So he’s tagged me with this Animeme, via Bora. I’m not that much into memes generally, but this one appeals to me. I’m afraid it takes me a little while to get to the marsupials, but I promise they’re here.
- An interesting animal I had
We didn’t keep exotic pets, and the occasional animal we came across injured in the wild was only in the car for a few miles until we could drop it off with a Wildlife Ranger. But we did have typical pets.
The family cat when I was growing up was Rusty, who had tagged along into our family unit with Mum and wasn’t especially used to children, yet who allowed me to commit the grossest indignities upon her as a small child. I used to lug her around slung around my neck with me hanging onto forelegs and backlegs in front of my chest, and when I felt like it I would whip her up and over my head and lay her down on the grass and use her for a pillow.
I wasn’t rough, merely relentless, and she would purr the whole way through and never so much as twitch her tail at me, let alone show a claw. Indeed, we knew that something was seriously wrong with her when she bared a claw at me (didn’t actually scratch me) when I was aged about 9 and I tried to pick her up for a cuddle. She was riddled with abdominal cancer and had to be put to sleep. Mum told me when I was in the bath and I stayed in there for hours, adding at least an inch to the water level I swear.
- An interesting animal I ate
The most interesting animal I ate was not an exotic animal, but how we came to eat it was most unusual. Our family belonged to a bushwalking club, and we regularly drove long distances to climb steep hills and see long views and camp in picturesque clearings. The most eagerly anticipated walks tended to be on holiday weekends where we could get more walking done for the chore of the driving. In order to keep the weight down and because of perishability issues for fresh food on longer trips, the food on such long weekend walks tended towards the ultrabasic: rice and “dehyds” – dehydrated specialist meals which had to have water added to become a gelatinous gloop, and which had all the culinary charisma of stewed banker’s socks.
One of the young men in the club was an industrial chemist with the fire of innovation in his eye, and he decided one year that for the Easter Weekend four day walk he was not going to settle for dehyds on the last night of the trip: he was going to have a feast! A fresh food feast! So, Phil decided to bear the extra weight throughout the weekend of a chicken that he would roast in alfoil in the campfire ashes, along with jacket campfire potatoes and boiled peas fresh from the pod. The potatoes and peas would keep OK in jacket/pod for the three days before the feast, but how to keep the chicken fresh? Obviously it would have to be frozen at the beginning of the trip, but how to make sure that it didn’t thaw prematurely and go off?
This is not a serious problem for an industrial chemist with not only the fire of innovation in his eye, but, far more importantly, a ready supply of
frozen(oops) liquid nitrogen easily to hand. I’m a bit hazy with the details of whether the bird was dipped or sprayed, but in any case it ended up well and truly frozen solid inside and out, wrapped in alfoil then newspaper then alfoil then newspaper then alfoil then newspaper and lovingly packed at the base of Phil’s rucksack on Thursday afternoon to await its triumphant unveiling on the Sunday night.
The calculation1 was that the bird would slowly thaw over the three days of the four-day walk, and that by Sunday evening as we set up camp it would be in a state of ideal readiness for being stuffed with fresh herbs and breadcrumbs and roasted in the coals. Alas, when it came time for the great revelation of the carcase it was not to be. Phil had done far too thorough a job with his liquid nitrogen and insulation: when tapped with a spoon the icy carcase rang. Poor Phil had to settle for just his potatoes and peas, and this is where I have to confess that this chicken was thus the most interesting animal I almost ate.
- An interesting animal in the Museum
The skeleton of the horse bearing the skeleton of a human rider and accompanied by the skeletons of a dog and a cat in the bones-doing-weird-things-section was always my favourite as a child. My current favourite would probably be the reconstructed Powerful Thylacine, the largest meat-eating marsupial of the Miocene.
- An interesting thing I did with or to an animal:
A few years ago, down in Port Phillip Bay near Melbourne, I swam with wild seals and dolphins and snorkelled to see the weedy sea dragons and other smaller creatures amongst the extensive weed beds. I had done my research before the trip and we went with the original boat that started offering such tours twenty years ago, which is much smaller and more intimate than the two boats which have more recently jumped on the bandwagon, and it was a fabulous day: the seals and the dolphins knew the boat and came nice and close. The seals came and swam around us in intricate lacing patterns as we held our breath (not entirely in wonder, because seals’ sunning places really reek). Later I hung off the duckboard at the back of the boat while we followed the dolphin pod and one dolphin dropped back and kept pace with us, and then actually swam underneath us upside down to look up into our masked snorkel-faces – magic.
- An interesting animal in its natural habitat:
Most urban Australians don’t see many kangaroos in the wild except as occasional roadkill. But these photos were taken earlier this year in the Blue Mountains National Park:
Where to start with other animals I’ve seen in the Australian wild? I have been fortunate enough growing up to see most of the animals in this National Parks factsheets index (plus a few more) in the wild in locations through NSW, Victoria and Queensland. Wombats get up to a surprising speed when startled by a bunch of bushwalkers, and goannas shinny up a tree at a real clip too. Mostly we managed to inspire a wary vigilance rather than panic in most creatures we encountered, and diamond pythons are quite the party animal around a popular campground with eggs to dispose of: almost tame in fact and very easy to drape and stroke. We tended to not try and pick up the various poisonous snakes we encountered, but they weren’t much interested in hanging around us, either.
I think the animal sighting I remember most vividly is Dad hearing a lyrebird mimicking a tractor, and we circled around it while it regaled us with its repertoire of mimicked sounds, and finally catching just a very quick glimpse of the male in display mode on its mound before it realised we were there and scarpered.
I’ve also woken in the mist to a camp surrounded by feral goats who hadn’t quite figured out what our tents were until we got really hungry for breakfast and made some noise, and seen feral horses running through a blue-gum forest and suddenly realised that they sounded “wrong” because their hooves were unshod.
As a bonus for Chris, I not only have marsupials, I have a monotreme! This echidna was snapped at a beach on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria.
I’m also extremely fortunate to have native wildlife in my own suburban garden: flying foxes pass overhead and eat my blossom trees (and unfortunately also get entangled in local power lines), rainbow lorikeets and other blossom-feeding birds as well. Flocks of sulphur-crested cockatoos fly by regularly, and go nuts when the grevillea robusta is in flower. When I first moved to my inner city suburb native birds were rare sightings, but over the last 15 years the local council had planted native trees and shrubs along street edges and through their parks, and the native birds have returned to feed. I don’t get kookaburras, although my parents who live in the mountains do, and one of my neighbours swears that a kingfisher regularly comes by to check her goldfish pond.
So, who to tag?
- to use a generous term