Friday, 4 January 2013

What I Did On My Holidays

I've just returned to Melbourne after a couple of weeks in Queensland. During that time I visited two very different sea-related attractions that both had strong, yet seemingly opposite ideas about style and presentation when it came to 'family fun.'

The first attraction was located in Hervey Bay and was called 'Vic Hislop's Shark Show.' After my family and I walked through the massive set of shark jaws that also doubled as the front door, the attendant played a short video presentation featuring Mr Hislop describing what we might see inside. I enjoyed Hislop's overly-serious yet un-emotive presentation style, combined with the campy eighties-style production values, so I figured the exhibit was worth a shot. Besides, there were two more movies inside as well as a giant frozen Great White Shark.

The walls were adorned with preserved pieces of shark, gruesome photos of shark attacks, newspaper clippings and letters written to government conservation agencies by Hislop. We watched a video presentation in one room where Hislop claimed sharks were 'misunderstood.' This is where my latte-sipping inner-city Melbourne brain expected to hear an impassioned plea for conservation, but, to my surprise, Hislop instead went on a Captain Ahab-like tirade about what a menace sharks are and how they should be wiped-out. Perhaps he has a point about over-fishing by humans causing increased shark attacks, but his defensive style and ego-centric nature does not help to get his point across.

The preserved Great White Shark was impressive and scary, but it seemed an inauspicious end for such a terrifying and elegant creature to end up in what appeared to be a 1970s caravan that had been turned into a deep freezer.

I wondered what made Hislop so defensive as I walked through the exhibition. I suppose conservationists don't care much for self-proclaimed 'shark-hunters', but I thought it odd that Hislop didn't celebrate the shark. Even if he hunts them, they are still how he makes his living. I can think of a number of fascinating things about sharks off the top of my head that were not mentioned at the exhibition at all. Most of the plaques on the walls began with the pronoun 'I', so it is probably fair to say that the exhibition is more about the promotion of Vic Hislop, rather than the celebration of sharks.

Also, a lot of letters on the walls seemed to indicate that Hislop is fond of litigation, so maybe this is a good place to end my discussion of 'Vic Hislop's Shark Show.'

* * * * * 

Of course, the granddaddy of all marine-related theme-park experiences is Sea World and we went there  again this year to amuse our four-year-old daughter Clementine. We actually took her last year as well, but she didn't seem to understand much out of it. We were hoping this year she might. Who can say if she actually did?

The first noticeable thing about Seaworld is the massive sprawling carpark which is hotter than Hades, with no markings to identify where your car might be parked at the end of the day. 

The second thing you notice when you get in the gate is the massive crowd, which consist of distraught parents, over stimulated children, sulking tweens and confused-looking tourists. I didn't see any stoned teenagers ironically skulking-about, but they may have been at Dreamworld that day.

Seaworld is all about 'synergy' these days. Instead of the water ski show I remember from my youth, there is now a Spongebob Squarepants water show presented by Nickelodeon, with accompanying products that can be purchased from a conveniently located pavilion. All the attractions are set up in this manner, but Spongebob annoyed me the least because I'm actually a fan of the show and it occurred to me while watching the Spongebob show that a giant water-skiing foam replica of an animated talking sea-sponge was probably the most self-aware thing in the park.

I genuinely enjoyed the sea lion show and the dolphin show. The animals were impeccably well-trained and the corny story shoe-horned into the sea lion show at least had a message of conservation. Unfortunately, this reminded me of 'Vic Hislop's Shark Show' and I wondered if PETA and conservationists ever got on the case of Seaworld for mistreating animals during the training process in the same way they seemingly harassed Hislop. I wish I could have just enjoyed the shows for the simple entertainment that was intended, but I've always been suspicious of theme parks ever since finding out that Walt Disney was a Nazi sympathiser. 

My daughter Clementine seemed to enjoy Dinosaur Island the best, which, in her typical style, was the one exhibit she almost blew a gasket about and made us promise not to take her to. Go figure.

The most uncomfortable aspect about the park in summer is the relentless heat. This, combined with almost no shade, teeming crowds and sprawling areas of paving or bitumen, make escape almost impossible. It is easy to see why the air-conditioned penguin enclosure and the water park are among the most popular attractions.

I couldn't get the sun off my mind for the whole day and I found myself casually checking the skin of other patrons to see if they were prone to any imminent melanomas. I was horrified to find that the back of one middle-aged woman looked like a relief-map of the planet Mercury, with dark-spots and fissures that looked like tectonic plates shifting under intense volcanic activity. I felt like mentioning that she should probably get this checked out, but I didn't want to spoil her day.  

Besides the animal shows, I also enjoyed the monorail ride, not because of the ride itself, but moreso the fifty per cent of passengers who seemed to remember and sing 'The Monorail Song' from The Simpsons.

The attraction I was most looking forward to was saved until last. The water park at Sea World features a water  slide several stories high which I predicted would be the perfect way to end an exhausting, sweaty day. I was slightly annoyed that there was a five dollar cover charge on top of the exorbitant entry fee to the main park, but nothing was going to stop me from achieving my goal of conquering the aquatic tower of terror... except my daughter. She refused to wear the wrist band that indicated we had paid the entry price and even though we assured her it was not compulsory, she refused to enter the water. Stooping with arms hanging limply by my sides, I sulked my way out of the park. Through sheer serendipity we somehow managed to stumble across our car in the parking lot.

I ultimately had a good day at Seaworld, but that night I had a restless sleep. The unconquered water slide haunted my dreams and teased my troubled mind in the same way as the fires of Mordor must haunt Frodo Baggins' dreams, or else the Great White Sharks must haunt Vic Hislop's... 

Perhaps Vic and I aren't that different after all!


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