For a lot of years a prized possession of mine was a black and white photo of myself holding a koala while being held in my father’s arms. I was five or six. I don’t know what became of that faded picture but I remember it and the memories it evokes as clearly as if I still felt it in my hands now.
Fast forward forty-five years and it was time to take my own daughter to the same place that photo was taken – Brisbane’s Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. In many ways, not much had changed. There were still the kangaroos to feed, multi-coloured and specied aviaries to walk amongst, my personal favourite the sheep dog show, an overpriced gift shop, tourists speaking any language you care to name, and of course the resident rock stars of cute and cuddly marsupials – the koalas themselves.
Of interest also was what might be referred to as a ‘wall of fame’ located inside the main cafe eating area. Here hung signed photographs of various dignitaries and celebrities who over the years had all paid a visit to the apparently internationally known Australian headquarters of the lovable herbivore. Among the framed photos were a couple of former Australian Prime Ministers, The Queen, a Pope (can’t remember which) and a few names from the world of music I hadn’t heard of in some while – Joan Jett and Gary Numan among them. When Ariana Grande played Brisbane last week as part of her sell out Australian tour she and her royal entourage preferred to make a beeline for Australia Zoo to get their dose of local koala.
Meanwhile, back at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary on the day I visited this week, sadly, due to factors including the length of the queue and the extortion level price-tag, the idea of replicating my own childhood keepsake and getting a picture of my daughter posing with a koala, which forty years ago was a long-standing tradition amongst Brisbane families, never actually saw the light of day.
The unexpected highlight of the visit however was when our thirst took us to an ancient looking drinks vending machine, propped up like a lone sentry next to the kangaroo paddock. What looked for all the world like some kind of faded tin relic from a long forgotten time, was, much to our astonishment, still working! We watched with dropped jaw it accept money through its rusted coin slot, and, after a series of whirring mechanical noises I’m pretty certain I last heard back in the late 70’s, spit out an ice-cold bottle (yep, bottle) of Coke to its cobweb-encrusted delivery port.
This humble drinks machine that time forgot single-handedly guaranteed that, even minus the requisite cute koala photo, our day still dished its own unique flavour and lasting memory.
Thankyou Grand Daddy bottle machine! Like some old combat veteran still standing guard on the battlefield long after the war has passed, you continue to serve with honour and a sense of never-say-die duty. With bottle in hand and miraculously correctly tended change in pocket, I salute you!