THIS story is about family, following the young as they grow and change with the seasons and capturing it in images at Bonegilla.
SPRING, and the young joeys explore the world from the safety of a mother’s pouch.
Summer comes, and giant reds lean back on thick, muscly tails, acting out an ancient ritual and filling the rich golden air with leathery thuds.
In autumn the rain pours and the mob lies back in languid repose.
It’s an endless, glorious cycle of life as old as the land itself and it’s being played out every day on our doorstep.
Over the course of nearly a year, The Border Mail photographer Tara Goonan documented that cycle and the lives of a mob of roos that have laid claim to Bonegilla as home.
“I’ve always loved kangaroos,” Goonan says.
“They’re one of my favourite animals.
“So I went back every couple of months to capture the different seasons and to give the joeys time to grow and change.
“And because I started when they had their joeys it was nice to watch them grow up.”
A big, powerful male was unique enough for Goonan to be able to find the mob each time she went looking.
“He was always the one on watch protecting the others when I was around,” she says.
“You could tell it was him, just by how big and muscly he was.
“You got to see their traits and his sheer size and when he stood up to challenge you — you really got a sense of how big and powerful they are.”
A large, 600 millimetre lens allowed Goonan to get close without disturbing the kangaroos. Which meant she could watch and document them as if no one was around with some surprising and even comic results.
“Once they were all on the move and then they all got in a line and went one by one under a fence, each waiting their turn,” Goonan says.
“It was like they were lining up in turn for the bank.
“It was quite funny to see that kind of behaviour — you think of them as individual animals but then you see they are very mob-oriented.”
Family bonds were forged as the mob’s numbers grew.
“He was always the one on watch, protecting the others when I was around."TARA GOONAN
One of Goonan’s favourite images was of an over-grown joey hopping into its mum’s pouch.
“It just shows what mums put up with,” Goonan says.
“They carry their joeys for a long time, even to the point they’re too big for the pouch but still try climbing in.
“It was a bit comical to see one mum with a joey who’s quite big and has his legs sticking out of the pouch.”
Early morning starts produced the best results — for the best light and the most active behaviour from the mob.
And kangaroos being kangaroos, little happens in inclement weather.
“One time I went in the pouring rain,” Goonan says.
“They weren’t doing anything interesting either because it was raining — but it was just nice to see them in that environment.”
Patience too was key.
“They’re obviously aware that you’re there and you don’t want to spook them,” she says.
“Slowly you move closer and get them used to the noise of the shutter.
“They’ll spend time looking and sussing you out before going back to what they were doing — which was usually grazing.”
Bonegilla Migrant Experience co-ordinator Christine Thorpe says she thought Bonegilla’s kangaroos would make for a beautiful series.
“The ’roos are so lovely out here and at the time Tara first came out they had their joeys and they were just so gorgeous,” she says.
“Out here with the barracks, the weir and Bonegilla Migrant Experience the kangaroos are effectively landlocked which means there’s nowhere else much for them to go, so they’re quite condensed.
“There seem to be a few different mobs that stick together.”
Which provides a unique experience for people who are regularly in the area.
“Sometimes here at work you go out to your car to go home at night and they’ll be standing around the car looking at you,” Ms Thorpe says.
“They’re sat bolt upright on their haunches and I’ll say, ‘hi little ones’, and they just hop away.”
And it means that it’s one place visitors and tourists are almost guaranteed to see a wild kangaroo.
Ms Thorpe says last year a big tennis tournament brought about 200 youths from different countries out for a tour of the old Bonegilla camp.
“They loved the tour,” she says, “but they also loved the fact they got to see kangaroos.
“The only thing is we have to warn people not to approach them because they are wild animals, cute as they are we have to make sure people respect the fact they are wild.
“We always recommend people drive around this area with an eye out for the ’roos.”
So it’s not a bad life, by the shores of Lake Hume, nibbling grass all day and lying in the sun.
After nine months Goonan has watched a family grow, witnessed their habits and traits, and learnt that ’roos love nothing more than eating grass.
And perhaps she’s grown a little closer to one of the world’s most intriguing animals, even if it is a little indifferent.
“It was interesting to observe them,” Goonan says, “but I don’t think they’ll miss me at all.”