It was the beginning of wildlife rescue work – little information to go on, and not much known about our native fauna. We were living in the Grampians at Halls Gap when a deluge of orphaned and injured wildlife arrived. My husband at that time, a very talented wildlife artist, was more than happy to have all these fascinating subjects delivered by all and sundry. I had the challenge of caring for them.
In those days there were no milk formulas. The vets and zoos were equally at sea. We learned as we went along.
Our first patient was a turtle with a cracked shell – he received a neat fibre-glassing repair job and was released fit and well. We often had owls in our bathroom perched on curved branches, eyes closed. The goshawk with injured toes, our greatest challenge, received a foot massage to get the tendons working – they hunt with their feet and he had to be in perfect nick to get back to the wild. We built a huge aviary onto the side of the house and covered it in hessian – they like to be hidden away. It was an emotional day when he flew free, fit and healed.
Joeys of all description thrived and possums slept in pouches on my bounteous chest.
The four emu chicks were a huge commitment. They took over a plastic covered bedroom in our house while in striped pyjama coats. l taught them to eat, drink, hide from predators and to think things through. An ABC film natural history unit managed to capture them play dancing for the first time on TV – it made history. When they matured they were released back where they came from. To our amazement they managed to find some timber cutters in the bush. I refused to acknowledge them as they stole lunches and followed their trucks.
Not every animal or bird survived. Some died of shock ages after they recovered from their injuries. I could never get used to them simply giving up. Many tears were shed as we gently dug another grave.
Happily successes outweighed disasters. We pioneered many treatments for wildlife and networked with other carers as far away as WA. Now wildlife rescue is much more high tech and formalised. In the early days it was almost unheard of to operate a shelter.
Many farmers and households raised injured and orphaned animals enriching the lives of a generation of children. I believe my knowledge and interest in looking after native creatures was fostered by Fred Peake, an officer of the Ballarat RSPCA. He lived a few doors down from our childhood home with injured and orphaned native animals housed in cages in his backyard.
My sister Christine, aged 7, was the most dedicated carer in our family. She haunted his place. He trusted her enough to send her scores of injured and orphaned animals. Unknown to our family she operated a shelter in our backyard cubby house for over a year!
With each creature the love and thanks shown in their trusting eyes was the payoff for all the hours, and often months of hard work, put in to rehabilitate them back to the wild.
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