Mon­key see, mon­key do

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AUSTRALIA - ANN REN­NIE

I like the sort of hol­i­day that trips me up with sur­prises, which are of­ten the things that are not listed as the must­sees or the top 10s or the “in” places for ex­otic leisure. Of course, I du­ti­fully tick a cou­ple of boxes, usu­ally art gal­leries, oc­ca­sion­ally stately homes and even restau­rants. But my itin­er­ary is not one of hourly slots to see some­thing on a whis­tle-stop tour.

Some­times the best at­trac­tions are those known and loved by lo­cals who re­ally do not want too much fan­fare be­cause once the se­cret is out it is some­times ru­ined. So in Launceston, Tas­ma­nia, I take a gen­tle per­am­bu­la­tion through the Queen Vic­to­ria Mu­seum and Art Gallery and ad­mire a cou­ple of Hugh Ram­say paint­ings, es­pe­cially his rather Wildean pose in a self-por­trait in brown. But it is the leisurely stroll through Launceston City Park that re­ally sur­prises and de­lights.

Fol­low­ing a sign that in­di­cates the Ja­panese ma­caque mon­key en­clo­sure, I think I might be head­ing to­wards a Zen gar­den for a lit­tle soul­ful reverie. But I soon re­alise the ma­caque is a red-faced mon­key of quick in­tel­li­gence and prodi­gious cir­cus skills, and in the mid­dle of Launceston re­sides an en­er­getic troop beloved of the lo­cals.

The mon­keys ap­pear obliv­i­ous to vis­i­tors star­ing at them and they seem com­pletely at home in their en­clo­sure. Per­haps they see us as strange ex­hibits of the hu­man species in our as­sorted plumage, fake fur and po­lar fleeces and the strange ex­cla­ma­tions com­ing out of the mouths of smaller spec­i­mens. We are but mov­ing wall­pa­per as the mon­keys for­age and flirt and fling them­selves about with lol­lop­ing strides and easy grace. Maybe they agree with WS Gil­bert that Dar­winian man, though well-be­haved, at best is only a mon­key shaved.

In the en­clo­sure I see the seven ages of man acted out by our hir­sute cousins. There is the in­fant a few days old, pink skin still vis­i­ble and be­ing cud­dled by his mother. There are not so much whin­ing school­boys as ninja war­rior teenagers clam­ber­ing and cartwheel­ing and do­ing rope tricks. An oc­ca­sional skir­mish in­volv­ing fisticuffs has all the hall­marks of ado­les­cent sib­ling ri­valry. The young lover is ac­tively preen­ing and groom­ing and look­ing around for a bit of (ahem) mon­key busi­ness. An older brother with a sol­dier’s bear­ing main­tains his ground, en­sur­ing his po­si­tion in the hi­er­ar­chy. There is a bit of strut­ting and puff­ing out of chests, a bit of brag­gado­cio to keep the so­cial struc­ture hum­ming.

Fe­males with bright red bot­toms sig­nal their avail­abil­ity for congress of an in­ti­mate na­ture. The older mon­keys, whose faces seem to red­den with age, find so­lace in their own thoughts with a bit of stud­ied navel gaz­ing. Those of the sixth age pre­fer their own com­pany, with-

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