Today I commenced Milo’s education on the dangerous creatures of Australia. So far he is not doing well.
Like a fledgling eagle being pushed out of the nest, or a Harp Seal pup abandoned on the ice after just 12 days, there comes a time in an Australian baby’s life where it must come face to face with the myriad Australian native creatures that could kill a baby rhinoceros with a sideways glance. For Milo that time arrived today.
Milo and I have been running basic drills from his very earliest days; applying the “look before you lift” technique by peering under the barbeque before turning on the gas, or under the worm-farm lid before attempting its removal. Milo has always been terrific at squashing the fingers of his gardening gloves before putting them on, usually using his plastic spoon in a stabbing motion for this purpose, or shaking out his gum-boots before putting them on his feet. Obviously Milo would never crawl through tall grass, and when bush-crawling he carries a long stick in his mouth which he swings to-and-fro to ward off basking snakes.
However, these largely theoretical lessons can only go so far and must eventually be supplemented by a field trip to view the creatures first hand. So today my mum and I took Milo to the Sydney Wildlife Park to test his instincts, and his ability to implement classroom training in the field.
Family fun-day Thursday was interrupted this week as Kuepps had a procedure that will hopefully fix her Milo-destroyed hip. It essentially means Kuepps cannot lift Milo for at least two weeks and must even avoid his clambering at all costs for the first 72 hours. To demonstrate the high value of mums, Kuepps headed off to hers for a recuperation retreat while mine moved in with us to help with the Milo wrangling.
We arrived at Swim School to the news there had been an ‘accident’ in the infant’s pool such that it was ‘out of action’ for a period to be ‘refreshed’. These are cute euphemisms to describe a scenario that needs no real clarification. One of the pool maintenance guys Howard could be seen forlornly poking at the surface of the water with his periscope net while an associate feverishly applied additional chlorine.
This refreshing period meant our class was to be held in the main pool which is at least 5 degrees cooler. We were the first baby/ parent combo to arrive so we jumped in for some warm-ups. Milo, although trying his best to be positive about Humpty Dumpties and Jellies on the Plate, was turning slightly blue in the face and his happy babbling was being interrupted by chattering teeth.
I therefore asked whether the class could be postponed before retreating to the paddling pool where I could see a number of other familiar babies cowering for warmth. The paddling pool is no more than a foot deep and is kept warm by a combination of its shallow depth, furiously circulating heated water and urine.
We splashed happily in this Petri dish for about 20 minutes before wrapping Milo up like a burrito and beating a hasty retreat. It is amazing how far we have come since our first embarrassingly ill-prepared attempt at Swim School; we no longer even enter the change-rooms or showers. There is no pram, carrier, jacket, change of clothes. We have a new nappy, a plastic bag, a towel, a bear suit and a dried apricot for the drive home. The rest of Thursday was spent peacefully in the park with occasional calls to mum to check on her recuperation.
On Friday morning Milo and I went for our now customary morning stroll which we use as a type of anaesthetic to ease Milo into his morning nap. While waiting for our coffee we stood next to a man who took an unusual interest in Milo. I deduced he was likely also a dad, probably a new one, so asked him if he had any kids. Yes, a four-month old boy. This stimulated the usual conversations about sleep, upheaval, faeces and who the child looks like. This dad joked that his son had inherited his family jowls, we chuckled together. I retorted that Milo had unfortunately also been gifted my prominent family ears.
Milo’s ears are adorable but not subtle. They are about the same size as his mother’s. Not in terms of scale, in an absolute sense. If we had at our disposal the previously referenced ‘over the horizon’ technology offered to us by the film ‘Face Off’, Kuepps and Milo could switch ears and I suspect few people would pass any sort of comment.
This newly met coffee-dad peered again into the pram and exclaimed with genuine surprise “Holy shit! He really does have your ears!” I thought this level of enthusiastic agreement to my light-hearted quip was somewhat indelicate, and I felt a little indignant on behalf of us both.
After Milo’s nap we quickly mobilised and soon found ourselves at the Wildlife Park. As you enter the Park the signs remind the visitor in no uncertain terms that everything in Australia will kill you if given the chance. ‘Australia has the 428 most deadly millipedes in the world and 267 of those are commonplace in your shower’, for example. Or, ‘Cassowary – World’s Deadliest Bird!’; that one is a little silly.
You are, however, eased into the danger with a stroll through the butterfly house, although I am sure to the very young and the infirm these butterflies could be poisonous if eaten. There were only a few butterflies on hand to greet us but those available captivated my son. He leaned forward out of his pram pointing frantically and bellowing whenever one of these curious floating creatures came near. At one point a butterfly came to rest on a leaf not far from Milo’s head and he became very exercised, waving his hands above his head like Gary Johnston giving the signal to Chris in the film ‘Team America’.
The next enclosure, and the first test of Milo’s innate instinct to detect a dangerous creature, is the Tasmanian Devil. Milo failed this test. Seeing the Devil as simply a slightly nuder and mangier version of his cats, Milo grinned and giggled and attempted to shimmy his way into the enclosure to play with this odd cat/ piglet creature.
Next stop, snakes. Milo was delighted to meet the Eastern Brown Snake; cackling, clapping and trying his best to greet the slithery reptile cheek-to-cheek. I tried to point out to Milo the combination of words ‘common and deadly’ on the Brown Snake’s description mean he is not a creature to befriend, or taken lightly. Milo was disinterested in my warnings as he had spotted the Common Death Adder and was eager to make his acquaintance.
A friendly greeting for the Eastern Brown Snake
This pattern continued throughout the Park; Red-Belly Black Snake, Inland Taipan, Mainland Tiger Snake all greeted warmly and with enthusiasm, Milo looking at me and my mum as if to say “Dad, how cool are these weird slithery things?”
The spiders were no better. The Sydney Funnel Web (which happens to be the most deadly spider in the world and also rather common in Sydney) lives in a dark enclosure which can be lit up by pressing a button alongside the glass. The idea is to be dramatic and shocking, revealing the spider with his shiny black feet lurking just beneath the surface in a swirl of thick web.
Milo didn’t see it this way. We spent two or three minutes pressing the button on and off, Milo hooting with laughter every time the light came on.
Despondent and scolding myself for my patently inadequate dangerous creature home-prepping we walked toward the last exhibit, my final hope for the day.
Surely Milo could not interpret this animal as a kindly companion, suitable for petting or playing, or even a misunderstood victim who deserves the benefit of the doubt and Milo’s conciliatory friendship. The final cautionary tale in the Sydney Wildlife Park is a 5m, 700kg Saltwater Crocodile named Rex who was saved from extermination and brought to the Park after he killed two female crocodiles who had been introduced to him as potential mates.
For this last lesson we released Milo from his pram and allowed him to explore independently. For a moment Milo appeared apprehensive or even, potentially, cautious. This caution soon passed.
Milo crawled over to the tank at express pace and clambered up onto the glass, pointing at the fish, the croc and then back at us in an excited, and not at all cautious display of delirious enjoyment. We allowed Milo to tap gently on the glass for a few minutes not 5 metres from this highly evolved killer, before I gave him a handful of ‘craisins’ (cranberry raisins) and slipped him into his pram to babble happily as we strolled back to the car. It is clear we have some work to do.
Rex looks pretty friendly
Milo was exhausted from all the new curiosities he had witnessed and slept soundly in the car, hoping that he might receive an Eastern Brown Snake for Christmas.
The evening and night passed peacefully (for me) with my mum giving me the gift of sleep, as she expertly performed the role of ‘night-nanny’.
- Total deadly species embraced by Milo as new friends – 15
- Total deaths attributed to Sydney Funnel Web since anti-venom developed in 1981 – 0
- Minutes spent sketching a new family crest for submission to the College of Arms in London – 0
- Minutes spent tie-dyeing old white tea-towels for Milo to wear as technicolour togas this summer – 0