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Memories of a New Life in Australia

PortersGrandma Ruti proudly holds her newest granddaughter, not yet a week old, father Eyal smiles at her, and mother Ayala gets a moment to relax
Leaya today, driving a tractor on a farm in the Jordan Valley as part of her National Service. She is still in the wilds, like where she was born.

In the last few years our three children have turned us into grandparents. Our first grandchild was born in Israel, the second in Germany. Now (March) we are on our way to a rainforest in Queensland, Australia, where the third grandchild is due to soon make her appearance. We feel quite young for grandparents – still in our sixties.

A large part of our luggage consists of diapers, playing it safe. We are not quite sure what facilities are offered to babies born in rain forests.

Our flight crosses different time zones and then we land "somewhere in Australia", continue on to Queensland, and are driven to our new home by the father-to-be.

We drive off the modest highway, pass from small town to country village, the road winding mainly uphill. Eventually we bump along a dirt road on the crest of a long mountain range. Occasionally the bush and trees on the side of the road thin out, and we catch glimpses of dense rainforests running down the slope below us.

I see two flags, positioned slightly apart from each other, at one side of the road. My son drives off the road and between the flags. We seem to be poised over a sheer drop – all I see is sky ahead of me. The nose of the car tilts even further down and, suddenly, a dirt road appears below us, dropping down the mountainside at an impossible incline.

We park among the buildings of the former farm which has been given up to reclaim this area of rainforest.

The log buildings lined up along a wide central plateau include the communal room (a large, comfortable place for meeting and eating), with a kitchen, pantry and dining room. Nearby is a small wooden building with a shower, washroom, and the toilet. Part of this building juts into space above a steep slope and has to be propped up on long wooden stilts. The "windows" of the building are large open squares cut into the log walls. The top branches of trees growing on the mountainside below the toilet wave into the window, a few inches below one's nose.

At the opposite end of the plateau is our new home - one room the size of four normal rooms. The wooden floor is more than a meter above the ground, and rests on thick wooden stilts. There are large gaps in the split-poles walls, and the ceiling of the room is covered in spider-webs and their resident giant rainforest spiders.

I am told never to clean up a cobweb, in case I accidentally offend a spider. A large part of their diet consists of mosquitoes, which the warm-blooded animals (that's us) attract - a symbiotic relationship, something like the role the goat plays for the tiger hunter.

Kangaroo Luka and her son pop out of the rain forest and hop onto the veranda for food

Our balcony overlooks a valley densely covered with trees, ferns and high bamboo groves – some of these last being higher than the trees. A track winds down through the forest, and I see a compactly-built wild turkey (good looking, no wattles) walking fearlessly along it, and the occasional wallaby. And sometimes Luka and her son, two resident kangaroos who often come to the communal kitchen for a feed.

The kangaroos handle food with their tiny forepaws, while they sit on their thick tails and massive back legs. These are similar to an ostrich's – the knee is behind the leg, and there is a tremendous single nail at the end of each foot.

The kangaroo's front paws – which have tremendous, wickedly-curving nails – are used for eating and play. Luka and her son have gentle faces and long eyelashes, but I suspect that it would be a mistake to annoy them.

Dinner is waiting for us in the communal room, so we walk down the plank and along a fairly easy path. The mountain below us drops into a deep valley; it is the last hour of daylight.

By the time we finish dinner it is dark outside, and we use torches to walk back to the room where we are staying.

With nightfall comes a different world. We are given a crash course in survival – keep alert; make plenty of noise as you walk, especially at night. Let the snakes – who, I am assured, are shy creatures – get out of your way in time. Stamp hard on the ground so they feel the vibrations. This also discourages leeches.

Spiders mind their own business, so long as you don't go blundering into their webs. I see spiders half the size of my hand, but I never saw the deadliest creature of them all, a small, red-backed spider whose bite is often fatal.

We suffer attacks from one specific creature – the mosquito – despite the fact that we rub on repellent, burn mosquito coils, and sleep under mosquito nets.

Every room has electricity and a CD player, with music backed up by a chorus of frogs (baritone and castrato) from the ponds in the valley below us. And as there is no light along the paths we have to think up some crazy alternatives for night-time habits.

The rain forest is near the seaside town of Noosa Junction, and not far from Noosa Heads, with its great beaches and a rainforest park. We are 20 minutes' drive from the Sunshine Coast, one of Australia's playgrounds.

In this part of Queensland, the rain falls several times a week, and sometimes several times a day. It often comes down fiercely for 15 – 30 minutes, and then fades away.

In a land of constant rain the sloping tin roofs of the buildings have a legitimate use. Each roof has a gutter, and the water eventually spills down a pipe which leads to a tank – after passing through a net which blocks out leaves and debris – and voila, we have drinking water.

It rained all day yesterday and most of the night. Rain is beating down on the tin roof. The water tank is over-flowing, all paths and tracks are filled with red watery mud. No one can possibly do anything in this tropical downpour. Even the birds and reptiles must be hiding away!

A Friday in March

High noon – strange things buzz around, including horseflies and giant yellow butterflies. The black butterflies, which are the really big ones (about the size of your palm), we see later, on our journeys of exploration.

A little earlier it was still cool, but one felt the coming humidity. The grass is wet. The two kangaroos come up for food. When Luka, the mother, sits on her tail she is slightly more than half the size of a man. The kangaroos playfully push each other around, parrying with their small forepaws.

Coming out of the wooden shed which houses the shower I startle a wild turkey; he runs off, flapping his wings, then resumes his stately walk.

We rent a car and make several journeys "into the interior".

The great day arrives – Saturday April 7, 2001

It is dark when we hear the telephone ring and we both wake up. Half an hour later we see a light flashing in the darkness; my son appears, holding a torch. What we heard was him ringing Jenny the midwife – the birth, which we have flown halfway around the world to attend, is due to take place.

We all have our duties. I supply the hot water. Everything is ready, including the plastic pool in the room where the baby will be born. Ruti and son leave, carrying equipment. A hard rain comes down for a few minutes.

It is getting lighter, fires have been lit in the communal kitchen, water is boiling – all the equipment is in the communal room.

Holding a pan of hot water, I walk down a few wide wooden steps which lead from the plateau into the fringes of the rainforest, and to the wooden building where the expectant parents reside. Rain starts and stops, starts again – intermittent bursts. It is lighter outside. We are sitting and waiting, and waiting.

Grey day outside, the gas is going, the water boiling. I bring down more pans of boiling water and this is poured into the water of the plastic pool in which the mother-to-be is sitting. The warm bath helps relieve the birth pains. Outside the communal kitchen a hosepipe has been connected to the drinking water tap, and leads down to the pool. I occasionally get instructions to turn on the water to refill the pool. Then I carry more pots of boiling water down to keep the water in the pool at a comfortable temperature.

The mosquitoes come at us from all sides; more bursts of rain, more mosquitoes. Ruti goes off to have a shower and a big leech, swollen with her blood, drops off her leg. The two kangaroos turn up for food – the mother comes into the kitchen and I lead it outside with the promise of cornflakes, bread and a banana. A wild turkey is foraging around outside.

Jenny the midwife comes in. The baby is coming. Ruti goes with her to the cottage and remains with them during the rest of the birth. Rain is now falling in heavy intermittent bursts.

Four hours have passed. Except for me, everyone is waiting in the cottage.

Minutes later the rainforest farm has one more resident, a little girl, who is born in the pool.

I go down the stairs leading into the forest and leave my shoes outside the door of their home. The new parents and their baby are still in the pool. A tiny thing, it makes small, squeaky noises. It is hot in the room, and very quiet. The rain stopped a while back and it's starting to heat up outside.

The baby was born at 9.33a.m. It is now 11:00a.m. and she is suckling on her own. "She's got the idea," says her mother, who is looking well.

I walk back to our room. I say a silent "thank you" to the kangaroos and the wild turkey, to the sun starting to beam down outside, and perhaps even to the spiders and snakes. I give the kangaroos too much food: the mother follows me into the room – the plank doesn't stop her, she just hops up, and I hear this bouncing noise behind me. I manage to coax her outside, and roll down the thin wooden slats which serve as a door. The two kangaroos are now camped on our lawn, and I know I mustn't feed them anymore as – I have been told – this would spoil their wild nature. A bit late!


Day 1 in a life

The baby's eyes are open – she has black hair. Vital statistics: 2.750 kgs, 61 cms. No name given as yet – later it becomes Leaya Shachar (Dawn).

Early evening: still grey, overcast, intermittent bursts of hard rain. The new father, who delivered the baby himself under the watchful eye of Jenny, is pleased: a textbook birth, he says.

The baby is alert, looks at everything.

Later that night - a full moon. I stand on our balcony and look down. Everything is lit up in a soft white light; the trees on the slope below me stand out sharply. I can even see one of the red ponds at the bottom of the valley. 

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Sunday, 12 July 2020

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