"Bob Irwin? Like Australia Zoo, Crocodile Hunter's family, Irwin?" My fork had been hastily put down, as I needed both hands to acurately express the excitement coursing through me.
"Yeah," Jenny hesitated, looking thoroughly confused as to why I might be excited. "He's just coming for a visit." As if I were mistaken in thinking a great parade was to accompany him.
You see, I can count the famous Australians I know on one hand. Since I've been here I have learned of a few famous people that I thought were American, but are actually Australian (Hugh Jackman). Regardless, it is pretty awesome when I actually know of the people that are visiting. It was especially nice to meet an Irwin since I knew my finances wouldn't allow me to visit Australia Zoo. (Though Bob isn't really associated with the zoo nowadays.)
The film crew for a youth animal show called Totally Wild was scheduled to visit the next day. Bob Irwin was scheduled to come later in the week, but had found out about this and emailed interest in visiting at the same time. The email wasn't replied to until a few days before the film crew visit, so Jenny wasn't sure when Bob was coming. Totally Wild showed up on their own. It was a group of three men. The first brimming with charisma and glowing with his flawless complexion. It wasn't necessary to see the other two to realize that this was the guy in front of the camera. The second actually looked human and towered over me in height. He quickly began setting up the tri-pod for his camera. The third was older than the others. He slung a heavy looking bag over his shoulder which I later figured out had something to do with the sound. The host-guy walked immediately over to Jenny to introduce himself. I was standing a bit behind, slightly freaked out since one minute previously I had to pull an attached tick off of my eyelid. After regaining my composure, I walked up to introduce myself.
Despite my introduction and the three name reminders I subtly gave throughout the day, the host insisted on calling me "Morgs!" If you know me at all, you know I hate being called Morg. A morgue is a place you put dead people. It is not a cute nickname. And why the s? I am not plural. I didn't remember his name at all; slightly in spite, mostly because I'm bad with names.
It seemed Jenny had done hundreds of these interviews. Without preparation, she came up with quick and elaborate explanations for every question. I bet she excelled at pop quizzes in school! Totally Wild came to see the Tube Nose Bat, which had been admitted after permanently damaging it's wing on a barbed wire fence. They filmed for a while, but lost interest one they realized that it just hung in one spot and slept all day. Yep, that's kinda what bats do... After a few quick shots of the microbats being fed, they moved up to the nursery.
A bat with a punctured lung had just been admitted that morning into care, so Jenny suggested they see it for something a bit more interesting. The tiny insectivorous microbat was carried into the nursery, and filmed as Jenny showed it's body puffing up with air from the lung puncture. Jenny gently, but firmly wrapped the bat with strips of fabric to keep it at a normal size, then answered questions about that bat and the nursery.
The group moved on to the megabat cages. I prepared and hung food as they filmed me. I am absolutely positive that footage will not be used, since I kept an unnaturally large smile on my face the whole time, and I unsuccessfully tried not to look directly into the camera every other second. Jenny answered a few more questions, this time about the teenage bats which had been moved back from the woods due to a quickly approaching cyclone. With that, the crew decided they had enough footage and took off with a recommedation for dinner.
It was two days before Bob Irwin arrived. He came with an assistant and was followed by a small group of locals who wanted to interview him for various reasons. It was easiest for him to do the interviews at Tolga, so he had invited them all to tag along. Jenny wasn't too thrilled with the additional company. Jenny, and her long term volunteer Ashlee, greeted Irwin. I cleaned cages. There were bats in every cage, so cleaning took twice as long. I was so eager to go up to where every one else was, but I was assigned to clean being lowest on the totem pole. After over an hour of scrubbing and spraying poo and spat, I heard their voices getting closer. Bob entered the cage, loudly introduced himself, and held out a hand for me to shake. My gloves were smeared with a variety of gag reflex inducing substances. I held them out in front of me and explained that he probably wouldn't want to shake my hand at the moment. He said that was nonsense and took my slimy right hand eagerly within his clean ones. He thanked me for my hard work and admired how fantastic the cages looked. Jenny ushered him away to the back of the cage to explain the details of worm farming while I finished the last bits of cleaning.
I followed the group back uphill as they gathered for a quick photo shoot. Bob spoke mostly about different medications that work best on certain bat species. I recognized only a few of the names. Even for human pain medications, Australia uses many different drugs than America.
Bob's visit was arranged in order to recognize Tolga Bat Hospital for the education and conservation it has contributed to bats. I snapped a picture as he handed over the award, and then embarrassingly requested a picture with him as well. He politely agreed to pose for one picture. As I stepped away, Bob commented about how much conservation work needed to be done with sea turtles. It seemed a random subject, but I went with it by talking about trying unsuccessfully to find one while snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef. He also mentioned tree kangaroos, as he was going to visit Karen at the Tree Roo Rescue the next day. I happily let him know that I was already making arrangements to volunteer there as well. As he left the hospital, I glanced at the picture of us. Boldy glowing red in the picture was my South Carolina Sea Turtle Rescue sweatshirt. It was a souvenir my family bought me when I had to work during a family vacation a few years ago. I've never even seen a wild sea turtle, yet Bob Iwrin believed I was rescuer of the species.
It wasn't more than a week before the tropical cyclone was ready to make landfall. It was a category five, and expected to stay strong for the first few days on land. In preparation, we put everything that could be moved into the nursery basement. The microbats were moved inside, but the megabats were left out since their cage was the safest place they could be put. The storm was expected to move quickly, but slowed by the hour, weakening to a category one before it got anywhere close. Despite the weakness of the cyclone, the rain was damaging. It rained for days before and a week after hitting. New rivers appeared all around the property. By rivers, I mean fast moving bodies of water that are too wide to jump over and too dangerous to cross. The cyclone only intensified the rain for a short period of time. But that was enough to tear part of the road away which led to the bat hospital. A neighbor filled it in with gravel so people could drive over it, but the damage was still impressive. I coped by wearing my rain poncho all day every day, which came in handy repelling bat excrement while cage cleaning.
After the cyclone passed, we had to move everything back to where it belonged. I doubt the storm would have done anything but make it all wet. The microbats were put back in their unharmed cage, and the megabats were checked on. Not a single bat or cage was amiss. The flooding disappeared amazingly fast! One day there was a river, the next day there was a quicksand-like layer of mud, and before you knew it the land was back to normal.
It was nearing the end of my time at Tolga. Jenny began asking me several times each day what my plans were after staying with her. Fact is, I didn't have plans. I had options. Options that I needed to verify were still available and make a decision. My first choice was Tree Kangaroo Rescue and Conservation Center. I had been emailing Karen back and forth for months, but we had never been able to figure out transportation and housing for me. Unfortunately, she already had a volunteer helping her. The volunteer was staying at a local B&B and riding her bike each day. Her time there was spent on a research project and helping Karen complete educational pamphlets. There was no room for me at the moment.
My second choice was Eagle's Nest Wildlife Hospital. The owner, Harry, had been a bit snippy the first time I spoke to him about helping out, but his latest volunteers had just left and he was eager to get more in. A few local volunteers from Bat Reach in Kuranda were going to visit Eagles Nest the same weekend I needed to arrive, so they agreed to pick me up on the way. It all worked out nicely.