Australia’s Slumbering Heart, 2018

Mavis Tian

Matthew’s guide was a surly-looking, hundred-kilogram gorilla in a gaudy red cap. “AUSLAN TOURS,” the sign proclaimed in white block letters next to a cartoon gorilla with an impossibly cheery smile that his guide didn’t even try to emulate.

It was late in the afternoon, and a crowd of pram-pushers and straggling children swarmed at the entrance, trying to file out of the revolving doors. Matthew closed his eyes for a second and thought of all the places he would rather be — at the skate park, at home watching YouTube videos in the comfort of his locked bedroom, even sick in bed like his sister who had wanted this stupid personal tour ticket for her birthday. If it wasn’t for her, he wouldn’t be spending a perfectly fine Saturday afternoon alone with a gorilla who was fingerspelling her name (Martha) and smelt like socks. Matthew scuffed his sneakers as he shuffled along behind her, barely glancing at the lions, penguins, and giraffes.

He paused by an exhibit of sun bears to squint at the distant figures tussling amongst the grass and rocks. Suddenly, a leathery hand tugged at his elbow.

You shouldn’t watch them mating, Martha signed. It’s not polite.

Despite himself, Matthew couldn’t resist a smile.

They’re bears. They wouldn’t understand.

But I’m a gorilla, Martha retorted. And I wouldn’t make love in front of you.

What a strange sense of dignity this gorilla has, Matthew thought, both awed and unsettled. They walked on in silence, heading deeper and deeper into the zoo. The foliage became denser, and it was darker and cooler too.

Are you Deaf? he signed.

No, I can hear you.

“Me neither,” he said. “So you can actually talk?”

Martha snorted, then let out a stream of guttural noises. A moment passed before a howl resounded.

Of course I can talk. I just lack the anatomical structures to enunciate human words. Doesn’t stop me from ordering coffee, though. Nor from completing my Masters in civil engineering, but considering how you humans responded to the socio-economic implications of allowing women to enter that industry, or the workforce in general, I believe that the incorporation of non-humans into traditionally human professions is the last thing humanity wants, although it is an inevitable point that marks the beginning of mankind’s decline in the imminent future.

Matthew could barely keep up with her signing. 

Come again?

Martha’s nostrils flared and ejected a gust of hot air. 

Why don’t you try another question?

All right then, Matthew thought, taken aback by her bluntness. 

How did you even learn Auslan?

Probably the same way you did – with a good teacher and lots of practice.

But . . . how did you know that you could?

You sure ask a lot of questions. 

Martha scratched her wrinkled nose in distaste.

I’m sorry, Matthew said, to his own surprise. I guess I’ve never thought about it.

They stopped at a large cage that encircled several trees and a little hut. Martha led him through to the hut, bent over to unlock the door, and waved him in.

This – she pointed to a full-length mirror on one of the walls is how I found out I could. 

Matthew watched her gaze at her own reflection, entranced by how firmly she stared into her own eyes. 

And, believe me, I wish I hadn’t.

In a corner was a video-gaming console. In another was a full bookshelf, next to a half-finished painting on an easel. A tour guide’s uniform hung from a peg. Matthew was busy examining these strange possessions when Martha left the hut.

He did not hear her turning the lock.


Mavis Tian is a third year student studying History and Govt/IR. Her work has appeared in Hermes, ARNA, Honi Soit, University of Sydney Student Anthology, and Youth in Motion Magazine. She will be self-publishing in the near future. She loves napping and is a generally anxious person trying to deal with life through poetry. You can find her online at