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Healesville, Sanctuary of Strange

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Old posts from the original Blackframes site

Healesville, Sanctuary of Strange

Lach Ryan


Yesterday was ANZAC Day in Australia. A day to make biscuits whilst remembering those that died in past wars. A day that defines our young nation's character via the lens of tragic loss inflicted from conflicts vastly removed in relevance from our remote state. It also means a public holiday. Out of respect for the fallen, our country's retailers choose to close the doors to their premises until 1pm. This allows the general  public to reflect on the sacrifice of the diggers and wonder what to do. Some choose to attend special dawn services, others attend parades where the young watch elderly ex-servicemen walk aimlessly and wave ( in a nice reversal of the normal parade dynamic). Still others, as I observed, like to turn up to these closed shopping centers and sullenly hold a makeshift moment of confusion-fueled reflection. As they stand in the crisp mid morning, car keys in hand,  prompted to turn their thoughts from the shopping list to the lives lost in Afghanistan. We chose to head out of the city, to a place in the Yarra Valley- Healesville. The name of the place gets its origins from the first British settlers, who would often stop there on their travels to consult with an Indigenous Orthopedic specialist. The man, Gunjamarila (which is Aboriginal for Dr Toe) was said to be one of the first know practitioners of foot doctory. Here, settlers would get their bunions, achilles and excess fluid seen to.

Healesville today draws people for many reasons such as the food and wine offerings, its natural beauty and the native animal zoo known as The Sanctuary. Mostly it draws people due to an old scientific research project involving a magnet that works on the unique magnetism of people's personalities.  The magnet, a joint venture between the CSIRO and Tourism Board, is hidden within the town's municipal center and literally attracts hundreds of thousands of humans each year.

We however were there for the The Sanctuary, a place where wild animals who are placed into captivity for the benefit of international tourists, can feel safe and pampered. First we came across the cabaret-costumed, chicken-dinosaurs known as the Emu. Next to us were some North American tourists (couldn't tell whether they were Canadian or American, as they were neither ignorant nor wearing double denim) who  referred to them as Eemoos, making them sound like some sort of digital cow. In line with our nations coat of arms, Kangaroos were there too. In a pen. How do you contain Kangaroos? I hear they can leap over buildings in a single bound, are faster than a speeding locomotive and can stop bullets. They also contribute regularly to a major metropolitan newspaper. There was a Red, a Grey and a Silver one...much like ones options at any Volkswagen dealership.

Next was the main attraction- Koalas. A safe bet is that if you can see a Koala in the wild, somewhere within a 10m radius will be a German backpacker. After the war, Germans were looking for some purpose as a people. After much debate, it was decided they should wander the world in search of Koalas. The smarter ones eventually find their way to Australia, but you can't knock the enthusiasm of those in the Brazilian rainforest. I felt sorry for these Koalas, not because of Greta and Andreas constantly capturing every tweak of their fury face, but they way they lived. Each day they are propped into a carved eucalypt log loaded with the Koala equivalent of a brick of cocaine - fresh branches of gum leaves. Here they slam their face into the green goodness like Pacino in 'Scarface', machine gunning their onlookers with dazed disaffection.

We saw some enclosures where Platypus were supposed to be. Who knows if they were. The Dingoes were my highlight of the zoo. Up close, they appear as very similar to the common dog. Apparently they are all thought to have descended form one single wolf that immigrated across from Asia thousands of years ago, probably to study. It is no surprise then that their little in-bred brains make them go looking in tents for midnight snacks.

The whole exercise was to show our son Archer some native animals up close, but this point was clearly lost on him. He just kept requesting to see the gorillas. I explained that gorillas were an introduced species to this country, and haven't been seen in the wild since 1937 when one was spotted shopping at the Myer Mid Year sales.

Our trip was topped off by a quick stop at a Valley Dairy, where we tasted some locally made cheese. They had selections of Goat's and Cow's cheese. One with ash sprinkled over it and tasted better than anything that I've ever made  featuring charred ash. People who work in the dairy industry, to me anyway, all seem a little strange. Perhaps it is the oversupply of calcium in their diet. This guy was quite keen for me to try a slice of Human milk cheese he had been working on, a colostrum Camembert. It was at that point we said farewell to this overall-ed oddity and headed back to the city. I'll be stuffed if those brave souls sacrificed their lives at war, just so I can use my freedom to eat freak cheese! To adapt a Vandal's lyric "Australia stands for freedom, but are we truly free, if you can walk into a dairy and order some boob cheese?"