In this modern age we’re encouraged to avoid the use of stereotypes, particularly as applied to the female sex. But at 6 feet tall, just 30, with long hair, big blue eyes and the slimness inherent in a life where two-legs must constantly keep pace with four… I accepted, long ago, that in most circles, old habits die hard.
Thus rather than flush with a fit of pique each time I’m the proverbial book judged by its cover, I’ve learnt to take the highs and lows and call them even. As whilst proving one’s wits in the boardroom may become a bore, there’s nothing like the moment a burly rural male, thrice my size and twice my age, seeks the urgent aid of the local snake-catcher, only to find out it’s me…
Growing up on Kingbilli, completing school at home, and generally running wild amidst wombats, dogs, kangaroos, horses – and everything in between – has produced a forthright, free-spirited creature who is rarely to be found in the same place at the same time.
The history of Kingbilli is inextricably entwined with my own: some say the piece of land which bore me is in my blood, and they’re right. Sure, I have closed those heavy timber gates behind me on many occasions … toured the country and parts of the globe; worked as much in zoos as behind a computer; and wrangled everything from Australian politicians to Amazonian vampire bats (the bats were easier) … but I always come home.
Both on and outside the farm, the only predictable parts of my life are my animals and textbooks. I’m an incurable nerd, and anything which holds my interest soon becomes an impassioned course of study.
I have spent 10 years in and out of universities… not that any have managed to contain me in a classroom; on the contrary, as far as I’m concerned, a book, a laptop and a live version of the topic at hand is all I need, hence my lecturers were forced to package their wisdom in portable format, and only saw me when intensive laboratory or field work was required (dissecting snakes, trapping dingoes, that sort of thing). My degree majored in conservation biology, with a minor in animal behaviour.
Postgraduate university studies focused on herpetology and canine behaviour… whilst a small string of TAFE certificates elucidated the intricacies of dangerous dog training and venomous snake handling.
My mobile mode of study has meant that whilst accumulating qualifications I have retained time to work, not only on the farm, but in the big wide world, and with the animals I treasure. Thus, I’m also an experienced veterinary nurse, dog trainer and groomer, snake catcher and former zookeeper at Healesville Sanctuary, and have spent most of the last decade rescuing and rehabilitating injured and orphaned wildlife.
Folk often ask if I always wanted to work with animals – but for me, not only was there no question, there was no conscious decision – merely a progression of my natural way of life. Since first I could walk, I roamed the bush both on and far around Kingbilli, making memories with creatures it was an honour to meet. My best mates were my dogs, horses and a lone pet cat, all of whom generally followed along wherever I went (and still do).
My mother came to accept I would come home only when I was hungry… and my infinitely patient husband, Simon, knows it pays to be a good vegetarian cook!
Early on, I realised that whilst furthering my knowledge in the four-legged world for the benefit of me and my entourage is all well and good, it must serve a greater purpose than the well-being of only those animals I’ve managed to adopt (and there are a few), and the constant lecturing of friends and family on how to better train their pets or treat their local wildlife.
Hence, over the last ten years, I have been a regular speaker and animal demonstrator at a myriad of events, from conferences and public expos to primary schools and community group Christmas parties.
My favourite topics are generally reptile conservation and the safe handling and training of so-called dangerous dogs – what can I say, I have a passion for things with big teeth and bad reputations! But, inevitably, local audiences drag the conversation around to the last time I was seen hanging from a tree in the main street (chasing a Koala), whilst primary schoolers want to learn the art of bottle feeding a platypus.
I guess it pays to have led a varied life!
Meanwhile, at Kingbilli, I’m lucky enough to be able to use the ample foundations created by my folks to build a microcosm of my own idealistic dream for Mother Earth – a place with no need for lectures, as visitors can simply immerse themselves in the reality of the lesson, without any words.
Here, if only in a small way, we have the unique opportunity to reverse one of the less appealing influences of our modern world; that is, the loss of the close relationships mankind once enjoyed with our other fellow “Earth-lings”: animals.
Like me, many children form strong bonds with their pets, or develop fascinations for the weird and wonderful creatures which exist in the wild. But as they grow up, the necessities of school, work, relationships and the pressures induced by urban lifestyles prohibit the continuation of these interests. Yet, isn’t it fascinating, as science and technology advances, more of us spend more time looking back, investigating and reviving parts of ancient cultures whereby the relationship between humans and other species were far more fluid, both spiritually and practically, and clearly, mutually beneficial.
Every day, more studies show the tangible mental and physical health benefits of greater interactions between people, animals and nature as a whole.
As I child, I remember a family friend claiming Kingbilli was “where the world stops at the gate”, and I’ve never forgotten the phrase.
What a marvellous notion!… to provide holidaymakers with more than the literally physical escape from life’s daily pressures, but a mental, or perhaps even spiritual escape, where one is not simply blotting out the outside world, but experiencing an alternative to it, in order to be able to return with a new, more holistic perspective.
The overarching idea at Kingbilli is harmony: a mutually beneficial co-existence between human and animal – both in their domesticated and truly wild forms – all living harmoniously within the simple bounds of nature.
A permaculture of vertebrates, if you will!
In other words, I want it to be a place where people, from all walks of life – but most particularly parents and their children – can slip back into a time when life was at one with itself. Where children can run free, without risk or reprisal, where adults can breathe, and take time to regenerate… where the only hustle and bustle is in the morning birdsong; the only traffic is a wombat in the drive; and the social calendar consists of cuddling a donkey, feeding the swans or picnicking amongst a herd of lazy llamas.
In this way, Kingbilli can begin to do for others what it has long since done for me.
The life I have led thus far has been one of tremendous privilege, but not of the kind many folk first assume. As eccentric, or perhaps even crazy as this will sound, some of the lessons I have
learnt alone with animals have been the most valuable of a lifetime.
Never have I encountered such wisdom, nor patience, than in my old horse who taught me every training trick I know. Never have I seen such courage, nor will-to-live, than in some of the wild animals I have tried to save. Never such inter-species care and affection as a kangaroo patiently grooming a llama’s coat… nor such selfless devotion as in the big brown pools of my Dobermann’s eyes.
The animals in my life have given me some of my happiest and saddest moments… and now, I am watching my son revel in his own versions of these same experiences.
If everyone had more such moments, the world would be a better place.