Dom Joly: Crocodiles, elephants and unnerving Aussies

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The Independent Online

I made it out of the outback. There were times, specifically when I had to sit on a crocodile, when I really thought that this was where it was all going to end. As usual, I was predicting the headlines: "Minor pom comedian eaten by crocodile, no Australians harmed" (The Darwin Gazette); "Five-metre crocodile calls in chums to help eat porky local comedian" (Wilts and Glos Standard). But, the leader writers must wait as all was well in the end. I'm now in Melbourne, waiting to catch a plane to India, my next destination. India, of course, has her own particular dangers. My six-year-old daughter Parker, who's just helped her school raise some money for a leper colony over there, is now convinced that I will catch the disease and was most curious on the phone.

"If you get it, Daddy, what will fall off first, your nose or ears?" I professed ignorance and tried to change the subject but she was insistent. "I think it will be your ears, then your nose... then your arms."

I tried to interest her with the news that I would be riding an elephant, but Dora the Explorer had apparently done that quite some time ago. "If you lose your legs, will you be able to swim?"

I told Parker that I had to go. I had important research to do in the bar. She left me with this positive thought: "The good thing is that the tigers won't eat you because they won't want to catch leprosy."

I really like Melbourne. I can't quite explain why. It's one of those cities that slips under the radar a bit. It has no real big tourist "sights" and most Brits go to Sydney. Maybe that's why I like it so much. The road sign welcoming you to Melbourne calls it "The world's most liveable city". Not exactly inspiring but pretty accurate. It's more European than most Aussie cities. The food and nightlife here is amazing and you can almost start to forget that you're in Australia. Almost, but not quite; on an off day I went down to Federation Square where there is a veritable plethora of striking modern architecture containing some of the city's best museums.

Now, I normally find museums as tedious as church. I loathe the hushed reverence that visitors imbue on these places and long to start screaming out loud. No need in Melbourne. Hordes of Australians jostle their way around the galleries, shouting and laughing. It's such a relief from the usual po-faced anoraks who inhabit European galleries. Enjoying this populist atmosphere, I stopped to stare at two pieces of red-painted metal glued to the wall - a local artist's attempt at modernism. I quite liked it, in a poncey sort of way, and told my friend Pete, who's travelling with me. The gallery attendant, a moustachioed 60-something-year-old, was sitting impassively on a chair not too far away. He looked up as I spoke, stood up, and wandered over to us.

"Sorry mate, couldn't help overhearing that you liked this thing. Would you mind elaborating because, personally, I think it's a piece of shit."

I love Australians for their candour. Unlike Canadians or Kiwis, they're not chippy and tell it like it is. This can sometimes be a little unnerving but you always know where you stand with them.

India is going to be a bit of a culture shock in contrast. We're off to try to discover whether there's much of a drinking scene over there. The only other time I've been to the country was as part of a mad, 12-day, round-the-world trip to film at the Seven Wonders of the World. We turned up at the Taj Mahal with about an hour before we had to rush back to Delhi to catch a plane to Cairo for the pyramids. We got to the gates only to find that we weren't allowed to bring electronic equipment in. We were stuck, so I elected to climb over a wall with the camera equipment. To cut a long story short, a guard saw this and started firing his AK-47 at me. I was lucky to escape alive. Filming over there is a whole different ball game. Oh well, as long as I'm taking my leprosy tablets I'm sure everything will turn out just fine.

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