I grew up on a farm in the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia, having moved there with my Scottish family when they swapped buttercup dotted pastures in England for Naples yellow stubbles and eucalypts with salmon pink flesh. Our lives were always dominated by animals. The sheep we ran on the farm, the dogs, cats, hens…and the rescued critters that seemed to be a relatively constant presence in our lives. Joeys like Skippy, a mopoke called Wol and other birds of various species. Our parents were animal people, and they simply could not abandon any living thing while it had the will to live.
This tendency to collect waifs, strays and those on their last legs has transcended generations, and our own children now share their lives with an assortment of animals, and we have grieved over those that have died despite our best efforts and shared the joy of saving some that would have otherwise perished. The time-consuming process of hand raising a joey, only to lose it to pneumonia, or botulism, or dogs: it is tragic but an experience that cements in children the qualities of compassion and responsibility.
Last year our daughter Alexandra found a kangaroo tangled in a fence on the property she was working on. She freed it, but it died…leaving Alexandra with the responsibility of caring for the orphaned joey in her pouch. Some of the last messages I have on my phone are from Alexandra as she took on responsibility for the joey; reminders prompting me to feed it while she was at work.
A week after she rescued the joey, Alexandra died in an on-farm accident. We were shattered, but as we tried to grapple with the reality of what had happened, there was the joey. Still needing to be fed, still needing to be cleaned and kept warm. It sat with us in hospital in its insulated bag, being nursed by friends and family as they shared our grief and gave us strength. It made us think about the basics of life. Fresh milk. Lukewarm water. And when the time came for us to say goodbye to Ally and celebrate her life with her many friends, there was a posse of grieving youngsters who took on the role of joey care…freeing us to care for those who were caring for us.
That little joey kept us sane when the world was crazy, providing a grounding link to the child who loved it. It survived for long enough for the guests to go, and the house to return to some form of normality. And then one Monday morning it was dead. Curled up in its pouch, looking happy, but cold and lifeless. It happens. But we wish it hadn’t.
Since that Monday, we don’t have Mondays anymore. On the side of our fridge, a grieving child wrote “Monday is a Sunday, Sunday is a Saturday. Got it?” We haven’t had a rescue joey since, but will we take one on again if we have to? Of course we will. That is the way life is.
Audio produced by Gretchen Miller, sound engineering by Judy Rapley. Recorded by Rosie Henderson.
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