[A male kangaroo, over 2m tall, relaxes in the grass]
I’m about to fly home from Canberra. It’s cold and dark, and I’m glad to be in the warm shelter of the airport. There is food and drink – reasonable by airport standards – and comfortable seats with a view of the winter night. If I want it there is entertainment of sorts on a large-screen television. Or I can have internet access; shops with reading materials and souvenirs; people to chat with. You could almost believe the place has everything a person could want.
We are called to board, and move from one climate-controlled space to another. As I sit on the plane waiting to leave, I look across the brightly-lit tarmac to brightly-lit buildings where shiny machines move neat cargo. There are one or two visible workers moving between buildings, and for a moment I fancy I see a dog. I quickly realise my mistake: they would not allow an animal loose here.
There are no plants loose either. It’s all tarmac, glass and steel. This is no place for nature. It is a place of extreme control over nature, not much like the suburbs and towns where most of us live. And yet, I wonder, if we were given the chance, would we Australians choose in our millions to live in comfortable and controlled spaces like this?
It is a contrast to places I have just visited. Like Maloneys Beach, near Batemans Bay on the NSW South Coast. We have arrived at our friends’ place in the afternoon, and have gone for a leg stretch after the long drive. The estate is newish, part residential area, part holiday escape. The streets are all kerbed and guttered, the power is underground; it is no slap-dash shack settlement in the Tasmanian style.
And yet the first thing I spy on the neat lawns is what I take to be wallaby droppings. Mark corrects me: they are eastern grey kangaroo droppings. And yes, the neighbourhood is full of kangaroos and wallabies. We soon meet some, a whole mob lounging about on the lawn behind the beach.
[A mob of kangaroos at Maloneys Beach, NSW]
It’s their rest time; most macropods are crepuscular (eating and active around dawn and dusk). These eastern greys, aka Forester kangaroos in Tasmania, have the luxury of the nearby Murramarang National Park as a retreat and a security.
They don’t seem to need it. On our walk we see roos looking relaxed on front lawns, ambling across streets, hopping around cars, even getting close to dogs. Drivers appear to take extra care, and dog owners seem aware of the danger of their dogs to young roos. A couple of them call dogs back into their yards as we walk by, and we don’t seen any dogs out roaming.
[Could wildlife be a selling point? Kangaroos in Maloneys Beach]
A childhood pen-friend from the USA once asked me: “So do you have kangaroos hopping down the streets in Australia?” I had laughed at his naivity. But here at Maloneys Beach it is as though we are walking inside the cliché. I start to wonder why this shouldn’t be the case in most of our towns and suburbs. Why shouldn’t we share our spaces and places with the plants and animals that belong there?
Australian slang has some pithy sayings that refer to madness and stupidity. Calling a person “a few chops short of a barbie” (not having enough meat for a full barbecue); or saying they’ve got “kangaroos in their top paddock”, are just two examples. The latter comes to mind in this context. I wonder if I’m being a bit daft suggesting we might integrate the wild into our everyday existence.
Then I think about the places I’ve been over the last few weeks, from Lake St Clair to Canberra to Batemans Bay to Jindabyne and back to Hobart, and I find that somehow the wild has been a common thread. It may not always be as obvious kangaroos, as alluring as orphaned wombats, or as grand as a spotted-gum forest. It may simply be a flock of rosellas or a flowering banksia.
[Two orphaned wombats being hand-reared by carers]
But the wild is always ready for us to notice it, if we’re willing to look. And it will stay that way if we decide it should. To me that is immeasurably preferable to the illusion of neat controlled space represented by an airport terminal.