A Travel Vignette

From an Australian Travel Diary (2000)

Kangaroo Feathers

A Visit to the Melbourne War Memorial

A Bob Djurdjevic Column, February 2000

MELBOURNE, Feb. 20 - Finally, for some even lighter fare, here is a real life travel vignette which the TiM editor wrote this weekend in Melbourne, Australia, and sent it as a literary postcard to his daughters and some friends:

"Could not help but think of you two, and your visit to Melbourne with us in 1994, as Mom and I were walking around the city today.  Our hotel (Hilton) is at the edge of the Olympic Park, where that tennis center and other sports stadiums are.

Mom was a bit off with her yesterday's temperature assessment (in the 90s). Actually, yesterday was 40C (well into the 100s F). Today, it has cooled off somewhat (28C) but it is more humid.

On our way to the tennis center, I saw another huge sports arena still under construction, but almost finished.  I asked a lady passer-by what that was going to be. 

"Another tennis center."

"Another tennis center a few hundred yards away from the Australian National Tennis Center? (where the Australian Open Grand Slam tournament is played).  What on earth for?"

The lady smiled and shrugged.  "Why not?" she said.

"And you're paying for it," Mom bravely added.

Later in the day, I asked three more Melbourne residents why a second huge tennis center was being built.  Nobody knew the answer.  But they all suspected that they were paying for it.

So go back to the part of my Sydney lecture which deals with the three preferred creatures of the New World Order - ostriches, sheep and sardines, and you can count some Melbourne resident among the ostriches.

After lunch, Mom and I walked through the parks to the magnificent Australian War Memorial Shrine in a park south of here. You may remember the one we took you to in Canberra.  This one is every bit as large and well kept.

We were lucky to get there just in time for a wreath-laying ceremony.  Afterwards, I talked to the Aussie colonel who laid the wreath. The announcer said his name was Col. George MacKenzie, so I was wondering if he was maybe related to the Canadian Gen. Lew MacKenzie (the former UN Commander of Sarajevo in 1992).

He replied tongue in cheek, "well, I am sure we are, maybe three or four generations ago."  Then he asked me where I was from, and we had a nice little chat.

After that, Mom and I talked to a couple of guards of the War Memorial.  Being her usual shy self, Mom asked me, looking at their hats, "wonder what those feathers are?""

So I turned to the two soldiers and said, "my wife would like to know what those feathers are."

"They are kangaroo feathers," one of the soldiers replied.  "Kangaroos are really hard to catch, so their feathers are very rare and special."

"You wouldn't be pulling my leg, would you?" I asked.

"Nah.  Would we ever do that?"


"You know the little pouch the kangaroos have?" the second soldier joined the conversation.

"Yeah.  What about it?"

"That's where the feathers come from."

"Really?  And does a chicken have lips? "Nice going, lads, except that we have more kangaroos on our land than you blokes have probably ever seen au naturel.  So you should find yourself another Yank tourist to try your jokes on."

Then the first soldier got serious and told us that they were emu feathers.

"That's a much better use of emus than the other one I've seen in Australia."

"What's that?"

"Turning them into emu pies."

Everybody laughed again.

What I didn't tell him is what another good Aussie friend of ours told us over dinner in Canberra, back in 1994, when you girls were with us. "Except maybe for France, Australia is the only country in the world which eats its national symbols" (emu and kangaroo).  :-)

After that, there was a regimental ceremony rehearsal in front of the Memorial which we watched for a few minutes. Hope this is not the best Aussies have to offer in their army.  The regiment looked to me, even as a lay person in military matters, as a rag-tag bunch of soldiers who could not even line up straight in a row.

As we were leaving, we passed a male and a female soldier leaning on a stone fence along the side of the Memorial.  We smiled to each other and said hello.  Then looking at their feathers, I added, "I see you two have lost your kangaroo feathers."

The two cracked up."


TiM Ed.: You can find additional Australian and other travel vignettes from around the world at our Web site if you click on the "Travel Vignettes" button on the left frame.

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