Our Brush with Australian Customs


"Hey. Look at this. There is an 'Adelaide Prison tour' in this brochure. I think we should take it. Might come in handy." I said to my husband in our Adelaide hotel room. I was leafing through Adelaide sightseeing and deciding on the places to visit, while he lolled on the sofa.

"No, no, I don't think it is necessary. We will be extremely careful next time." He said.

"But, what if something goes wrong again? Now that we have been forewarned, we should mentally prepare ourselves for the worst." I said "Better to have a look at the cells where we might be spending 10 years of our life in future, so let us case the joint."

"I promise you, it won't happen again. Next time, we will not go in the Green Channel" He assured me.

Actually, that is what had landed us in an embarrassing situation on the Sydney airport, and we were told that if we did it again, we might spend up to 10 years in the Australian jails.

Hence my interest in the Adelaide Prison!!

We had filled a form in the plane for Australian customs declaring that we were not carrying any food, animal products or drugs etc., and as most tourists do, had signed it without reading it thoroughly. We further compounded our mistake by going in the Green Channel and had said that we had 'nothing to declare'.

The customs officers x-rayed our bags and asked me to open the one that contained the 'chiwada' (fried savories) and some medicines.

"You are carrying Prohibited Items", said the officer. "Did you declare these?"

We had not. The lady officer took out my packet of 'chiwada'. "What is this?"

"Oh, this?" With great enthusiasm, I started to tell her how to make 'chiwada'. After all, it is my specialty and I take great pride in my 'chiwada'.

"We fry the pounded rice called Pohe, and also puffed rice and copra and"

"What are those? They are nuts, right?"

"Yes, yes, we deep-fry"

"You are not supposed to bring any nuts in this country. Did you not read the form?" the lady asked sternly.

"But the nuts are deep-fried and can't germinate" I said, puzzled.

"The form does not say anything about germination" The lady said. "And what are those?"

"Those are some Digene tablets and some Crocin tablets." My husband said. He was sure there was no ban on those.

"Do you have a doctor's prescription for these?" The lady queried.

We were taken aback. You need a prescription for these things?

"No. In India, we get those across the counter. A doctor's prescription is not needed" My husband said defensively.

"The form says, you cannot bring any drugs in the country." the lady said.

"But those are not drugs, they are medicines of well-known brands and they are not herbal." We said.

"Drugs, Medicines and Herbals. None of them are allowed. You will have to pay a fine and you are Black-Listed now on our computer." The lady said.

By this time, we were thoroughly chastened, and so I said "OK, we have made a mistake. It was a misunderstanding on our part, so, we will pay the fine and trash the 'chiwada' and Digene and Crocin tablets."

The lady closed the lid of my bag, and said "This time you are being let off only with a warning, but next time, you might land up in jail for 10 years. You can go now."

Glad to come out of the fiasco with the skin of our teeth intact, we escaped.

However, both of us appreciated the Australian customs officers for three things, their expertise in detecting the foodstuff, their strictness in protecting their environment and also their humaneness.

Australia and New Zealand have a unique ecology. These areas were isolated from the rest of the world for eons and so developed unique life forms like Kangaroo, Platypus, Kiwi etc. and also unique trees like Eucalyptus tree and tea-tree. Any "live" thing brought into the country by unthinking/ignorant tourist may upset the ecological balance, and may even lead to ecological disaster. So, Australian customs officers have to be extremely careful as well as stern.

However, had we gone in the other channel and declared our 'chiwada' and Digene tablets, they would have inspected these things and would have allowed us to enter the country without black-listing us.

So, the moral of the story is that DO declare your foodstuffs.

We also appreciated their judgment of the people's characters. As soon as they were convinced that our 'chiwada' was a genuine misunderstanding on our part, and we had no intention of hoodwinking Australian customs, they relented and allowed us in.

So, that is why we were in our Adelaide hotel room lightly bantering with each other about our 10-year jail sentence.


Posted By Anuprita on 3rd March 2008

Updated : 23rd May 2008 | Words : 809 | Views : 2528

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