an australia day tale

One summer some years ago (four? five?) when I was still living at Pearl Beach, word went around the Village that there was a koala in the Arboretum. It was known a group lived in the hills behind the Village, certain intrepid individuals had gone into the bush and observed them, I had been shown claw marks on a tree by one of these and had also, one night, heard the truly extraordinary sound koalas make mating (like brutally passionate humans at 127 decibels) up the slope behind our house in Onyx Road ... but a koala in the Arboretum was unprecedented.

I went, with friends, to see it on my birthday: it was high up in the feathery top branches of a gum tree, snug in a fork, from which, while swaying alarmingly in the strong hot wind blowing that day, it peered curiously down upon us gazing curiously up at it. Opinion differed among the Old Ones as to whether it was a pregnant female looking for a quiet spot in which to gestate or a young male ejected from the group because of his insoucience. No matter. One of the Old Ones appointed herself the koala's guardian, she refilled the metal dish of water under the tree on a daily basis and then stood back and watched while the animal climbed down to drink. It knew and trusted her, the Old One said, and who would deny it?

All went well until Australia Day weekend, about ten days after my birthday. It was hotter by then, and out-of-towners had gathered to mingle with the locals for the annual jazz concert in the Arboretum. Some of these were nouveau riche who had recently bought into the Village during the on-going real estate boom, others were holiday makers, others day-trippers. I don't know who the woman who found the koala was, but imagine her to have been a wealthy and discontented day tripper from somewhere on Sydney's leafy North Shore. The Old One who was caring for the koala came across her anxious at the foot of the tree and reassured her everything was under control, the koala was being watered daily, was drinking, was fine. No, said the woman, the koala is stressed.

This was on Saturday of the Long Weekend. Sometime during the afternoon, the woman rang one of the two voluntary organisations that care for animals in distress and told them about the koala. Two people from Woy Woy came to the Arboretum later on that day, presumably after the concert was over, or perhaps while it was still going on - I don't know - and managed somehow to capture the koala - did they use a net? - and remove it from its tree. They took it in their car back to their house in Woy Woy. It was still very hot, in their car and and also at their house where there were no proper facilities to care for a koala. They soon realised the koala was very stressed.

Next day, Sunday, was even hotter. The two people from the animal rescue organisation knew that they couldn't keep the koala at their house and so decided to take it to Taronga Park Zoo in Sydney. They drove down the F5 motorway in 35 degree heat, a journey of about an hour and a half's duration in a car that lacked air conditioning. I don't know where the koala was, in a cage? in the boot? sitting in the back seat with an ice cream and a drink?

On that day at the Zoo those among the keepers who know about koalas were not at work. The koala was put in a cage to await their return. It was thought by now to be extremely stressed. So it proved; when the experts came next morning to check on the koala, they realised immediately that its stress levels were so high that it was not going to survive much longer, so they decided instead to put it down, which they did, as an act of mercy. She turned out to be a young pregnant female.

The Old Ones were very angry but what could they do? Talk to the people from the animal rescue organisation? Yes, they did that; but nobody knew who the woman was, she was unreachable, unimpeachable in her certitudes. She may still imagine she saved a poor stressed animal. As has been said: it's the people who think they're alright who do the most damage.

No comments: