The Namatjira family had been on a painting trip out past Redbank Gorge, in the heartland of painters paradise, and had caught dinner on the hop. In a warm pouch, they found a little red, awkward jumble of gangly legs and tail.
The paintings from the camp were handed to Dad, who was busy propping them against the wall and appreciating the flash of colour and light. Bundled in a flour sack with a friendly hand, and swung from behind the family group, all in essence of campfires, bush tucker and the red dust of our shared heartland, was this little gift. When the sack was put on the ground for me, the fuzzy little blinking face popped out. Radar ears, dusty and crinkled from the journey, twitched and searched for place.
We named him 'Joey'. I know now not a timely name, but in that space it was a fit. I had recently witnessed a savage dog mauling of a child and was skittish about the whole pet scenario. So, we just watched each other for a time.
Dad had a few floor rugs, made by the Hermannsburg tanners from Kangaroo hides, so chose a worn one and roughly lashed together a pouch, with the fur on the inside. This pouch was hung on the clothes line, in the toasty warm sunlight and I would sometimes go and grab the wire and bounce and swing from it. The shared bouncing and leaping in the sunlight must have been a healing thread for us both.
Joey understood the games. My brother and I, in our little tin car , would peddle and race around the orange trees with Joey leading/escaping, depending how you looked at the rules. I think I developed my 'lead foot' at this time and still get guilty pleasure from muscle cars and speed.
Our furry friend developed a taste for our Milo milk drink and he and I often sat in the red sand over a shared cup. He would look up at me with droplets of milk on his whiskers, anxious for me to finish my turn. Well, the milk must have made him grow.
Eventually, we could no longer look eye to eye. The little gift became a different creature. A creature of the desert, fully muscled from racing games, six foot in height, a red furred warrior beast with a call of the pack in his eyes. We were no longer fast enough in our tin cars. A joyous leap over the high back fence found him chasing stray dogs down the lane way. I felt safe from the dogs with Joey in the lane way, but he started to give bush justice to these fanged creatures and complaints were made.
The blue Humber Hawk, our family car with over stuffed red seats, was prepared for that day of transition. The family challenge must have been made smoother with time. With my child eyes, it was comical.
My brave warrior friend, was, after no doubt a difficult process, perched in the back seat of the car. The back seat was normally Dad and mine. Dad could not drive and it was our sanctuary to drink in the endless landscape and talk of colour and light. Mum’s place was at the wheel, changing tyres, light maintenance, generally planning and navigating. On this day, we were all squeezed into the front with Joey generally flailing about and causing a ruckus in the back.
We drove the short distance to the Alice Telegraph Station sanctuary. I imagine he glanced back at us as he paused to get bearings. My tears and longing were placated by my parents words of safety for him and new friends with the rightness of this new freedom.
For years, I would ask to go and see Joey, and searched the red furry faces for recognition and still get a thrill from that noble confident stare of a true red desert warrior. My quiet protector.