The day started with a high, literally and emotionally with a balloon ride across the Outback and has ended with another… a visit to the Kangaroo Sanctuary.
When I’ve been asked how I planned this trip, one of my answers is: “Well, I always wanted to that / go there / see that.” For example… the Trans Siberian Railway / Vietnam / the Great Wall of China.
Other activities or places chosen have been purely as a result of stumbling on them. Going to see the World’s Biggest Statue of Ghengis Khan is one example – once I knew it existed, I wanted to see it.
Finding a link to the Kangaroo Sanctuary in Alice Springs on Facebook ensured that I was planning my time in Australia around when the Sanctuary would be open.
It’s usually closed in December and January and I wasn’t coming all the way to Australia and not visiting the Sanctuary.
Chris ‘Brolga’ Barns opened a Rescue Centre in 2005 and then created the Sanctuary. He met the bus as we pulled into the site.
Why is he called ‘Brolga’? Apparently his mates nicknamed him after a tall bird with long legs – he’s six foot seven.
Even the nicknames are literal in Australia. I went to school with a kid nicknamed ‘Happy Days’ because he was a miserable so-and-so. We were more sarcastic.
Brolga showed us around the site, telling stories about the kangaroos and also talked us through how the Sanctuary works to ultimately release kangaroos back into the wild.
Surprisingly, to me, he was keen for us all to hold a joey but there was a very good reason for that.
Many joeys are rescued from their mother’s pouches, after the female kangaroo has been knocked down by a car.
The joeys can survive several days inside their mother – the pouch protects them from the impact. However, many people drive past the kangaroo bodies on the road, assuming that there is nothing further than can be done.
If people stopped and checked the kangaroo, they might find it was a female with a baby still alive.
Brolga wanted everyone to hold a joey so that we knew how to and could potentially rescue a baby and take it to a rescue centre or sanctuary.
He told us that pillow cases make excellent surrogate pouches in which to place the joey while you give it a cuddle.
There are volunteers in almost every town and city in Australia who care for orphaned joeys and the young kangaroos need a lot of TLC.
They’re used to living in their mother’s pouches for up to nine months though will take their first hop at six.
It’s hard for a human to provide that level of attention so the joeys are buddies up with other babies for contact, and Fifi’s buddy was Priscilla.
Volunteers commit to raising the joeys in preparation for a return to the wild so after nine months of cuddles, the young kangaroos are introduced to gardens and the contact stops.
The intention is to help re-wild the kangaroos – take away their comfort and confidence with humans so that they learn to avoid us.
Once they’re older, they can be released back to the wild and Brolga’s sanctuary releases 2-350 every year but there are some that live on site because they can’t go back to the wild.
Some of these have been injured while others are too tame.
As the sun was setting, he took us out to meet some of these characters and told us more about the legendary Roger, who died of old age 18 months ago.
The majority of the kangaroos here live up to their name Red Kangaroos – their coats are a dusty red, like the desert and the rocks but a couple, like William, are more of a blue-gray like the vegetation that grows.
William couldn’t be released.
Not only is he too tame, he’s far too big a fan of air conditioning.
When the area was experiencing temperatures of over 40°C last year, Brolga would leave the door of the shack open for the kangaroos to go in and cool off.
Only William did.
Once he discovered air conditioning, he was never away from the door – knocking on the glass to be inside.
Visiting the Sanctuary was an incredible experience. To see the kangaroos up so close in such a stunning setting was incredible.
Brolga is an engaging and knowledgeable guide and answered all questions at length and with humour.
I would say that this is a once in a lifetime experience but there were two guys on the tour who had been here two years ago and had come back for more… with questions about the joeys they had met last time.
It really is special.