Happy ending


Was it really Goebbels who said, “One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic”? For some reason, he’s always been linked to that quote in my mind, but that could be because I come from that particular generation of postwar British kids for whom bomb sites and Nazis were part of the cultural landscape.

Crowds of anything are always intimidating: skinheads, locusts, people wrapped in Australian flags. Any individual, when multiplied, becomes a horrible mass; a statistic. It can be strangely rare for us to experience any mass of horrible things reduced to its individual components. Today that happened to me.

Flying foxes have come to be judged not as groups of individual creatures but as natural phenomena, like bushfires and tsunami. The councillors at Singleton and Lorne and God knows how many other towns have been vexed with the issue of ‘plagues’ of them for a few years now, their incessant chattering keeping people awake at night, their poop soiling people’s cars and their bite carrying the possibility of disease. (Flying foxes, that is, not councillors. Though …)

We have our own flocks in Newcastle; in fact, artist Christine Bruderlin has included them in her “ABC of Newcastle” series of greeting cards:

There’s a roost in Richardson Park and the figs that overhang Styx Creek are often filled with flying foxes as they pause in their journey between the bigger roosts at Blackbutt and Ash Island.

This morning, Jambo was attracted to something near the Chatham Road bridge. A few crows were dancing around it and I assumed that someone had chucked a bag of old sausages over the parapet. (Bizarrely, that is not nearly so rare or unusual an event as it might sound.) But the thing, the thing that I thought was a black plastic bag, suddenly reared up and screamed in fear. It was a flying fox.

I’ve never seen a live flying fox so close up before. She was gorgeous, this one, in spite of the fact that she was injured, disorientated and terrified. I’ve never seen such huge, round eyes. Her fur was dark, with a coffee-coloured ruff.

How did I know she was a she? Because her baby (kit? cub?) was clinging to her chest as she dragged herself along the concrete, desperately trying to find something to climb. (Flying foxes can’t lift off from the ground like a bird, they have to drop and swoop from an elevation.)┬áIt was the baby that the crows were after, at least in the first instance. The mother’s wings were bloodied from the abrasion of the concrete.

What to do? I called WIRES on my mobile but they were flat out.

Do I risk running home for a pillowcase, leaving mum and bub to the mercy of the crows? In the end, I did that. Luckily not much more damage had been done by the time I got back, with leather gloves and a couple of pillowcases. As soon as I covered her the fight seemed to go out of her and she just became very small and quiet.

After a few phone calls I finally got through to Sandy and John. These local heroes nurse flying foxes back to good health, an action that I’m sure some people would see as akin to breeding rats or mosquitos or some other kind of vermin. Nothing could be further from the truth; these people are pure animal lovers. It was remarkable to see how the flying fox responded to John’s tender approach. He’d already prepared a safe cage for the fox and her baby, following my phone call to Sandy.

Here, he’ll assess their health once they’re a little less stressed (apparently the mothers lose the ability to provide milk if stressed, but John and Sandy have a hand-delivered formula for the young).

By the time I left she’d calmed down considerably. I’m hoping this story has a happy ending; I’ll keep you up to date.