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" I can't pat the cubs right now, I have to
feed the monkey."
" Bloody leopard gave me another bite!"
" Who's cleaning up poop in the tiger
" Are you sure we're not raising those
rabbits to feed to the lions?"
" Are you kidding me? Three vegetarians
cutting up a cow leg?"
" Those cubs aren't hungry. They're using
the dead chickens as toys."
Iwent to the Wild Kingdom version of
Disneyland, where dreams do come
true. For two weeks, I lived in a hut-
like chalet, and woke early each
morning to tend to lion, tiger, leopard, and
caracal cubs. I got bitten, clawed, hissed at,
snarled at, my hair tangled, clothes ruined
beyond all reason, and so much raw meat
under my fingernails that I could have
opened a butchery. I skinned and gutted
semi-fresh dead chooks, watched grown
lions tear into cow heads, and had a three
week old tiger cub have diarrhoea on my
wrist (colour of mustard, not the same
smell as mustard).
I was living the dream.
There were moments when I wanted
the simplicity of my cats. Brush them, pat
them, let them walk on my laptop and
send random emails. When all I wanted
was to sleep in past 6.30am and not face
African dust, dry air, and cutting up raw
cow into tiny pieces to feed to two mad
caracal kittens. When I wanted a simple
meal consisting of the variety and quality
of fresh vegies in Australia. When I longed
for my own bed, my own shower, and
no chance of ticks and leopard bites.
And then there were the other
Coming out of night into early
morning over Africa, looking down and
seeing the cradle of the human race.
Seeing down past the pale brown dust to
pale, blood-coloured land and feeling.....
extraordinary. A homecoming. That yes,
hundreds of generations ago, I came
from here. I am of Celtic origin -- English,
Scottish and Irish -- some few hundred
years ago. Red hair, pale skin, freckles,
body obviously ready to milk cows. Not
built for Australia at all.
Yet, something in me said, "Home". I
shut my eyes, and let images come. Wide
grassy plains of faded yellow, washed
out sunlight, thumping heat and ever
present dust. Slow moving dark, hairy pre-
humans, crouched over and then coming
upright to scan the horizons. Everything
I'd seen on Walking with Cavemen.
I was compelled to look out of the
plane window again and stare at the land.
Not look away, not give in to imaginings,
but ground myself hard in the solidity of
© NOVA NOVEMBER 2010
Ancient song lines hum for Helen Patrice.
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