The Rev. Gary J. Meade is an Episcopal priest currently serving as the rector of Saint Mary's Episcopal Church in Dyersburg, Tennessee. This blog will host photos and reflections from Gary's sabbatical from September through December, 2019. (Dig deeper and you'll find material from his first sabbatical in 2014.)
At nearly the end of my time at Kangaloola, the volunteers had most of a day off. We were driven to nearby Beechworth, a charming small town that once was part of a massive gold rush. This gave time for the four volunteers at the time to chat, eat, visit, eat some more, and deepen our bonds. I was joined by Annika (from Sweden) and Patrick and Sabrina, siblings from Sweden. I was glad to call them my friends.
I was also deeply blessed to get to know and work with Glenda Elliot, founder and director of Kangaloola, and Emma, a long-term volunteer from Sweden who is Glenda’s right-hand and who worked most closely with the volunteers. Both these women work non-stop, hardly ever slowing down. And yet one afternoon when we were awaiting some much-needed rain, but of them actually sat still for a few moments.
Finally, Kangaloola enjoys tremendous support from Chris Lehman. He coordinates with the Oceans to Earth organization that sends volunteers (like me) to Kangaloola; he also responds to reports of injured or abandoned wildlife.
In addition to the kangaroos and wallabies, Kangaloola also cares for a number of other animals and birds. Let’s start with the wombats. When full-grown, I’m not sure I’d want to meet one in a dark alley. But when little they are among the cuddliest of animals you can imagine. To feed one requires you to rest it on his back on your legs, hold your hand over its head and eyes, and turn its head slight to the side while enjoying a bottle of milk. It is an extraordinary experience, especially when a wombat dozes after and is quite happy to be cradled in your arms. Here’s a photo of me in action:
There were also a number of birds present, mostly ones that had been pets whose owners had grown weary of the noise, the fuss, and the mess. These included Dingles the emu, purchased as a pet. Her toenails were burned off by her owner, presumably to make her a better pet somehow. But this means Dingles can never be released in the bush as she can neither run nor scratch for food. But Dingles is well cared for by the good folks at Kangaloola.
Other birds include a few Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Magpies, King parrots, and Galahs. And the bush is teeming with more birds, especially the Cockatoos, who swarm in when Glenda spreads out oats and crackers to feed the wild kangaroos that gather at the fence every evening for dinner. I also saw a few black Choughs, notable for their crimson eyes.
These animals and the dedicated care given them are the reasons why “I cannot stay here even one night” turned into two weeks of staying, feeding, caring, mucking out, and doing any number of other tasks (ask me some time about cleaning carpets with a rake!). These animals, too often neglected, abused, and slaughtered, are worthy of care and preservation. It is not easy work, but it is rewarding. And for 14 days I was privileged to share in this ministry to some of God’s precious creations.
Sadly, not all stories with these animals end well. One of the men who work with Kangaloola brought in a young koala who had been hit by a car. Despite great effort — and a long trip for emergency surgery — Mopsy still died. Likewise, below is a photo of a kangaroo that ran into a fence and was paralyzed — either by physical or other trauma. Again, despite care, the animal had to be euthanized. Not all stories end sadly. Chris Lehman (who works with and supports Kangaloola) found a turtle that had been run over by a car which cracked the animal’s shell. Despite the alarming nature of the injury, the turtle survived. As have so many hundreds and even thousands of animals because of this special place.
I just completed two weeks at Kangaloola Wildlife Shelter. I would have posted sooner but didn’t have internet availability up to the task of sharing multiple photos. So, I’m going to be making a few posts over the next few days to catch up. Today my photos focus on the wallabies and kangaroos.
Kangaloola does some extraordinary work on behalf of about 50 kangaroos, at least 4 wallabies (which are quite similar to the kangaroos); about a dozen wombats; several birds (including Dingles the emu); and Twisty the koala. Located in the Stanley Forest, the facility was launched and has been run for twenty-five years by Glenda Elliot, a woman of deep passion and endless energy. I’ll have more to say about Glenda later.
The facilities are rustic, to say the least. All water comes from cisterns fed only by rain water, meaning that every effort is made to conserve this precious resource, including limiting showers to once every three days. All electricity is solar-generated and is likewise limited. In fact, the sleeping facility (a pair of converted and connected trailers) for the volunteers lacked both water and electricity. The toilet was near but separate. It too, lacked, electricity and could be quite cold as the nighttime temps dropped sometimes into the low to mid-forties. Midnight “potty trots” (as my family has been known to call such nocturnal visits to the loo) required both a flashlight and a willingness to briefly endure frigid conditions both in the air and in, uh, all bathroom surfaces (if you take my meaning).
So, it was a bit like camping (though I had a comfy bed and warm comforter). A bit primitive but certainly endurable. And yet my first thought on seeing Kangaloola was, “I cannot stay here even one night.” Why? Well, the place didn’t seem exactly hygienic. To give just two examples: I saw many dusty cobwebs, including on the one exposed light bulb in the kitchen/eating area. There was also the unique aroma of kangaroo pee and poo in the lounge, the living room which hosted three kangaroos. And trust me, one does not housebreak a kangaroo!
Yet I stayed, and I’m glad I did. Why? Well, I’ll save that for a future post.
Out the door by 6:30 this morning, headed to Central Station to board the train for a two hour ride to Katoomba, gateway to the amazing Blue Mountains outside of Sydney. Great views (including much-hyped Three Sisters) and cool animals made this a most wonderful day.
One of my first stops was Scenic World and its three rides, including a Skyway cable car that offers a glass section of floor as you glide way above the forest floor.
Note: some had warned me of the dangerous snakes and spiders of Australia. Today I found examples of both, though neither seemed particularly threatening. The spider was quite small indeed (and other than taking its picture, I left it unmolested); the snake was, well, placed along a trail to a viewpoint: still, steel, and quite passive.
Other animals I spotted included Lyrebirds scratching through the leaves and Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos flying in for a drink of water.
Tomorrow I’m off to Yackandandah and the first of my two volunteer projects in Australia. Internet access may be a bit iffy, but I will post whenever I can.
Enjoyed a hop-on hop-off bus tour of Sydney today. Saw Bondi Beach (which also had some cool murals), various buildings (including the underside of the Harbour Bridge), stopped at a Chinese Garden (and made a new friend), visited St. Mary’s Cathedral, and wandered through Hyde Park.
Then, on a friend’s recommendation, I had booked dinner at Bennelong, a very nice restaurant inside the Sydney Opera House. One of the options was a “bay bug.” It’s a kind of shellfish native to the area, like a mini-lobster. Anyway, the bug was delicious. After dinner, the opera: “The Marriage of Figaro.” I was excited to be here, but frankly a little too worn down after three full days of touring (not mention a full meal and a lovely glass of Sauvignon Blanc!), and I too soon found myself dozing. Yikes! I did stop short of actually snoring. I hope!
On Monday I went to the Harbour Bridge (see yesterday’s post for a photo). I had booked a BridgeClimb, a three-and-a-half hour experience unlike anything else I’ve experienced. It starts, of course, with getting to the gathering point, easier said than done. Especially when I get on a train — okay, it was the right train, I just boarded one headed the wrong direction. So glad I allowed some extra time to get there!
The preparation for the climb is quiet detailed, including a very flattering jump suit, harness, hat, lanyard for sunglasses, even a hankie. We were not permitted anything else: no camera, not even a watch! With all the cars and pedestrians below, I suppose that only makes sense. Fortunately, our excellent guide also took pictures. The climb ascends some 1,332 steps until we were nearly 440 feet high. As you would imagine, this offered a pretty spectacular view!
After a quick sandwich in a lovely neighborhood known as the Rocks I hopped on a ferry to Manly whose beach was recommended by many locals over the more well-known Bondi Beach. As you can tell from the photos, the beach, while scenic, was pretty empty. I’m pretty sure there were more seagulls than people!mThere were a few hardy souls in wetsuits doing a little surfing, but not a lot of folks. I didn’t stay long as I was pretty tired (can’t imagine why!). The last picture shows water for all: a drinking fountain, a refill spot for water bottles, and even a bowl of water for the pups. Cool!
My 19-day cruise ended Sunday morning as we sailed into Sydney Harbour, gliding past the incomparable Sydney Opera House and the majestic Harbour Bridge. Getting over 4,000 passengers off a ship takes a while; it was the only time I really felt crowded. Even when I was off the ship I had to drag my luggage (well, at least this time I still have my luggage!) uphill a block because my Uber driver couldn’t get to the designated pickup point because of all the traffic. Yikes!
After that, I checked into my hotel, dropped off my bags, and set about exploring Sydney, Australia. As taxis and Ubers would be expense to use regularly, I bought an Opal card, used when taking local trains and busses. There’s a bus stop a short block from my hotel that takes me pretty much anywhere I’d like to go.
As recommended by a couple of new Australian friends, I headed for the Royal Botanic Garden. Wow! It’s huge and filled with plants, flowers, and lots of lawn where families and friends gathered on a glorious, sunny, warm Sunday afternoon. I also visited Government House, taking a tour of the home of the crown-appointed Governor of the state of New South Wales.
Later I took a guided tour of the Sydney Opera House. This place is amazing! I’ll be back here on Tuesday for a performance of “The Marriage of Figaro.” (Hey, what better way to experience the Opera House than to, you know, see an opera here!).
Got back to my apartment around sundown, after a long but quite wonderful day.
Thursday we stopped at Picton, on the South Island of New Zealand. I joined an excursion that started with a short ride on a train pulled by the “Passchendaele,” a steam locomotive built in 1915 and named in honor of New Zealanders who gave their lives in a World War I battle in 1917 at Passchendaele. We journeyed through Marlborough, New Zealand’s prime winery region known especially for Sauvignon Blanc.
Our one stop was in Blenheim, a lovely small town with shops, restaurants, a beautiful memorial square, and a river park. The day was bookended by a beautiful sunrise as we sailed into Picton and an even more glorious sunset as we began our final leg towards Sydney, Australia.
Wednesday I enjoyed a day in Wellington, New Zealand. Cool, cloudy, misty — but still a very enjoyable day. I had booked a tour called “In the Footsteps of the Lord of the Rings,” which promised a small-group visit to locations near Wellington where Peter Jackson filmed some of the sequences for the Lord of the Rings movies. Unlike most tours booked through the cruise line, there were only four of us on this journey to Middle Earth.
Our first stop was the Dry Creek Quarry in the Hutt Valley, used first as Helm’s Deep then later as Minas Tirith. Seeing the site it hardly seems possible that this humble location could be transformed so majestically, but such is the nature of movie magic. Next we travelled to nearby Harcourt Park used for various scenes at Isengard, home to fallen wizard Saruman.
A quick stop along the Hutt River brought us to the location for a scene in which hero Aragorn, having fallen from a cliff into a river, is aided by his faithful horse. The horse kneels by his master allowing an exhausted Aragorn to mount his steed and rejoin his comrades.
Finally we went to Kaitoke Park for a quick picnic lunch and a visit to rather small area that was used for filming scenes at the elven home of Rivendell. Each of these locations is very much smaller than I would have thought. The folks who bring us movies with stunning visuals are wizards indeed.
When I went to bed last night it was Sunday. When I woke this morning it was Tuesday. During the night we crossed the International Date Line. Normally when you change time zones you have to adjust your watch an hour forward or backward. At the Date Line, however, the adjustment is a full 24 hours — an entire day. So I’m writing this at 8 am on Tuesday at sea while it’s 2 pm on Monday in Dyersburg.
Anyway, I’ve not posted recently because I’m still in the middle of five days at sea. In a couple of days we’ll stop in Wellington, the first of our New Zealand ports, before a final two days at sea and arrival in Sydney on October 20 (which will still be the 19th for most of you reading this).
Yesterday being Sunday I attended Mass again led by Fr. Mark. I have also taken time every morning to read in the New Testament and for some journalling. The former is useful for what I hope are obvious reasons. The latter will be useful as a record of my journeys — quite helpful as I no longer remember things as easily or accurately as in the past.
Today the high is expected to be only 55° and it’s currently overcast with choppy seas. And life is very, very good, even with a day gone missing!