Dreaming of summer holidays past, Peter Sherwood recalls a hilarious trip to Australia’s Kakadu National Park
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Tiger Airways used to be strictly no frills, the only luxury being a guaranteed seat, and with a fare structure comparable in shipping terms to the Star Ferry. So cheap was Tiger that people would even fly to destinations they hated. So, when Australia’s Darwin (some 4,000 kilometres from Sydney where I was dragged up) appeared as a monthly special who was I to say no? My Spanish friend Carina and I left from Macau via Singapore. The first expected inconvenience: A stopover in the yawningly tedious city state.
Arrival at Darwin was 3am, the second inconvenience. (Number three would have to wait till our departure when a jar of the native Vegemite was confiscated as a dangerous gel. This salt-saturated spread might well pose a health risk but is unlikely to explode, except in your arteries). Our rented car awaited in an otherwise empty car park the size of Wales. First stop the village of Humpty Doo (seriously) where we spent an hour in hysterics before moving on to Kakadu. Down the road I asked a perky, red-headed park ranger to assist a man whose car had been sideswiped. She said, “I’ll call me old man, he’s a firey.” Carina: “I’ll call my father, he’s a fairy?” No. She’ll call her husband, he’s a fireman.
Carina’s first visit to the land of Oz brought wide-eyed wonder at not just the language, but “how bloody far” everything is, a reference to taking a day to drive from any place where there’s not much to see, to someplace where there’s even less. I inflicted upon her irrelevant local knowledge, such as: Did you know that the Northern Territory is almost three times bigger than Spain? Also boggling the Iberian mind were the millions of brilliantly coloured birds that burst from the trees at dawn in a vast squawking cacophony.
Wildlife in Kakadu? For starters we saw crocodiles the size of an amphibious tank, and three large brown snakes Carina almost stepped on during a half-day hike. Our description to a guide at the park office got a nonchalant: “Those would be your Coastal Taipan, third most deadly snake in the world.” This news triggered an urgent need for Carina to be at least one Spain’s length away from where we stood.
All this time she had understood little of the local language, which is the same as in the rest of the wide brown land – but different. Back in Darwin we headed for a pub where I insisted she take courage and break the language barrier by ordering the drinks. Nervously she approached the strapping, blonde barman: “Err…two glasses of beer please.” There followed an unintelligible torrent of what I imagined were the types of brew available. Carina, pointing: “Err…just like that man’s over there.”
She paid and gave her thanks for which she received the following verbal deluge: “No-worries-love-you’re-a-legend,” spat out with the rapidity of machine gun fire. She turned to me as bemused as she had been throughout her fortnight’s linguistic adventure.
Two weeks – A generous landscape and animals that threatened her life. As for people, she had comprehended barely a word. (Carina holds a Master’s Degree in English.)
Tags: out there, summer
Peter Sherwood has lived in DB for 20+ years. The former head of an international public relations firm, he is the author of 15 books and has written around 400 satirical columns for the South China Morning Post.