HANDS-ON FUN

From walk­ing with but­ter­flies to mak­ing pup­pets, there’s a swag of new kids’ at­trac­tions across the coun­try, re­ports Barry Oliver

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Family Holidays -

MEM­O­RIES of a child­hood spent chas­ing clouds of but­ter­flies through fields, swoosh­ing at them with a lit­tle net at the end of a bam­boo cane, come flood­ing back at Syd­ney Wildlife World. I would put my flut­ter­ing prizes into glass jars for closer ex­am­i­na­tion and many, I am ashamed to ad­mit, ended up pinned to a board in my so-cool but­ter­fly col­lec­tion.

So it’s with more than a tinge of guilt that I en­ter Flut­ter­bys at Syd­ney’s Dar­ling Har­bour, the two-storey home of some of Aus­tralia’s most spec­tac­u­lar trop­i­cal but­ter­flies. Flut­ter­bys cost $1 mil­lion to build, mak­ing it the most ex­pen­sive area of Syd­ney Wildlife World.

Be­fore July, view­ing was from be­hind a glass screen. That has changed with a de­vel­op­ment that has in­cluded build­ing a sec­ond-level walk­way in the house, al­low­ing vis­i­tors to in­ter­act with the colour­ful res­i­dents at close quar­ters.

There are 400 to 600 but­ter­flies here and quite a few take a lik­ing to land­ing on the back of my neck (I try to be brave about it). I take it as re­venge for what I did to their dis­tant rel­a­tives all those years ago, but se­nior in­ver­te­brates keeper Boris Lo­mor says it’s colour that at­tracts them. If you want them to land on you, wear some­thing bright.

I ask Lo­mor if chil­dren chas­ing the but­ter­flies are a prob­lem, but Lo­mor says young­sters are usu­ally too fas­ci­nated. On cue, a lit­tle boy darts af­ter one fine spec­i­men, which non­cha­lantly flits out of harm’s way.

With its ver­sion of Queens­land’s trop­i­cal rain­for­est, 30C tem­per­a­ture and 70 per cent hu­mid­ity, it’s hard to be­lieve we are in one of Syd­ney’s busiest ar­eas. The en­vi­ron­ment is com­puter-con­trolled and the steamy hu­mid­ity is helped by two tum­bling wa­ter­falls. Lo­mor says the sun­nier the day, the more ac­tive the but­ter­flies.

I am sur­prised I can’t see more flow­ers to pro­vide food, un­til our guide points out the brightly coloured feed­ers that are laced with ar­ti­fi­cial nec­tar: sugar, wa­ter and glu­cose. They per­ceive them as flow­ers,’’ he says. The but­ter­flies don’t usu­ally re­pro­duce here: pu­pas are sup­plied by breed­ers in Queens­land and hatched in a tem­per­a­ture­con­trolled room at Dar­ling Har­bour. Re­plac­ing them is an on­go­ing process. But­ter­flies, whose an­ces­tors date back 50 mil­lion years, live for just two months at best.

They are also fight­ing for sur­vival. was the last time you saw a but­ter­fly in the wild?’’ I’m asked, and I have to ad­mit I can’t re­call. Of the 416 Aus­tralian species, about 30 are un­der threat, in­clud­ing two in Queens­land: the iri­des­cent blue ulysses swal­low­tail and the lime green and ca­nary yel­low Cairns bird­wing. Both float by as we are chat­ting.

Syd­ney Wildlife World is work­ing with the Aus­tralian Wildlife Con­ser­vancy to cre­ate sanc­tu­ar­ies across the coun­try where but­ter­flies can flour­ish. It’s hoped Flut­ter­bys will raise aware­ness about the threat to our but­ter­flies. Lo­mor says shrink­ing habi­tat is the main prob­lem but he re­mains op­ti­mistic. They have a bet­ter chance of sur­vival than some birds and mam­mals, ac­cord­ing to Lo­mor.

‘‘ They are not threat­ened much by preda­tors (other than man),’’ he says. ‘‘ If we can pre­serve their habi­tat they have a good chance.’’ www.syd­ney­wildlife­world.com.au. WEAR a sol­dier’s uni­form, peer through a sub­ma­rine periscope, rap­pel from a he­li­copter: the new Dis­cov­ery Zone at the Aus­tralian War Me­mo­rial in Can­berra (ad­mis­sion free) of­fers chil­dren a to­tally dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence.

Key places and times from Aus­tralia’s mil­i­tary his­tory are rep­re­sented in five interactive ar­eas de­signed for (but re­stricted to) eight to 13-year-olds.

The Dis­cov­ery Zone is de­scribed as a ‘‘ non­tra­di­tional learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment’’, but it has a se­ri­ous pur­pose: to help Aus­tralians of all ages un­der­stand the ex­pe­ri­ence of war.

It uses hi-tech fea­tures such as odourama, whereby chil­dren can smell mus­tard gas (not the real thing, par­ents will be re­lieved to know) as com­puter-gen­er­ated rats scurry around. In the World War I trench, an op­ti­cal il­lu­sion projects trench foot (a con­di­tion caused by wet and cold con­di­tions) on to their own feet. On the Viet­nam set they can hear

not the thud-thud of www.awm.gov.au.

a

he­li­copter

tak­ing

off. MU­SIC is tak­ing cen­tre stage at Melbourne’s Science­works Mu­seum with Strike a Chord, a new interactive show fea­tur­ing more than 20 ex­hibits. Con­duct your own orches­tra, record and pro­duce your own dig­i­tal mu­sic, play in an air band.

There’s a floor pi­ano where vis­i­tors step on gi­ant keys to cre­ate a tune; a light harp, an in­stru­ment that cre­ates mu­sic from light beams; and the so-called top spot, an area of sim­ple per­cus­sion in­stru­ments that chil­dren un­der the age of five can ex­plore to their heart’s con­tent.

‘‘ The ex­hi­bi­tion is all about look­ing at the many dis­ci­plines of science and us­ing fun and ex­cit­ing mu­si­cal interactive ex­hibits to show­case how mu­sic is made, heard and ex­pe­ri­enced,’’ man­ager Genevieve Fa­hey says.

Strike a Chord was de­vel­oped by Can­berra’s Ques­ta­con and will be at Science­works un­til May 2008. There will be ex­tra ac­tiv­i­ties dur­ing na­tional Science Week, Au­gust 18 to 26. www.science­works.mu­seum.vic.gov.au. IT started in the late 1950s, with a lo­cal throw­ing scraps to a few mul­let at Doc­tors Gully in Dar­win. As th­ese things tend to do, it es­ca­lated un­til it reached the sta­tus of Aquascene, a full-blown at­trac­tion.

At high tide each day hun­dreds of fish — milk­fish, bream, cat­fish, mul­let, bar­ra­mundi, rays, cod, man­grove jack and di­a­mond fish — turn up look­ing to be fed. There’s no short­age of vis­i­tors, young and old, will­ing to oblige (bread is sup­plied). Times vary ac­cord­ing to tides. www.aquascene.com.au. CHIL­DREN love pup­pets, whether it’s watch­ing or mak­ing them. Fre­man­tle’s Spare Parts School of Pup­petry in West­ern Aus­tralia cov­ers both bases.

Its hol­i­day pro­gram for chil­dren in­cludes all ar­eas of mak­ing, per­form­ing and de­vel­op­ing skills in the art of pup­petry. One and two-day work­shops will run in Oc­to­ber, split into four and five-year-olds and six to 13-year-olds. Prices from $45 to $93.50 a child.

Spare Parts Pup­pet Theatre, one of Aus­tralia’s lead­ing pro­duc­ers of theatre for chil­dren and fam­i­lies, will be per­form­ing Tim Win­ton’s The Deep in the Oc­to­ber school hol­i­days. Vis­i­tors can also check out the interactive pup­pet mu­seum in the foyer of the theatre in Short Street, Fre­man­tle. www.sppt.asn.au. CHIL­DREN can ex­plore icy Antarc­tica with­out leav­ing the Ap­ple Isle in one of the latest show­ings at the Tas­ma­nian Mu­seum and Art Gallery. Is­lands to Ice: The Great South­ern Ocean & Antarc­tica ex­hi­bi­tion is de­scribed as ‘‘ an in­vi­ta­tion to jour­ney south from Ho­bart across wild sap­phire oceans to the crys­tal desert of the Antarc­tic’’.

It ex­plores the per­cep­tions and the myths sur­round­ing Antarc­tica and the South­ern Ocean: ‘‘ The places, the peo­ple, the crea­tures and the phe­nom­ena that make the great south­ern wilder­ness a world of its own.’’ There’s a 3-D theatre and sev­eral hands-on ac­tiv­i­ties. Vis­i­tors, young and old, can use a com­pass to find the south mag­netic pole on a large map made of ice, use a com­puter to track pen­guins, al­ba­tross and seals, touch an em­peror pen­guin chick or a whale tooth and find out what the weather’s like in the Antarc­tic. www.tmag.tas.gov.au.

SKI­ING and chil­dren may not sound as if they go to­gether but th­ese days snow re­sorts are more than happy to roll out the red car­pet for lit­tle vis­i­tors.

Take Vic­to­ria’s Falls Creek, where Pete the Snow Dragon keeps a smile on the faces of kids, as well as mums and dads. There’s a ter­rain park among the snow gums es­pe­cially for chil­dren (ex­panded for this win­ter). Par­ents can drop off young­sters at the pur­pose-built Kids Snows­ports School at the top of the ex­press chair­lift and head off for a morn­ing or af­ter­noon on the slopes while their young­sters try their hand at ski­ing or snow­board­ing. When the lifts close, Pete the Snow Dragon takes cen­tre stage in his own show ev­ery Wed­nes­day and Satur­day from 5pm. www.fallscreek.com.au. NIGHT-TIME vis­i­tors to Cur­rumbin Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary on Queens­land’s Gold Coast are in for a to­tally dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence. Be pre­pared for sugar glid­ers, north­ern bet­tongs, Tas­ma­nian devils, owls and even spi­ders on its Wild­night Ad­ven­ture. Or hand-feed kan­ga­roos and cud­dle a koala dur­ing a 21/ 2- hour tour that in­cludes an Abo­rig­i­nal dance per­for­mance.

Ex­perts are ready to help on this un­usual hands-on tour that runs seven nights a week, from 7.15pm. Adults $49; chil­dren (four to 13) $27. www.cur­rumbin-sanc­tu­ary.org.au. YOUNG­STERS can turn arche­ol­o­gist at The Rocks Dis­cov­ery Mu­seum in Syd­ney. Chil­dren dress up as Ju­nior Dis­cov­er­ers and dig up ob­jects buried in ‘‘ soil’’ (ac­tu­ally a form of rub­ber) while ex­perts are on hand to un­ravel the sto­ries be­hind their finds. The 45-minute ses­sions $5) run dur­ing school hol­i­days, from 11am to 2pm. www.rocks­dis­cov­ery­mu­seum.com.au. Barry Oliver was a guest of Syd­ney Wildlife World.

Check­list

Ad­mis­sion to Syd­ney Wildlife World (in­clud­ing Flut­ter­bys) is $28.50 for adults; $14.50 chil­dren; $68 for a fam­ily of four. It in­cludes interactive shows and nine ecosys­tems with spi­ders, cock­roaches, snakes, lizards, koalas, noc­tur­nal mam­mals, wal­la­bies, cas­sowaries — the world’s most dan­ger­ous bird — and wom­bats.

Fam­ily as­sort­ment: Clock­wise from above, Strike a Chord at the Science­works Mu­seum; but­ter­flies at Flut­ter­bys; Pete the Snow Dragon; the Aus­tralian War Me­mo­rial’s Dis­cov­ery Zone

In the trenches: Dis­cov­ery Zone

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