When John and Sandra Lyle were handed a tiny orphaned joey to care for some 20 years ago, little did they know, that this baby Eastern grey kangaroo would change their lives forever.
“The lady said his name is Monty’. She gave me some formula and told me how to look after him. Within a week we had seven animals in our care, and within a month 35, and it hasn’t stopped since.”
Some twenty-two years later, John and Sandra run Monty’s Rest Wildlife Refuge, typically looking after 20 to 30 injured or orphaned native animals (mostly kangaroos) at a time. They do all the work and fund the project almost entirely themselves while living in a caravan on site.
Since the devastating bushfires took hold, they have been inundated with injured wildlife.
It’s tiring, relentless and often heartbreaking work, but English-born John, a former Australian Army medic in Vietnam who now holds a senior zookeeper’s qualification says he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“It was that first joey, Monty...” he says. “When I got back from Vietnam, I had no idea what I wanted to do in life. It wasn’t until I got this one little joey that I realised this was what I was supposed to be doing.”
Home is where the heart is
John and Sandra haven’t always lived in a caravan. Their first home at Oberon, in the Blue Mountains was a five-bedroom house. Sadly, it was the tragic death of Monty by dogs, aged just three, that inspired them to buy 33 hectares of mainly native forest at nearby Porters Retreat, in the Abercrombie River National Park, to be used as a wildlife refuge. They aptly named it in memory of the roo they had raised as an orphan.Monty’s Rest Wildlife Refuge.
“It got to a point where we couldn’t afford both, so we sacrificed the house, moved out here and lived in a tent,” says John. When snow demolished the tent, someone donated a battered old caravan. Another donor gave them a better caravan about five or six years ago and to date -that’s home.
“I’m on a veteran’s pension; that’s our income,” says John. “All our money goes towards rescues, feed and looking after the animals...“But we’re OK in the caravan. It’s comfortable. The animals are the priority.” The way John explains it, he hasn’t got a choice in the matter. “I haven’t been able to not do this,” he says. “I have to do this because someone’s got to do it.”
There’s never a shortage of jobs to be done at Monty’s Rest. “We pretty much do all the work ourselves,” says John. “There’s a lot involved. A lot of animals come here as orphans and have to be bottle-fed.” When they’re big enough, kangaroos are moved into a larger compound, where John provides them with food and water, and where they can get to know the mob of wild kangaroos in the national park on the other side of the fence. https://www.careforwildlife.org/how-you-can-help.html.
It's not until they're two years old that they're big enough to be released into the wild. John has seen some horrific injuries over the years, but the burns he and his wife see day in and day out since the fires took hold, are unprecedented and heartbreaking. “These injuries have a very high potential to take a life,” he says. “They’re hard to treat, and even if they go through all this treatment they can die from shock or smoke inhalation.”
Hope on the Horizon
The bushfire emergency has inspired people to give John and Sandra some much-needed assistance with the costs of medication and other expenses. More is always required but for this incredible team whether they’re receiving financial help or not, they have found their calling. Johns medical background and zookeeper training give him the skills, while their location in the national park is perfect for releasing animals safely, and perhaps most importantly he feels a powerful drive to help. “I should be doing this, I can do it, so I’m doing it,” he says. “It’s hard to explain.”
A story of help shared by NRMA Insurance.