This story is by Sue Pugh-Rankin (aka Rakali) and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
‘AVOCET! AVOCET!’ A familiar voice echoed through the Brigalow Forest.
Avocet was snuggled in the saltbush, munching away when he heard his name being called.
Someone is calling my name, he thought to himself. Something is happening in the nursery! I can’t get back in because I’m too big now, but I can go to the fence line like Papa Nailtail used to do. That’s where he told us stories about what could happen in the Brigalow forest after we were released. I remember him telling us about scary things like Feral the Cat, who would EAT little wallabies like us. Papa told us about trappers who wanted our fur too. I didn’t have to worry about those things inside the nursery. I was safe and warm in my mother’s pouch, and I never had to worry about finding food like I do now. The rangers made sure we had plenty to eat. It was never scary there. It’s different now that I live in the real bush. There are lots of scary things everywhere.
I hope nothing bad is happening in the nursery!
Avocet’s ears twitched. He listened to every sound, aware of the dangers that could be lurking anywhere. He wished he could hear the gentle chinkle tinkle of the Janellaroo. That would mean that everything would be ok. Where was she? He couldn’t hear her chimes anywhere.
‘AVOCET! AVOCET! WHERE ARE YOU?’ There was that voice again, echoing through the trees.
Avocet was sure he knew who was calling him. It was his best friend, Aly, and she sounded scared. She was still in the nursery because she was so little. He missed chasing her around in circles, playing hide and seek. They had grown up together in the safe, natural exclosure. Oh, how he had taken that for granted!
Avocet had to leave the nursery to live in the real bush when he got too big to stay in the fenced in area. He remembered Papa Nailtail telling stories about what happens outside the nursery. He told about shooters with big guns, and trappers who wanted Nailtail fur because it was so soft and beautiful. The trappers liked the dark fur around the neck of the wallabies. It looked just like a bridle. That is why they were called Bridled Nailtail Wallabies. They all had a bridle around their necks and a little hard nail on the end of their tails. They didn’t look like the other wallabies. That is why they almost became extinct. Everyone wanted their fur.
The animals never had to worry about anything when they lived inside the six hectare nursery. They could always hear the chinkle tinkle of the Mystical Janellaroo wafting on the breeze. They knew it meant that everything was going to be ok. The fenced-in nursery was a safe place.
There was Aly’s cry again. She needed his help. Avocet wasn’t sure what to do. Should he stay hidden in the small prickly currant bush? He felt safe there and he could munch on the leaves whenever he got hungry. Then he heard Aly cry louder, and he knew he had to go to her. He couldn’t get back into the nursery, but he COULD go to the fence line where Papa Nailtail used to tell his stories. Aly would know where he was. Maybe he could calm her down. Maybe she was just scared. Maybe she just missed him.
Avocet stayed very still like Bridled Nailtails do… until the exact right moment. Then, just like Flashjack, he hopped as fast as he could through the currant bush and saltbush, stopping when he reached the fence line. He saw little Aly peering through the wire with her big dark eyes. She was still much smaller than Avocet. She was barely the size of a possum. Aly was quivering, shaking with fright, and whimpering his name. He nudged her gently with his nose until she looked up. She was SO happy to see him. Then she told him why she was scared.
“Oh, Avocet. The worst thing happened after you left us. There is a shooter in the nursery! I saw her with my own eyes. She was wearing a red plaid shirt, and she carried a huge black cannon on a pole. She used it as a walking stick as she plodded through the spiky buffel grass. I saw her pointing that cannon at me. Then I jumped like Flashjack and hopped away as fast as I could. Help us, Avocet. You are so big and brave now that you are no longer in the nursery. What can we do?’ cried Aly, pleading with her friend for some help.
Avocet sat very still for a moment. ‘I’ll be right back, Aly. You be sure to hide in the currant bush until I return, ok?’ Aly nodded her little head and began to nibble on the tasty leaves.
Avocet scampered off to the old Kurrajong tree where he hoped that Papa Nailtail would be resting. Papa just leaned against that old tree now instead of hopping all around the Brigalow Forest. He was getting old, but he was very wise. Surely he would know what to do about the shooter in the nursery. Avocet woke Papa when he found him snoozing against the tree and began telling him what Aly had said.
‘There’s a shooter in the nursery, Papa! All the animals are so frightened. What can we do to help them?’ Avocet couldn’t get the words out fast enough. He was starting to panic!
Papa just smiled and chuckled quietly. The gentle chinkle tinkle of the Mystical Janellaroo could be heard in the background.
‘Oh, Avocet…that is not a shooter! That is a photographer. She doesn’t have a cannon. She has a camera! She only shoots photos of the animals. She doesn’t want to kill them. The photographers take pictures to show the rest of the world how the Bridled Nailtail Wallabies were saved from extinction because of the wonderful rangers who work in the nursery. You remember how they brought sweet potato and carrots mixed with lucerne for you and your friends? Go back to Aly at the fence line and tell her not to worry about the cannon. It is just a camera. And Avocet…tell Aly to smile for the folks!’
Papa Nailtail leaned back against the dark bark of the Kurrajong tree, smiling to himself. He knew that one day Avocet would be the one to tell all the animals in the nursery the same stories that he had been sharing at the fence line for years. Avocet would pass on the wisdom of how to live in the bush.
Papa listened to the gentle chinkle tinkle of the Mystical Janellaroo on the breeze. He knew the Janellaroo was so much more than just a myth that the rangers talked about when they sat around the fire at the end of the day. The Janellaroo would never let harm come to any of the nursery animals. The future of the Nailtails was safe and they would never be allowed to become extinct. Papa closed his eyes and fell back to sleep. He knew that everything was going to be ok.