Babysitting Big Foot – helpx with kangaroos

The way I see it there are 2 kinds of people in the world. You’re either Team Koala or Team Kangaroo. I’m the latter. When after Japan we decided to see Santa in his tongs and shorts Down Under, my imagination run wild. I saw all the kangaroos I’m gonna pet and they all will be “so fluffy I’m gonna die” to quote the Indespicable Me 🙂

Well, you can either complain that fluffy kangaroos are not so overly common in Australia, especially in the cities. OR you can try work exchange and do your deed while thorougly enjoying all the friendly little fluffy creatures. You know me and my can-do attitude a little already 🙂 This time I kindly asked Arek to pick a project he might not be too excited about BUT I SOOOOO WANNA DO IT, PLEASE!

Happy wife is so much better than a nagging wife and being around fluffy kangaroos for a few days can’t harm you, can it? Arek agreed and from Port Douglas we went more inland in North Queensland to Mareeba and beyond to join Jen’s Jowajilla Refuge Center for macropods.


Lucky enough, we actually got a ride from Port Douglas straight to Jowajilla. Jen’s friend from Poland, Halina is an architect, at the time running a small half-house for wallabies with her partner. We were chatting all the way till we found ourselves in the land where you can’t see you neighbour’s house from your property. Around 20km from Mareeba, Jowajila Center appeared to be a big house/used to be school with the land bordering the mountains. In the middle of nowhere is probably right description of the refuge location 🙂 The place where you can hardly walk outside without being in danger due to poisonous animals or much too playful grown up kangaroos…

Yet, who wants to leave the house habitated by 18 joeys (baby kangaroos) ? Not me 😀

Let’s meet Jen – the owner and creator of the refuge center for little macropods. Ex wildlife carer in her 50s who after divorce dedicated all her love, money and time to saving baby roos (kangaroos in OZ) and alike: wallabies, wallaroos, antilopines, swamp and rock wallabies along with eastern greys.

Her life story is both captivating and explanatory in regards to her devotion towards animals as opposite to humans. And every dinner was a storytelling adventure. We’ve heard about Jen’s family sharing their house with David Attenborough and her kids chatting with prince Philip (yep, the British Queen’s husband) on his official visit to National Park she worked at. We’ve learnt about tough life in the outback, when one day typhoon can destroy all that you own and cherish dear, leaving you lost and broken. She eagerly shared her challenges of wildlife carer job who moved to the far North Queensland for a crocodile research project and described her child’s years with her nomadic family of saddlers. And when you thought that nothing can possibly make it more interesting, she would bring stories from her work with Aborigines at the community center or tell us about her amazing kids. Surely, Aussies’ lifes are closely aligned with nature – sometimes it makes them as wild and exciting as the environment they grew up in.



But back to the wee ones and our very first morning of madness 🙂 It’s 4.40AM when we join Jen and Amy (another helper from Canada) in the morning routine. By 5AM all the milk Jen prepared for joeys is ready in the bottles and we are instructed of which color and size belongs to which baby. In the meantime Amy made sure the gang has a clean and ready playground in the veranda. We’ll learn about it soon too. Now it’s time for this very special moment of feeding baby roos. I might have pictured it differently in my dreams, though 😀 It’s crazy, every little one is different and before we get used to them and learn their patterns, the feeding time seems overwhelming. Actually Feeding Frenzy is the best way to describe it!

Leksi is always hungry and not a lady wallabie at all. She’s the tough one in her pair, not a fussy eater Kingston (joeys are paired up as this way even orphaned, they grow up healthier). You need to feed them simultanously or else… prepare for hullabaloo.


Sweet antilopine Emi is cute but stubborn and either you give her a bottle first, or she won’t let you be. She also seems most flexible of all joeys – first day I thought I actually broke a kangaroo when it streched its back like Bronte here…

Emi is now paired up with Bronte – still sad after another joey, Annie didn’t make it 🙁

Usually the pair is of the same gender, but to every rule there are exceptions – hence Leksi and Kingston.

Then there is a bigger pair of two eastern greys – Ella and Bonnie. As Deryl said, when he drove us to Jowajilla, he only takes care of wallabies as kangaroos are boring as if on valium all their lives. Ella and Bonnie are mostly quiet, unless it’s a hopping time outside at the back of the estate.

And two very small and adorable ones – Fay and Nelly. They need so much love and attention, you can feel they still needs their mommy.


Another attention seeker is Jill, nearly fully grown but dependent nevertheless after dogs attacked her on a golf course way back. She’s the cuddliest and Jen’s special one. So is Kayu – rock wallabie with a really bad temper (you guessed right, we didn’t get along well).

There are the smallest lot of rock wallabies and a few tiny tiney kangaroos that Jen keeps in her room. And there’s our favourite – Lucy.

Lucy is a swamp wallaby, pretty little thing that looks like straight from Aboriginal paintings. As swamp wallabies are not that good with sucking the milk out of the bottle, she needs more tending to. We eagerly oblige 🙂 Lucy’s following Arek a lot and prefers him for cuddles, probably because of the beard 🙂



We live in a full house. Trying to stay focused and enjoy play and feeding time, while also doing countless sets of loundry, cleaning the house and joeys’ playgorund inside, boiling the bottles, cooking for humans vegan food of local produce and chatting with other helpers (after Amy left Jowajila, we welcomed Charlotte, really cool Brit with experience in animal care). Such amount of baby kangaroos need plenty of baby roo food, so Jen is already stressed by money issues. Yet, she accepts another kangaroo – we get to name a newcomer, Mila is the unfortunate eastern grey with her tail partly eaten by termites. Not all the joeys saved and brought to Jowajilla will make it, but we know from Jen’s Facebook page that Mila grew up and has been released to the wild.

Actually, when I’m at this – all the gang of cute, naughty, cuddly and always hungry joeys we were babysitting at Jowajilla is grown up and out in the wild now. Jen’s story with Jowajila is over. We believe renting the house away from people and dedicating her time and all of the resources to saving orphaned baby macropods was noble but also very exhausting for Jen. She has a loving family who would appreciate her uniqueness and give her enough space. And there are some grandkids who can’t wait to meet her grannie. I remember this one dinner – Jen, with a bottle in one hand and a baby roo close to her heart, telling us one day she will take her sheperd dogs and Jill, buy the camper and go on the road – all the way to her kids and grandchildren where she’ll settle down and it will be like in the old days when she was having her walks with a rooster and a big wild hog and neighbours kids called her a Centric Lady 🙂

It took far longer than expected for me to write that story. But some stories need perspective and time is great for that. When we were leaving Jowajilla, Jen seemed confused and under a lot of pressure, so even though we tried to be supportive and understanding, we could have parted on better terms. It took time to get it – for Jen, to accept the fact she needs her me-time and wave her kangaroo grown-up babies goodbye, and for us to realize Aussies are as wild as the nature they are surrounded by. Glad I waited with the story, seems complete now and I’m so happy to share our experiences, videos and pictures from our babysitting adventure. If you are Team Kangaroo and want more heart-melting photos or videos, feel free to check our profile on Instagram and Flickr album dedicated to roos, we’ll be updating with more kangaroo goodness over this week.

Babysitting Big Foot – helpx with kangaroos
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