Slow Dawn Rising

Yesterday’s photo shoot went great. The juvenile wombats put on quite a show in the afternoon, when they’re at their most animated and interactive. The session ended with a surprise visit from Dawn, the oldest resident of Sleepy Burrows. Donna coaxed her out of her burrow as the photographer, Jacky, waited in that calm, patient, nature photographer way.

Dawn and Donna photo shoot

Dawn spends days in her burrow (it was dug by another wombat; no grunt work for Dawnie) and nights in the shelter of the studio, being unable to defend herself from other wombats. Donna suspects she also has some brain damage.

Dawn the wombat

Dawn was found emaciated on a roadside a few years ago. Now she’s huge. She’s a senior (between 15 and 20) and is sort of like a professor emeritus here.

And here’s Dawn’s friend, Blind Boy. Every night, they spend a short time standing quietly next to each other separated by a fence. It’s like the Land of the Misfit Toys.

Blind Boy the wombat

Wallaroo Haven

Right then. I’m in the Blue Mountains, a few hours’ (and often HARROWING) drive from Sleepy Burrows, at Rocklily, where two lovely people, Dianna and Warwick, care for wallaroos and wombats.

Wallaroos are macropods (“big feet”), like kangaroos and wallabies. They’re smaller than kangaroos, and more delicate-seeming. The babies are super-soft and sweet. Here’s Winnie:

Sweety gobbling

I fed them their breakfast bottles:

Kama feeding wallaroos

They’re so cool. Like kangaroos, they store fat in the base of their tails, so you can judge their condition by the thickness of the tail. They’re also very sensitive and easily spooked. They’re vegetarians and eat grass, plants, dirt, and bark (though here they also eat “nuts” which are like kibble). Their back legs have these weird toes that look like one big long toe:


There are three wallaroos at Rocklily on the “day release” program, which is like a gradual system for getting them to live in the wild (the goal of all rescues here). They spend nights in a safe enclosure, and are released into the wild during the day, where they munch grass, bounce (macropods’ movement looks much more like bouncing along the surface of the moon than hopping or jumping) and slowly learn to be part of the mob (the group of wallaroos). Then they come back at night for their bottles. They spend more and more time in the wild, then eventually they’re fully “turned.” The three here now will “graduate” in September.

When they came to the sanctuary, they were brought in big burlap pouches that are now too small for them, but their smell still comforts them so they remain hanging in their shed:


This morning I helped Warwick with a tough but unavoidable job. It turns out that among all this cute and cuddly is also real life and its constant companion, death. And there was a dead kangaroo near the house who needed to be moved farther away (where other wildlife like humongous wedgetail eagles could feed on it). We did that by dragging her onto a tarp and loading her onto the ute (truck) to drive through the bush to a clearing. Luckily I was at the tail end because the head end was a little, um, intense. While up in the clearing, we found a wombat skull. (I’ll spare you both visuals.)

Other creatures on the property are possums, echidnas, owls, goanas, and bats (including microbats which are, obviously, teeny-tiny bats). Even though it’s just a few hours from Gundaroo, it feels like a different part of Australia here, dense with eucalyptus and fog, and much cooler. It’s as if in one day I went from a desert to a rainforest (and did not bring any of the right clothing). The nearest town, Taralga, is 30 minutes’ drive and feels like stepping back in time 100 years:

Taralga building

The house and entire property is storybook-level enchanting. Last night we ate on the veranda overlooking a wombat enclosure, eating pizza that Dianna made. You would not even believe this pizza. It had sliced figs (from the huge fig tree), onion, green pepper, feta, and honey. It was like dessert pizza (so of course I loved it). Then we fed the wombats their bottles and I fell dead asleep by 10 (I’m getting better at staying up later). I was warned there may be bats in my room, but luckily did not have any experiences with them.

Tonight we are off to a celebration at the nearby Wombeyan Caves, where Dianna is presenting a slideshow on local wildlife rescue. Back to Sleepy Burrows tomorrow for a photo shoot, then I only have two nights left in Australia…

Roll Call

I just found this deep in my suitcase (where the cleanest clothes are) from Nina:

note saying how are the wombats

Okay then, I’ll tell you all. There are currently 26 wombats in care at Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary, all in different stages of rescue, rehabilitation, and release. Most were orphaned when their moms became roadkill (and drivers were thoughtful enough to check the pouch before driving on). Others were kept as house pets until they became too large and inconvenient for their humans. Here are the current residents, by location:

In the house are the youngest wombats, who are bottle-fed, swaddled in cloth pouches, and sheltered in wooden crates that simulate burrows:

  • Lincoln and Barron (they’re buddies, though Lincoln is getting aggressive with Barron and they’re being separated)
  • Abram and Panzer (an adorably dynamic duo)
  • Walnut
  • Bungee (named because he was found in Bungadore, but he’s also a bit bouncy like a bungee cord)
  • Cruiser (the nicest, feistiest little spirit)
Cruiser's first time in the fresh air.

Cruiser’s first time in the fresh air.

“The Studio,” a sort of mobile home outside the house, is a little like a halfway house:

  • Chance (long story for another time)
  • Dawn (another long story)
  • Pecan and Pistachio (sweet female newcomers, very teddy-bear-like, doing great, previously “pets”)
Pistachio and Pecan playing piggyback.

Pistachio and Pecan playing piggyback.

“Up the back” are full outdoor enclosures with corrugated tin shelters and fencing; wombats can dig their own burrows. Things get wilder here as wombats become less habituated to humans:

  • Silo (a big, truly badass wombat)
  • Lucy (her success here remains to be seen; she was a baby when I came last year)
  • Soldier
  • Ruth (pregnant!)
  • Sally
  • Peanut
  • Parcel
  • Clipper (I gave him a bubble bath last year)
  • B Squared (named because his mom was called Boney Bum)
  • Sherman
  • Billy
  • Evie
Where the almost-wild things are.

Where the almost-wild things are.

Lastly, there’s “the bush,” to which the “enclosure” wombats eventually graduate if all goes well. The sanctuary has 200 acres so most will stay more or less on the property, digging their own burrows or inhabiting an unused one (its previous resident may have died). On this list would be almost 100 wombats that Donna and Phil have successfully rehabilitated. The most recent addition to the bush is Hazelnut, who sprung herself from the enclosure a few nights before I arrived.

But some wombats never leave Donna and Phil’s care:

  • Blind Boy (for obvious reasons) is in a special outdoor enclosure.
  • Dawn and Soldier (brain damage from mistreatment)
  • Barron (a young newcomer who Donna has predicted will be a permanent resident because his jaw was injured when his mom was hit by a car; as a result he can’t eat properly).
Barron is a bit of a runt because of his misshapen jaw. We're all rooting for this sweet, gentle guy.

Barron is a bit of a runt because of his misshapen jaw. We’re all rooting for this sweet, gentle guy.

Okay, all present and accounted for, at least for tonight…