As we wended our way further north along the Pacific Highway, towing our caravan and with our two little dogs happily sleeping in the back seat of the Land Cruiser, we stopped in many interesting places along the way. I wrote many anecdotes in my travel diary, and many of them I expanded into a story that was subsequently published in one of the travel magazines.
One such was my account of the first time I saw a platypus in the wild. It took place at the Broken River, in the Eungella National Park, 80 kilometres west of Mackay, in Central Queensland.
This story has always been special to me, not only for the event itself, but because I turned it into a travel story, accompanied by the pics that Peter had taken, and it was published in Caravan World magazine.
It started me on my writing career.
What a red letter day it was when
we picked up a copy of the magazine
in a newsagent and there was the story-
a full two page spread with my story,
and a wonderful photo Peter had taken
of the Finch Hatton Gorge.
If you don’t know much about the Australian platypus, it is a bizarre semi-aquatic mammal that lays eggs and uses echo-location to find its prey, which it digs from the river bed. It is an egg-laying, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal with water proof fur. And its elusive behaviour means most people never see it outside a zoo or sanctuary.
I hoped to see the shy and mainly nocturnal animal in its natural habitat, swimming in the Broken River.
So here we were before dusk, standing in the viewing area on the bridge over the Broken River. We’d taken up our positions an hour earlier, waiting patiently, and scanning the river for signs of activity.
“Watch for bubbles on the surface of the water,” the Ranger told us. “The platypus dives to the bottom for food, and strains it through his bill. Then he comes to the surface to eat it. He’s only on top of the water for a few seconds, and then he dives down again searching for more, so you have to watch carefully. And it won’t happen until the sunlight is off the water.”
Accordingly we scanned the shady areas of water carefully. We had a few false alarms as we saw tortoises swimming below us, and insects skimming the surface often gave the appearance of bubbles.
Peter trained his binoculars up-river and suddenly there it was, many metres upstream. Creating wide ripples as it dived, the platypus was clearly visible.
We watched its progress as it dived and swam towards us. Finally it passed directly below us, under the bridge. It was larger than we expected at about two feet in length, and we saw quite clearly its distinctive bill, the tail, and the dark brown fur. We hurried to the other side of the bridge, hoping for another glimpse, but it had disappeared.
It was truly a thrill to see this shy, elusive creature in its natural environment.
And an even bigger thrill when the article about it was published.