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My Life with Kangaroos

A Deaf Woman's Remarkable Story

Doris Herrmann with Michael Gaida and Therese Jöhl

Publication Year: 2013

Doris Herrmann was born deaf in 1933 in Basle, Switzerland, and from the age of three, she possessed a mystical attraction to kangaroos. She recalls seeing them at that age for the first time at the Basle Zoo, and spending every spare moment visiting them from then on. Eventually, her fascination grew into passionate study of their behavior. Her dedication caught the attention of the zoo keepers who provided her greater access to these extraordinary animals. Despite her challenges with communication, Herrmann wrote a scientific paper about the kangaroo’s pouch hygiene when raising a joey. Soon, experts from around the world came to visit this precocious deaf girl who knew about kangaroos. Herrmann appreciated the opportunities opening up to her, but her real dream was to travel to Australia to study kangaroos in the wild. For years she worked and yearned, until Dr. Karl H. Winkelsträter a renowned authority on kangaroos, suggested an independent study in Australia at a place called Pebbly Beach. In 1969, at the age of 35, Herrmann finally traveled to the native land of kangaroos. During the next four decades, she would make many more trips to observe and write about kangaroos. My Life with Kangaroos explores every facet of Herrmann’s connection to these engaging marsupials. Her single-minded devotion not only made her a leading self-made scholar on kangaroos, it transformed her own personality and her relationships with others. As she forged bonds with kangaroos named Dora, Jacqueline, Manuela, and many others, she engendered great affection and respect in the people around her, truly a remarkable story of success.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

In some fairy tales, animals talk, human beings are bewitched, and other strange things occur twixt heaven and earth. Moreover, the people in them frequently play roles in which the limitations that constrain them in life, either material or physical, play a decisive part. These characters have access to invisible powers that watch...

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1. Kangaroos as Yet Undiscovered

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pp. 1-11

A thin skein of cloud has spread over the delicately blue sky illuminating the red-tiled roofs of our Swiss town on the Rhine River. I am nearly three years old. Getting out of bed, dressed in a shirt and pants, I stand at the half-open balcony door, where a waft of cool air brushes past me. I sense the coming of a beautiful, warm sunny day. Then I...

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2. School Years

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pp. 12-27

After my family moved to the Basel suburb of Riehen, I was sent to a kindergarten for deaf children. While there, I was much more interested in the wonderful colors displayed on the blackboard than in the lessons or playtime. When I discovered that chalk could be rubbed off, I put this knowledge into action by erasing a picture on...

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3. Under the Spell of the Kangaroo

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pp. 28-39

One day after the war had officially ended, Auntie told me for the first time about the origins of World War II. To help explain, she took me into her bedroom and showed me a large map of the world that indicated the theaters of the war. She also pointed out the seven continents, including a huge, purple-red island. “That’s...

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4. Thwarted Courtship

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pp. 40-48

At sixteen, my intensive reading of work that was written in simple, comprehensible German awakened in me a burning desire to write. Indeed, one could almost speak of a “rage to write.” I was so overwhelmed with this desire that I didn’t really grasp the fact that my ability to express myself was rather inadequate. I could draw...

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5. Dora

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pp. 49-60

When I was fifteen, the need to actually touch a kangaroo grew from day to day. However, there were insuperable obstacles to my doing so. The reasons lay in the infinitely deep feelings that these animals stirred in me. No other animal aroused such emotion. Whenever I visited the Basel Zoo to watch the kangaroos, shivering overwhelmed me, took...

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6. A Firm Decision

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pp. 61-76

Our yard bordered on some ivy-covered wasteland that harbored a few tall trees. From time to time, one could catch sight of a roe deer, and the birds, whether large or small, were often at war with one another over nesting places. Hedgehogs, too, emerged from their hideaways under the elderberry bush and appeared on our lawn. A...

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7. In the Land of My Dreams at Last

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pp. 77-89

I am at one with the movement of the waves, now rising, now falling; it’s as though I were myself a wave. Up we go, and then down, a little to the left and then to the right until the ocean becomes a great smooth mass extending to infinity. Then the winds come again, and the waves begin to roll, and me? I am but a small human child, bravely...

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8. Pebbly Beach

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pp. 90-102

A little below the path was a sandy bay with a few meadows in which one could see several huts with corrugated roofs. This minute, peaceful settlement of not more than a dozen huts was Pebbly Beach. Myky pulled up at a garden gate. The house behind was hardly detectable for the wild chaos of tall plants in front of...

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9. Jacqueline

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pp. 103-116

You will have already realized that I view kangaroos as individual beings. every one of them has its own peculiarities and indeed its own unmistakable character. Because of her strong, special relationship to me, Dora can be described as something exceptional, but Jacqueline, too, of whom I’ll say more in a moment, was in her own...

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10. Moving like a Kangaroo

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pp. 117-123

After the unpleasant cold of an Australian spring, in September 1974 Pebbly Beach became warm and sunny about midday, and this was an opportunity for us to go outside and picnic in front of the hut. Geoff and Kathrin prepared something to eat in the kitchen, while I kept watch outside. This was necessary since there were currawongs...

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11. A Community of Individuals

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pp. 124-130

The forests and steppes of east, West, and South Australia are often plagued by heavy rainfall. even the very dense foliage in some regions fails to offer sufficient protection against the torrential downpours, such as those in 1974.
Kangaroos deal with bad weather in their own way: With their...

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12. The Bosses

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pp. 131-142

The appearance of the large, imposing males on the scene was always a fascinating moment for me, but, quite apart from that, it was also enrichment as far as my studies were concerned. The very presence of these “giants” could virtually throw Pebbly Beach into an uproar. Their arrival precipitated a good deal of movement and...

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13. Manuela

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pp. 143-147

One morning I was just getting ready for my daily routine of observation, when a young man who seemed to be on an urgent errand suddenly appeared. Since he didn’t appear inclined to let me know what the problem was, I sent him off to Mrs. Schwallbach. A few minutes later, he returned with both her and Kathrin, and I...

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14. Of Mothers and Children

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pp. 148-155

At about six months a pouch baby shows itself for the first time. Initially, only the back feet or the tip of the tail makes an appearance, but then a pink-colored head with large, bright eyes appears and is followed by the baby’s arms. It is during this phase that the first fine, dark hair begins to form on the pink skin. After this, it is...

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15. It’s Certainly Not Deathly Quiet!

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pp. 156-159

I used to jot down my observations rapidly, using a few abbreviations and personally invented “hieroglyphics.” The speed was determined by the “whims” of my observed objects. I did my best but still lost important details, and many times, while writing something down, I even lost sight of the animal I was observing. I would have...

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16. All Kinds of Remarkable Things

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pp. 160-169

One morning in 1982, when it is very early and I am still half-asleep, I am outside in front of my hut at Pebbly Beach, watching the wonderful play of colors in the morning sky. All around me, it is still pitch black. Only far away in the east above the horizon at the cape at Pebbly Beach is there a hint of light. For a few moments, the...

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17. Dreams

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pp. 170-179

Without exaggeration, I can say that dreaming itself and my own particular dreams (which also include my daydreams) carry considerable significance. On the one hand, they are a form of reflection on what has happened during the day. For me, these occur not only in numerous variations but also in the most remarkable figures and...

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18. Kangaroos Overcome the Iron Curtain

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pp. 180-208

One morning in August 1967, while my mother and I were vacationing in Zermatt, I received a letter from a mysterious sender, someone I did not know who lived in Dresden in east Germany (the German Democratic Republic, or GDR).

Frau Christel Göcking
Dresden Zoological Gardens...

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19. My Brother and I

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pp. 209-221

My somewhat younger brother, Peter, who was also born without hearing and, moreover, suffered from other disabilities, should really have a chapter to himself. So far I have mentioned him only here and there in passing and merely touched upon his disabilities.
For forty long years and right up to the death of my mother I...

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20. Aboriginals

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pp. 222-232

Was it really only the kangaroos that constantly drew me like a magnet to Australia? Were there not people who had been living there for a long time on this huge island at the other end of the world?
These questions, which I had asked myself for some time, were rather unpleasant, if not a trifle embarrassing. I have to admit that...

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21. Eukala

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pp. 233-247

When, in 2006, I set off for Australia, I had an important matter in mind. This time I had firmly decided to get in touch with an Aboriginal. Why? I was determined to learn what my intense concern with kangaroos was all about. I wanted to know definitively why I had felt so drawn to these animals since childhood. Almost...

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22. The All-Embracing Unity

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pp. 248-254

There was a phase in my life in which a number of everyday influences did not leave me in peace, let alone allow me to reflect deeply on anything. Above all, this was the kind of time pressure to which I was subjected in my professional life. I found it insufferable. In addition, political events were always clamoring for my personal views...

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pp. 255-258

Many good friends and acquaintances have accompanied me on my literary path, helping me in the most varied ways by encouraging, inspiring, and correcting me or directing my thoughts in this or that direction with curiosity, interest, and affection, standing, so to speak, around the “cradle” of my latest creation as it greets the world...

E-ISBN-13: 9781563685606
E-ISBN-10: 1563685604
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563685590
Print-ISBN-10: 1563685590

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 20 photos
Publication Year: 2013