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The real captives

This article, by Justin Baiocchi, was originally published in The Northern Daily Leader on 1 July 2017.

We recently took our kids to Taronga Zoo for the day. We were in Sydney for a family function and decided to spend a few days extra and turn it into a little holiday. A day at the zoo was supposed to be the highlight of the trip. As with everything these days, where it seems we’re lucky not to be charged for the air we breathe, the cost of entry for the five of us was enough to keep the average family in food and drink for at least a month. Still, this was a special occasion, so there was nothing to be done but to hand over the credit card and smile. Tickets in hand, feeling both excited about the adventure ahead and also a great deal poorer, we rushed on in. Our first setback occurred almost immediately, when we got lost trying to find the elephant enclosure. Unfortunately, I had been reading the map upside down, which only became obvious when we realised we were walking through the zoo maintenance area and where they kept the 500 tons of rubbish generated by the thousands of visitors each day. After a few family photos in front of the largest skip we had ever seen, we were soon back in the zoo proper, map now safely oriented in the correct direction.

After some time spent gawking at the various animals (some of whom, it must be said, seemed to be living in rather mean and small quarters), we retired to the food hall for lunch. This is where we fell afoul of the unwritten rule of Taronga Zoo – make sure you leave your stomach at home, because you don’t ever want to be in the financially devastating situation of having to buy food there. I had thought that airports were an alternate reality when it came to over-priced food, but the zoo put any airport I had ever been in to shame. A small bottle of water was $4.80. A small cup of hot chips, say 20c worth of sliced potato dipped into hot oil, suddenly became a $6 feast. And on and on it went. As I sat there, eating the most over-priced meal in Australia, it occurred to me that this was a great business to own. A captive market (save for the clever people who brought their own food) and a guaranteed source of new customers every day (who had already shown their willingness to throw money around when buying their zoo entry tickets). From an investment perspective, this was a wonderful business, and that was something I could appreciate (unlike the severe beating suffered by my net wealth).