Living on Flinders Island you only need to take a drive at dusk or dawn to spot wildlife grazing on the roadside.
It’s like living in a nature reserve 24/7 – After all that is basically what the island is. With beautiful National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries, yet the commuter zones are shared by all.
A part of island life includes accidents involving wild animals. It is a sad thing to have happen to you. Thankfully there is a go-to-girl for wombat rescue needs.
Sammi and I arrive at ‘Green Glades’ before property owner, Kate Mooney arrives. She is driving the school bus this week, filling in for the regular driver. We are there ten minutes when Kate pulls up, abruptly stopping in the driveway beside me. I feel a sense of urgency, sadness and excitement in her tone as she greets us…
“Just found a baby! Its mother is dead. It stinks! Its name is Megan.”
I stumble with a response when Kate speaks “Come in, come on…I’ve kept the other babies inside” and she guns the car to a park a few meters away. Getting out, the baby is tucked inside a homemade pouch, one of many that various islanders have generously sewn together from discarded blankets for Kate to keep orphans warm.
Kate shares “I was driving along and saw her on its own. There was a dead wombat a bit further back, so I’m assuming that this is her child. Its mother has been dead for a few days. Baby Megan must’ve stayed close, hence the smell.”
Kate’s farmhouse is nestled within stonewalls and was once used as a farm stay where visitors occupied the out buildings and the guest room, which was added to the main building in 1987.
Nowadays the housing tradition is kept alive although some things have changed. The more recent visitors are rioters of the herbivorous kind.
We start to explore the out building where babies have been kept so we can meet wombats – if none others decide to show. They are in the disused shower base, fast asleep and huddled together. Wombats Hayley (found by Pam Cook) and Maddy look so comfortable so we let sleeping babies lie to check the generator shed anticipating the bigger ones.
Apart from scattered bowls of rolled oats, pony pellets and chaff there is no sign of big wombats in there. One of the sleeping babies trots outside, “Hello Baby!” Bundling Maddy into her arms Kate stretches towards the mouth of a large wombat burrow (it’s in the backyard, approximately three meters from her bedroom window – sometimes she can hear them when resting in her bed) and peers inside. We let Maddy go and in a flash she’s straight down the burrow.
Torch in hand we stride towards the working shed. Mir the Smithfield cross Dachshund, named after the space station (the result of Margaret Goss’s Dachshund Fritz encountering Donga Jones’s three legged Smithfield bitch) is at our heels. The icy easterly wind blows straight through us as Kate calls to her wombat friends…”Come and say hello!”
As we walk, the talk turns to a wombat dubbed the ‘Awful Asha’ – Each wombat is named after the rescuer. In this case it was May 2012 and Chris Macqueen had found the four-month-old wombat. Chris’s son Asha wanted a wombat named after him and Kate was happy to oblige.
For some time the wombat Asha was an only child, who would bite Kate and when more wombats arrived he behaved like a typical adolescent male. He wouldn’t leave home, he was rude, dirty and bossy – hence The Awful Asha. Kate recalls writing in her diary ‘Left Asha at home today for the first time. He was pleased to see me when I got home’.
“Hello Fluffy Bum! It’s alright Fluffy, you’re alright Fluffy Bum… she’s been sleeping in the hay!”
We wake the farm cat as Kate points to where wombats exit the burrow underneath the floor and we walk through the shearing shed looking through the grating as Kate explains “They lie at the mouth of the hole for a little while, as they wake up very slowly”. We are seriously concentrating, peering into the darkness below, looking for signs of waking wombats. So far there aren’t any to spot.
On our return we observe a brood of chickens being tossed like tumbleweeds around the picturesque ‘Green Glades’– When Hubble the Kelpie Cross Border Collie is not herding them that is! “She’ll be tired tonight!” is Kate’s assessment of our giggles.
Returning to the burrow Kate calls one last cry,
“Hello?…Asha!” then reluctantly “Come-on, let’s go in and have a cuppa”.
Although it was a winter day and wombats don’t mind to come out on such days (to catch some sun-rays) they were being big ole’ sleepy heads.
Stepping inside the back porch we notice a wombat had arrived by using the ever-swinging pet door, which has been replaced several times due to heavy-duty use. Kate describes an instance when she was sleeping in. It was 7.30am on a Sunday morning when she heard an almighty crash.
“Hubble had gone through the pet door with great force and it was lying six feet away on the lawn. There were chooks to chase you see, it’s a huge responsibility for Hubble, busy, busy, very busy”
“Mike Nicholls has designed the latest door – He’s done a good job!”
So far tonight Donna was inside. Donna was named after Sandro Donati.
“Donna! Hi Don, how are you Don?” …“She’s got a nice face”.
Donna was an only child for a little while so she’s still pretty friendly, lapping up the affection and attentiveness Kate is offering.
Later we learn that each wombat has quite a different face. It’s their noses that distinguish them and you can tell them apart easily once you recognize this fun fact.
Kate had only just finished preparing our hot drinks when Sammi noticed a wombat suffering a case of indecision at the entrance of the burrow. It was Maddy; perhaps she went down to spread the word?
“There they are!”
…“Let’s go to the generator shed!”
Then the Awful Asha appears! What a big boy! Bundling up the bigger ones we take them inside; in hindsight I realise that I wasn’t even scared to lift them into my arms to get to know them.
Now we have Marky and Laney – the shyest, found on Boxing Day 2012 by a tourist called Lane and even baby Maddy has re-joined the wisdom of wombats in the feeding time fun. Organised chaos, wombats become busy in their food bowls.
Our coffees are cold, but we really don’t worry, this is amazing! What’s also amazing is Kate. She is extremely modest about her pastime, like it’s no big deal. Opening up her home and heart to orphaned wombats was the accidental initiative of Garth Smith (son of Derek Smith-The A-frame, Patriarchs Wildlife Trust.) He gave Kate her first orphaned wombat many moons ago…and she hasn’t looked back.
Having prepared the wombat formula (Pretty pricy stuff! $150 per 5kg) Kate rest baby Maddy on her back and in-between knees, tucked tightly to imitate a mothers pouch. Maddy’s little hobbit feet poke the air as she twitches and when milk spills from the side of her mouth Kate remarks, “What! Are you too big for bottles now?”
Kate chats away to her friends and Cinders puss cat seems unperturbed, yet Mir dog who is twelve waits patiently for some attention. This is genuine care! We can’t get over how each wombat is known by their face and their personality aptly.
Wombats do like sitting with you and receiving cuddles but feeding time is somewhat over and it is time to revisit old ground. We wonder if the BIG one’s are awake?
Abby & Tom, both girls and Nicky and Ian are up! Back in the shearing shed we have the privilege of meeting these rioters. Somewhat stalking them we amaze at their size before heading to the hills in the car for a quick ride.
Spotting wombats at night is lots of fun, highly recommended, a pastime to be tried by everyone.
X Sammi & Megan
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