Kangaroos – The 100 Days Project: Day 90 
Peppermint and Fencepost:
Fencepost and the Wallabies
(extract from a work in progress)
by Uli Krahn
Photo: Stella Reid, Wildhaven Wildlife Shelter
One evening, Fencepost bounced over the clearing even more full of excitement than usual.
‘I’ve got a whole mob of new friends!’ he crowed.
‘Where?’ Peppermint looked around. There were just the usual kangaroos grazing.
‘Come along.’ Fencepost led him over the top of the ridge, to the other side, to another, small clearing. The grazing wasn’t too good, so the kangaroos didn’t go there much. To Peppermint’s amazement, it was now filled with short fat kangaroos, all of them looking a bit like Fencepost. Peppermint stopped. This was truly new. He stared, speechless. After being pleased with his friend’s surprise for a while, Fencepost jumped right into the short fat crowd. They had obviously seen him before, as he didn’t get much of a reaction. After watching for a bit, Peppermint dared going too. He didn’t want to seem like a coward. The little guys didn’t pay him any attention. They were busy eating the leaves off the trees on the edge of the clearing.
Eating leaves? Such a thing hadn’t occurred to Peppermint before. He looked down. True, the grass here was dry and hard, but something about how they pulled down the branches and stripped them bare looked like they weren’t doing this for the first time. Now that he was observing them closer, they also didn’t look like they all were joeys, despite their size. Some carried tiny joeys in pouches, and there were muscly dudes who respectfully shuffled around each other like bucks in his own mob, not like kids. They must be adults, but they were so short! Fencepost was right in the middle, eating leaves himself, side by side with a medium sized short one. Probably a girl. Peppermint had recently noticed that Fencepost was developing a thing for girls. Crazy. Peppermint’s mum was nice enough, but otherwise girls were a bit pointless, they never wanted to engage in play fights, or go exploring. When they got older, they still hung around their mums like babies. That part might be nice, but then he wasn’t older yet. Also, Peppermint suspected that Fencepost was just putting it on, this girl interest, to seem more grown up. Or to get out of play fights with taller kangaroos his own age. Well, he’d found himself a perfect shortie world now. Peppermint worried suddenly that Fencepost might leave their own mob, to stay forever with the shorties. Surely not, unless he could convince his mum to come, too.
One of the shorties near Peppermint was turning his head to look at him while he was pulling down a branch. He cluck-clucked, like when one kangaroo calls another over to a good patch of grass. What did he mean? He kept making that sound, and shaking the branch. This made Peppermint hungry, and besides, he didn’t want to be rude, so he moved closer and bit into the nearest leaf. Eek! It tasted woody and hard, like the oldest, driest grass, not much like food at all. It didn’t taste like rock or soil or kangaroo poo or other such things you might try, and find out they’re really not for eating. But it also didn’t exactly taste good. Peppermint chewed politely nevertheless. At least the chances of Fencepost leaving the mob to be a giant among the leaf eaters weren’t too big. Surely Fencepost was only pretending to enjoy this stuff. And look there, now Peppermint noticed that Fencepost discreetly dropped a half-eaten leaf from the side of his mouth. Peppermint kept chewing his own leaf until a good moment arrived to let it fall out of his mouth, too. At least he thought that’s what he might do, but just when he was about to spit it out, it seemed a little bit like food after all, so he swallowed. Perhaps you could get used to this. He went back for the branch. The next leaf was even more disgusting than the first. But Fencepost wasn’t all wrong, it was fun standing in this mob of shorties and feel like a grown up. Their joeys were so small! Peppermint was sure they were much sillier than the joeys of his own mob. He wondered whether they thought he was a grown up. That was a pretty exciting idea, so he ate another leaf in a very adult way. Of course, that’d be the exact moment when Fencepost did some crazy hopping about, just like a joey, enjoying his superior jumping power. Not for long, those little guys could leap with their stumpy legs! Even and especially the tiny ones. Like fat brown grasshoppers.
One of them came up to Peppermint and started to wrestle. The audacity! He could barely reach Peppermint’s shoulders with his scrawny forearms. To be nice to this baby, Peppermint wrestled, too, throwing his head back so that the little sharp claws couldn’t scratch his face and because that’s how you do it, hopping when Tiny there hopped, and ouch, Tiny had the nerve to kick him in the guts! Actually, he did have a mad glint in his eyes. Like he reckoned himself quite the fighter. Tiny was fast, and maybe not such an innocent baby as Peppermint had thought him at first. Peppermint was quickly getting sick of having his belly kicked by this ferocious dwarf. He gave a kick back, which had the satisfying effect of making Tiny fly off. Peppermint enjoyed that, but when Tiny came back for more, it seemed silly. Peppermint wasn’t a kangaroo mum who just puts up with scratching and kicking from somewhere far below.
‘Let’s play catch’, he called out, and did some wild jumps with sharp turns in them, one of his specialties. Peppermint was proud of his turns. Tiny came after him; of course he could turn on a single blade of grass. Peppermint hadn’t thought of that while the mad dwarf was rearranging his tummy fur. He did some high wide jumps, with direction changes in the middle. That was a bit beyond Tiny. Of course, he could do direction changes on the ground, like a rabbit. Peppermint saw Fencepost grinning through a half-eaten leaf. Bet you Fencepost was hanging out with girls who didn’t pester him. When the mosquito warrior caught up and wanted to wrestle again, Peppermint did a sudden tail swipe. It felt unfair, but enough with being pummelled. Predictably, the little one lost his footing and tumbled about, but it seemed to do him good. He hopped away, probably to kick somebody his own size. There couldn’t be anybody smaller.
‘Tallgrass fights everybody and everything he sees. Nobody is offended by you tail swiping him. It was kind you didn’t kick properly’, said a voice next to him. It had a weird way of speaking, but was perfectly understandable.
‘Thank you,’ replied Peppermint. Now he was talking to the stranger, he wondered whether he could ask what was really pressing on his mind. Oh well, he was taller and faster, if he offended, he could run away. But he just had to know.
‘Where are you guys from?’ When he saw the friendly face go troubled, he quickly added, ‘No offence…just…I’ve never seen you anywhere, and suddenly you’re here.’
The friendly guy’s face cleared a little, and he looked friendly again. Maybe he’d noticed Peppermint was only young. Peppermint knew this wasn’t a very polite question, but he had to ask!
‘I’m not offended. It’s just not such a happy story. Our home range burnt down in a fire. We’re looking for somewhere new.’
Peppermint didn’t know what a fire was, but he didn’t like the sound of it. Now he had even more questions, and was worried. After the stick monsters had come to kill kangaroos, his mob had stayed in their home range. What could be so dreadful you had to leave?
‘Stick monsters?’ He knew he shouldn’t ask.
‘No’, said the friendly guy. ‘It’s…do you remember when the air went like a mist and smelt weird and made everybody cough?’
Peppermint remembered. And was sure now that the friendly guy had realised how young he was.
‘That funny smelling thick air, it comes from fire. Fire is too hot and bright, you need to run away. You can’t stay. Afterwards everything is black, and nothing left to eat. It happens. Best not to get too upset about it.’
These short guys were brave. Imagine having to leave your home range and not being upset about it. Peppermint wanted his mum, and not to think about this anymore.
‘Fire has been here, too, maybe before you were born’, the wallaby said. ‘See those black trees?’
Peppermint had thought they were just black. This was all too much.
‘Thank you very much’, he said, and without another look at Fencepost, or any thought of what Fencepost would say, he hopped back to his mum and told her all about what he had seen and heard. Wattle was excited about the shorties.
‘Wallabies!’ she exclaimed. ‘They’re so friendly and playful. You should hang out with them, not worry yourself silly about things you cannot change. Fire happens, and it’s very scary and dangerous. But we’ve got legs to run with, and you worry too much. Your ears will flop down soon if you don’t stop worrying.’
‘My ears?’ Now Peppermint was worried. ‘Can that happen?’ A kangaroo with hanging ears would look very stupid indeed.
‘…if you worry too much…’
Peppermint ran back to the wallabies and challenged Tiny to another fight. This time he got right into it, and dodged the mean kicks better, and delivered some of his own, not too hard, just so that it was a proper fight. He let the mosquito wrestle him like he was some mum, and chased after him, that was more fun than the other way around. It actually wasn’t that easy following Tiny’s sharp turns. In between, he ate grass when he got hungry, they could keep their leaves and Fencepost could keep his fancy pretences. Who even knew whether that was actually a girl Fencepost was trying to impress. Every now and then, as if by accident, Peppermint brushed over his ears. They still stood nice and stiff on the top of his head.
The next morning, the wallabies were gone.