These puff pastry chicken parcels were also excellent. Buttery and light pastry, and a tasty, slightly curry like filling. Would be great served on crystal at a fancy party. These guys obviously missed some sort of memo vis a vis "crappy brewpub food". For shame.

I ordered the barramundi "wings," which turned out to be equivalent to hamachi kama, or fish necks. I am a total freak for hamachi kama and thus went absolutely nuts for these. Lots of sweet, delicious barramundi meat and plenty of little bones to negotiate, served with a lovely lemon aioli dipping sauce. I ordered a side of their lentil dahl, which was also flavorful (although could have been more spicy) and very tasty indeed. What an excellent lunch.

We "toddled" down the road (Aussies love saying that, don't ask me okay) to Lancaster Wines, which has a nice outdoor tasting booth and a large selection of fine boozes for the sampling. The exceedingly friendly British guy manning the table proceeded to drink us up with everything he had on offer - standouts included a fruit-forward Chenin Blanc and a seriously good fortified "Sticky" shiraz. Well worth a visit.

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