It’s a dog’s life on the wom­bat trail

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - DEREK HICKS PIN­JARRA, WEST­ERN AUSTRALIA

WITH the same mix of ex­cite­ment and trep­i­da­tion that we first ex­pe­ri­enced on ar­riv­ing in Australia 19 years ago, last June we left be­hind our life in Mel­bourne to begin our jour­ney through the Aus­tralian land­scape.

The next phase of our lives is be­ing spent living in a car­a­van while we travel the high­ways and back roads of this fan­tas­tic con­ti­nent.

Shar­ing this adventure with us is our white Ger­man shep­herd dog, Astro. We adopted him from the Keys­bor­ough An­i­mal Shel­ter in Mel­bourne just 14 months be­fore we left and now all three of us have bonded like mus­ke­teers. We didn’t ini­tially re­alise what a dif­fer­ence Astro would make to our jour­ney. We knew he would ex­clude us from places such as na­tional parks and con­ser­va­tion ar­eas, as well as many beaches. But the pos­i­tives have far out­weighed the neg­a­tives.

Most places we go, Astro’s size, colour and good looks gen­er­ate more at­ten­tion than we could have imag­ined. In Vic­to­ria, there were no whales to be seen from War­rnam­bool’s Lo­gans Beach, so the dis­ap­pointed tourists pho­tographed Astro in­stead.

Sit­ting out­side a cafe will in­vari­ably at­tract ad­mir­ers. Astro does did not al­ways ap­pre­ci­ate the at­ten­tion from the men but he de­lights in re­ceiv­ing it from women. His ears fold back and, with a gen­tly wag­ging tail, he leans against them. This is his sign that he likes them.

An older cou­ple rushed over in an Al­bany car park cry­ing, “There’s Storm. Oh, he’s just like Storm.’’ Storm was their much-loved white Ger­man shep­herd, which had passed away a few years be­fore. Not ev­ery­one recog­nises Astro’s breed. In Perth we or­dered cof­fee from the Kings Park cafe. While we waited for it to be de­liv­ered, a wait­ress (sans cof­fee) rushed over swoon­ing, “He’s beau­ti­ful! What type of dog is he?”

She then re­turned, still with­out our cof­fee, with a bowl of wa­ter for Astro, which he lapped at more out of po­lite­ness than ne­ces­sity.

Fur­ther north, in Don­gara, West­ern Australia, a shop owner came out of her busi­ness and asked if she could pho­to­graph Astro. Her mother’s white Ger­man shep­herd, Shadow, had died re­cently and was still much missed. We are now nine months into our trek around Australia. Although Astro may never have a statue in his hon­our, we’re con­fi­dent he will con­tinue to bring joy into peo­ple’s lives. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@theaus­ Columnists re­ceive a pair of qual­ity beach tow­els in bright prints and struc­tured geo­met­rics from popular life­style brand KAS Australia. $119.90 ($59.95 each). More: (02) 8035 2244; kasaus­

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