This morning, Mum was able to drive me to my psychology appointment, as today is her rostered day off. Nonetheless, she decided to sit in the car and worked while she waited for me.
“I love you,” Mum promised, farewelling me with a kiss on the cheek.
As I got out of the car, I told her that I love her too. I entered the doctor’s surgery and approached the counter.
“Hello, I’m Jumilah Fioray. I’m here for an appointment with Jenine Donohoo, a psychologist appointment.”
The reception smiled and tapped at her computer.
“You can go through, she’s ready for you now.”
I approached the door, which was slightly ajar. Jenine welcomed me in and encouraged me to take a seat.
“How have you been?”
“Good, thanks, yeah good,” I answered, trying to settle into the seat. “I guess that I always say that.”
With a nervous laugh, I brushed my fingers through my hair.
“Is it the truth?”
“Well, I found out some other things about Mum and her parents. Turns out that wasn’t the great relationship I always assumed it to be.”
“Has that impacted your mood?”
“It has caught me off-guard. I always thought that everyone loved Kakek.”
“Does your mother not love your grandfather?”
“Well, no, I think that it’s more complicated than that. It’s not about not loving him. Right now, I don’t completely know what it was about.”
“Do you think that you would be able to ask your mother about it?”
“I wouldn’t want to trigger her.”
My chest tightened.
“I don’t miss him,” I admitted as I sobbed, “I miss what could have been. When I was over in Sumatra we could have spent time together and gotten to know each other.”
Jenine handed me a box of tissues.
I plucked out some tissues and carefully wiped my eyes with one. With the other I blew my nose, producing more snot than I thought I was holding.
“I just don’t know what to do.”
“About your family?”
“Yeah, about lots of different things.”
Jenine fetched me a bin to throw the tissue away.
“Maryam and Ricky would be, I reckon they would have made it to Cradle Mountain by now. They’re heading there for a few nights, for their honeymoon.”
“Are they your friends?”
“Yeah, from work. Ricky’s in the same band as my boyfriend, too.”
“I would like to run through another assessment with you. I’m going to make a statement and you’ve got to tell me if it’s true always, often, sometimes or never.”
Taking a breath, I tried to relax in my seat.
“I find it hard to wind down.”
“I am aware of dryness in my mouth.”
“I couldn’t seem to experience any positive feeling at all.”
“I experience breathing difficulty.”
I clenched and unclenched my fingers, like a beating heart.
“It’s more that I can feel my heart beating really fast.”
“I tend to over-react to situations.”
“I experience trembling.”
“No, I don’t think I do.”
“I feel that I am using a lot of nervous energy.”
“Yes, often,” I agreed with something of a laugh. “Sometimes I think it’s all that gets me through work.”
“I worry about situations in which I might panic and make a fool of myself.”
“Yeah, I don’t really know. I go along to the meetings with people who are really quite experienced within zoos and I just sit there and listen. It’s quite enjoyable, learning, I don’t panic, I just soak it all in.”
Nonetheless, my hands were twisting.
“I feel that I have nothing to look forward to.”
“Oh, no, that’s not the case.”
“I find myself getting agitated.”
While I would have said no ordinarily, I was running my stubbed fingernails up and down my thighs.
“I find it difficult to relax.”
I exhaled audibly, trying to do just that. At times like this, I fret about what the psychologist will find.
“I feel downhearted and blue.”
“I am intolerant of anything that keeps me from getting on with what I am doing.”
“Yeah, I guess that I am. I think that I’m a people-pleaser too, though.”
“In what way?”
“I guess that I’m thankful. I’m really wanting everything to turn out OK. I want Mum to be alright, I want the zoo to be alright.”
“I feel close to panic.”
“Sometimes. I’d say in between sometimes and often, really.”
“I am unable to become enthusiastic about anything.”
“No, I’m definitely enthusiastic about the zoo.”
“I feel I am not worth much as a person.”
“Oh, no, I don’t feel that. If anything, I’m the opposite.”
“Sometimes I can be a bit full of myself.”
“I feel that I am rather touchy.”
“Oh, maybe sometimes.” I keep laughing when it’s probably inappropriate to do so. “You wouldn’t think this, but I can be quite quiet sometimes.”
“I am aware of the action of my heart in the absence of physical exertion.”
“Yeah, totally, I feel that all the time. Even if I’m not actually having a panic attack, whenever there’s a loud noise or something unexpected happens, or I’m unsure, I can feel it in my chest. It’s not so much my heart, but sometimes it is. My chest feels tight whenever I don’t know what’s around the corner, what’s coming next.”
“I feel scared without any good reason.”
“Some of the time.”
“I feel that life is meaningless.”
“No, I don’t, I really don’t.”
“I’d like you to try this technique, please.”
I tried to feel more relaxed, but I wasn’t achieving that.
“Bow your head.”
I looked down at my legs.
“Close your eyes, if you’d like. Focus on your breathing.”
I did just that, counting to four on the inhale and seven on the exhale. By the time that we finished the exercise, I felt relaxed to the point of drowsiness.
“But there’s something else which I’d like to discuss with you.”
“I would like you to consider medication, it’s something which you can think about and, if that’s something you want to pursue, I’ll write you a referral for your GP.”
“Alright, the referral would be great, thanks.”
Jenine wrote it out for me and handed it over. I thanked her, then left, paying on my way out. Mum didn’t say anything when I got back into the car. She drove me back home, just in time for the zoo planning meeting.
“Thank you to Jumilah and Catherine for joining us today, and of course to the TAG representatives. Your presence at this meeting is much appreciated. We all know why we’re here today, and that’s to work collaboratively to put together an interim plan for a Hobart zoo proposal. Jumilah and Catherine are seeking to apply to develop an animal facility on their property.”
Don cleared his throat.
“I’m Catherine Fioray, this is my daughter, Jumilah.”
“Cathy Strahan, representing the Australian Mammal TAG, from David Fleay’s in Queensland. I’m also on the Queensland Species Management Committee.”
Every introduction felt like a spoiler. I might have known who this person was, but the bigger question remained – why had they been invited to this meeting? This wasn’t a process we were in control of.
“I’m Christine, you’ll know me from the primate TAG. I guess, I’m also on the New Zealand Committee.”
“Robin Finch, representing Birds. Whatever joke you’re thinking of, I’ve already heard it.”
I let out a chuckle, although not at her name.
“Lovely to meet you.”
“Harold Hammond, representing the carnivore and small exotic mammal TAG.”
“Hi, good to meet you, thanks for coming.”
“Reuben Hendricks, Melbourne Zoo. You know me, I know you, in fact, I probably should disclose the conflict of interest that I went to university with both Catherine Sitompul and Adriano Fioray, Jumilah’s parents.”
It felt a little strange to hear him refer to Mum by her maiden name.
“I think that we need to acknowledge that you’re very young, Jumilah. You’re eighteen, I believe.”
“That’s correct. I know that I’m young. At the same time, I’m not doing this alone. I have the full support of my parents.”
“Thank you, Jumilah,” Don responded. “Do we have any submissions from members of the committee?”
“From the perspective of the Birds TAG, I know that I’m a little biased, but I think that a bird collection would be a valuable part of your new sanctuary. We would be agreeable to providing you with a collection of finch species and a pair of Scaly-Breasted Lorikeets.”
“That would be wonderful.”
“You’re not going to offer some of your Rose-Crowned Fruit Doves, Robin?” Reuben enquired.
“Well, I would be willing, depending on available animals.”
“That would be wonderful, thank you.”
“From my perspective, Jumilah, I would like to hear your input in regard to Australian mammals.”
“I’d really like Tasmanian devils, if possible.”
“Being a flagship Tasmanian species, and being an institution in Tasmania, I think that would be perfectly reasonable,” Cathy agreed.
This all seemed to be expanding beyond my wildest dreams.
“I do have a few questions, though,” Cathy noted. “What are your plans in terms of staffing?”
“We were just thinking that we’d work here ourselves.”
“Do you have any qualifications in relation to working with animals?”
“Well, I’m wanting to complete the captive animal course. That will give me a qualification. As part of that, I’ll have to do some prac hours.”
“I do have experience working with animals,” Mum spoke up. “Sure, I will admit that it was a little while ago.”
“Catherine grew up with animals,” Reuben pointed out.
“I would like to be able to house at least some of the animals we brought over from Sumatra. Truth be told, that’s the reason why we’re doing this, to honour my grandparents’ legacy.”
“That’s a very noble goal, Jumilah.”
His brow furrowed in a way which concerned me.
“There is a concern which the association holds in relation to some of the primate species. The siamangs are a program species. I know that I come at this with a vested interest, but the pair are settled here, and will be even more so once the baby is born,” Don outlined.
“Well, what about the gibbons? Are they a program species? I thought that they weren’t.”
“No, they’re not, either. From a ZAA perspective, we are mindful about not making your collection unmanageable to start off with, from a husbandry and financial perspective.”
“I do note that some of the bird species are program species,” Robin spoke up.
“This whole plan is dependent on membership and accreditation.”
“Of course,” I agreed. “I wouldn’t have thought it would be anything else.”
“How about we start with an initial group of species, and then build from there?” Don proposed.
“Alright,” I agreed, even though I felt a little uneasy.
“So, we’re looking at finch species as determined by Hunter and Sam, Rose-Crowned Fruit Doves, Scaly-Breasted Lorikeets, Tasmanian Devils, Western Tarsiers, Dholes, the Southern Pig-Tailed Macaque troop and the Sunda Slow Lorises from Perth.”
“Sounds good to me.”
“That will be dependent on the construction of suitable exhibits and going through the accreditation process.”
We ended our conversation with a grin on my face. There was a small window in between the two meetings. I could have filled that time with a million things – have lunch, text Patrick or Sloane, just lie down. Instead, Mum and I chose to look up an architect.
“Do we really have to do this? Couldn’t we just build it ourselves?”
“Well, firstly, the architect doesn’t build it, the builder does, and we could, but it is good to get an expert opinion, wouldn’t you say?”
“The psych said I should take medication,” I blurted out. “I have a referral to the GP to get it. I’m pretty sure that I’m going to do it.”
I joined the TAG meeting. Only Christine was there with me to start off with.
“Thanks for having me again.”
“How was your weekend?”
“Lovely, thank you,” I answered. “Some of my friends from work got married, it was a beautiful wedding.”
Reuben joined the meeting, as did a number of others.
“You’re an Individual Subscriber to the ZAA now, congratulations.”
“Congratulations, Jumilah,” Christine added. “I didn’t realise that.”
I noticed there were a few absences from the TAG meeting, yet Bill was not amongst them.
“We’re having our gorilla review today. I’ll hand over to Sam.”
“Thank you, Christine. The Australasian region currently has four holders of Western Lowland Gorilla. Subject to your agreement to the findings of this review, I anticipate that this number will rise to five.”
“With the new fifth holder being?” Don wanted to know.
“Werribee Open Range Zoo, with a bachelor group,” Reuben supplied. “There is an exhibit ready, and I anticipate that the transfer will be made, with Sam’s approval of course, as soon as the international studbook keeper finds a new silverback for Melbourne.”
“I give my approval and I’m in conversation with the EEP regarding the provision of a silverback,” Sam confirmed. “We’re thinking that July or August is the timeline that we’re looking at for his arrival in Australia.”
“Right, thank you, Sam.”
“We’ve essentially only got the one breeding female at this stage,” Sam outlined. “One of our females would now be post-reproductive, and the other has never bred. She was peer-raised rather than being mother-raised. Her best chance for breeding would be one of the young males in the troop.”
“Right,” Reuben remarked.
“We haven’t had the situation, as far as we’re aware, where she has been forcibly mated by the silverback.”
I could tell that my eyes bulged at the thought.
“Don’t be a prude, they’re animals,” Bill reminded us.
My heart thumped, but it didn’t mean that he was talking about me.
“The decision we have to make is whether we would take her off contraception to allow that.”
“Well, my concern would be whether or not she would be capable of raising the baby herself,” Reuben pointed out, “but it’s not my decision.”
“Personally, I think that we place too much stock in that. You can’t know until she has the baby,” Julie reasoned. “For instance, we’ve got a young female. We would have loved for her to see a baby raised. She hasn’t had that opportunity. I don’t believe she’s going to. Therefore, we’d love to have the breeding recommendation for our younger, rather than our older, female.”
“Alright, I’m willing to agree to that,” Sam affirmed. “That would mean that you’d only have one breeding female within your troop. It would be ideal if two more females could be added to that group, ideally mother-raised females who would be able to model good behaviours in relation to the silverback and any new babies.”
“Are you saying that we need to import females from outside the region?”
“Yes, I would agree with that. The imports I can proposing would include additional females, as well as a silverback to Melbourne Zoo, upon the move of the existing silverback and his sons to Werribee Open Range Zoo.”
“I’m not having a go, but why would you import a silverback rather than allowing one of our males to lead a troop?”
“Essentially, it brings new genetics into the region. Perhaps if you’re wanting to offload your silverbacks, they could head up new family groups with imported females at Adelaide or Perth.”
“I don’t plan to house gorillas,” Bill rejected. “Mal, I thought you wanted breeders as well as your bachelors, or better instead of.”
“It’s not that we don’t want to hold a gorilla breeding troop. Financially, though, it may be out of our reach. At present it is.”
“So, just to clarify, we’re allowing a further birth at Taronga within the next year.”
Good old Don, bringing us back on topic.
“Yes, that’s correct,” Reuben agreed, “and, once we have the new silverback at Melbourne, we’ll assess when is best for breeding recommendations within our troop.”
“And the breeding rec at Mogo,” Sam reminded.
“That’s true,” Christine affirmed. “Do you think that we might be able to move on?”
“Sure,” Sam agreed.
It was time for the member reports.
“We have some news. The AI program might have to wait. Merah is pregnant. We confirmed via ultrasound last Friday.”
“That is very good news,” Reuben praised.
It felt like light, amidst the darkness.
“Do you know how far along she is?”
“She’s actually much further along than we realised. We anticipate that she’ll be due late May or early June.”
“As many of you would know, we have a partnership with a baboon sanctuary in South Africa. There’s a donation box at our exhibit, that’s where that money goes. There have been some concerns raised, some allegations made, I guess, of the practices at that sanctuary.”
“What sort of allegations?”
“At the lighter end, voluntourism, that the orphans are cared for by students from the States and Australia who come across for a month and then go home. Then, at the more severe end, that babies are taken from the wild so that there are infants there for photo opportunities.”
“Right,” Reuben responded. “How can we verify this?”
“I’ll do my best to get in contact with the sanctuary.”
“We have other contacts in Africa we could verify with,” Reuben pointed out.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be able to handle this,” Gerard assured.
“Um, this doesn’t have to do with primates, but is there going to be a shake-up on the comms SAG anytime soon? I’d love to be involved if I could.”
“I’m on the comms SAG,” Hunter mentioned. “I’ll ask for you.”
“Not much to report, one of our female baboons is pregnant.”
“That’s great news. Which one?”
“That’s wonderful, mate.”
“I did have one more question, though,” Reuben spoke up. “I’d like to be able to breed from our young male Sumatran Orang-utan. He’s developed cheek pads, he’s quite the impressive animal.”
“Well, we don’t have a female to spare,” Bill insisted.
“I wasn’t asking you for one, Bill. I’m the studbook keeper, if I want to import, I make the call. It’s as simple as that.”
“National Zoo and Aquarium?”
“We’ve had a very successful week, we’ve had five squirrel monkey babies born within our troop.”
My heart started to beat faster. This meeting had nothing to do with the elephants, yet I felt heartbroken for them all.
“Nothing to report today.”
“I just wanted to give an update on our female chimpanzee, Ruthie. My presentation a little while ago was about the struggles we had with breeding her.”
I could feel the beating of my heart, even though the only exertion was sitting a little forward.
“Now that Ruthie’s offspring is growing, we’re turning our mind to breeding with her again. Blessing, do you have any thoughts of that matter?”
“I don’t see why Ruthie can’t be fitted into the usual breeding cycles. We can review the documents in our own time if you have any concerns.”
The meeting came to a close.
“Oh my goodness, that’s finally finished.”
“Was it a tortuous meeting?”
“Yeah, a little bit,” I agreed. “Could you hear what they were saying?”
“Oh, bits and pieces,” Mum answered.
“Go and have a lie-down,” Mum urged. “God knows, I could do with one.”
“Well then you should be the one going to have a lie-down. I’m alright, I’ll be fine.”
Mum held my cheeks in her hands and planted a kiss on my forehead.
“Thank you,” I told her.
I ambled into my bedroom and lay down, staring up at the ceiling. When I rolled onto my side, my phone waited for me on the bedside table. I reached for it, then allowed my hand to fall. Truth be told, I was really grateful for the chance to lie down. I even snuggled up under a blanket. For a little while I must have even fallen asleep, because I woke up feeling dazed. Still, I was happy, so, after taking a deep breath, I walked back out to the kitchen, where I found Mum starting to cook us dinner.
“Alright, I’ve had my lie-down. I can cook dinner. You’re pregnant. I should be looking after you.”
“Well, I have this fantastic recipe for a warm haloumi salad. I’d love to cook it for dinner. I’m sure that you’ve got some work that you could be doing – some zoo stuff, or you could always clean the bathroom.”
“Can I talk to you about zoo stuff while you cook dinner?”
“Yeah, that would be fine.”
It seemed like quite a good deal for me, just getting to muse and not really having to do much actual work.
“If we’re going to be housing Tassie devils, we’d house them at the northern side of the building, and then the tarsiers and the lorises at the southern end.”
Mum waved her hands around to illustrate what I was saying.
“Yes, so the species would be viewed within their respective geographical areas.”
“Yeah, essentially. That sounds good.”
“You know, we haven’t even thought about signage yet,” Mum pointed out. “We’ll have to make plans.”
“Yeah, I hadn’t really considered that,” I admitted.
She served up food into bowls, to carry through to the kitchen table. I had something of a headache when I sat down to eat dinner, even though Mum had cooked a lovely warm haloumi salad. She poured me a cool glass of water. After we’d eaten dinner, I went to bed early, not wanting to make much of a fuss in front of Mum and Dad. Mostly, I’d had a good day, but I desperately needed to rest, relax and recover. Mum popped into my bedroom and kissed me on the forehead to wish me goodnight. She told me that she loves me, in Bahasa. With that, I was able 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.