MEMOIR

Printed in Emerald Messenger, November 2019

ALONG OLD EMERALD ROAD – A FISHY RESCUE

Parrots wait in the trees around the back door as we return from early training at the Pony Club. The sound of seed on the bird feeder sets Libby’s excited tail wagging for her own breakfast in the enclosed verandah. She leaps against the flywire, gloats when rosellas fly. They circle round and return, realising she’s just kidding. Cheeky kookaburras hop up to the wire hopefully, smelling her breakfast after swooping on their own. Shy king parrots wait until I take Libby indoors.

After loving pats and knee nuzzles I set to work weeding out invaders among my amazing heathland plants. My ten acres of natural bush is unfenced so Libby must stay on the six metre training leash hooked up high on a branch to allow her as much movement as possible.

She watches me intently then pulls a few weeds herself before starting on my new planting! Life is all around us, unseen, leaving varied scents in wombat holes or on bark chewed by sugar gliders. A wallaby’s track through the dense impenetrable coral fern that stretches down through the forest to the creek.

Hearing a thump, I glance up to spot the wallaby but he’s already half way down to the creek. I turn back to Libby. No Libby. No lead. No sound. She couldn’t have got loose from that high, upward turning branch stub! She has. She briefly gives tongue from way down the hill – invisible, in some wallaby tunnel under the fern among the tall, sturdy peppermint gums.

I set off in search of my precious, exuberant young Libby. I track her all the way down to the creek calling, calling, pushing through chest-high fern until tree ferns rear above the water. A fallen log will not take me across the creek but could have taken Libby.

No reply. No Libby. No wallaby. No sound.

What’s that? I try pushing through the tangled fern. It’s impossible. It wraps itself around me, clings to me, trips me. If I fall here and can’t get up I will never be found. Nobody would hear me scream. Bush blocks each side are unoccupied. I have seen how completely a road-kill kangaroo carcass can be dispersed and scattered by fox, goanna, unseen wild dogs. Risking an accident here is not common sense.

What really lives in my peaceful Australian bush, nobody knows. Across the creek is a cleared flat surrounded by huge manna gums. Did a puma drape that goat carcass over a branch six or seven metres from the ground? They say they eat dogs.

Surely she can find her way home with such acute hearing, scent and energy.

I return but can’t settle. Hours pass. I keep calling without response. I try on the next block but can’t get far. I swallow my pride and call up friends to help, a teacher and an accountant, entreating them to come and help me search after work. I wait. At least the days are lengthening.

Down Old Emerald Road they come, young and active, to battle the fern. I jump in the car to search the other side of the creek, a circuitous drive through Emerald and Avonsleigh to reach scattered dwellings beyond. I grind down driveways and knock on strange front doors. ‘My dog’s gone missing. Shaggy, black, medium-sized spoodle-kelpie cross, a year or so old. Would you mind if I searched down by the creek?’

‘You’ll never get through!’ The answer is invariably accompanied by an amazed shake of the head. Well, the blackberries hadn’t quite taken over my creek bank. The goat dealt with them while it lived. I keep on going downstream. With all her energy my Libby could be in the mountains by now.

My friends heard her but could not locate her. They can’t stay any longer. ‘She’ll come home at dark, when she’s hungry.’ All that expenditure of time, petrol and energy for nothing.

All evening I hear the deep silence of the gloomy bush louder than city sounds. Bedtime comes and goes. I leave the verandah door open. I wake from fitful sleep to find the sun well up and the verandah empty.

All hope gone, I mope all morning. Massive storm clouds roll in to obliterate the sun. How could a mere animal wind herself around my heart like this? Could somebody have kept her?

I sit at the computer to print notices as the afternoon storm explodes overhead – thunder, lightning, torrential rain. I picture Libby curled up in a friendly home and comfort myself. She doesn’t like the rain and will head for a house. I wait for the worst of the massive storm to pass before venturing back onto Old Emerald Road.

I leave leaflets in Emerald and head downstream. On the roads that access properties along the creek there is no place suitable for my notice. Then, aha! The sign to the Trout Farm. Lots of people!

But by now it’s closing time. I wave a leaflet in front of the friendly proprietor as he shuts the gates. Steve takes it and stands absorbing the content, rubbing his chin.

Suddenly his face lights up. ‘Of course I’ll put it up for you. But look, I’ve been hearing a dog bark down there for a couple of days.’ He nods upstream towards my property.

‘Where?’ I’m tensing to run.

‘Oh, you’ll never get through.’ He shakes his head, smiling. ‘Blackberries! Look here, I’ve got something to do down there when I change my clothes.’ He waves a reassuring finger. ‘You go home and get yourself some tea. I’ll ring you the moment I find anything.’

Almost incoherent with raised hopes and gratitude, I can only nod and whisper, ‘Thanks so much. That’s really kind of you.’ Eat. Wait. Drink tea. Wait.

The phone rings. “I’ve got her. You can come and get her as soon as you like.” I love this young man! I’m avid to know what happened.

He said he slashed his way through the blackberries. Everything was silent. Way towards my property he spotted a black head trembling below a huge tree across the creek.

Libby had tried to follow her escaping wallaby. The jumble of twigs and broken branches caught her lead. Her struggles resulted in further tangle. Trapped, thirsty and exhausted, she jumped down to seek a drink in the shallow creek. The lead just reached. She didn’t hang herself but nor could she jump back. She paddled in icy water. For two days. Without food. Creeks rise dramatically after such a torrential storm!

Steve found Libby’s head barely visible above the surging water. She shrank terrified her ears laid back, growling. He soothed her as he set about untangling six metres of tangled lead. Suddenly she realised what he was about and her eyes filled with grateful pleading. He lifted her to the bank, free, and wallowed out after her.

Home at the fish farm he fed my starving  girl half a kilo  of mince and dried her off before releasing her in a grassy, fenced paddock with his two beautiful German shepherds to keep her company. She was having a ball! When I arrive she runs up and stands wagging, gazing into her saviour’s eyes, telling him just how grateful she is.

She eventually consents to return with me, settling for a treat and her regular bed for the evening – my lap. My beautiful girl, still with me, administering small tongue kisses to my caressing hand.

My own little miracle, rescued by an angel.

In memoriam. In all the years since, my irreplaceable Liebling herself has been my angel, my happiness, until last month just days short of her 16th birthday when she was laid to rest at the bottom of my garden.