Crikey…Close but No Cigar!

the proportions of all exhibits compared to wheelchairs

As a pastry chef, when I was young, I once got a commission from a rich family to make a cake for a birthday. I was so nervous I left out a key ingredient and the box tasted better. The point to the story above is sometimes we worry so much about the glitz and the appearance we lose sight of the little but oh so important things.

My main squeeze, she who must be obeyed (yes guys gay marriage is no different to straight marriage if momma aint happy no one is).  Since the first day she every saw the “Croc Hunter” on cable in Queens, New York she was enamoured with Australia Zoo so when after 14 years of living in the states we decided to come home it was made oh so clear to me that we were going.

We like always have to arrange wheelchair transport, a train can get us to Beerwah station and Terri in her American accent tells anyone put on hold “if you’re coming to Australia Zoo the ride from the train to us is free on our luxury busses for everyone!” So the day was planned. The week before we rang to check hours and lucky we did because we were told while the park was wheelchair accessible the busses were not. After a discussion with a young girl who couldn’t see the problem the manager agreed “everyone” includes the disabled so he said “please let us pay for a disabled transport” to and from the station for you! Wow all fixed …isn’t it?

The park is wonderful! Since 2000 it has undergone $40 million worth of renovations complete with new attractions, a fleet of courtesy busses and new enclosures. Steve would be proud and any able bodied person sees no problem.

From the moment we entered we saw glass viewing windows and I thought, cool the walls are very high but they thought about wheelchair people. Then I turned the corner and except for any animal over 6ft, the tigers (who were again behind glass) and of course the koalas (they were up a tree) and the kangaroos (that had their own paddock), my spouse had to tell me what was in each enclosure.  The other areas were tough because every wall was 6 inches past my viewing ability from a chair, but the day was for my girl so I sucked it up. Then after 2 hours of seeing little but paying through the nose for the privilege, we went to the Crococeum for the big show. A compere who thinks himself a comic warms up the crowd. After paying $48 for a pensioner to get in but being able to see much at that point, the first words out of the hosts mouth were “ its prize give away time. To win you must get up out of your chair.” Really? You take my entrance fee, block me from seeing half of your zoo and then, you know I’m there because you place me in the area marked for wheelchairs, but exclude the disabled from involvement?

After speaking to management they arranged a private viewing of the tigers. It was mind blowing but the public found out and it got crowded. The mea culpa was a nice appreciated touch but as I always say, I would rather be anonymous and enjoy an experience, then get freebies as a sorry for bad service.

So many times they could have made it so good. They have a train that takes tours and if the disabled could board we could see over walls but like the zoo’s busses, it too is not friendly to those of us with wheels under our asses. Access Denied.

I get it Australia Zoo, you can’t be all things to all people. Yet you claim you are. In your brochure you welcome the disabled by offering rented wheelchairs and scooters and tell us how accessible your zoo is and yes in parts it it, but it only ended up getting my hopes up.  So close but no cigar. If you want to be world class and show us you’re the best then either be inclusive of us all or change the name to the Irwin Private Members Club for able bodied. Yes, you have disabled loos everywhere, paths galore and elevators in the food courts but if I want a food court I can go to Westfield but that wouldn’t cost $96 for two people. It’s not the glitz in the food court that counts, it’s the caring in places where no one else looks, the thought in the height of fences so all can enjoy, the banter coming out of your hosts mouth so we don’t feel like our days over the moment he speaks.  If I want second rate treatment as a disabled person I only have to breathe air in this world. As it is today, when I pay for first class entertainment I expect that in spades. There’s a saying, “go big or go home,” but big isn’t enough when you invite the world. Sometimes the smallest is so more important.

Please Australia Zoo respect my existence or expect my resistance

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