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Healesville January 2005

Pictures start here   Boomerang Demonstration   Brolgas   Dingoes   Eagle   Echidnas   Frogs   Ibis   Kangaroos   Reptiles   Something Special   Tasmanian Devil   Koalas   Pathways   Pelicans   Spoonbill   Wallaby  

I love the sanctuary. It's not just a place to see exhibits; it's somewhere to feel relaxed and comfortable; a place full of peace. From all over the world people come to see our unique animals and to enjoy the sounds and smells of the bush. There are always tourists, even in the worst weather, yet there's never a feeling of being surrounded by people. When parties do meet, lots of smiles are exchanged. Often, smiles are the only common language.

We always take a picnic lunch and lots of drinks, but for those who want it there's indoor dining or take-away food. Picnic tables are provided close to the restaurant and here and there through the park—some inside sizeable shelters in case of rain.

Next time I go, I do hope I'll write down the names of things, and perhaps some of the information as well. For now, times of opening, admission prices and so on can be found at this information page.

If you live close to Melbourne, it's a great idea to become a Friend of the Zoos. That way, one annual payment gives you as many trips as you like to both the zoo and the sanctuary, plus half-price admission to Werribee Open Range Zoo. Find out how to join here.

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Wedgetailed Eagle

...Car park at Healesville... [36029bytes] ...Wedgetailed Eagle... [29834bytes] ...She swoops to retrieve some food... [22707bytes] ...and greets her handler... [27988bytes]

As soon as we'd parked and got out our picnic things, we headed for our favourite exhibit, the birds of prey.


Boomerang Demonstration

...Wurundjeri man demonstrates boomerang throwing... [66736bytes] ...Wurundjeri man explains aboriginal flag... [35554bytes]After the big birds had shown us their skills, we saw an exhibition of boomerang throwing. (It's a short oo, as in “cook”, by the way.) The man's teeshirt shows the aboriginal flag, the colours of which stand for the sun, the earth and the people. The sanctuary occupies land that once belonged to the Wurundjeri, and we've even been shown a tree from which a canoe was cut more than a hundred years ago. A funny fellow, this: he bet a little boy his boomerang if he failed to catch it—and remarkably, on that particular throw, he did fail to catch it.

The boomerang he's showing here is not a usual boomerang. The black and yellow “stick” is a didjeridoo—a deep-voiced musical instrument. In common with bagpipes, it requires that its player is capable of circular breathing.

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...Brolga... [21737bytes] ...Brolga feeding... [26813bytes] ...Brolgas prepare to dance... [20230bytes] ...Explanation of uses of poa grass... [20861bytes]


Brolgas are wading birds that have an intricate and graceful courtship dance. It's said that in the dreamtime they were girls who wouldn't stop dancing, even when there was work to be done.

The notice is about the coarse grass growing near the brolgas' feet. It reads: Wurundjeri women, skilled in practical crafts, use plant material for weaving and making twine. The coarse leaves of the poa grass are used to weave baskets and bags to carry food collected each day. The fibres are also twined to make string used for clothing, adornments, nets, tool binding, carry bags, baskets and mats.

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...Baby crocodile in reflected greenness... [20846bytes]A crocodile! But only the length of your forearm. Adult ones eat large animals, like kangaroos, cattle, and...umm...sometimes ... people. The sanctuary has three new babies, and they were having a great time in the water.


...Monitor lizard...I think.... [38440bytes]...Big monitor lizard... [36631bytes]The fellow on the left was in the crocodile enclosure, but sitting on a log above the water. Some sort of monitor lizard, I think. The big monitor lizard was awake and chirpy and enjoying the sunshine. (OK, not chirping, and not exactly racing around, but lots more active than in cooler weather.)

...The taipan, a very poisonous snake--but beautiful... [28486bytes]Our most dangerous snake, the taipan.

Theodore Sturgeon once said that snakes can teach us “how a river of jewels can flow uphill”.


...A wandering bush lizard... [27415bytes] ...hiding in the grass... [31009bytes]This lizard was just a dweller in the bushland, not an exhibit. He was sunning himself beside the path.

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Something Special

Here and there along the paths are sculptures such as this one. The plaque reads:  
...Tactile sculpture of bearded dragon... [25786bytes]


The whole message is repeated in Braille.

...Notice about tactile sculpture... [23406bytes]

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Devil and Dingoes

...Tasmanian devil hurries away... [16228bytes]The Tasmanian devil hurried off before I could get his picture. Tasmanian devils are in trouble right now—in the wild, males are developing a facial cancer. As it seems that this cancer spreads from animal to animal during fighting, rangers are making every effort to keep devil populations separated from each other.


...Alpine dingo sleeps at the entrance to his den... [36707bytes] ...Always alert, he pricks his ears... [16933bytes]There was a talk by one of the dingo handlers. He assured us that dingoes are different from other dogs, in that they don't welcome their people home or show any affection. Two handlers then walked their charges along each tier of seats, giving us a chance to touch them. Good thing they weren't demonstrative; as it was we had a very thorough face-licking from both animals.

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...A view into the echidna enclosure... [38417bytes] ...Echidnas feeding... [28310bytes] ...A well protected back--lots of spines... [22143bytes] ...Echidnas have long digging claws... [28775bytes] ...and long noses... [28906bytes]

The echidnas were really living it up in response to the warm weather. Here's one waddling across the enclosure, and some others with their heads deep inside the feeding holes. They seem to prefer at least some light cover—most of the time they were under bushes more than right out in the open. In one of the pictures you can see the long digging claws, and in another that curious nose which is so useful if ants are your favourite food.

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...Growling grass frog... [36108bytes] ...Shiny green frogs... [6711bytes]Who does he remind you of ... er .... of whom does he remind you? Everyone just has to think of some pompous person when they look at the growling grass frog.

The other frogs here are so green and so shiny that you'd be forgiven for thinking they were plastic. They're real live frogs—and one seems to have his own hammock!

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...Jen photographs a wallaby... [12085bytes] ...Wallaby rests peacefully... [15070bytes]Jen gets ready to snap a wobbly ...umm... photograph a wallaby.

Meanwhile, another wallaby snoozes on, unconcerned.


Kangaroos and Ibis

...Kangaroos rest in the sunshine... [21863bytes] ...Ibis forage for kangaroo food... [33610bytes]...Scavenging ibis... [10693bytes] ...Ibis eying off the visitors... [22057bytes] ...Maybe there are crusts in the bushes... [28165bytes]

Kangaroos dream in the sunshine, while ibis take full advantage of their absence to scrounge through their enclosure, looking for food. Ibis are all over the sanctuary—as usual—checking out paths and picnic areas, even poking into bushes.

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...Koala... [13924bytes] ...Koala... [17286bytes] ...Koala--notice the claws... [16953bytes] ...Koala... [24376bytes] ...Koala... [25880bytes]

OK. This is Australia's classic, recognisable, cuddly animal—and the stories about Theodore Roosevelt notwithstanding, it is NOT a bear. Dogs and bears are related. Koalas and wombats are related. Koalas and bears are miles apart on the evolutionary tree. Koalas have no placenta, and they have only one set of teeth for their entire life—even though they are obliged to feed on gum leaves, tough and hard to chew as well as to digest. The keeper told us that koalas have a thick pad of cartilage where they sit down, so that all those hours of sleeping up a gum tree don't cause them pain and stiffness. Koalas sleep twenty hours a day—but they need the rest after chewing those hard leaves.

At the sanctuary there's an effort to supply every koala with the youngest and most tender leaves available so that they can build up size and strength quickly. Most of the koalas here are orphans, and the aim is to bring them to adulthood and release them into the wild.

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...Pelican takes to the water... [23536bytes] ...glides effortlessly across the lake... [21530bytes] ......to the pelican island... [32351bytes] ...where he sits on a log and watches for fish... [34636bytes]

A pelican hits the water and paddles quickly away from us. His goal is a sundrenched island in the middle of the lake.



...The spoonbill on its favourite perch... [39560bytes] ...Spoonbill perching over water... [30469bytes]Several kinds of waterfowl occupy the same space as the spoonbill.

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...A direction post where pathways cross... [37570bytes] ...Two ways to go... [36320bytes] ...Scrubland beside path... [28583bytes] ...Pathway through wallaby enclosure... [21845bytes] ...Scrubland--and a log to sit on... [23148bytes]

To walk these paths on a hot day is very pleasant. Most walkways through the sanctuary have the feeling of bush tracks—except that they're always clear of fallen timber. Most paths are shaded by tall old trees. Vegetation in the scrub is mostly native. There may be a few escaped exotics—I saw something that looked remarkably like parsley, for instance—but I saw no blackberries.

The sanctuary is well sign-posted, with a recognisable pictograph for each kind of exhibit. Explanatory signs, such as the one about the use of poa grass, are on low posts so that the shortest child can read them. Labels that identify the creatures in any enclosure are always accompanied by a photograph—which is necessary indeed, as a dozen different bird species might live in the same space.



Questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you. My email address is here.

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