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into the Australian way of life: : DATELINE AUSTRALIA

Penguin Parade Another Wonder

September 26, 2000|MIKE PENNER

Stereotype has it that Australia is a rugged land teeming with wildlife equipped for the demands of the terrain--the strong-limbed kangaroo, the spike-armored echidna, the laugh-till-you-leave-it-alone platypus.

Stereotype, however, hasn't made it to Phillip Island, home of the nightly "Penguin Parade."

Penguins in Australia? In their natural habitat, roaming free outside the fences of a zoo?

Check the atlas again. Antarctica cannot be that close.

But there they are, miniature penguins called "fairy penguins," thousands of them, hustling in from the ocean every day at sunset after a full day of fishing, heading for their burrows in the Phillip Island beachfront.

And for $9.50, you can buy a ticket in the seaside concrete bleachers, wait for the floodlights to flash on and indulge in the popular Australian spectator sport of penguin watching.

Located 140 kilometers--a little more than 100 miles--southeast of Melbourne, Phillip Island features a nature park at its Summerland Beach that serves as a penguin reserve. Every evening around 5, busloads of tourists pull in for the nightly show, which lasts about 50 minutes.

It is a comical show with a setting to match: stands that can seat up to 4,000 spectators, floodlights, "referees" who instruct customers not to scare the penguins with flash cameras as the birds hit the beach. It looks like a prep football game at a high school with a really great home-field advantage . . . and a varsity that forgot its playbook.

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