Wednesday, June 26, 2013




Life down under is lived to a far different pace than in other parts of the world. On a global scale we start our day in an upside down position and we never really catch up to our northern cousins.  It’s a bit of a head to toe existence where night up there is day down here, and even the seasons are out of kilter.

Aussies too have a different, more casual approach to life;  some might even say it’s an irreverent snubbing of strict protocols that other countries in the northern hemisphere seem to follow so slavishly.  You disagree?

You have only to look at Australia’s three “K’s” –the Kookaburra, Koala and the Kangaroo.  The kookaburra sounds like no other bird on earth, its raucous laughter is enough to raise the dead:  

 Then there is the koala, as cuddly looking as a bear, but it isn’t – neither cuddly nor a bear: 

 And the kangaroo – what other animal in the world has a long and very strong tail that doubles both as an extra leg and a leaning post.

While the kookaburras and kangaroo’s spend their days hopping and flying about with seemingly boundless enthusiasm, their koala neighbours just flop about on high branches, at peace with the world and oblivious to all around them (helped along I might add with a  sleep inducing diet of eucalyptus leaves).

Sometimes I feel these contrary traits are even mirrored in our own human persona.

As you can see I’m a sucker for cute and unusual photos of our feathered and furry friends, especially when they’re interacting in a downright un-animal way with human counterparts.


This old photo is a perfect example; a kindly policeman in outback Queensland circa 1921 caring for a juvenile kangaroo with an injured arm.

It brought to mind an earlier story about the bushfires and the singed and weary koala accepting help from a fireman…

A similarly kind act repeated a year or so later during exceptional heatwave conditions in South Australia by a passing cyclist coming to the aid of another furry little fellow desperately in need of a drink…

I couldn’t resist including a photo for those who read the story I wrote some time ago about the Fastest Kookaburra in the World. The hero of that story could easily have been this one sharing a fence with a red breasted cockatoo, or galah as it’s commonly known in Australia.  It’s hard to know why we call this bird a galah…it’s a term more often used in Australia as a derogatory way to describe a foolish person… you’re a nutcase!… you’re a galah!

It’s rare to see the two species sharing a photo frame, though the body language speaks reams – they’re not close buddies.


Back in the early days many an orphaned Joey, (as baby kangaroos are known) found their way into caring human households where they soon became family pets. So it wasn’t all that unusual to find early 1900’s photo albums including backyard snaps of our Aussie icons interacting with their human counterparts…

Family shots of a back yard tea party, daughters of a household in their Sunday best posing with their latest playmate, and a quick snap of a barefoot miss showing her pet Joey how best to hold his drink bottle.


Tales soon began to spread about strange animals native to a faraway island tucked way down south between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. 

Firsthand accounts abounded about curious man size creatures that hopped rather than walked and carried their babies hidden in pouches.

It wasn’t surprising that by the end of the 19th century circus and tent show entrepreneurs had discovered the publicity value of Australia’s boxing Kangaroo’s.

Soon pretend sparring partners were shaping up against full sized big reds and eastern greys, taking advantage of an inborn trait that just came naturally…and still does back home in outback Australia where full grown ‘roos put on regular displays of male superiority.

Though how and why this particularly large and bewildered kangaroo was snapped strutting his stuff in London’s Piccadilly Circus is a mystery only the long deceased photographer could possibly explain.



The era is WW1, the location is Egypt and I have to wonder how on earth this Australian Army Corporal managed to conceal a young koala on board a troop ship destined for the Middle East. 

 But then again concealment possibly wasn’t necessary. 

The Corporal’s furry companion just may have been his Infantry Battalion’s official mascot, their lucky charm in the face of adversity… which suggests a heavy degree of naivety on the part of the Generals and Commanders of the day. 

With the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, a worldwide conflict said at the time to be the ‘war to end all wars’, patriotic fervour was at its highest. Such was the urge to don the uniform young men everywhere were enlisting in droves, some youngsters even altering birth certificates, adding years to their tender age.

For some the lengthy voyage to the battle fields of the northern hemisphere was a huge adventure, an extension of their school boy pranks. 
Hey Mum”, some would write home, “the trip across was beaut and we even had a couple of kangaroo’s on board the ship”.

And while some suspicious Mums at home might have wondered if the lads were telling porkies, maybe to reassure the folk at home, unbelievably to us now, they were telling the truth.

At the start of the Great War in 1914 such was the urge to identify with home many Australian fighting units transported their animal mascots with them to Egypt, the jumping off point for the Middle East part of the world wide conflict.

The little kangaroo, above in the first photo set against the Pyramids at the Australian army base at Mena Camp, was the 10th Infantry Battalion’s much pampered mascot… while the little koala shown awaiting embarkation for overseas duty was photographed with fellow volunteers wearing a mini version of the slouch hat complete with emu feathers.

Some of these mascots even made it to England where this juvenile kangaroo is shown with a nurse at the Australian Auxiliary Hospital in Harefield.  The nurse wasn’t identified but the kangaroo’s name was listed as Jimony, regimental tag number unfortunately not included.

By WW2 the novelty of mascots travelling overseas had either waned or been frowned upon by those in authority though a few still managed to slip through the lines.

Arthur Clifton, shown here with a kangaroo smuggled aboard a transport for Malaya in 1941, enlisted in the 2/19 Infantry Battalion in 1940, disembarked in Singapore and went missing in February of 1942.  His kangaroo companion suffered a similar fate.


It’s easy enough for us in the 21st Century to frown upon the young men of long ago who took these hapless national icons to war.  Opinions and attitudes change with time.  Instead of criticising we should perhaps put ourselves in their places, imagine the fear they tried so hard to quell, the small comfort they sought at the sight of, and contact with a living, breathing part of home.

At the start of this story I promised four ‘K’s’, kookaburras, koalas, kangaroos and a King - King George 5th

Perhaps the greatest honour for our boys at the front and a little kangaroo far from the familiar warmth of his Australian homeland was this 1916 review of Australian troops by King George V on the cold and wintery field of Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire.

The review was captured on film by British Pathe, the occasion a proud one for our soldiers and their kangaroo mascot.  Soon after this film was taken many of the fine young men standing at attention would cross the English Channel enroute for the war fields of France.

And many would not return.


The Kangaroo on show to a King

From Eve Chappell, Research Coordinator of the Glen Innes Historical Society, a wonderful update on the 12th Regiments mascot.
“The Petitt family came from Pinkett, a property near Glen Innes. 

  When war broke out in 1914 the 12th Lighthorse Regiment commanded by Lt.Col Percy Abbott left the New England town for Sydney. Before they left the Petitt family gave the Regiment a kangaroo from their property as a mascot, which was promptly named ‘Bill Petitt’.

“Bill” travelled with the Lighthorse to to Sydney in April of 1915 and left for Egypt in June of the same year.

The Lt Colonel later commented in his diary about the rambunctious behaviour of the kangaroo.  It quite often lay on the hatch covers preventing the men from getting onto the deck.

It’s not certain of “Bill’s” whereabouts while the 12th Regiment was fighting in Gallipoli but it is assumed he continued onto England where he was photographed in 1916 at the Salisbury Plains review by King George V.

At the end of the war “Bill” remained in England and like most mascots more than likely ended up in a zoo.

This photo courtesy of the Glen Innes Historical Museumhistorical Museum

Many thanks to Eve, and when visiting the beautiful highlands of New South Wales be sure to drop into the Beardies History House Museum and Research Centre situated on the Gwydir Highway at Glen Innes.


Robyn Mortimer… 

With thanks and recognition to the unknown photographers of long ago.

Links to previous blogs...
Fastest Kookaburra in Australia:
Straddie flood-drought-bushfire