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DAY 363: Kayaking with stingrays

29 Aug

Warning: humour-free, sickeningly sappy entry.

Day 2 in Hervey Bay and I’m already calculating how long it would take me to sell my house. You can get a three-bedroom pad here for $250k and all you’d have to do is eat seafood, swim in glassy waters and hoon around on jet skis all day; maybe a bit of bar work. I can’t think of any low punches I could pull to describe the place for your amusement; it’s pretty good.

Today’s a scorcher. I head out to Fraser Island and hire a kayak, to paddle around a part of the island with still, clear waters that Aboriginal settlers used as training ground for their most inept canoeists. I’m pleased to find I’m naturally good at kayaking, though – the downside about doing something new every day is that you’re usually terrible at it.

I’m skimming over so many stingrays I lose count, and schools of hardy heads arc over the surface of the water like tiny silver dolphins. I follow a path through the mangroves, watching the water get darker, and thick with the scum of tea trees. I’m keeping an eye out for carpet pythons, but also a rare spider flower. A local guide told me about it earlier. Shaped like an avocado inside, Aboriginal women used to drink a shot glass-worth when they were in labour. It would essentially poison them, acting as a sedative, while hastening their contractions. Half an hour later they’d either have a baby in a fraction of the usual time, or be dead. I’m guessing in very small doses it could be interesting.

I’ve also been told mangrove mud is sold in swanky spas for extortionate prices and that it’s the best thing you can put on your skin, so by the time I paddle back to the hire place I’ve got so much smeared on me I look like a swamp creature. I hope it wasn’t a joke.

Keeper? Yes. Sand-chafed, ravenous and stupidly happy. What’s more, I have a feeling I am going to be a champion kayaker one day.

DAY 351: Touring Sydney Fish Market

17 Aug

THERE’S a quaint olde English saying that has been passed down from generation to generation – why, it was even scrawled upon the bottom side of the climbing frame at my local playground as a child. If a girl smells of fish, it dictates, she’s nary a doubt been to Billingsgate.

The Australian equivalent would be the Sydney Fish Market, and no doubt the glamazons in the lifts at the women’s mag later are whispering that I’ve been there, but that’s okay, because I have.

I’m up at five this morning, to take the tour. The Sydney Fish Market’s actually the third most popular tourist attraction of the city, but I’m here to thrash my fear of seafood once and for all.

Bailer shell

My guide, Portia, is fresh out of uni and says she has neither a background in fishing or tourism, but likes the idea of being an expert at something. Knowledge, for her, always has to have a purpose and earn her a dose of approval.

“I’m the same!” I exclaim, fudging my philosophies endearingly. “I could just do something new every day without documenting it, but it’s like the one hand clapping in the woods. If nobody’s around to acknowledge it, did it even happen?”

Portia gets exactly what I mean. What’s more, we soon establish that she too has been to a peep show recently, as her mate gave her a behind-the-scenes tour. What a smashing bond we’re forging. Now, on to the fish.

Part 1 of the great fish tour – consisting of me, an authentically beardy ex-fisherman called Horatio, and his girlfriend – involves watching the morning auction. The buyers bay abuse at the auctioneer, or at each other when someone bids too early. It’s a reverse auction system, based on the way the Dutch would auction flowers, so the price starts high and goes down, rather than up.

Pink ling.

Down on the floor, Portia walks us through some of the 100 species being bid for. We’re shown how to discern the sex of a blue swimmer crab (it’s all in the plate underneath: it’s either shaped ‘U’ for uterus, or ‘V’ for Viagra).

She picks up a pink ling, which is dripping with frothy mucus, but which is a good ‘starter fish’ for kids as it has big bones and makes non-fishy fillets. Then there’s the flashing silver ribbonfish, which looks stunning but tastes pretty foul. It’s mainly dried and used in Chinese cooking.

We learn that flake and hake, on a fish & chip shop menu, is shark; see what a cuttlefish bone looks like when it has a cuttlefish around it; peer into a bailer shell (“poor man’s abalone”) and peel off the jacket of an ocean jacket. I cut the tour short when we come to fiddling with live lobsters.

Ribbonfish.

Keeper? Yeah, pretty interesting. Although for the next three days I can smell fish particles in my hair and clothes. Kudos to ya, Portia.

DAY 348: Going to the Ban Live Export rally

14 Aug

“DID you hear about the bear that killed itself?” sounded like it should be an awesome joke, but asked in the context of the Ban Live Export rally, I should have realised I didn’t want to hear the punchline.

The exporting of livestock to South East Asia and the Middle East has been going on for 30 years now, but it’s taken Lyn White – former police constable and now Communications Director of Animals Australia – and a gruelling Four Corners documentary to bring the appalling conditions to the public’s attention. As opposed to the attention of Meat & Livestock Australia, by whose standards transporting animals by sea and road for three weeks, slashing their tendons, gouging their eyes, breaking their tails and stuffing them into car boots has been a-ok for decades.

Lyn quotes social reformer William Wilberforce in his 1807 campaign to abolish slavery: “We may choose to ignore it, but we can never again say, I did not know.”

Other times, the language here in Sydney’s Martin Place (rallies are being held all across the country today) is over-emotional (yep, if a sheep could talk it possibly would say “don’t abandon me”, but anyway, you digress), when the facts are powerful enough.

On Thursday, August 18, federal politicans will have the chance to vote on legislation that will end this trade. Today I’ll be adding to the masses of protesters emailing Julia Gillard at laborconnect@australianlabor.com.au to request that she allows a ‘conscience vote’. This way MPs can vote in line with their own beliefs and the wishes of their constituents, without fear of reprisal for ‘crossing the floor’.

Here’s the view of an Aussie beef producer.

And here’s a story on Lyn White.

Keeper? Soapboxing over for today, but I’ll keep putting my beliefs into action from now on.

DAY 345: Eating jellyfish

11 Aug

APOLOGIES, creatures of the sea, but I’m on a roll.

For someone spooked by glass noodles, and who used to hide any fish dishes in a vase as a child, ordering jellyfish is a foolhardy gesture, but when I see it on the menu of this Chinatown joint I feel obliged to do it and get it over with.

While stretching out the shredded jelly for the photo makes my stomach Zumba, the salad itself is pretty good. The jellyfish is surprisingly crunchy due to being semi-dried, adding texture to the dish. What’s more, it’s a great source of protein.

Keeper? Mayhaps. Probably wouldn’t start cooking with it.

DAY 344: Eating sea urchin

10 Aug

EVEN more fearsome than the sea urchin underfoot is the sea urchin trundling nakedly around the conveyor belt in Sushi Roll, World Square.

They don’t mention this on the menu, but what we have here, in all its quivery glory, are the sea urchin’s massive gonads. All five of ’em!

Shucked of its spiky shell, mine looks solid enough, but then slips through my chopsticks like custard (in the Orkney Islands, they use it instead of butter).

In my mouth, it has the consistency of a mushy mussel, and the texture of a tongue. Happily I can swallow it without our tongues coming into too much contact.

Keeper? No, but at least I’m probably 90 per cent more potent now.

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DAY 334: Reassessing the Ibis

1 Aug

I WENT to Hyde Park to feed my totem animal, the Ibis. I’ve defended this noble beast time and time again, against many a detractor. Imagine my shock when I went to take its photograph and it stuck its beak right in my Greek salad (not a euphemism).

Keeper? Switching my allegiance to ducks.

DAY 325: Riding a camel

23 Jul

An oldy but a goody.

I’VE been determined to bother a camel before these 365 days are up. Coming from Slough, I find them as alluringly foreign as palm trees and Chiko Rolls.

According to our guide Rebecca, there are over a million wild camels wandering around the Nullarbor (through which Layna, Simone and I have just scored a path, getting from South Australia to West). You can wake up after a night of camping and see their footprints all around you.

They must have all been refueling on powdered lattes at some quaint truckstop when we motored through though, so Simone and I head to Kalamunda, a suburb in the foothills of Perth, to have a go on some domesticated beasties.

Rebecca tells us camels aren’t nearly as moody as horses, which is a relief. At best, horses are shirty; at worst, they try and mess with your head. My camel, Henry, doesn’t deliberately try and walk me into low hanging branches or stop suddenly in his tracks to rip up grass.

While camels can reach speeds of around 70km/h, we take a leisurely stroll through the beautiful bushland of Beelu National Park, where Henry, Amelia and Zara get to rip up a smorgasboard of passing plants – and keep the paths well pruned while they’re at it.

There are few birds around, but kangaroos stop dead and watch us pad past. We leave the beaten track to avoid a mountain bike race, although it wasn’t really necessary: camels don’t have a flight instinct. They’d rather turn around and check something out.

Back at the ranch, an emu wanders around in the gentle breeze and one of the camel whisperers tells us about his working day. Breaking in a wild camel, he says, can result in being bucked five metres in the air. Male camels are on heat, rather than the females, and once a female is slung in the pen there’s a frenzy of camel humping and slobbering – the sound effects of which we are treated to over a piece of cake.

You too, can have a go on a camel.

Amelia chewing.

Keeper? Yes. Camels rule.