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 startle them.
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
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 their hands.
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
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 gum
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 me?”
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 again.
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
Japan 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
“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 outside New 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
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 claim.
© Copyright 2010
© Copyright 2016 Philip Roberts. All rights reserved.