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On living with a kangaroo

On living with a kangaroo
Annabelle Hickson
Annabelle Hickson Tenterfield, NSW
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What it's like to live with a kangaroo, by Galah's editor Annabelle Hickson.

I thought about taking her with me on a work trip to Sydney. I knew I could get her down there, passing her off as a baby in a sling. Small regional airports don't have especially comprehensive security checks. But I could see things getting more complicated going back home through Sydney's Terminal 3. 

People say having a joey is like having a baby. It is not. I would not leave my baby in an esky in a cot in the living room with a bunch of grass while I went into town on a 200km round trip to do the groceries.

If she were a baby I would be able to take her with me on the plane without the x-ray security people freaking out. And had she been a baby, my husband would have felt less uncomfortable caring for her while I was away for a few days. 

But just because a joey is not exactly like a baby human doesn't mean I don't feel a lot of affection for the joey. I do. Especially when she does a standing front flip, head first, into her pouch. She has lived with us for a couple of months now, after we rescued her from the roadside. Her mother had been hit by a car. The joey was unscathed and had stayed with its dead mother, sitting in the pouch getting cold and hungry with its little tail sticking out.

We called her Kangie, then Sugar and have now settled on Honey, in honour of the two-day natural bee keeping course in Byron Bay she did with us. She was best-on-ground in terms of the long car trip there. She sat quietly in her pouch hanging off the back of the driver's seat, in amongst a tangle of DVD cords, two kids projectile vomiting and another screaming for a fair chunk of the way. And she was a very good bee keeping student, too, just sitting in her esky for the entire course, occasionally sticking her long legs out for a stretch. 

My mum freaked out when she discovered a kangaroo was staying with us in the holiday house she had booked that has a strict no pet policy, but it was only when I sheepishly brought out Honey's strange looking bottle and showed mum (she initially thought it was a bong) that mum even knew she was there. My husband said: "Don't worry, the reason no pets are allowed is because the house is in a national park, but kangaroos – given their native status – are fine". 

Mum still didn't look convinced.

I feed Honey a bottle of frightfully expensive special kangaroo milk four times a day. If she were still in her mother's pouch, her mother would then lick her bottom to make her go to the toilet, presumably on her tongue rather than soiling the pouch. I have, understandably, drawn the line there and use some damp toilet paper instead.

Other than drinking and pooing, she hangs out in her pouch in the esky, protected from the kids by the cot which I have hauled out into the living room. It reminds me of a friend of my mother-in-law, who had six children and a large play pen in which she herself would sit to get away from them.

When she is not in her esky, Honey lightly hops around the house following me wherever I go. When she gets nervous she stands in between my legs and if she can't see me and is suddenly cornered by a toddler holding a Barbie in each hand she makes an almost electronic sounding bark which means THIS IS AN EMERGENCY and I pop her back in her pouch and all is well again.

Kangaroos evolved to hop; the most effective way to move around the harsh Australian terrain. Hopping, as it turns out, also helps to navigate floors strewn with Lego bits and spiky toys. I am often jealous.

When she stands upright she reaches the waistline of my four-year-old son. She is so skittish but as each day passes she is becoming more comfortable with her new surroundings. She's got a bit of growing to do before we can release her back into the wild. 

I've heard of one kangaroo who loved to play football with its rescue family's kids and another who was so miffed when the rescue mother tried to wean it off the bottle that it lashed out at its two human-brothers, leaving scars you can see today on the now-grown-up men. Thankfully she is a she and therefore less likely to go down the agro-weaning path, but I am hopeful she will be open to a bit of soccer before she happily and healthily hops back into the bush.

*Honey was successfully released back into the wild