Kangaroos & Koalas?
A major part of what makes Australia so unique from the rest of the world is the wildlife. For millions of years the various critters that roam this red land were left to their own devices and allowed to evolve in whatever way they saw fit. As a result, when the first Europeans came to Australia they were somewhat baffled by the various furry creatures. One of the first englishmen to observe a kangaroo described it as a "small bird of beautiful plumage."
Today there are more kangaroos in Australia than when Europeans first arrived 250 years ago, due to more water and food sources being created by the development of agriculture. This however has both positive and negative outcomes. It's obviously good for our hopping friends as it helps keep the population strong and growing but the flip-side to this is that a larger population means they are harder hit during times of drought. As the tucker dwindles in the back of beyond, the roo's come closer and closer to the road in search of food and the outcome is gruesome. And due to our furry friends being nocturnal, they generally meet their maker on the steel bars of a hurtling road-train. The more unfortunate encounters for both man & beast are when the average car hits a kangaroo. The animal being likely to either end up somewhere inside the engine of a Ford or Holden or apparantley, if you are unlucky enough to hit one whilst it's mid-hop, it could end up coming through your windscreen. A close encounter with the wildlife that you really didn't count on having! On the long drive between South Australia & Western Australia, there is a stretch of road between the Cocklebiddy Roadhouse (which incidentally has it's own time-zone! That's got to screw up your TV guide.) and Caiguna where around every 200 metres lies a kangaroo carcuss. It's about 150km's between the afore-mentioned destinations so without doing any calculations it's easy to see that's a lot of dead fur.
It was on this very stretch of road, on a cold, misty morning that my good lady and I added to the carnage on the tarmac. We set off from the Cocklebiddy roadhouse at an hour which we thought reasonable enough for the kangaroos to be settling down for the day. Ten minutes into our days drive I happened to look to my left, through the passenger side window, only to lock eyes with a wedgetail eagle standing in the low shrub at the side of the road. I only caught a glimpse for a millisecond (we were going 110k's) but it was one of those moments where your brain takes a snapshot and it sticks in your memory like glue. Seconds later my girlfriend emits one of those high-pitched lady yelps reserved for times of extreme fear. I turn around and see a kangaroo directly in front of the passenger side of the car and doing it's best to outrun our hurtling Ford Falcon. I slammed my feet on the brakes so hard that if we hadn't been wearing seatbelts we could have flown to Perth through the windscreen. Everything went in slow-motion. The poor little bugger must only have managed a couple of bounces before he tried to jump out of the way and slipped onto his side on the wet road, but it seemed to last for minutes. By this time the car had come down to 60k's but we still hit little skippy with a loud thud. Fortuneately for us and the car, the kangaroos final bounce and slip meant that we drove over his legs as he lay on the road and there was no damage to the car and no roo in the windscreen. The bad news was that our furry friend was left lying on the road with broken legs, unable to walk/hop but still trying to pull himself up. We pulled over and got out of the car, unsure of what we could do to help. We flagged down a car but the lady inside was as useful as a boat in the desert. We tried another car. A gentleman in a 4-wheel drive pulled over and we explained the situation, hoping that perhaps he might know of some kangaroo hospital just up the road staffed by disciples of Rolf Harris. His response to our story was,
"I'll hit it on the head with something."
And drove of before we could say,
He pulled up next to the kangaroo, rustled around in the back of his car and pulled out a golf club. He stepped up to the roo, swung for Australia and then pulled the body off the road before jumping back into his car and carrying on with his journey. All in a days work. We stood for a full 10 minutes with our jaws at our ankles. Stupid tourists.
Another major Australian icon is the Koala. These furry little marsupials live in and on gum trees throughout Australia. They sleep for up to twenty-hours a day, perched on a limb of a gum tree. And when they awake they spend most of their time gobbling up gum leaves. This latter fact is thought by many to be the reason why Koalas have the "drunken" slouching look that they often have in the few hours they are awake. Many people think the chemicals in the gum leaves drug our furry chums. Although according the the Australian Koala Foundation this is a myth. The latter organistation are also responsible for these two, interesting facts:
- When koalas are born, they are only 2 centimetres long, which is about as big as a jellybean!
- When koalas become upset and worried ("stressed") by the loss of their homes, they may get a disease called " Chlamydia".
Koalas with STD's? Interesting. However, koalas actually become quite aggressive and noisy during their mating season. When a male koala feels the urge of nature, he climbs out of his tree and goes hunting for a lady. To go near a koala whilst they are on the ground and searching for some lady-fur is a very bad move indeed. Something tells me that the folks at Taronga Zoo in Sydney who charge $3 to hold a koala, either know when these cute furballs are in the mood for love or only use lady-koalas to keep the tourists happy. I've been lucky enough whilst in Australia to see a few wild koalas but when you see a male one on the ground, it's a strange sight.
At the beginning of the year, my girlfriend and I found ourselves looking after a small property in Gippsland, Victoria for a friend who was on a trip to Sydney. The property was a small hobby farm with a couple of horses, a couple of cows, a cat and two dogs. Our job was to keep the animals happy and fed. One night after feeding our assortment of 4-legged friends we sat down to watch the saturday night movie, Apollo 13. The film had been on for around an hour (better make that 30 minutes of movie & 30 minutes of commercials, shocking country for adverts) when Tas, the German Shepherd leapt out of his comatosed state and ran towards the window, barking and baying for the blood of whatever was out there. I went to the window, gazed out for a moment then shouted,
"Naomi, there's a fucking monkey in the back yard."
I immediately started to think about what kind of monkeys there were in Australia so as to try and identify the two and a half foot tall ape. I couldn't think of any. I decided on the next best course of action. I went and put on my glasses and quickly realised that I had made a mistake that any short-sighted tourist to this unusual land would have made. It was of course a frisky koala, out hunting down some ladies. The thing is, because you always see koalas in trees, you don't realise how long their back legs are. Even on most postcards, koalas are sitting on their bums and not showing off those fine pins. I went outside, after a brief tussle with the dogs at the doorway, and found the little furball almost jogging towards the nearest tree. I watched as he climbed up about 8 feet to a spot where he felt safe and could get a good look at the surroundings in order to spy any blood-thirsty dogs. Instead, all he saw was a bespectacled Scottish tourist staring back at him. I wandered around the tree, looking at him from various different angles and not once did he take his eyes off me. I eventually left him to his own devices and went back to the adverts/film on the TV. When I went back out after the movie he had gone, drawn away by the power of lust!
The Kangaroo & Koala are probably the most famous of Australias furry wildlife but there are dozens more characters out in the vast expanses of bush. It's just finding them thats the problem.