Being single and new to Melbourne, I knew no-one. I decided to try meeting people by answering those “Personal Ads” that appear in the local paper. Many were probably weirdos but surely there had to be a few relatively normal folks out there too. Just in case, I arranged to meet at a coffee bar, where there were plenty of people present, just two blocks away from my house. After a few meetings where I met some really ‘interesting’ people, (which convinced me that if ever I was to become a consulting psychiatrist, personal ads were the perfect way to meet new clients), I met Izzy.
Izzy was a fast talking tomboy who was an outdoors fanatic, backpacking across Australia. She spent a lot of time researching wildlife and claimed to have spent several months learning bush survival skills with some aboriginal people in Arnheim Land. For you folks who don’t know Aussie, Arnheim Land is the classic “Outback” you imagine, when you think of country Australia. If the thirst doesn’t kill you, the sun fry you, or the heat send you troppo, then the crocs, or snakes will.
As a Kiwi, I had seen many interesting documentaries about the diversity of Aussie wildlife, so when Izzy asked me if I’d like to come on a bush walk with her next week, I quickly accepted. After all she had learned her stuff in Arnheim Land. I was in good hands right?
Where I came from, the bush was so thick that 10 metres was all it took to vanish. This Aussie bush here is completely opposite. It’s sparse; you can still see someone 50 metres away. The trap is the distance and the way the bush here can all look the same.
We drove north up Plenty Road, out of Melbourne, through Whittlesea to Kinglake. Izzy said she had been here several times before on nature photo shoots but this time wanted to photograph the lake. “Everything’s cool I know this place like the back of my hand!”’ she assured me.
When I stopped to get some Aeroguard (insect repellent – an essential for any Aussie outdoors activity) at the Kinglake store, Izzy waited in the car. I asked the attendant for directions to the lake. She kindly explained thet Kinglake was named after some poet, there was no lake.
Well of course! Everyone should know that Kinglake is called Kinglake because there is no lake, just like Antarctica has no ants and New Zealand isn’t new and Turkey isn’t where turkeys came from!
Izzy wasn’t too impressed when I relayed this information to her but we resolved to go on our bush walk anyway. We set off on one of the signposted walking tracks with cameras at the ready. Izzy pointed out the different plants as we went along. She certainly knew her stuff. We came to a large clearing, a couple of hundred metres wide, with long grass and about half a dozen tree tree trunks or old posts, standing in the center. Maybe the forestry had been doing some felling here.
“This is the sort of place you see ‘roos”, said Izzy as we headed back into the bush.
It wasn’t long before we came to a similar clearing with a few more grey tree trunks in the middle, then another identical clearing. The sun was dropping below the tree tops, the light no longer reaching the ground in the bush. It was getting late and night would be falling soon. Again we came to another of those clearings.
“I think we’re lost”, I said.
“ No”, Izzy said confidently. “I recognise this clearing by the posts in the middle. We’ve traveled around the rim of the clearing, so the car isn’t far away at all. We haven’t come as far as you think. The car should be a couple of hundred metres beyond the far side of the clearing”, she said as she strode out into the clearing, heading for the far side.
It was at that moment that the half a dozen posts in the center of the clearing bounded away – they were a family of Eastern Grey kangaroos. Apparently when alarmed, they face the threat and stand very still. Their colour and stillness makes them look like a tree trunk. Only when they feel danger is getting too close will they bound off.
An Eastern Grey Kangaroo with her Joey, look similar to a tree trunk or old post, close up.
Standing in that empty clearing, looking at the over confident Izzy, did I start to wonder; how many of those other identical clearings also had Eastern Grey kangaroos?
If each one had been a new clearing, we could be miles from the car!
When darkness fell and Izzy’s confidence was gone, I pointed out a yellow glow not far to the south. “That yellow glow is from sodium lamps, usually street lamps. If we head in that direction we’ll reach civilisation” I said. Sure enough after an hour’s walk, or rather stumbling in the dark, we came out at a roadside embankment I recalled passing on our way to the car park.
Since then I have shown many travelers around Victoria and they often express disappointment at not seeing a kangaroo but you could be staring straight at a group of them and never know it, until they move. I often tell them about that walk in Kinglake.