Kola, the bear was actually a
koala, not a bear at all. He was born at the
LeengilBaaringNational Park in Victoria, around the time the great tourist boom
started in Australia in the mid 1980s.
One day in his eighth month,
after Kola had just emerged from his mother's pouch, he was
clinging to his mum's back as she moved about the branches of a
large blue gum, when from below him a loud voice drawled, "Mar
guard, lark ut the lartle barbie cola bar." Which in English
means, "My God, look at the little baby cola bear." Looking
down Kola was amazed by the sight of the pink-haired woman,
leading a stars-and-stripes T-shirted young boy. Although the
tourist guide was quick to correct the woman, assuring her that
you pronounce it "koh-arl-ah", the name stuck, so for the rest of
his life the koala was known as Kola.
In those early months of his
life, Kola lived in his mother's territory, deep within the park.
But as is the custom with koalas, at eighteen months age he set
out to claim his own territory. Most young koalas in the park
foraged deeper into the wilderness, in a bid to elude the prying
eyes and flashing cameras of the mainly Japanese or American
tourists. But after his first glimpse of pale pink hair and
starred-and-striped T-shirt, Kola decided human beings could be
an endless source of amusement. So, rather than journeying
deeper into the park, Kola headed out and found himself a large
blue gum grove adjoining the main tourist coach depot.
Although during the daytime
Kola spent very little time up his gum tree. Instead, the
moment he heard the first coach approaching in the morning, Kola
would scamper to the ground and race across the grass on his
stumpy little legs, heading toward his favourite tourist
observation spot: a metal signpost near the path from the coach
stop. Kola would scamper up the metal pole and sit at the top,
hidden from view behind the hexagonal sign, waiting for
unsuspecting tourists to walk over to read it. Then he would
pop his large, grey-furred head over the top of the sign and
On one occasion this brought
better results than usual. A family of five were standing in
front of the sign and had just read out, "Take care, koalas
crossing!" when up popped Kola to greet them.
"Mar guard!" shrieked the
mother, stepping backwards in fright. Although it was the
middle of summer, it had been raining off-and-on for the last
week, so the park was covered in black, sticky mud.
As the woman stepped back, her
high heels stuck in the mud, and with a shriek she sat down hard
in a large puddle of water, which splashed up soaking her husband
and their three teenagers.
Fortunately Kola had ducked
back behind the sign in time to avoid being splashed. So he
could look up again afterwards with an almost human grin on his
thin, grey lips as he watched the woman floundering around on her
backside, while her family only made matters worse for
themselves, by trying to wipe the mud off their clothes with
Things didn't always work out
so well for Kola though. On another occasion he popped up from
cover only to be greeted by a blinding flash as a tourist quickly
snapped the koala's photograph.
When Kola returned to
consciousness a short time later, he was lying on his back on the
grass, with a gentle sound of bird-like twittering ringing in his
ears. Looking up he saw the twittering actually came from a
large group of Japanese tourists standing in a circle around him,
talking excitedly in their native tongue. Looking down at him
in terror, they obviously thought they were going to get into big
trouble for killing a protected Australian animal.
Fortunately, the koala has a
body which has evolved in such a way that they can fall from
great heights without being more than stunned. When biologists
tag koalas in the wild, they knock the creature out of its tree
with a long, wooden pole, tag the koala while it is stunned, then
stand back and let it scamper away when it comes around. So
Kola was unhurt. However, he lay on his back for a while longer
to tease the poor tourists, before finally, to their great
relief, he climbed back to his feet to head off toward his blue
Another of Kola's favourite
ways of entertaining tourists also involved his ability to drop
from great heights without being hurt. A few hundred metres
past the coach stop in the park, was a large reception hall,
where tourists can eat their lunch or step in out of the rain.
Fortunately for Kola's purposes the hall had a corrugated-iron
roof, which sloped from front to back. Kola would allow the
hall to fill with tourists, then would climb a great gum tree
growing beside the hall. Climbing out onto an overhanging
bough, he then dropped drop onto the corrugated-iron roof with a
loud crash. Usually that was enough to get the attention of
everyone inside. If not, when Kola came round a few moments
later, he would start galloping along the corrugated iron as fast
as his stumpy little legs would carry him, going back and forth
from one end of the roof to the other, until he was exhausted.
The metal roof would boom-boom-boom with his footsteps, startling
the tourists and guides inside the hall.
This continued for three years
without anyone discovering what was galloping across the roof.
Until one day an American man almost fainted from terror and
shrieked, "Oh mar guard, thar's a grizzly bar on the roof!" The
old man came from the American wilds, where it common for grizzly
bears to climb onto the roof of a log cabin, then walk around the
rooftop for hours, to the terror of the people inside.
However, the tourist guide knew
there are no grizzly bears in Australia. And he had had to rescue tourists from
Kola's pranks on more than one occasion in the past. So, at the
mention of the word "bear", the guide shouted toward the ceiling,
"Get off that roof, you furry-faced ratbag!"
Not used to being spoken to in
such a disrespectful manner, Kola ambled across to the edge of
the roof to investigate. Hanging over the edge of the roof by
his back feet to look in through the large front window, he gave
the guide a look as if to say, "Could you possibly be speaking to
Unfortunately the koala hung
over a little too far and his back feet started to slip off the
metal. He started kicking and scratching furiously with his
long claws, trying desperately to pull himself back up onto the
roof, but too late. The large koala went flying into space
This time to land headfirst in
a large water barrel at the base of the wall. Fortunately it
had been raining and the barrel was fall of water, so he had a
soft landing. The koala quickly paddled his way to the top of
the barrel, to slowly pull himself out. Then, after shaking
himself off, he headed toward his blue gum grove, deciding he'd
had enough of entertaining the tourists for a while.
Kola had two theories regarding
the origins of the funny, camera-clicking tourists. Firstly,
that they came from faraway lands with names like
and Armarica. Secondly, that
they were inmates from lunatic asylums, brought to the national
park on their days out.
To test which theory was
correct, he decided to sneak out of the park to follow them. He
would scamper across to the coach depot, climb up the side of the
coach, and squeeze in through any conveniently open window.
Then, since many of the tourists purchased large koala dolls as
souvenirs of their visit down under, Kola would snuggle down on a
seat too and pretend to be another large, fluffy toy.
For some reason, however, this
stratagem never worked. The furthest he got was an hour's drive
down the highway, which had the coach driver cursing aloud as he
turned the bus around to return Kola to the park. On the
insistence of the soft-hearted tourists, who wouldn't hear of the
fluffy creature being kicked out the bus door as hard as
possible, as the coach driver had wanted to do.
But one day Kola's dream of
seeing Armarica almost came true. He was sitting behind his
favourite metal sign, being admired by a New Yorker named Thelma
Dingley. Thelma lived on the twenty-seventh storey of a
high-rise apartment and worked on the fifty-third level of
another skyscraper, so she had rarely ever seen a domestic cat in
her life, let alone a wild koala.
"Oh mar guard," enthused
Thelma, "he looks almost real. It's almost as though you could
just reach right out and touch him."
"You can," assured the tourist
guide. Plucking the startled koala from the metal signpost, he
handed Kola to an even more startled Thelma.
Thelma had never been
York before, let
alone overseas, and knew nothing of Australian customs. So
naturally she assumed Kola was a gift from the national park.
So, since she had a couple of empty cloth bags with her, she
deposited Kola into one bag and filled the other with gum leaves
for him to feed upon.
By the time they returned to
the coach, poor Thelma was exhausted from carrying Kola around
the park for hours. As she sat down near the back of the bus,
Thelma checked that Kola was all right and handfed him a few gum
leaves. The coach driver glanced back at Thelma for a second.
However, he had been bussing tourists for more than a decade, so
he didn't take more than a passing interest when one of them
started talking to her shopping bag.
For the next two days Kola
lived with Thelma in her apartment at the Hotel Victoriana.
During the day he was carried around in Thelma's shopping bag, to
see the sights of Melbourne; at night he slept clinging to the top of the
hotel's expensive drapes with his long, sharp claws.
Finally it was time for Thelma
to return to Armarica, and Kola set out with her. They made it
through the taxi ride to Tullamarine and even got inside the
airport terminal without problems. However, to Kola's bitter
disappointment, Thelma was stopped at the baggage counter and
arrested for trying to smuggle a protected species out of the
"But they gave him to me!"
protested Thelma as she was led away in handcuffs.
Fortunately the tourist guide
remembered handing Kola to her, so Thelma was allowed to return
to the United
States the next day,
clutching a large handful of pamphlets warning of the penalties
for trying to take protected species overseas.
Poor Kola was returned to
the LeengilBaaringNational Park. He never did get to see Armarica, but at
least he got as far as the customs desk at
MelbourneAirport, which is more than most wild koalas can
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