Phtographs & Narrative by Meredith Stephens
When I recently flew from Australia into Gatwick Airport, London, I was struck by the ease of passing through customs and immigration. Once I exited the plane, I was ushered to an empty lane and directed to a machine to present my passport. As I had nothing to declare I walked through the green lane. A group of four customs officers were engaged in conversation and did not notice me. I had entered the UK seamlessly in about five minutes without making eye contact with a single person.
Not so when travelling within my home state of South Australia. Alex, Verity and I were on our way from Adelaide to Kangaroo Island, situated across Investigator Strait off the southern coast of South Australia. We would have preferred to sail there, but Alex’s boat was high and dry, awaiting repairs to the mast and windows in Yaringa, eight hundred kilometres away in the state of Victoria. We had made a booking for the three o’clock ferry from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw, on Kangaroo Island. We left Adelaide at 1 pm, allowing ninety minutes for the drive and thirty minutes to board, as we always do.
Half an hour into our trip, we were stuck in a traffic jam along the arterial roadway heading south. We had never been trapped in a traffic jam in this direction before, because it was leading away from Adelaide towards sparsely populated farmland.
“Oh no! It’s the Tour Down Under! The road is closed for the cycling race,” lamented Alex.
He did a U-turn and headed west to the side streets in the hope of finding an alternative route along the Esplanade. After winding through the coastal suburbs, we arrived at a T junction facing the Esplanade, and were greeted by a woman in a bright orange vest holding a prominent sign saying ‘Stop!’
Onlookers lined the streets holding their cameras ready to snap the cyclists. We waited, all the while nervously checking the time on our phones, wondering whether we would miss our ferry. A few minutes later we heard an excited murmur run through the crowd, and sure enough, a group of cyclists whizzed past.
We glanced at the woman in the orange vest, hoping she would let us pass. She was on her walkie talkie and shook her head at us. Soon another group of cyclists raced past. Then the woman let us on to the Esplanade and we headed south. Soon after we were stopped by a police officer on a bicycle, who directed us away from the Esplanade. We turned east to weave our way back to our original route.
“We won’t make it to the ferry on time!” complained Alex, pressing heavily on the accelerator.
We arrived back on the highway that we had originally departed from and tried to turn right so that we could head south to Cape Jervis. A line of cars from the north were trying to turn right into our street.
“We’ll be here for hours. Best turn left and then do a U-turn,” announced Alex.
Alex turned left, accelerated, and braked when he found a gap in the oncoming traffic. He quickly did a U-turn and then headed south, passing the line of cars waiting to turn right onto the road where we had been waiting.
Would all of this be in vain? Would we get to Cape Jervis just after 3 pm to watch the ferry departing, on its way to Penneshaw? I held my phone to check the distance to Cape Jervis and noted that the estimated time of arrival was 2.54 pm. Alex tried to make up time by driving to the speed limit. A truck was labouring up the hill in front of us. Alex waited until we reached a passing lane, and then floored the accelerator. The estimated time of arrival was now 2.52 pm. Sitting next to Alex as he sped along the highway was more exciting than rides on a fairground had been when I was a child. I trusted his judgment and felt safe all the while enjoying the exhilarating speed. Next, there was a red car dawdling in front of us. Again, Alex waited until we reached a passing lane, and overtook them. The estimated time of arrival was still 2.52 pm. At least we had not been losing time as we were delayed by the slow coaches ahead of us. We entered the township of Cape Jervis, rounded the hill, and then descended to the ferry port, arriving as predicted at 2.52 pm. We expected boarding to be well underway. Instead, four lanes of cars were waiting in the line-up to board the empty ferry, which was running late. We slid into the shortest lane and turned off the engine. A biosecurity officer approached Alex’ window, his curly auburn ponytail blowing in the wind. Alex wound down the car window.
“Do you live on Kangaroo Island or are you just visiting?” he asked.
“We’re just visiting.”
“Oh, lovely! Do you have any honey?”
“Do you have any bee-keeping equipment?”
“No, definitely not.”
“How about fruit?”
“We have some apples.”
“Are they from the supermarket?”
“Where did you buy them?”
“How about potatoes?”
“Do you have any plants?”
“We have some caper plants in the back.”
He looked at the back of our vehicle in acknowledgement.
“Oh capers! They look nice. Where did you get them?”
“From a business in Port Adelaide.”
The biosecurity officer seemed satisfied and waved us on.
“Have a lovely trip!”
Shortly after we boarded the 45-minute ferry for Penneshaw. We had been asked more biosecurity questions than at any other place on our travels, and we hadn’t even left our home state. I yearned for the ease of passing through immigration at Gatwick Airport. I had felt perversely miffed at Gatwick for having been ignored by immigration and customs officials.
No sooner had we arrived at our destination though, did we spot a marvellous mob of kangaroos bounding across the property.
Then the following day we had a charming encounter with a Rosenberg’s Monitor looking for a drink of water – a species that is endangered on the mainland.
Verity later came across an elusive short-beaked echidna.
At last I could appreciate that protecting the fauna and flora of Kangaroo Island was important and necessary, and well worth the interrogations of a biosecurity officer.
Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist from South Australia. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Muse, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ Magazine, Reading in a Foreign Language, and in chapters in anthologies published by Demeter Press, Canada.
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