One Old Man and One Old Kangaroo

Beata Stasak

© Copyright 2023 by Beata Stasak

Photo by Mateusz Feliksik at Pexels.
Photo by Mateusz Feliksik at Pexels..

Once upon time, when my kids were small and we'd just moved to our farm, we found an abandoned joey. In a desperate attempt to save him, his mum had ousted him from her pouch after she'd been hit by a car.

It was a good lesson for my children, taking turns to feed him the special, marsupial milk we bought from the Noah Ark wildlife shelter. He needed to be fed every four hours. We had little money to spare, but the kids saved their pocket money so our little joey could live. I was warned by the volunteers at Noah's Ark not to keep the joey for too long. If he became too domesticated and infused with our human smell, the wild kangaroos might find him too threatening to have back.

It was a bittersweet experience for us to see him go. We all cried tears of loss but also tears of happiness, seeing him free again.

Time moved on and my kids grew up, moving to cities to live more comfortable lives and expand their careers. I stayed on the old farm looking after the bush and organic orchards. My old kangaroo watched me from the nearby bush. The abandoned injured dingo we found up north became our farm dog and he watched the kangaroo cautiously. Our big ‘roo’ was equally wary, but both of them were smart enough to keep their distance.

One early morning, I heard shooting and rushed to the fence where my old ‘roo’ lay in a pool of blood. A bullet had shattered the bone in his hind leg.

An old farmer stood there, proud of his catch, with his rifle propped against his waist. He pointed angrily at the fence: “Damaged it, the bastard! It'll cost me to repair it now. Bloody nuisance, these kangaroos. Digging under fences and eating the roots of my grass. What are my cattle supposed to eat? You tell me!”

The kangaroos were here before even the Aboriginals moved in, 40,000 years back.” I sighed, nursing my kangaroo’s leg.

He continued: “I'm a proud white Australian. My family's farmed this land for hundreds of years. They needed to survive in this harsh environment and anything that stood in their way, be it these bloody kangaroos or those no hoper Aboriginals who've never learnt to make a profit from this land, had to go. It's the way it is.”

I ignored him, trying to save my kangaroo but my silence drove him to say more.

I know where you come from, You're lucky to be allowed to live here and look after other people’s farms. I tell you that, very lucky. Your father was a refugee, wasn’t he?”

I'm a migrant. Australia allowed me to settle here because I had two university qualifications and I'm useful to Australia. And I have young children to help increase the population. But yes, my father was a refugee. I think it's shameful what Australia does to the boat people, after they try to reach the safety of it's shores.”

He smirked: “Refugees deserve their fate. Australia's right to let their boats sink or lock them up in Indonesia. They need to learn that they can only come here the right way, as you have done.”

My father had no papers on him when he nearly drowned as he swam across the border to safety, while the Communists were shooting at him. It was matter of death or life to him. There was no time to wait for an Australian stamp of approval to let him in. Without him, I wouldn't be here.”

Life's tough my dear. All we can do is to try to survive. You don't survive by being sentimental. This land prospers because we work hard, and us true blue Australians make a profit. You should be proud of who you are, defending your country against anyone who's in your way to make a profit. It's as simple as that.”

With these parting words, he turned his back on me and our conversation was finished. It was Sunday and time to rush to church to pray to God for a good profit on his farm, as well as helping fellow worshippers who he feels are worthy of his help. He considers himself a kind man who looks after his family, his farm and his country. On Monday, he'll go back to his spraying routine, making the grass grow faster with the help of chemicals so his cattle can grow fatter faster. That's what life's about, right?

I buried my old kangaroo.

There was nothing left to do but continue to tend to my organic garden.

I brushed away the droplets of chemicals that blew across the fence in the wind. Back in the safety of my old farm cottage, I wiped the dust from the old frame that held a picture of joey with one of my daughters. I realised that it was the only photo I had of him. Maybe it's best that way. The photo was taken when joey was young, and kindness was still around us.

One has to learn to appreciate everything, even pain. The pain we deserve for wanting so much from nature and giving back nothing, or only death.

I wanted to ask my neighbour, where and when in his pursuit of national pride and profit at any cost, does one cross that invisible border from kindness to unkindness? Do we even realise when we've crossed that line and what will be the cost to us all of crossing it?

I am human. I'm going to die...but I'm going to draw strength from the awesome nature of death.

It doesn't frighten me.

Dying to be heard, I follow the footsteps of those dear to my heart, who've died before me.

I've been a grand-daughter, daughter and a carer...spending months, weeks and hours, tending to those facing death...finding that for many, the final chapter...can feel, and bring a peaceful beginning...

At the end of a road I spotted kangaroo prints.

Then I remembered my final trip with my father....

His final trip from the hospital to his home where he'd die....

My father noticed an old tree on the side of the road.

One that we'd passed every day for years.

He asked me to stop the car, then got out to touch the smooth white trunk.

I hurried him back to the car, eager to bring him home safe...

"This is the biggest tree recorded on the Swan Coastal Plains," he said:

"It's between two and three hundred years old and has a diameter at breast height of 3.5 m."

"Dad," I protested: "It's just a tree. Come back to the car before you exhaust yourself."

"It's not on the 'tree register'. I checked before I went to hospital," he added quietly, looking up at its majestic crown.

"So maybe you're wrong about its age. It looks ordinary, just like any other tree..." I continued, taking his arm.

"This tree is dying," he said sadly, looking into my eyes: "They didn't put its data into the register because it has only a few years left..."

"It looks like it's in good condition, I mean, for its age," I quickly replied, unsure about my Dad's mental condition.

"Come on, Dad. Let's go home," he let me lead him back to the car, repeating to himself: "The tree has huge termite damage. It could be treated but that would only prolong its suffering."

"What's the ultimate meaning of suffering?" He asked me quietly in the car, as he watched the tree disappear behind us.

"I don't know, Dad. I really don't."

"In a world without God," he continued as I was driving: "One's suffering doesn't mean much beyond itself. Your predicament is only worsened by this realisation..."

"But you don't believe in God, Dad. Do you?" I asked, confused by his monologue.

He continued, without answering my question: "Your demolition as a human being will never mean anything. You suffer for nothing, You suffer for nothing, you die, you disappear..."

"Please, Dad, don't talk about death. You'll live for many more years," I begged.

"I have to talk about it. When the inevitable is coming, my daughter. Death denial is also life denial." He smiled at me. "Because if we had a chance to live forever or better still, if we were allowed back to do it better next time, then we'd just fritter away time doing things that don't inspire us."

"Give me the chance to live forever and I promise you I'll cherish every minute of my life," I laughed.

"No you wouldn't, and you know it. We cherish only what's precious to us, the things we may lose," he got out of the car to walk toward his old house.

The house had a fragile beauty with its delicate bones of deteriorating carved wood and iron fences: "Just like in the cemetery, my next home," my father nodded quietly, entering his home for the last time.

'IF WE KNOW HOW TO DIE; THEN WE KNOW HOW TO LIVE,' were the last words of my father. It was the word 'dying' that was heard before in the story.

"I like getting old," I said to myself: "It's kind of curious to see that you're heading to all the places, you've seen, the people dear to you, those who go before you and thinking about those who come after you. All the living creatures you loved and let live.
The nature that surround you and you cherish and protect until your last breath.”

Death is our final destination. Let us all die with the last words: “I lived the best I could and never took anyone’s life for granted.”

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