Wanggami, a short story by Dr Margi Prideaux
Eyes twitch, ears flick. Leaning against a large tree, she stretches her back and deeply yawns. A satisfying extension reaches her toes. Clothed in soft, deep chocolate-brown fur, with a silver ruff beneath her chin, she pushes herself up to stand. Her coat echoes the colours of the ancient tree, its bark pale silver, with streaks of ochre, brown and gold.
The sun smiles from its midmorning pose. Beyond the tree’s deep shade, the landscape is bathed in flaxen light, shimmering off the dry stalks of a crop recently harvested. Large round bales stand in a sparse grid, casting deep round shadows that ricochet off the brightness of the day. Not a cloud breaks the piercing cobalt sky.
Hot, heavy air sits like a blanket on the landscape. Still, but alive with a buzzing so characteristic of the Australian summer. Insects hover and dance nearby. A cricket serenades across the paddock.
Beyond these sounds the silence is so deep you can hear the thrum inside your body. A silence known to people who live in places absent of humans, where weather can be utter stillness.
The pungent smell of eucalyptus rolls down the hill as the sun warms the leaves. This tree has been sheltering those who wear their rich brown coats for hundreds of years.
A thousand generations ago the Ngarrindjeri people who walked this island called her ancestors wanggami. It’s a bewitching name. Now people across the world say kangaroo.
Turning her face towards the field, the wanggami begins a slow languid roll in her mouth, grinding grass and leaves to smooth paste. A small arm flicks a fly from her ear and she stretches again for a moment, before settling back to the rhythm of her comfortable chew.
Closer to the ground, her belly begins punching outward. She doesn’t seem to notice. A foot appears, followed by a small head and another arm that together stretch and yawn. She looks down at her young, gently touching his small head. He responds by rolling sideways, out of her pouch and onto the ground.
Standing high and unsteadily on his toes, he tries to balance on his tail. He hasn’t mastered this pose yet, but clearly delights in the moment. As youngsters do, he soon abandons this practice and tears off around the tree, hopping and falling and hopping again.
Mum watches, but not too closely. She is more attentive to the roll of grass in her mouth.
The food in her mouth now attended to, she leans forward and begins the distinct kangaroo amble that Australian’s know so well. Two forearms and a massive tail hold her balance, while she lazily lifts her back legs up and forward. Settling on her back feet, she lifts and crosses her arms like an old lady, munching grass as she goes. With this slow locomotion, she ambles from the shade.
She is even more beautiful in the full sun. Wanggami. Big doe eyes and a rich chocolate coat reflect deep silver flecks, making her spiritual partnership with the tree complete. The tree will stand atop this hill for a hundred more years. In time, her grandchildren will tear around its trunk and shelter from the sun under its outstretched arms. When the rain pours, the tree’s branches and the coats the wanggami wear will streak together like black platinum.
The youngster has tired and hops over to mum. He paws her face and ears, his little chin tilted skyward, striking a yoga style pose crucial to his future. She responds with arms clamping his head in a tight embrace and caressing his face with her tongue. It’s not possible to see his expression, but imagining a grimace doesn’t seem a stretch.
The cleaning done, he leans forward, plunging his face into her pouch. Rising high on his toes he tips his whole body forward in a well practiced action that tumbles him inside. A few punches and stretches and he is snuggled into his preferred spot. Mum resumes her amble.
Suddenly she stands. Alert. Her ears tune purposefully to a sound beyond human hearing. She is rigid for an instant that stretches time. Then, with three powerful bounds, she is lost from sight beyond the hill’s crest.
Since it separated from the mainland, the Ngarrindjeri people no longer walk this island landscape, but the tree stands as an echo connecting the past to the present and for now, the wanggami are my closest neighbours.
Dr Margi Prideaux is a writer, negotiator and independent academic, with a PhD in wildlife policy & law. She has worked on conservation projects in the Pacific Islands, South East Asia, Africa and Latin America, and always with the goal of protecting wildlife through communities. She has published three books: Birdsong After the Storm, Global Environmental Governance, Civil Society and Wildlife, and All Things Breathe Alike: A Wildlife Anthology co-authored with Donna Mulvenna and Jessica Groenendijk. Her fourth book, Wild Tapestry: Weaving Wildlife Survival, should be released in late 2017. She is on Facebook and Twitter @WildPolitics. www.wildpolitics.co