Orientation

Updated: Mar 19

First thing, I called our GP to make an appointment, for Thursday when I have the day off work. It’s in the morning, at 9am, to get my referral. From there, hopefully I will be able to get an appointment with a psychologist. It ought to feel like coming up for air, although there are no guarantees that will be the case. It was raining heavily as we walked out to the car. I got into the back seat and watched our property as we departed towards Sorell. Suddenly I remembered leaving this place with Mum, just before we’d given away the farm. Of course, we returned, and we resumed a new normal which has mostly served us well. Mum drove us to the council chambers. I felt like I wasn’t fully in the moment until we parked. Then, as Mum and Dad got out of the car, I took a deep breath and opened my door. It was a cool and windy morning, not quite feeling like summer weather. I closed my door behind me, and Mum locked the car. The three of us approached the council chambers, as a united front. We passed through the front doors.


“Hello, I’m Catherine Fioray,” Mum greeted the receptionist. “We’re here for a 9:15 with Bruce McKay.”


“Sure, I’ve got that here, I’ll give him a buzz,” the receptionist promised, pressing buttons on her desk phone. “You’re the zoo rezoning people, aren’t you?”


“Word travels quickly in this place,” Dad chimed in.


“It sure does.” The receptionist placed the phone to her ear. “Yeah, hi, Bruce, I’ve got your 10:15 here. Catherine and Adriano Fioray. Thanks, see you soon.”


Bruce popped out of his office.


“Hello, thanks, Katie. Come on through.”


We followed Bruce into his office. This time, he had three chairs ready to go for us, and we all sat down.


“So, what’s the verdict?”


“We have had two public complaints which we will need to address.”


“What do we do now?”


“We’ll have to meet with the people who have made the complaints. We will assess them on behalf of the council, and potentially conduct mediation if necessary.”


I nodded my head, trying to remain as calm as possible, a feeble exercise. By the time that we left the council chambers, the rain had stopped, cleared and sunshine emerged. A smile came onto my lips. It did make me feel brighter as we got back in the car and returned home, although the trip was relatively quiet. I wanted to text Patrick to tell him the (relatively) good news, but didn’t want to disturb him. The other issue on my mind was the elephant insemination in New Zealand. There isn’t anybody from Auckland Zoo on Reuben’s list of contacts, so I figured that I would have to speak to Gerard at the meeting for updates. I logged in early, and it was just Christine and I.


“Sorry, I’m a little bit early,” I apologised, tucking a stray strand of hair behind my ear.


“That’s alright.”


“Thanks for having me along.”


I sat up straighter, when Gerard joined the meeting.


“Gerard, may I ask how your elephants are going? You mentioned about the AI last week.”


“Good, thanks, I think. It will still be another couple of months before we know for sure.”


“Keep us posted, please.”


“I will. We’ll have to get you along to that TAG meeting, too.”


I would have loved that, but felt a bit too starstruck to say that out loud.


“The doc we use, he’s from your neck of the woods.”


“Ah, right.”


“We’ll have to get him in when our calf comes along,” Bill chimed in.


“Absolutely you will, he’s the best.”


A face popped up which I didn’t recognise.


“Hello, I’m Mick Sutton, I’ve been invited to come along this week.”


An awkward silence fell over the group.


“Sorry, I’m late,” Sam apologised, a little breathless. “Jumilah, I’ll mention this in the meeting, but--.”


“Good afternoon, everyone, welcome.”


The housekeeping was to once again discuss the conference.


“I do note that we have two non-ZAA members in attendance,” Angelique pointed out, “so these details ought to remain confidential, we expect.”


I’d been left hanging, in regard to Sam’s news.


“I just think that we’re setting a dangerous precedent. We just can’t let anyone swan in.”


“We’ve already let you swan in,” Reuben quipped.


“Come on, please, Reuben,” Christine chided.


While they bickered, my phone buzzed. I glanced at the text message which appeared on the screen, an offer from Tallulah to come into town and hang out with her after uni. While I would have answered, and wanted to go, my heart thumped.


“As chair of this meeting, I have given approval for Jumilah Fioray and Mick Sutton to join us.”


She spoke with calm authority.


“I trust that both of these non-members will keep details about the conference confidential.”


“Of course,” I readily agreed.


“Alright, then, if there are no other objections, we can get back to business.”


After an awkward pause, I felt a little taller. There’s no inherent reason for these people to support me. Their inclusion matters, and I gather that it does to Mick, as well.


“And, who knows,” he chimed in, “I could have membership by the end of the year. I’ve applied for my wildlife park in Coolangatta and we’d love to expand into exotic species.”


A part of me expected him to receive skepticism, but not in this company. The argument had already been wrestled over.


“Truth be told, I wanted to go to carnies, but these were the Zoom details I was given.”


“Don’t worry,” Reuben promised. “We have more fun in primates, anyway.”


“Our conference will be held in Sydney this year, so we thank Sam for putting us up. The topic will be Beyond Vertebrates – The Future of the Modern Zoo. So, get your thinking caps on about that one, it’ll certainly be interesting.”


I would have loved to be able to attend, it sure sounds really captivating.


“Is there any business arising from the minutes of the previous meeting?”


“Just following up from our previous discussions about the colobine populations. I’ve taken to heart what was said about New Zealand not contributing to these programs. I propose we commission a report to determine the viability of expansion to these programs into New Zealand zoos, specifically colobus and Francois Langur.”


“Right, should a committee prepare a report for the next meeting?”


“Yes, I would be happy with that,” Christine asserted. “I would be willing to represent the New Zealand zoos, but I would like one other representative, and two from Australia. Sam, and Reuben, would you be interested?”


They agreed.


“Right. That’s settled.”


“Is there anything else?” Reuben wanted to know.


A chorus of shaking heads facilitated Christine moving on.


“This week’s presentation is from Sam Chen at Taronga Zoo. He will be speaking about using human medicine to overcome obstacles to healthy chimpanzee pregnancies. Thank you, Sam.”


“Thanks, Christine.”


Sam started sharing his screen.


“Three years ago, we imported two female chimpanzees from Germany. We do use the human contraceptive pill for birth control purposes within our chimpanzee group. Once introductions were complete for Ruthie and Zuri, we hoped they would breed straight away. Zuri, thankfully, welcomed a healthy infant.”


The photograph of mother and baby was gorgeous.


“When Ruthie fell pregnant, she didn’t have such a happy outcome. Unfortunately, she had a stillbirth, so we needed to determine the cause.”


Even though I was interested, I could feel myself zoning out.


“We engaged a team of human specialists. These obstetricians conducted blood tests to determine that Ruthie had a blood clotting disorder which hadn’t been seen in chimpanzees before. We took the risk of treating her with human medications, adjusting the doses for chimpanzees, in order to prevent stillbirths.”


Sam changed the slides. My heart thumped.


“Thankfully, Ruthie now has a healthy male infant.”


I beamed at the photo of a baby chimpanzee smiling over his shoulder, clinging to his mother’s chest. Tears welled in my eyes, so I took a deep breath to pull myself together.


“I have a question for you,” Angelique spoke up. “Is there any consideration in the region of importing purebred chimpanzees from Europe?”


“I wouldn’t think that Europe would have purebred chimpanzees to spare.”


“We have one purebred chimpanzee in our troop,” Blessing, from Monarto, spoke up.


“I would be willing to be on a committee,” Angelique offered.


“You don’t even house chimpanzees.”


“Thank you, Sam.” Christine glimpsed at her watch. “We’ll move onto each zoo’s update. First, as usual, Don from Adelaide Zoo.”


“As we’ve mentioned before, we have a pregnant siamang.” Don smiled. “Everything is progressing well.”


This news was music to my ears. I floated through on that joy, even though I started zoning out from the other updates.


“Hamilton Zoo?”


“Yes, thank you, Christine, Tessa Finley as proxy for Hamilton Zoo today.”


Hers was one of the names on Reuben’s list.


“John is on sick leave today.”


“I’m sure we all wish him well.”


“Thanks, Christine. The only piece of news I have to report today is that the chimpanzee troop has settled following the exhibit renovations. There haven’t been any health and safety concerns for animals or visitors regarding the moat.”


“That’s really good to hear. We’ll have to see a photo next time.”


“Of course.”


“Orana Wildlife Park?”


“Thanks, Christine. Nothing to report for primates this time.”


“Thanks. Perth Zoo?”


“I thought you’d never ask,” Bill quipped.


He laughed at his own joke, even though, personally, it wore thin for me. I’ve not been around for a while, but even I could pick up on the fact that we always go in alphabetical order.


“Bill, do you have an update on the macaque troop?”


“They’re ready for travel tomorrow. I’m sure that David will be thrilled to welcome them.”


I didn’t appreciate his smarmy sarcasm.


“Yes, in fact,” David confirmed politely. “We’re all ready for troop to arrive.”


“David, you’re next for an update from Tasmania Zoo.”


“Thanks, Christine. Our white-cheeked gibbon baby is still healthy and growing well. We’ve identified that she’s a female and look forward to giving her a name before too long, so we’ll make sure to share that with you.”


“That’s great news.”


“We have a single female Sulawesi Black Macaque. I have been thinking of integrating her in with the macaque troop after they’ve been settled and quarantined. She is post-reproductive, so that isn’t a concern. Would that be considered suitable?”


“I think that would be lovely,” I spoke up.


It was therefore decided, that once the macaque troop settled in at Tasmania Zoo, Lolly would be integrated with them. I could only hope that this would be positive for all involved. It’s awful that she would be on her own, purely because she’s the last of her species in the country.


“I’m next, from Wellington Zoo. Sad news to report, I’m afraid. One of our female hybrid spider monkeys has died. Lemon was in her fifties and lived a long life.”


“I’m sorry to hear, Christine,” replied a man with a New Zealand accent whose name I didn’t recall.


He must have been from one of the smaller places over there.


Pouakai Zoo, perhaps? I must have blanked out at that point.


“Are there any welfare concerns in regard to the remaining spider monkeys?”


“No, we’ve still got two females surviving.”


“That’s good.”


“Other than that, I believe everything is going quite smoothly here.”


“Ah, Christine, your young squirrel monkeys would be approaching maturity, wouldn’t they?”


“Yes, yes, we do have two young males. I’m sure that in due course, through the proper studbook processes, we will be able to determine the best placements for those animals.”


That seemed to settle the matter.


“Werribee Open Range Zoo?”


“Thank you, Christine. I’ve noted before that we’re conducting research into our vervet troop. We have determined that some of our animals are in fact subspecific hybrids.”


“That was what you presumed, is that correct?”


“Yes, it is. We’re not breeding at present so it’s somewhat of a trivial detail.”


“Thanks for letting us know. I think we can move onto general business.”


“I’ll allow that.”


“Is there any other general business?”


“Yes, I did have one thing to ask,” Don spoke up. “Last year we spoke about artificial insemination for orang-utans and, if I remember correctly, Bill, Reuben and Angelique formed a committee to investigate. Perhaps I was hoping we could plan to hear from them at an upcoming meeting?”


“Yes, we could manage that,” Angelique promised.


“Well, we can’t do next week. We already have a full meeting. How about the week after, March seventh?”


“That would work.”


“The natural ways of things is always best,” Sam insisted, “but things, of course, don’t always work out that way. Reproductive medicine offers massive assistance, although I’m just not sure if that’s applicable to our great ape breeding programs at this stage. We can discuss in a couple of weeks, of course.”


With that, the meeting came to a close. I was keen to hear all about Tallulah’s first day of orientation, to live vicariously through her. Considering that she was in town for uni, I rode my bike in after work, which took me close to two hours. Once I arrived over the bridge, Tallulah messaged me to tell me that she’d meet me at the Domain. We found a spot in the shade to sit down. It was a picture-perfect afternoon, the Derwent glistening.


“So, tell me everything.”


“They made us do these personality tests this morning. Apparently I’m an Enneagram Type One.”


A cool breeze picked up.


“What does that mean?”


“That I’m a perfectionist, a control freak, I like things to be right.”


Tallulah laughed modestly.


“I’m a nine-wing, apparently. That means that I keep the peace, so I bottle things up.”


“Really that does sound like you,” I conceded.


“It does,” Tallulah agreed. “I’ve got to say, it sounds like you too, sometimes.”


I didn’t say anything straight away.


“You wouldn’t be wrong.”


I could have elaborate, but I wasn’t in the mood for being psycho-analysed, even with good intentions.


“The other thing that they told us this morning is about our pracs.”


“Oh, yes, tell me all about it.”


“I need to spent two weeks with a vet clinic. I’ve actually been assigned a place in Dodges Ferry.”


“Just down the road from my place.”


“You know, the person I was meant to be going with, they dropped out of the course.”


“Oh, that’s a shame.”


“You know, it’s before the census date still.”


I could feel my face getting hot.


“Do you think that I should come to uni with you?”


“Not necessarily, it has to be your decision. Besides, those wildlife courses seem like a perfect fit for you. I want you to pursue that, if you want to pursue that.”


“It is something that I would like to do, as long as I don’t have to leave Tasmania.”


“Can you do it by correspondence?”


“I’m not sure. I guess that I’ll find out if I actually look into it.”


“There’s one other thing about my prac. I met my tutor and I spoke to him. As the other student dropped out, the vet clinic would be willing to take on someone else for work experience, whether they’re a student or not.”


Tallulah shuffled closer.


“So, are you saying--?”


Tallulah nodded.


“If you would like to come for work experience, we’d love to have you.”


“That would be,” I remarked, not knowing what to say, “incredible.”


“And, I don’t know, but maybe it would come in handy with your course.”


“It might,” I agreed. “I need to, I really need to, figure out what I’ve got to do to apply.”


My mind was awash with questions.


“The Beaumaris Zoo site isn’t far from here.”


“Would you like some inspiration?”


“I’m not sure how much I’ll get,” I admitted, as Tallulah stood, “but sounds good.”


She hauled me to my feet. We took my bike and Tallulah’s bag with us, as we walked up a steep hill from one path to another.


“Well, wouldn’t you look at that?”


The ornate gates of the former Beaumaris Zoo stood before us. Up on the hill, I could see a white structure. The sign informed us that it had been the leopard enclosure, back in the day. Sunlight beamed through the trees. We ambled back to where Tallulah had parked her car, with my bike in tow. She offered to drive me home, to give us more time to talk.


“I’m going to investigate the wildlife courses, to see if I can do them via correspondence.”


“That would be wonderful.”


“I love where you live, but why does it have to be so far away from home?”


“You could always move closer.”


“As if.”


“I know. You’re a country girl.”


I arrived home. The front door was unlocked, and I could faintly hear conversation from the other side. I walked through to find Mum and Dad sitting at the kitchen table, with Mum’s eldest brother, Andrew.


“Uwak,” I greeted him with surprise, gazing darting between him and my parents, to ask the unspoken question of whether this visit was anticipated.


“It’s really good to see you again.”


We gave each other a side-hug.


“Well, I thought I would surprise with a visit.”


I smiled, albeit briefly.


“Mum and Dad, can I talk to you about something quickly?”


“Yeah, sure. Do you mind if Andrew stays?”


“No, that’s fine,” I assured.


I sat down at the table.


“I’d like to investigate the wildlife courses,” I explained, “and Tallulah has worked out how I could do work experience with the vet in Dodges Ferry.”


“Well, that would be great. I’m very proud of you, Jumilah.”


“Thank you, Uwak Andrew.”


I went outside, requiring fresh air. Our woolshed is largely untouched since we gave up the farm. When I entered, I doubted that the light would still work. Sure enough, though, when I flicked the switch, the trusty old bulb didn’t fail me. There was something in particular which I was looking for, a project to calm me.


“I remember when your parents gave away the farm.”


My heartrate accelerated as I gasped loudly and spun around.


“It was the hardest day of your father’s life, I think. Do you remember it?”


“Yes, I do. I was twelve. Mum drove away with me and, when we were back, no more stock.”


“I didn’t just come to Australia because I wanted to see your mother and your family. I’m going to move here, move to Australia, move to Hobart, hopefully, that’s the plan. You see, my partner and I--.”


“Your business partner?”


“No, my partner, partner.”


“Oh,” I realised. “That’s exciting.”


“Yeah, I’d love for you to get to meet him, at some stage, sooner rather than later.”


I tried not to react to the pronoun Uwak Andrew used.


“So that’s why you’ve never gone for any of the gorgeous girls Nanek’s set you up with.”


“Exactly.”


There was something of an embarrassed smile on Uwak Andrew’s lips.


“Thank you for coming here, and thank you for telling us. It will be really lovely to meet your partner.”


“Thank you, Jumilah.”


I pulled out a box of solar fairy lights.


“Ha, this is what I was looking for. I want to decorate the jacaranda tree.”


“Can I come with you?”


“Of course.”


Uwak Andrew followed me with a torch and a ladder. When we reached the jacaranda tree, he set the ladder against it, and I quickly climbed.


“Careful.”


I grinned over my shoulder. Once I strung up the lights, we sat down under the tree.


“I know that things are different now than they were when I was younger. Everything is different. You can ask me anything that you want to ask me. I want us to have a close relationship. Jumilah, I don’t have a daughter, and I’ll probably never have children--.”


“You could adopt here, if you want to--.”


“Anyway, this tree is beautiful, but we should probably get inside and get some sleep.”


We stood up, then started walking back towards the house. The starry skies are beautiful enough.


“Oh, there’s something else that I need to mention.”


“Yeah, of course.”


“The tarsiers will be flying out to Taronga Zoo in Sydney on Thursday. We found out earlier today.”


We arrived back at the house.


“Maybe I’ll have to pay them a visit.”


“That would be lovely.”


I finally went to bed, and like usual, it didn’t take me long to fall asleep.


 

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.


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