Updated: Aug 23, 2022
This morning I woke up to the gentle music of the ocean. I got up and scampered up the stairs, walking out onto the balcony. Tiles cool underneath my feet, I smiled at the hues of the rising sun. I leaned forward slightly, holding onto the railing, while I focused on my breathing. My chest rose and fell, sinking in my surroundings. After a while, I felt a chill. Adelaide’s still warmer than home, even though the early mornings can be deceptive. I turned around. As I approached the sliding door again, I noticed Isobel standing there. I wasn’t sure how long she’d been watching. Still, my chest did not feel heavy in Isobel’s presence, even though we’d not long met in person.
“It’s beautiful out there, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it is,” I agreed with a smile.
“Your phone’s been ringing,” Isobel pointed out, handing it over to me.
The missed call was from Patrick. I headed inside, and back downstairs, to return his call.
“Hey, how are you going?” I asked, when he answered.
“Yeah, good, good,” Patrick replied, then yawned. “Tired, really tired.”
“Sloane’s gone back to Mary’s place with the baby. They’ve said that I can sleep on the lounge for a few days.”
I could faintly hear his body shifting.
“It’s OK, it’s good,” Patrick added. “How are you?”
“I am having the most marvellous time.”
“That’s great,” Patrick replied, but I noticed a pang in his voice, distant and absent.
From upstairs, I could hear water running. It must have been Mum, Dad, Nanek or Isobel having a shower.
“We got to see Medan and Georgia and the baby.”
“That’s awesome.” In the background, I could hear an infant’s cry. “Sorry, I’ve got to go.”
“I’ll call back later,” Patrick promised, then we ended the call.
By the doors which led out onto the balcony sat a cactus and a mother-in-law’s tongue, in two little pots. I ducked into Mum and Dad’s room to grab my clothes, then slipped into the bathroom to change clothes. An Adelaide winter is warmer than Hobart, albeit not by much, so I made sure to rug up nonetheless. Once I was dressed, I ambled back down the stairs.
“Are you ready to go for the day?” Isobel wanted to know.
“Yes, I am,” I confirmed. “If it’s anything like yesterday was, then I’m sure that it’ll be a pretty awesome day.”
“Well, would you like to start it off by having breakfast?”
“That sounds good.”
“Alright, there are some lovely places in Glenelg.”
“Don’t you need to get to the zoo?”
“Technically I have the day off today, but we’ll head in later,” Isobel mentioned. “I’ve been officially tasked with looking after you while you’re here. Therefore, having breakfast with you is my job.”
“You’re very persuasive.”
With that, we strolled into Glenelg and happened upon a café. Nanek kept muttering under her breath.
“Let’s just have a nice breakfast,” Isobel suggested, and I was pleased enough with that idea.
I don’t know what Nanek’s problem is. Maybe it’s being away from home and in a big city – but come on, it’s Adelaide. A waitress approached our table.
“Can I get you anything?”
“Yes, please,” Isobel accepted. “Could I please have a chai latte and eggs Benedict with a hash brown?”
“Same for me too, please,” I requested, then looked at Isobel. “That’s my favourite breakfast order.”
The waitress scribbled it down, then left. It was only after she was gone that I realised I should have asked for it without bacon, as I often do. Nanek asked me what was the matter in Bahasa, sensing that something was wrong. She urged me that I ought to speak up and say something, so I waited nervously until the waitress passed us again.
“Sorry, I just ordered eggs Benedict, could I please have that without bacon?” I requested.
“Of course,” the waitress agreed, then returned to the kitchen.
Our drinks and breakfast arrived before too long. The conversation died down for a moment while we ate.
“You’re eighteen, aren’t you?”
“I am. Nineteen in March.”
Isobel sipped her chai latte.
“With respect, Jumilah, you’re a baby. You have no idea how much your life is going to change.”
“Fair enough. I can cop that.”
“Where do you see yourself in five years?”
“That’s such a cliched question,” I retorted with a laugh.
Isobel finished her drink.
“Still, I would be keen to know your answer.”
“Well, the zoo would be up and running, obviously.”
“Hopefully that will be the case by this time next year.”
The waitress cleared our plates from the table. After leaving the café, we ambled back to Isobel’s house. My heart started to thump within my chest once again as we piled into her car, so that she could drive us through Adelaide. It’s a smooth, electric vehicle and this would be another day which I would spend with animals and their people – absolutely perfect. We arrived to the zoo in time for the new arrival.
“He’s a beast,” a curly-haired young keeper confirmed.
I couldn’t see anything, only a wooden crate still with stickers on it from the airport, which rocked just a little.
“You are in for one almighty treat.”
“I’ll be counting on that,” Isobel remarked. “Joel, this is Jumilah Fioray.”
“Oh, the Jumilah Fioray.”
“The one and only,” I confirmed.
Joel shook my hand firmly.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Jumilah Fioray.”
“Pleasure’s all mine.”
“I’m Joel Donovan, carnivore keeper from Perth Zoo.”
“And Joel’s brought us this male lion,” Isobel noted, “who we should get offloaded.”
The forklift transported the crate into the back-of-house area, onto a trolley to be pulled into place. I watched as the door to the crate was lined up with the door to the next den, so that they both could be lifted, to keep lion and human as safe as possible. Once the slides were lifted, Mwenyezi ambled out into the den, more calmly than I expected.
“He’s settling in really well,” Joel remarked.
“When are you going to let him out on exhibit?” Isobel wanted to know.
“We could do it as soon as you’re ready.”
“Do you reckon?”
“I think so,” Joel said. “We all need the chance to stretch our legs.”
The Adelaide carnivore keepers agreed that they would let Mwenyezi out into his exhibit for the first time. Isobel, Joel and I wandered around to the front, to stand at the point where the public view the lions. Mwenyezi was quick to climb the tree and survey his new home. The view would stretch all the way to the River Torrens beyond. Satisfied, the three of us ambled in the direction of the tamarin and marmoset cages, which will be removed for the next stage of development.
“So, Joel, are you staying in Adelaide overnight?”
“No, I’m not, unfortunately. Bill’s got me on the next flight back to Perth.”
“What a shame.”
“Yeah, it is.”
“So, I guess now this beast is offloaded, that’s goodbye.”
“Yeah,” Joel confirmed, with a hint of sadness in his voice, “but I’m sure that it won’t be too long before we’re transferring animals again.”
Isobel looked towards me.
“Jumilah, you’ve got the primate TAG meeting now, don’t you?”
“Oh, yes, I do,” I confirmed with a panic, checking my watch.
“Go and find Don, join with him.”
“Of course, thank you.”
I scampered off towards the zoo offices. Arriving at the gate, it was locked. I sighed, not sure quite what to do. Thankfully, an older man came to my rescue.
“You’re Jumilah Fioray, aren’t you?”
“And you’re Harold Hammond,” I said, recognising him eventually.
“Yes, I am. Are you coming through here?”
“Yes, I would like to, if that’s alright. Don said I could join the primate TAG meeting.”
“Of course, come right through.”
Harold unlocked the gate and held it ajar for me to pass through.
He’d always struck me as a gentleman, from the little I knew of him through the carnivore TAG meetings. I followed Harold down the path and into the offices.
“Don’s just in on the left there.”
I knocked on the doorframe. Don sat behind his desk, glancing up and greeting me with a grin.
“Hello, Jumilah, thank you for joining me.”
“It’s a pleasure,” I assured him.
“Come in,” Don urged, beckoning me inside.
I did just that. Don and I sat next to each other at his desk, to join the primate TAG meeting. I gazed around the office, at the framed photographs on the walls, from the history of Adelaide Zoo.
“The last Javan Rhinoceros in captivity lived here,” Don explained.
I nodded my head. The meeting started. I couldn’t help but wonder what the future of Adelaide Zoo would hold. The period of panda-monium would not last forever. I also couldn’t help but feel peckish, because we hadn’t been able to make time for lunch. We’d make up for it with dinner, I supposed, once the workday was done.
“Firstly, I’d like to congratulate Tessa on behalf of Hamilton Zoo for your accreditation into WAZA.”
I instinctively looked at Don, who made sure that we were muted.
“The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums,” he explained.
“Thank you, it’s good news,” Tessa replied.
“Today’s meeting will be considering the regional siamang population.”
“First things first, we need to consider the exciting opportunity posed by the wild-born pair at Adelaide,” Gerard noted, “to re-pair those animals to supplement our existing bloodlines.”
“I’m not sure how I feel about that,” I admitted.
“If not monogamous, siamangs can be a polyandrous species, not polygynous.”
I felt grateful for Reuben, standing up for me with his lofty vocabulary.
“Perhaps this is a matter the AI sub-committee can consider,” Christine noted, ending the discussion.
“I’ve got a question of the white-cheeked gibbon coordinator,” Gilham from Rockhampton Zoo enquired. “We’d like to house the species.”
“Bill, you’re the white-cheeked gibbon studbook keeper,” Christine pointed out. “What would you say to that request?”
“Well, yes, down the line, of course. I would have to look at the animals which we have and get back to you. We, well, mostly have a thriving program.”
“Alright, thank you, Bill. I’d appreciate a decision about that sooner rather than later.”
“Have we decided on a main focus for next week’s meeting?”
“No, we haven’t yet,” Christine answered. “Perhaps we could consider the questions around the regional gibbon population.”
That was decided upon.
“Let’s move onto the member reports.”
It felt surreal to have Don next to me as a real person, rather than just a face on the screen. I took to my left at him. Don would be first, I knew. I suppose that to take the name Acarda Zoo, would mean that we would take that prime position in the TAG meetings.
“Firstly, I’m joined by Jumilah Fioray today. She’s visiting from Hobart with her parents and her grandmother, Jelita Sitompul. It’s been wonderful having Jelita and Jumilah with us so that they can be reunited with her animals.”
“Unfortunately, we lost our baboon baby. She was born alive, we believe, but she died shortly after birth.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Don replied.
“Gilead Wildlife Sanctuary?”
“As we speak, one of our Sumatran Orang-utans is in labour,” Angelique announced. “I will do my best to keep you updated, I’m sorry if I’m a little distracted. I’m watching the stream from the dens.”
She sounded giddy with excitement.
“Monarto Safari Park?”
“Last Thursday, there was a scuffle amongst our chimpanzee troop. We don’t officially have an alpha. Unfortunately, one of the males has ended up with a broken jaw. It’s serious, and our wildlife hospital is very busy at the moment, but we’re hopeful he will be able to make a full recovery.”
“Orana Wildlife Park?”
“I’m following up in regards to spider monkeys, and whether we’re able to import, from Australia or abroad,” Mal enquired, and it was agreed that the matter would be followed up before next week.
“Bill’s not here, so I presume we’re not getting a report from Perth Zoo today.”
“I take it that he’s busy with the Indian rhinos coming.”
“Yes, are they arriving next week?”
“Yeah, the pair’s coming from the US.”
“That’ll be a great addition to the region.”
“I don’t have anything else to add other than what I mentioned before about the white-cheeked gibbons. My only hope is that I didn’t come across as too bullish.”
“You didn’t, don’t worry,” Reuben assured.
“We’re training our female gorillas for ultrasounds. We hope that this will make managing their pregnancies easier.”
“Great, if you learn anything, please let us know,” Reuben requested, and Sam agreed.
“My turn.” Christine was beaming. “I’m thrilled to announce the birth of a healthy baby girl to Sara, our female chimpanzee.”
“It’s a big week for chimpanzees.”
“Yes, yes,” Christine agreed. “It’s early days, of course, but we’re really thrilled to have a live birth.”
The meeting came to an end. Don switched off the computer, then stood up. Once I was on my feet, I made sure to tuck in my chair underneath the desk.
“Right, time to get back to work,” he declared, and I followed him out of his office, then out of the building.
As Don and I stepped back out of the gate, we happened upon Isobel.
“How was the primate TAG meeting?”
“Interesting as ever,” Don answered.
“Good,” I answered. “How’s Joel Donovan?”
“Joel, that was good that Bill spared him for the day,” Don interjected.” Is he staying overnight?”
“No, he’s gone back already.”
“Well, that’s a shame.”
Don glanced towards his watch.
“Oh, I forgot, I agreed that I would meet with Harold. Isobel, will you be right with Jumilah?”
“Yes, of course,” she agreed.
Passing the rotunda, Isobel and I walked through the centre of the zoo. I’d started to get my bearings a bit more, so was expecting the squirrel monkey exhibit to be on the right. We passed through into the southeast Asian precinct, the corners of my lips curving into a smile. Selamat datang was carved into the sandstone pillars on other side. It was cool inside the precinct, trees shading overhead.
“It’s strange,” I noted. “So often I say ‘My grandfather was killed, my grandfather was murdered’.”
The cool breeze ruffled my hair.
“It just rolls off the tongue now.”
I wanted to laugh, even though that seemed pretty morbid. Isobel led me around to the right, where the former sun bear exhibit was now habituated by a pygmy hippo.
“But occasionally, when I want to let someone in, I say the M-word. I say that he was murdered, because he was. At the end of the day, that’s what happened. Someone fired a gun, three times, and shot him and that killed him.”
I glanced up at the canopy above and took a breath. The siamangs started calling.
“It was just like this. I could have even said it was perfect.”
My eyes fell shut. Nothing happened. I could see it playing out, but I heard nothing.
“Then, he died. He was shot, he was murdered.”
I opened my eyes.
“I’m not sure if I’ll ever let it go.”
When we approached the aviary, Isobel made sure to hold the door for me, as I was moving faster than an airlock system could handle. The birds and leaves were beautiful. I made sure we passed through slowly. The air around me felt a little cold and damp, but I paid attention to every sound. Once we exited the aviary, I could hear the calls of the siamangs again. We ambled up the boardwalk, heavily shaded by this point of the afternoon, the Malayan Tapirs bathing in their pool below. One of the Dusky Langurs scampered across to a limb of the tree, then slid down to the fork. I giggled.
“These are the only ones of their species in Australia, is that right?” I checked.
“Yes, we have four of them, they’re all siblings. The females are on contraception so that they won’t interbreed.”
As the zoo was closing, Isobel took me across to the new Australian section.
“I’ve heard a fair bit about this,” I admitted. “I go to the bird TAG meetings sometimes.”
“Oh, that’s good,” Isobel praised. “I hope that I didn’t take you away from that this morning.”
“That’s alright,” I assured. “Our breakfast was lovely.”
I noticed the last group of kids leaving for the day. With their departure, the gates were closed.
“I don’t pretend to know what you’re going through in relation to your grandfather. It must have been awful; it must still be awful.”
I nodded my head, no lie in her words.
“That was good to meet Joel from Perth today.”
“Yeah, it was.”
I noticed a blush creep into Isobel’s cheeks, but I didn’t say anything about it. It could hardly blame her if she felt giddy around him.
“There’s been something I’ve been meaning to ask you about, actually.”
“Oh, yeah,” Isobel invited me to go on.
“We’ve been trying to think of a name, of what we’re going to call ourselves,” I explained, “and if we’re going to call ourselves a zoo, or something else.”
We found somewhere to sit down.
“Well, this place is a zoo because it’s always been a zoo. Monarto was a zoo, but now it’s a safari park.”
I started to feel a little bit of a headache coming on, under the weight of decision making. For clarity, I blinked once.
“We’re not exactly a safari park.”
All the government zoos seem to be zoos, except Monarto and Healesville. Even Werribee is a zoo, albeit with the ‘open range’ explainer.
“What about Acarda Zoo?” I proposed.
“Is Acarda the Aboriginal name for your part of Tassie?”
“No, it’s not, actually. It’s an anagram of my grandparents’ kids’ names.”
“Do you mean an acronym?”
“Yeah,” I agreed with a slightly embarrassed chuckle. “An acronym.”
“It’s certainly striking. If you want to, I reckon you should go for it. Call your place whatever you want to call your place.”
“A zoo would be the same as Tasmania Zoo, it’d give a little bit of familiarity.”
“Perfect,” Isobel reckoned. “Have you got time, before we find your parents?”
“Yeah, of course,” I agreed.
Isobel and I got up, and I followed her.
“Look, it’s not open yet, but it’s all ready to go, pretty much.”
She let me into Adelaide’s new nocturnal house.
“Can I ask you, have they been able to find out who killed your grandfather?” Isobel enquired.
I shook my head, then shrugged my shoulders.
“Sort of. The police reckon they know.”
Isobel and I returned to Mum, Dad and Nanek.
“What have you two been up to?”
“We’ve been talking about what we’re going to call ourselves, when we start our zoo. That’s the name I think’s best.”
I smiled, trying to be confident.
“Well, what do you reckon? We can call ourselves Acarda Zoo.”
“Let’s do it.”
Just like that, the decision was made. We left the zoo and headed back to Isobel’s home. The five of us took turns, showering and getting changed, the others planted in front of the evening news downstairs. A child had drowned in a stormwater drain down the coast. She was only five years old. Once her distressed parents had finished speaking, Nanek got up, unable to absorb any more. Just before we were about to go out for dinner, Patrick called.
“It’s incredible,” I vowed. “I’m having the best time.”
I glanced over my shoulder.
“Actually, we’re about to go and have some dinner, can I call you back later?”
“Yeah, of course,” Patrick agreed.
I ended the call, even though I could hear a hint of disappointment in his voice. My chest felt tight – neither of us could be available to each other all the time. I assumed there was an unspoken understanding.
“Is everything alright?” Mum checked.
“Yeah,” I assured, even though it wasn’t strictly true.
We departed. Isobel led us along the street, to a Mexican restaurant, where we followed her inside and found a table, making an order of water and dishes for the table, before Isobel went to the bathroom. Nanek told me that she loves me. I echoed her sentiments, drinking in the love I saw within her deep brown eyes. Isobel returned from the bathroom.
“Is everything alright?” she checked.
“Yes,” I confirmed, taking a sip of my drink of water in a wineglass.
“It’s been a hard year,” Nanek admitted. “The last six months have been very difficult.”
Waiters placed down dishes to share on the table.
“Thank you,” I gushed.
“Listen, who makes the decisions about these siamangs?” Nanek wanted to know.
“There’s no studbook keeper at present.”
“They really do need to find someone to fill that role.”
“I hope that I don’t sound bad, but why did Jackson have it in the first place?”
“They wanted to share things around, I think, and make sure our newest member felt included.”
“So, will my granddaughter be a studbook keeper?” Nanek wanted to know.
“I’m not sure, to be honest,” Isobel answered. “Would you like to be a studbook keeper, Jumilah?”
“I mean, it sounds great,” I responded. “I’d love to hold the siamang studbook. I’m just not sure if we’d all be ready for that, yet.”
I breathed out, chest feeling tight. The others were eating, but I didn’t feel like I had much of an appetite.
“Are you alright, Jumilah?” Mum checked, in a low voice.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I assured. “I just don’t want to claim something I can’t have.”
“I’m sure that everything will be sorted out.”
Nanek asked what the matter was, speaking in Bahasa.
“Alright, let’s talk about something else.” I smiled to keep the peace. “Tell me more about this African development.”
“We’ll have pygmy hippos at Adelaide and river hippos at Monarto,” Isobel outlined. “The lions will double up and, obviously, we have our new male now.”
She fetched her phone out of her handbag.
“I wonder whether Joel’s back in Perth yet.”
“Would you like the last taco, Jumilah?” Mum asked me.
“Yes, please, if you don’t mind,” I accepted, “or we could split it.”
“No, it’s fine, you have it.”
Mum dished it up onto my plate, so that I could gobble it down.
“Thank you, this is delicious.”
“Have you heard anything about Sloane and the adoption?”
“I’m pretty sure she’s planning on keeping the baby.”
“What’s this, sorry?” Isobel asked, still a little distracted by her phone.
“Her suitor fornicated with a young girl and she’s birthed a baby,” Nanek described. “The natural father is in prison for taking advantage of her.”
“I suppose that you could put it that way,” I responded. “My boyfriend’s ex just had a baby. He wasn’t the father, but he thought he was the father. He’s still sort of attached.”
“Wow, that must be tough for all of you.”
“Yeah, it is a little bit,” I admitted, not wanting to say more than that.
This must be hard for Patrick. I don’t think I contemplate that enough.
“Anyway, enough about me and my life. We’re not here to talk about that.”
“Would you like to go out to Monarto?”
“Well, yeah, that would be great. I mean, we’ve come to see the baby and I would love to learn, so if we could go to Monarto before we have to leave, then that would be fantastic.”
“It’s a date, we can head out later in the week.”
A waiter came to clear the table.
“Thank you, that was lovely.”
I glanced around.
“Would you like to go home now?”
“Yeah, let’s go.”
We rose from the table, paying for the meal on the way out.
“Let me chip in for my food,” Isobel requested, getting out her purse.
“Please, it’s our shout. You’re hosting us.”
We departed the restaurant, the night air cold. When I returned to Isobel’s place, I fell asleep quickly, with a smile on my face.
Jumilah Fioray is a recent high school graduate from lutruwita, Tasmania. Her parents, Catherine and Adriano Fioray, met at the University of Melbourne in the 1990s and returned to Hobart after finishing their degrees, where they raised their daughter and worked in agriculture. Jumilah's passion for conservation reflects her grandparents' work running a sanctuary in Sumatra.
Abbey Sim is the founder of Huldah Media. She is a creative writing, law and theology student who lives on the lands of the Dharug people in Sydney, Australia. Abbey has long had a passion for the weird and the wonderful of stories, sport and zoo animals. 'From the Wild' is her first anthology.