Never too far away: Our Currumbin Story

My mother entered as a child, her hair dark, short and unmanageable. Growing up in a small central Queensland town in a place that her father called the desert, she was just happy to be on the coast, and in a place that everyone seemed to visit at some point in their lives, her mother no stranger to its charms.

Hurrying in and pulling her mother by their entwined hands, they spotted the reason people said they had to come. The lorikeet feeding arena.

Back in the 40’s in his parent backyard on Towemin Street, a beekeeper and flower grower, all sun weathered and deep-lined from tending his garden, grew tired of the native lorikeets eating his prized blooms so he decided to something about it.

To keep the lorikeets away from the flowers, Alex Griffith decided to feed the birds himself. Armed with a dish of honey, water, and bread he would feed the birds each day, always at the same time.

Bit by bit the people of Currumbin started to notice. Patrons not only traveling to buy Alex’s flowers but also coming to watch as he fed the birds, many paying a fee to feed them as well.

With time the local curiosity grew and in 1947 the Currumbin Bird Sanctuary was born, a place that sheltered Australian animals and birds alike, with an animal hospital on sight to care for the odd sick snake or wallaby.

Twice daily Alex Griffith’s tradition continued. Guests of Currumbin Bird Sanctuary were encouraged to participate for a small donation in exchange for a tin cake pan full of the same bread, honey and water that Alex used to feed the awaiting lorikeets.

Given a tin dish that her mother helped support so that her sundress didn’t get a helping, my mother sat on the 20 year old paint-chipped wooden bench with a picket fence in front and gawked. Like magic, lorikeets were everywhere, filling the sky with rainbows and the air with their calls. On every dish, arm, shoulder or head perched another bird lapping away at their meal or disposing of it.

When all the dishes were finally empty and the lorikeets gone, it was time to go deeper inside and see all the animals it held. As her thongs slapped on the pathway, she saw people being given koalas to hold, tentative kangaroos being offered food from eager sanctuary guests as was the Australian way and every so often, a small red train would go by, a train that she would later go on and remember through adulthood.

I entered in my 20’s, hair dark, short and just as unmanageable as my mothers and the hot February sun wasn’t helping. The tales of my mother’s experience made me eager to see what I was in for. My childhood after we moved to America filled with tales of red trains and rainbow birds. The lorikeet arena for which I’d heard so many stores was not as she had described. The Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary as it was renamed in ’95 was updated since her child eyes had last seen it.  The once wooden and frail structure now made of steel and painted Currumbin sanctuary green still held some history within its beams, and a new café serving coffee along with warnings to not feed the roaming ibis.

As I walked, I noticed an intertwinement of things I felt I had already seen from the stories of my childhood and of the new updated versions. The tunnel hand painted with pictures of different Australian animals and the canopy of trees shading guests from their inevitable sunburns, along with beaming tourists holding koalas that knew their job was to look at the camera and hold on tight, and kangaroos numb to selfies and camera flashes. There was a treetop course for people to climb like the koala or swing like the tree kangaroo while also seeing the sanctuary all around and shows by Blinky Bill talking about Wildlife and mildly scaring the children in the audience. Along with those were a crocodile show which could make a person want to stay away from fresh water and sleepy dingo’s that seemed like they could use a belly rub or a nice cuddle.

As the day went and that red train passed and passed, one thing was apparent, with a place that could stand up to the test of time and more than 50 years, what generation of my family would experience it next?

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