Teya Brooks Pribac
Teya Brooks Pribac is a vegan and animal advocate, working between Australia and Europe. She engages in various verbal and visual art forms as a hobbyist. She’s currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Sydney researching animal grief. She lives in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales with other animals.
When I first met her I didn’t realise she was a crazy animalady.
She moved light and carefree among her books ranging from poetry to geophysics.
Sometimes out of the blue she’d say something in one of the many languages she mastered,
not to prove anything to anyone, just because she felt like it.
Dancing to the notes of Mozart or some gentle Blues, depending on the mood,
every night she’d carefully arrange the silver on the dining table, always inclusive of a dessertspoon even when she’d not had time to make dessert.
But when it rained… ah! when it rained, the raindrops touching her skin softly, her bare body
fully exposed, were the music.
‘Feral,’ she’d say turning to the sky with her arms open, ‘we need to go feral, learn to live
like other animals again, nothing else will save them.’
And she meant it.
At the time I’d only just begun to enter the space she’d already inhabited for a while.
It seemed odd for a seasoned vegan like myself, but I’d only gradually become aware of the full extent of human disgrace.
Charlie Dog, seeing my confusion:
‘Equality is not something other animals need to prove to you, it’s something you have to allow us to express,’ he spoke.
‘Yes, I often do, but you don’t listen.’
‘Just because it makes it all the much harder to bear it doesn’t mean it’s not there.’
‘Other animals’ desire for the freedoms you humans cherish for yourselves. The utilitarian philosophy of the Takers, the biblical parsimony of their views, it may allow us the capacity for physical pain but not much more than that.
You’re still one of them.’
The ancestral beat alive and well in his bones and heart.
A human slave but not a human artefact (as hard as humans have tried).
You can lead a human to knowledge but you can’t make them think.
Forget the naked Derrida, this was life-changing.
‘I am sorry,’ I said, feeling inadequate.
Hand in paw, the road to reparation was going to be long.
We moved to a larger property, a decision agreed upon by all the parties involved.
That’s where species truly met.
But that, too, took a while.
Advertised as a vacant property, the place of course was nothing of that kind.
At first, it felt like a ghost-town.
That creepy feeling of being watched but unable to work out whom, or even where, the gaze was coming from.
Come out echoed back to me as Go away!
‘Never trust humans,’ I heard them whisper, ‘particularly when they invade your home and look like they’ve come to stay.’
Charlie shrugged his shoulders, seemingly untouched.
‘Stop it, Charlie. We’re trying really hard.’
How do we un-take what we’ve already taken just by being here?
Can we ever learn to fit in, not as voyeurs (as humans often do), as participants? Can we give back and give back more?
It was the arrival of the sheep that helped it happen.
Rescued from a situation of neglect, the sheep too were wary of humans.
But aware that, by necessity, our lives would from that point on be intertwined, they chose to offer us a chance.
And others followed, the ghosts incarnated as
ducks, rabbits, possums, rats, magpies, kookaburras, and other peoples.
They made friends with the sheep first – at night, dreaming under the same moon, billions of stars, during the day, soaking in the warmth of the sun, sharing fruits and grass – and through the sheep, slowly, cautiously, they made friends also with us.
If dogs could do with more freedom and respect, what to say of sheep?
The worst forms of violence escape the gaze.
What do you do when a sheep comes up to the gate to nudge your hand?
The postman looked at me, smiling sweetly, his pickup line:
‘Is IT of the tasty kind?’
Touched by the devil, I showered for hours that night.
‘What did he mean, mum?’
‘Nothing dear, but stay away from the gate, not all humans are nice.’
My darling baby boy who’s known no harm since he came here, only love.
I spent six months in the paddock with him, rain or shine, providing a secure base while we were learning from the adults how to be a sheep.
What is it like to be a sheep?
Or a pig, a chicken, a cow
The armchairist’s quest.
Reach out. What’s in a name?
When the heart pounds with fear or joy, we’re all the same.
When I first met the animalady in person after years of long-distance daily correspondence she felt like home.
We’d been putting the visit off fully aware of the vices of human nature.
It can turn a puppy or a precious lamb into a mechanistic tool for its own convenience. It can do the same with another human, and there are limits to what one may want to risk.
Her skin smelled of rain; her feet, caressed by the earth just moments before, still warm, now resting comfortably in my lap.
How do you touch and not take?
Setting the table, however, was easy.
‘The Wheel,’ says my husband,
‘when the Wheel leaves you, relationships start breathing again.’
He is also a crazy animalady with a Jungian twist.
He started off as a feminist, but that didn’t go down well.
He was ridiculed by women and called a cunt-licking something by men.
Those were hard times, unlike today when anyone can be an animal rights hero as long as they purchase free range.
Of course, unlike women, animals don’t get a say.
I hold his head in my hands in an act of mateship (what is it with gender fluid people, do we know double the truth or only half of it?)
‘The world is harsh and self-righteous,’ brushing the dust off his wings.
They tried to break them, but he deserted.
‘Men or women, same seed of deception.
So strong, so strong, it must come from weakness. Miroslav Holub.’
He smiles at my political incorrectness.
I smile back knowing he agrees.
Sheep, gathered around us.
Charlie licking Henry’s ear.
The duck pair with their nine children under the cherry tree.
Peter Feral Rabbit settling in for his afternoon nap beside them.
They are safe here.
But it’s a war.
In April, when we visit the animalady again, the hunting season will just have started.
They hang out on the edges of her property waiting for her family to step onto public land
so they can kill them just because
The smell of neighbours lighting up the BBQ – a chilling breeze in a warm summer night.
‘When we touch, malaika, do we leave a mark?’
‘I believe so.’
‘What if we don’t?’
‘Let this then be a curse upon them:
Let them continue to be
self-exiled from the earthly heaven.
Let them never find
such a garden within themselves.
Let there at least be poetic justice.
Let them never understand such
fury, such sadness as this.’
- This work featured in the exhibition Animaladies, Interlude Gallery, Glebe, 11-22 July 2016.