‘Crocodile Ben’ reports from the road

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 11, 2001

It tastes like venison.&uot; With that quick comparison, Ben Hillyer resolved a long-standing question. Just what does kangaroo meat taste like?

It’s a question we’ve teased Ben, or Crocodile Ben as he’s now known, with for a couple of weeks now, as he prepared for his upcoming trip down under.

As part of a Rotary International information exchange team, the architect-turned-photographer on our staff joins four other young professionals – including Natchez City Planner David Preziosi – this month on the adventure to Australia. For four weeks, Ben, David and three others will be visiting homes, businesses and towns across Australia in an effort to literally exchange information – to share insight into our lives in Mississippi and to gather information about the people, the business climate and the culture in Australia – information that ultimately can help build a global village and a global economy.

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Of course, being a good journalist, Crocodile Ben was quick to respond when I e-mailed him for a dispatch from Down Under.

&uot;Where do I begin?&uot; he wrote, proceeding to start with the one answer he knew most of us would ask about first.

&uot;The only kangaroo I have seen was in the Melbourne zoo. I have been told they are a lot like deer – the only time you see them is at night or dead on the side of the road.&uot;

And, he admitted, &uot;actually I have seen one dead kangaroo on the road.&uot;

Kangaroo cliches aside, the country is &uot;awe inspiring,&uot; he says. &uot;The landscape is enormous. We sat outside on the veranda the other morning. The sky is huge. The land is flat with mountains circling 360 degrees.&uot;

At the time, he was staying in Albury, a town twice the size of Natchez but similar in a lot of ways, he says. &uot;Albury sits on the New South Wales side of the Murray River. Their sister city Woodaga sits on the Victoria side (much like Natchez and Vidalia). Historic preservation is a big thing in Albury, like Natchez. They have a wonderful selection of turn-of-the-century structures.&uot;

He also had visited Holbrook – a town of about 1,400 people in Southern New South Wales known as the submarine city. &uot;Even though they are at least five hours from the closest beach, they have this submarine in the middle of town.&uot;

Together, the host families who opened their homes; the Rotary International members who organized and orchestrated the visits; and the two communities created a surprising impression. &uot;The most surprising thing is how much like America it is,&uot; he wrote. &uot;Other than small differences in language and ways of living, the people have been so hospitable and kind small towns look so much like small towns in Mississippi – it is cattle country so cows can be seen everywhere.&uot;

Cities, he added, are reminiscent of New Orleans, with wide boulevards and cable cars.

Architecture and landscape aside, Crocodile Ben is experiencing an insight into life in Australia in a way which many of us may never know and it’s an experience he treasures even now.

&uot;It has confirmed what I have heard from past Rotary trip members,&uot; he wrote, &uot;that I will probably never get another chance to see a country this intimately.&uot;

Stacy Graning is editor of The Democrat. She can be reached at 445-3539 or by e-mail at stacy.graning@natchezdemocrat.com