A whole world at your fingertips

I have spent a considerable amount of the day looking at koalas in pyjamas! I mean, I am in the pyjamas, not the koalas. Although I feel like they should be too - did you realise how much they sleep? How have koalas survived for so long as a species when their guard appears to be down for most of the day?

Inhabitants of the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary near Brisbane are keeping viewers entertained. Pictures: Supplied

Inhabitants of the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary near Brisbane are keeping viewers entertained. Pictures: Supplied

Now that we are mostly confined to our homes, travel is off the agenda ... at least in the physical sense. But - from our couches, dining tables, and even beds - many of us are now discovering the joys of virtual travel.

It's what has led me to a live video stream of the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary near Brisbane. The zoo has a few options to choose from, but I'm captivated by the ''Koala Train'' that, when I tune in, shows three furry animals sitting on a wooden rail, snuggling up together in a line for warmth. There's no social distancing in the animal kingdom!

The Melbourne Zoo has its own collection of video streams and, if you've never watched snow leopard cubs sleep for an hour, then you're not using your time wisely! There's something mesmerising about their tiny chests breathing in and out - and just when you think you've had enough, one of them will roll over and stretch and you're hooked again!

It's obviously not the same as actually being there.

Aside from the snow leopards, Zoos Victoria has some other great webcams to watch, including penguins, giraffes, zebras and lions. With set feeding times for many of them, you can even tune in when there's likely to be the most action. I tend to watch at other points, though, just to see what Edward, the Fiordland Penguin with a cross beak, is doing (I've decided he's my favourite).

For a bit more interactivity, I first turned to Melbourne Museum's website, where there are virtual tours of the exhibitions. Walking through the rooms, you're able to turn around 360 degrees, looking at the various items on the walls and in the glass cabinets. I see Indigenous weapons in the First Peoples gallery, a carriage from a Luna Park rollercoaster, and even the body of Phar Lap (who, oddly, still seems more alert than the koalas).

But unfortunately the Melbourne Museum walkthroughs are relatively simple and quite often you can't even read the signs on the wall. So I next turn to the National Gallery of Victoria, which uses more sophisticated software, offering higher resolution and a document with all the exhibition labels. Looking in one gallery at the artworks by Australian photographer Petrina Hicks, I almost feel as though I'm actually standing there, looking at an image, contemplating why a woman has a bird coming out of her mouth. (Or is it going into her mouth? Art can be so deep!)

Take a tour of Petrina Hicks' latest exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Take a tour of Petrina Hicks' latest exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Art can also be a bit unusual, as I am reminded when I jump over to a webcam from MONA in Hobart. When the video loads, I find myself staring at a live stream of somebody's back. This person, I read, is Tim, a former tattoo-parlour manager from Zurich. His back has an enormous tattoo that was designed by artist Wim Delvoye and has been sold to a German art collector. As part of the deal, Tim sits in galleries around the world for people to see the tattoo (he has sat at MONA for more than 3500 hours in the past nine years) and, when he dies, the artwork will be removed and taken by the owner (try not to think too much about that).

But the reality is that Tim doesn't actually do much on the live stream (sorry, Tim, no offence!). He just sits still for almost six hours a day, and I lose patience quite quickly. What is keeping me more entertained during these times of isolation are the performances online.

Each Thursday night, a small band performs a set that is beamed out to everyone's devices on Surry Hills Live, in an attempt to replicate a local pub gig. Every Thursday night and Sunday afternoon, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra streams one of their archival performances for people to watch. And the Sydney Opera House is doing the same thing each night from Wednesday to Sunday, with a mix of events like classical music, pop concerts, and panel discussions.

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performs a virtual concert.

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performs a virtual concert.

It's obviously not the same as actually being there. One of the reasons we go to concerts, visit art galleries, and travel to new destinations is for the atmosphere - because feeling something is just as important as seeing it or hearing it. And there's also something special about knowing that you're sharing an experience with other people.

At the moment, though, we are still sharing an experience with other people. Perhaps not physically, but emotionally. We are all in this together and knowing that we can virtually see a zoo, visit a museum, or watch a concert while other people across the world are doing the same thing is not just comforting, but quite uplifting too.

What's the alternative? To just sit around at home doing nothing. That would make us no better than those lazy koalas!

Michael Turtle is a journalist who's been travelling the world for nine years. Follow his adventures at timetravelturtle.com

This story A whole world at your fingertips first appeared on The Canberra Times.