Gippsland is very pretty – rolling hills down to the flatlands close to the coast. We lived about five kilometres from a beach called the “Ninety Mile” (ninety miles straight of fabulous sand dunes that were great to roll down, but tough to climb up). But I was going to tell you about “Buck”.
He was a Joey (that is what we call baby kangaroos) when I got him. Some horrible hunter had shot his Mum. Dad found him in our back paddock. One of the ewes was keeping him warm. He was so tiny – only about the size of a cat. My Mum made an apron of hers into a pouch for him and I filled it with cotton wool. I wore that apron everywhere, even to school, and carried Buck around with me. My body heat and the cotton wool kept him warm. At night, Mum wouldn’t let me take him to bed with me because I already had my dog, Lochie, and cat, Butterball, sharing the bed with me. She used to hang the apron near the fire in our kitchen. Buck was happy – he just slept most of the time anyway. Mum didn’t know that every night I crept down the dark passage and into the kitchen to make sure that Buck was OK. She didn’t know, that is, until one night I was very tired. She found me the next morning fast asleep on the kitchen floor with Buck in my arms. She pretended to be angry with me, but I could tell she thought it was pretty darn cute.
We had a house cow, Daisy. What else would you call a house cow? It was my job to milk Daisy by hand every morning and night. When my big brother, Hugh, came home each term from boarding school – I would squirt the milk at him instead of into the bucket. He was useless because he didn’t know how to milk a cow. It had been my job ever since I had turned seven. Hugh used to go whining to Mum that I had squirted milk at him and made him all dirty. What a sissy! Boy we had some good fights. I went to school very proud of any black eye he might have given me. Hugh because he was a boy and bigger, always won, but I hurt him heaps too!
I keep on forgetting that this is Buck’s story. The milk from Daisy was used to feed Buck – Mum put water in it because it was too strong and also a little sugar to make it lovely and sweet. We put this mixture into an old baby’s bottle that I had when I was little. Buck just loved his milk. I had to feed him 8 times a day though! It sure did take up a lot of my time, but Dad let me drop some of my other chores like feeding the horses and chopping the wood.
By summer time Buck no longer could fit in his pouch. Also, he was too heavy and I wasn’t strong enough to carry him. He had learnt to hop and he was no longer allowed in the house. His big tail had accidentally swiped one of Mum’s precious bowls off a coffee table and it had smashed into a million little pieces. Boy was I in trouble. I was sent to bed without my tea. That wasn’t very fair was it?
In the summertime because it was so hot I slept out on the back veranda. Buck loved that. He now could sleep beside me along with Lochie and Butterball. There wasn’t much room left for me though!
We were now using a big beer bottle to feed Buck his milk. Poor Daisy couldn’t provide enough milk for Buck as well as for the family. So each morning I had to ride my little white pony called Tango down the road to the farm next door (about 2 kilometres away) to collect milk from their dairy. Buck would always be waiting at the front gate of the house paddock for me to return with his milk. He really was so very greedy! And fat too!
Now the next thing I had to do was to teach Buck how to eat grass. This was really funny. Can you imagine this big kangaroo (he was about a metre high by this time) with a very strange look on his face as he watched me hopping around and then bending over and pretending to eat grass. Oddly enough after a couple of days he started to eat grass. Phew, I was getting mighty tired of all that hopping.
Buck made his home in our front paddock. He gradually became less and less dependent on me for company as, in the bush at the very back of the paddock, there was a family of wild kangaroos. Days used to go by without me seeing Buck. I was sad, but Dad explained to me that he should be with other kangaroos. He had to find a wife and have a family for himself.
The last time I saw Buck was just before we left the farm to move to Melbourne. I was thirteen. I loved the farm and didn’t want to leave but Mum and Dad were going so, naturally, I had to be with them.
Before leaving I spent a day just roaming around all the paddocks. I said goodbye to Daisy and scratched her ears for the last time. Lochie and Butterball were already in Melbourne waiting for me. Tango had been given to some little girls who lived nearby. I had been too big to ride him for nearly a year anyway. He was very happy to have two little girls looking after him. I visited my favourite dam and pulled out my yabby nets for the last time. Yabbies are fresh water prawns and they taste delicious cooked in butter and served hot. I spent some time just sitting in my tree hut that Dad had built for me. I was so sad.
Finally I got to the bush at the back of the front paddock. I desperately wanted to see Buck, but didn’t think much of my chances. I hadn’t seen him for months. He could have been kilometres away. Suddenly in a clearing filled with lush grass, I found him. He had three lady kangaroos with him (I always knew he was greedy) and there were two Joeys curled up asleep in the sun. It definitely was Buck because this two meter high kangaroo with a beautiful shiny cream coat was not frightened of me. More importantly he had a funny pouting top lip. I just sat watching him and his family for about an hour until I heard Mum ringing the bell that always was the signal for me to get my butt home!!