Winter 2001
A Tribute to Dr. Peg Christian


The Marsupial Society, while primarily a society dedicated to marsupials, would not exist without the expertise and dedication of many people.    Some of those people have been given honourary Life Membership.     This is the first in a series of articles about some of these Life Members.


Dr Peg Christian


Denine Maddaford


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Dr Peg Christian is one of the Marsupial Society's first life members.     She attended the inaugural meeting of the society and has been an active member and supporter since its inception.    It was through her influence that I became a member in 1984.


Peg was born in Sydney in 1920 and as an only child growing up on a property below Burrinjuck Dam in Yass; she developed a love of animals.    Living in relative isolation as an only child, her friends were animals.    She used to handle young possums that had been left in tree hollows while their mothers went out to feed and there were platypus living in the pool in the river in front of their house.    She also loves dogs and horses.


She decided to become a vet at the age of ten when a sheepdog pup, which had come to the house to be trained, died of distemper.    Her father thought it was a wonderful idea but her mother was horrified at a girl being in such a dirty job.    Peg began her studies in veterinary science in 1938, one of eight women and forty men.    She planned on working side by side with her father on their property at Yass when she qualified and her father was one of her strongest supporters, but tragically he died during her first year of studies, which she says "pulled the rug from under me".    Members of her family attempted to talk her into changing her course of study to medicine as it was considered "much more suitable for a lady".     Blessed with a strong will and red hair (her words) she resisted and fortunately for Australia's marsupials she became the twelfth woman to qualify as a veterinary surgeon in Australia.


Peg had planned to go to Cambridge University to undertake postgraduate studies but the war prevented that from happening.     It also cheated her out of an MG sports car which had been promised by her aunt as a 21st birthday present.     Instead Peg first practiced as a vet on the North Shore of Sydney, in a small animal practice seeing mainly cats and dogs.     From there she went with her husband to Alice Springs when it was still very much a pioneer place with a population of around 2,000.     She remembers a trip with her husband and two children around the Tanami Desert where her children were the first white children seen by many of the Aboriginal people.


In Alice Springs Peg started up a practice in her kitchen with surgery on the kitchen table as there was no private vet at all.     Well-behaved patients were allowed to wait in the sitting room but those with more energy were put on the verandah.     Because of this work she was awarded a place in the Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame as the first private vet in Alice Springs and it was during this time she was given her first kangaroo, a young out of pouch joey that lived outside on the grass until she left Alice.


After leaving Alice Springs Peg set up a small veterinary practice in Lower Mitcham (in the suburbs of Adelaide, South Australia), successfully juggling full time motherhood and work.     The original surgery was on the verandah of the house and operations were performed in the bathroom.     In those days there were only a handful of private vets working in Adelaide and no nurses were employed.    Her customers came to the surgery through word of mouth.


It was at this surgery in the early sixties that Peg received her first pouched kangaroo joey.     It was ill, probably scouring, and she was asked if she could fix it.     Peg had no idea of what to do with it but decided to find out by contacting every vet in the phone book.     No one could help her.     Thus a life long interest in marsupials and their care began.


Peg learnt through trial and error and it wasn't long before she became the contact person in South Australia, at least, for information about kangaroos.     Her work wasn't restricted to kangaroos, she also saw and treated wombats, hopping mice, the occasional koala and an echidna.     Peg devised a method to cope with scouring kangaroos, which led to a well-known journalist describing her as "that silly old bat who puts nappies on kangaroos".


It was during this time that Peg began as a volunteer at Cleland Wildlife Park, helping out with sick animals.     For a long time she worked for nothing and in the end was paid a yard-boy amount, never veterinary fees.     Peg visited Cleland about twice a week and thoroughly enjoyed the time spent there as she learnt a lot about handling different animals.     She also worked in a similar capacity for the RSPCA at the dog's home where she used to immunize the dogs for the cost of the vaccine, but due to her love of dogs was unable to decide which ones should be put down.


Peg has devoted much of her time and expertise in a voluntary capacity.     She has spent a great amount of time teaching people about the needs of joeys as it is important to her that people get it right.     Her voluntary work has incorporated schools, kindergartens, community groups and nursing homes and she is still very active in this capacity.     Peg was also, and still is, active in the Girl Guides Association initially as trainer and leader.     Now her involvement is primarily focussed on the campsite at Douglas Scrub where she has been able to work on the environmental aspect.     Many of the animals there have been hand reared and supplied by Peg.


When Tim Keynes made moves to form the Marsupial Society in 1981, Peg was one of the people he contacted.     She attended the inaugural meeting and has been a strong believer in and supporter of the society since then, urging many others to join.     Since its inception, Peg has given the society and its members a great deal, from sharing her extensive expertise and knowledge to providing a meeting room until recently for many years.


About twenty years after receiving her first joey, Peg met Brian Rich, a biochemist and David Schultz, a fellow vet.     At this time there was a real concern about food and appropriate formulas for joeys.     Early formulas had a low success rate and Brian took an analysis of kangaroo milk that Peg had and Wombaroo marsupial milk replacer was born.     After twelve months of trial and error, a formula was perfected and the success rate with orphaned joeys was considerably higher.


Peg was forced into early retirement as a practicing vet due to arthritis in her fingers and particularly loss of feeling in the tips.     Fortunately this did not stop her from being actively involved in the community by accepting numerous offers of interviews from local television and radio.   


Her work with native animals was formally acknowledged when she was awarded an Order of Australia Merit (OAM) in 1983.     She accepted it to underline and make important the work that was being done.


In a sense Peg has been one of Australia's pioneer vets in the field of marsupials and native animals.     She has arguably committed more time and energy than anybody else in the care and understanding of marsupials.


She is a remarkable woman who has said of her life "It is very difficult to feel that you are doing anything out of the ordinary."


Editors Note

Peg supplied my wife and me with our first joey kangaroo and our first joey wombat and was instrumental in their survival.    Without her help we would have been “all at sea”.     Since that time Peg has become a very dear friend as well as someone we knew we could rely upon totally.


Bennett's Wallaby
Juvenile NT Brushtail Possum
Swamp Wallaby
Golden Brushtail Possum
Red Kangaroos
Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies
Baby Squirrel Glider
Sugar Glider

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