I’d heard about Zoe, but until I met her, I thought my buddy Greg was just pulling my leg. After all, “taking the piss” out of Yanks is an Aussie pastime.
Several years ago, I met Greg Fewson, a farmer from Western Australia, who lived as far out on the edge of the wheatbelt as anyone can, and still have any hope of finding enough rain to make something grow. The Fewson Family created Halsham Farm almost a century ago, and through good times and bad, they have persevered.
Greg grows wheat and raises sheep on several thousand acres that he rotates from year to year—sheep turd is excellent fertilizer for winter wheat. So the sheep and the wheat have a symbiotic relationship. Scattered across the vast Aussie landscape are, of course, the creatures for which Australia is best known; the ubiquitous kangaroos.
On our first drive to Halsham, 85 kms east of Katanning, Greg told me about Zoe.
Zoe the joey.
She had simply shown up one day and decided to stay; Zoe adopted the Fewson family. I could scarcely believe what Greg was telling me but she was so comfortable at Halsham Farm that she often came inside the house and stretched out on the couch in the lounge room—just one of the kids—her enormous hind legs and thick tail dangling over the far end of the sofa. At night she’d even sleep on the bed between Greg and his wife. And she loved whole wheat bread.
As Zoe grew, however, her visits became less frequent and one day, she left and didn’t come back.
Greg figured she’d found a mate and they’d never see her again. It was a logical assumption.
But two years later, in the middle of the night, and in the middle of nowhere—Halsham is miles from the nearest town – Greg was awakened by the sound of the sliding screen door in the lounge room.
Before he could crawl out of bed and confront the intruder, he heard a hard thump on the mattress between him and his wife. He reached for the light switch.
It was Zoe.
Now full-grown but apparently unaware of it, Zoe had returned, even managing to unlatch the screen door in the process. She’d come to say hello, not to move back in. The next day she was gone again and sometimes Greg would go years without seeing her. She took a mate and produced a few joeys of her own, but managed to stay in the area.
Greg moved out of the house at Halsham and restored the old homestead, 20 kilometers north. The Halsham home sat empty for a few years until Greg heard I was looking for a place to settle for a few weeks. Gracious as always, he offered me the Halsham house...
“Everything’s turned on, Jim. Make yourself at home.”
A couple days later, I was hanging laundry on the clothes line in 100 degree heat when I saw something emerge from an old tattered and long abandoned trampoline, next to the house. I turned to see the blur of a roo coming right at me. Scared me to death.
And then I thought....Zoe?
I spoke her name and she took two more hops and turned her head just so, to allow maximum ear scratchability. She almost moaned like a dog.
I finally came back inside and Zoe slept in the shade. That evening I went for a walk along the fence line. Though I’m not a runner by nature, I decided to pick up the pace a bit, only to find Zoe hopping effortlessly beside me on the far side of the fence. The damn roo wasn’t even breaking a sweat.
Aggravated by my pace, she sped ahead and waited for me at the house. When I arrived, panting, a few minutes later, Zoe was lounging on the front porch. I knew what she really wanted. A few moments later, the Roo of Halsham Farm was taking whole wheat bread right out of my hand.
“Only two pieces, Zoe,” I said, “or you’ll bloat.”
That was two years ago. Greg figured then she must be close to 15 and kangaroos in the wild rarely live past 18. But what a life she’s lived—running free in the golden light of Western Australia, and never quite sure if she was a roo or one of us. Or both. I think she lives the best of both worlds.
(Jim Stiles is publisher of the “Canyon Country Zephyr -- Planet Earth Edition” now exclusively online. He is also the author of “Brave New West.” Both can be found at www.canyoncountryzephyr.com. Stiles lives in San Juan County and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)