TT: Visiting the Last Continent

Hi!  If you’re looking for the Wednesday Wandering, just page back to learn why – at least for a writer – there are times when two heads are better than one.  Then come back and join me and Alan as we venture into Terry Pratchett’s Last Continent.

JANE: When you ended last week with a description of  the Henley on Todd

Drop Bear?

Regatta, I was rather surprised to learn it was for real.  In Terry Pratchett’s The Last Continent one of the most over the top scenes takes place during a boat regatta on a dry riverbed.  I’d assumed this was Pratchett being particularly insane.  Now I wonder just how much else I took for fiction is – at least in Australia – pure fact.

If I might, I’d like to bombard you with questions.  Maybe you can rope Robin in if you don’t know the answers.

ALAN: As a rough rule of thumb, the more outrageous it sounds, the more likely it is to be true. Ask away!

JANE: All right, a large set-piece is the Galah, a parade featuring floats presenting all manner of transvestites.  Is there such an event?

ALAN: There most certainly is. The annual Sydney Mardi Gras (there’s an irony, naming it after an American festival) is the largest and most flamboyant Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender celebration in the whole world. It employs its own artistic director and every year it showcases the most astonishingly creative floats and costumes that you’ll ever see in your life. The parade usually takes place at the beginning of March. It’s a huge tourist attraction – people come from all over the world just to see it. It is widely broadcast on Australian TV and it makes untold millions of dollars for the Australian economy.

By the way, Galah is a Pratchettian pun on gala/galah. A galah (pronounced gu-LAR) is a rather raucous parakeet.

JANE: That reminds me…   Do wild parakeets ever pick up human language?  Pratchett had me laughing hard when Rincewind talks to a flock of wild parakeets, only to find his words echoing back at him in increasingly corrupted form.

ALAN: Yes, they do. The birds are very curious and very intelligent.  There are many newspaper stories of bewildered backpackers hearing strange voices coming from the trees in the back of beyond. Expletive laden conversations that almost (but not quite) make sense have been reported. It seems that escaped pets and/or birds that have been released back into the wild have been teaching these fun new sounds to their relatives. According to an article in “Australian Geographic,” the birds are even passing the sounds on to their offspring so it seems likely that English words are now firmly embedded as a normal part of the wild birds’ lifestyle.

Robin’s brother and his wife had a pet parakeet.  Robin says it was so eerily human it was scary. The bird could tell the difference between members of the family, and it would say quite different things to each person.  They are natural mimics  and they soon pick up a huge vocabulary which they seem to enjoy using.

JANE: How about drop bears?  They sounded like koalas with attitude.  Were there ever rumors of their attacking by dropping butt first onto their targets?

ALAN: Ah! The famous drop bears: carnivorous koalas that live in the tops of trees and drop down on their unsuspecting prey from above. I’ll probably be excommunicated for telling you this, but they don’t really exist. It’s just a story used to tease and frighten gullible tourists and to keep the locals amused.  If you want to  protect yourself from being killed and eaten by a drop bear, all you need to do is smear vegemite behind your ears. It never fails.

Of course it’s always possible that everything I just said is a lie, and that drop bears really are a clear and present danger. Better stock up on vegemite, just to be certain.

JANE: (scribbling note: get vegemite; beware drop bears)

I’ve a few more questions, but I’ll hold them until next time.

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5 Responses to “TT: Visiting the Last Continent”

  1. heteromeles Says:

    A few rather silly biologists thought (like, ahem, me), think that the “marsupial lion” (Thylacoleo carnifex) and its relatives should be renamed Drop Bears, since some of them definitely could climb. And yes, they are carnivorous koalas. Sort of (it’s in the same order, anyway)

    Doubt it will catch on, though.

    Anyway, if you’re going time traveling in Australia, do stock up on the vegemite.

  2. raartori Says:

    Ha! A tour bus driver told me and my fellow American exchange students about drop bears when we were touring Kangaroo Island. He almost had us, but he couldn’t keep the grin off his face. That being said, we still had to explain that they weren’t real to the more gullible members of the group.

  3. janelindskold Says:

    I definitely can see where the idea that koalas might be carnivorous came from. Have you looked at their claws?

    The photo above (taken at our local zoo) does give a glimpse.

    I’d think that if koalas chose to hold on, they could do impressive damage.

  4. heteromeles Says:

    Actually, yes, koalas can hurt. Ask their keepers sometime. Their language can get a bit interesting.

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