Our vestibule (or lobby) was the handiest room in the old farmhouse, with its numerous brass hooks to hang coats and hats, racks to store boots, even space for all those thongs (and other sandals) – and kangaroos hanging in bags from most, if not all, of its six door-handles. The joeys loved peeking out at each other, and comforting themselves that others of their ilk were near. And I loved the convenience of my babies being together at feeding or cuddle times, or when I brought them out to play.
A baby kangaroo is happiest hanging in anything vaguely like its mother’s pouch. Although I started with one of my large knitted nylon bags for my first joey Snoopy, I continued to mull over alternative bedding ideas. One day, as I sorted through unwanted and unnecessary jumpers, a light-bulb moment occurred.
“A jumper… that’s IT!” My unexpected outburst made Kanute jump, and drop his farm newspaper with a rustle. It slithered to the floor, despite him grabbing wildly at it.
“What are you talking about?” His bemused expression made me laugh.
“I’ve got it! I really have. It’s really easy and it’ll be SO good—they’re going to love this.” I was excited and babbling somewhat, as I held up an old jumper.
“Look! If I cut off the arms—like this—and stitch them up,” and I poked in some safety pins as simulated stitches, “and then if I sew this bottom band at the back onto a coat-hanger—you know, one of those straight wooden ones? VOILA!—we have a ‘roo bed.”
We were both impressed as we visualised the transformation. A warm hang-up bed with a wide opening for the babies to somersault into. A kangaroos really does go into a pouch headfirst, wriggling clumsy bodies and great long legs and tail through a somersaulting action, until curious little faces pop out again, as if to say, “Look! Aren’t I clever?” First thing each morning, we were greeted by small heads popping out of their bags.
“Click, click,” we would say with our tongues, lifting one side of our mouths.
“Click, click,” all the babes would answer, almost in unison. What a cheerful way to start the day, with sweet little characters like these to welcome you. Whatever the new day might bring, they faced it with equal parts of enthusiasm and joy.
From day one, I fed them cuddled firmly in my arms, exactly like a human baby. They had so many similarities—precious, vulnerable, totally dependent, incredibly cute and loveable. Exactly like a human baby, the tiny ‘roo needs a teat to suck on for sustenance and comfort. The joey requires an especially thin, but long teat on a regular baby bottle. How laboriously I would make up the complex formula, until I learned fresh goat’s milk was the closest to ‘roo milk and provided a perfect substitute. We found ourselves partial to goat’s milk, too… brilliantly white with a subtle sweetness, and delicious cream rising and thickening on top. Mmm-mm…
“What about your gentlest kangaroo?” Kanute asks, with a twinkle in his eye, and a broad smile on his face. I smile right back, but a tear or two well unexpectedly.
“Biddy,” I say… and the years roll back. All young ‘roos have worried and shrunken faces, seemingly frowning with bewilderment at their strange new world, but Biddy always looked more concerned than most. She was always clicking and clucking over something; a born little mother.
“What about her breaks?” Kanute interrupts my musing. He looks thoughtful now. For some reason we never understood, Biddy had chalky bones, and broke both her back legs at different times. Luckily, each of the breaks was in the large back leg, in the part that lies along the ground. I say luckily, because a joint injury can cause a total loss of flexibility, and often the end of life for a wild animal.
“Never imagined she’d make it that first time,” Kanute says. Then he adds, “Nor the next time either. Biddy sure taught us a thing or two about survival.”
“I know,” I say. I blink and stretch my eyes, as I tend to do when I’m a little overcome. I remember only too well, how little hope we held for her survival. It was the first time we had to face the possible loss of one of our rescues, and it hurt. It hurt badly. I had no official medical training, but I guess I had a ‘copability’ for disaster. You have to on a farm. The necessity grows when you’re living a long way from the nearest medical assistance—for humans or animals.
“How far away was our nearest vet, Kanute? I can’t recall where he had his practice.”
Kanute thinks, for only a moment or two. “That would have been about 100 kilometres (65 miles)—give or take a mile or two. Yes… that’s the reason why Sam never used him.” He shakes his head, and a sad expression crosses his face. “And of course, the sheep weren’t worth much at all at that time—nor was the wool.”
How true. Would’ve cost a fortune to get him—a fortune farmers like Sam didn’t have; nor apprentices like us, either. So I devised a splint for her leg, using a couple of slats of wood, and a torn-up singlet to bind leg and splints firmly in place. Incredibly it worked—both times.
“She was the perfect patient. So calm and stoic throughout her ordeals. Maybe it was her gentle nature, do you think?”
Kanute nods slowly. Biddy’s placid acceptance, and her total belief in me and my power to heal her, ensured those successful recuperations. She would never be a real flyer again—fast and elegant as her sisters—but she quickly accepted her new circumstances. Biddy was content to walk or jump carefully at her own pace, clicking all the way.
Later, Sam sent us a photo of the fully mature Biddy, with a joey peeping out of her pouch. She had not only survived, but had moved on to successful motherhood, and a long life. No prizes for guessing who Dad was? My first baby—my Snoopy.
And next time?