The Upside Down Under
Kangaroo Dundee


No doubt you've heard of Mick "Crocodile" Dundee but what about Australia's real-life "Kangaroo Dundee" - Chris 'Brolga' Barns?

It's early morning and a human call travels across the red, scrubby earth of central Australia. Little heads begin to pop up all over the landscape. Soon, a mob of red kangaroos is bounding towards a tall man in an Akubra, holding a feed bucket.

Breakfast is up at The Kangaroo Sanctuary, just outside Alice Springs.

Chowin' down at the Kangaroo Sanctuary
Chowin' down at the Kangaroo Sanctuary

Chris 'Brolga' Barns established the kangaroo sanctuary near Alice Springs, in the middle of the Australian Outback, in 2009. An animal lover since he was a child, the 41-year-old worked at various zoos and sanctuarys before devoting himself to saving joeys (baby kangaroos), whose mothers are frequently killed on Australia's roads

He is now widely known in Australia as the joey rescue man, and often gets calls from people who have found animals in trouble hundred of miles away from where he lives. The distance never deters him, however, and if he can't pass the joey on to a carer closer by he will drive to collect it.

A trio of joeys at the Kangaroo Sanctuary
A trio of joeys at the Kangaroo Sanctuary

There are currently about 30 kangaroos at the sanctuary, run by Chris 'Brolga' Barns. Most were brought in as orphaned joeys. A few were once kept as pets. Some joeys have been brought in by Aboriginal people after being orphaned by hunting.

Mr Barns told One Plus One's Jane Hutcheon...

"When they heard about this tall skinny bloke (who) set up this place in town where people can drop a baby kangaroo, they would travel out of their way - In the car with 10 people and three dogs is a baby kangaroo that they're bringing in to give me"

The Kangaroo Hospital

The Kangaroo Hospital has been a dream of Brolga’s for over a decade. Brolga has always seen a need for a hospital in the centre of Australia, as the nearest wildlife hospital is over 1,500km away.

The Kangaroo Hospital provides specialised care for kangaroos.  It is also a place where many baby orphan kangaroos will be cared for and raised by volunteer wildlife carers until they are ready for release back to the wild.

The Kangaroo Sanctuary
The Kangaroo Hospital has been a dream of Brolga’s for over a decade. Brolga has always seen a need for a hospital in the centre of Australia, as the nearest wildlife hospital is over 1,500km away.
How you can support the Kangaroo Sanctuary

The Upside Down Under rarely promotes causes however if you feel like supporting this most worthy cause then please feel free to do so.  Your donations are directed to the rescue and care of  orphaned baby and adult kangaroos at the Kangaroo Hospital.

Donations are debited in $AUS.  Click here to  be redirected to the kangaroo hospital donations site..

The Kangaroo Hospital
The Kangaroo Hospital

How it all began...

Brolga grew up in Perth in the 1970s. By his teens he was already 6 feet tall (1.82 metres) which may have contributed to a little shyness. He says he did not shine at school, but was always drawn to TV shows featuring the outback.

"I remember rushing home from school ... to watch Skippy," he said.

Skippy the Bush Kangaroo
Skippy the Bush Kangaroo had an impact on Brolga's life.

"Just the thought of a kid (Sonny Hammond who befriended Skippy the kangaroo) out in the open space ... he's got all that freedom and an animal that I didn't get to see ... a kangaroo - that was just a dream for a kid.

"We always see the outback on TV and the farmer talking about how he's had endless years of drought and the windmill creaking - but it's a lot more to it than that. As a kid I did see this adventure, that's something I really wanted."

Barnes, who also worked part-time as a bus cleaner, set up his sanctuary in 2009 after finding a newborn joey in its dead mother’s pouch by the side of a road.

“There was a family of kangaroos that was about to be shot [according to Northern Territory law] because they weren’t well enough to be set free,” he explains. “I couldn’t let that happen. I decided to build my own sanctuary for animals to rest and recover.”

So, over two years, working seven days a week, he did it. He dug a 2.5-mile long trench and fixed 4,000m of fencing over 90 acres. Barnes now raises 200 joeys every year. To be near his beloved marsupials, he lives in a tin shack with no heating or running water, surrounded by snakes, dingoes and camels.

The call of open space and his love of animals saw Mr Barns leave home at the age of 17 to make the move to Broome in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, to become a zoo keeper.

He worked at several wildlife parks before trying his hand as a tour guide. Driving long distances between Alice Springs and Uluru, he remembered what other zoo keepers had told him about leaving dead wildlife on the highway.

So he decided to stop and check the 'roadkill' to look for little survivors.

"I'd stop to check the [dead] kangaroo for a joey. But (it's also) really important to drag it off the road."

Orphaned Joey after mum struck by a vehicle
Joeys don't stand much of a chance after their mum is killed.

He said other animals, such as eagles, are often killed or injured near roadkill sites as they search for food.

"When I was a young zoo keeper I used to check wallabies in Broome and one day found a joey, and then years later being a tour guide - met with a very big, remote outback between here and Uluru - and no-one was doing it.

"So I starting doing it ... then I wanted other people to do."

Mr Barns then realised that it was not enough for him alone to save the lives of helpless kangaroos - he needed to spread the message.

"That's why I decided education would be my life - teaching people how to become kangaroo rescuers themselves," he said.

Forget Skippy - meet Raging Roger!

Barnes found Roger in his dead mother’s pouch and raised him in his Kangaroo Sanctuary.

Not being able to let Roger into the wild helped Mr Barns come up with the idea behind the Kangaroo Sanctuary.

Mr Barns explained that finding a living joey in a carcass that had been left on the side of the road 'transformed his whole life.'

'I look at it like the lotto, going around checking the dead kangaroo's week in, week out. You might not have any luck…but then one day you find this little one [a joey]. Sometimes they're still alive in the pouch of the mum who has been dead 2 or 3 days,' explained Mr Barns.

'What comes to you is how vulnerable the baby is. I thought, 'I'm going to have to keep this.' I knew education would be my life and I could teach people how to become kangaroo rescuers themselves,' he continued.

Roger as a Joey
Barnes found Roger in his dead mother’s pouch and raised him in his Kangaroo Sanctuary.

“Roger has recently been recognised as one of the ten most famous animals in the world. Photos and videos of Roger go viral all the time because he’s world-renowned as being really muscular, with a great physique.” Says Barnes.

A muscular Roger
Roger's muscular physique is capable of crushing a steel bucket.

The ripped 'roo measures more than 6 1/2 feet from head to tail and weighs almost 200 pounds. Chris "Brolga" Barnes states that Roger's got a knack for crushing metal buckets and seems to enjoy sparring with other males.

Roger shot to international fame after a photo of his large arms appeared on social media.

A ripped Roger the Kangaroo
Roger's 'ripped' appearance caused a social media meltdown!

So why are his muscles so big?

According to Dr Natalie Warburton from the Murdoch University of Veterinary and Life Sciences the size of a kangaroo’s arms is a key factor in their ability to attract a female.

"Forelimb measurements showed that whereas female musculature growth was proportional to body size, male musculature was overwhelmingly exaggerated," she says.

"It has to do with youthful sparring. Much like humans, youthful kangaroos play fight and wrestle. Building their muscles as they get older and the activity becomes more aggressive

"Male kangaroos establish and maintain their dominance hierarchy through sparring contests that involve grasping their opponent and using their back legs to box them.

"The stronger they get, the more wrestling matches they win which make them stand out in a crowd of potential partners.

Sparring kangaroos
Kangaroos like to fight and wrestle.

Dominant males spend a lot of time posturing to ward off physical challenges. Dr Trish Fleming explains:

You'll usually have a couple of really large individuals, and they'll be very bulked up, If you look at them from front-on, they look like they're body builders and they'll spend quite a bit of time posturing and displaying to females, but also to other males. Obviously, that's part of their competitive success.

Unfortunately the bulkier the kangaroo, the shorter the lifespan. The team from Murdoch University believe this has to do with the higher body mass that the kangaroo has to maintain. So if a drought or a bout of famine strikes, it will hit the males harder than the females.

Sadly, Roger is nearing the end of his lifespan.  Brolga said of the tired looking red kangaroo..

..although he is still big and strong, he is an old man and old man don't fight,'

'So [I want] his last few years, or year, to be happy out here in the bush and I'll be keeping a really close eye on him, but is my best mate, he is my son and I love him so much.'

Brolga has a run-in with Roger – once a helpless orphan, now the mob boss, and even Brolga has to watch his step.


The Kangaroo Sanctuary Website


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