Waking up in Wellington, New Zealand this morning, I am still humbled by the kindness of strangers. A handful of them made my stay in Australia magical (and of course are no longer strangers). These humane humans also devote their lives to rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing wild animals.
They’re people who “just say yes”: Yes, I’ll give my spare bedroom to a wombat-obsessed American for a week. Sure, I’ll bottle-feed an injured possum with a thumb-sized bottle every two hours for a month. Right then, I’ll drive you around Canberra for a day of sightseeing. Yeah, I’ll pull over on the highway right now and check this dead kangaroo’s pouch, using a flimsy plastic grocery bag as a glove. Yup, let’s drive two hours each way to pick up a scabby wallaby from another wildlife carer who doesn’t have space for her. Absolutely, this blind elderly wombat can live with my family and I for the rest of his natural life. Yes. Yes.
You know how when you’re traveling in a foreign country everything is a thing? The littlest tasks like filling your car with gas, making a phone call, frying an egg. It’s like you’re a little again and the grown-up locals have to show you how to do the most basic things. But my hosts never made me feel dumb, just laughed with me when I laughed at myself. Then they would usually make everything okay by putting an animal in my lap.
I was in Australia for two weeks and only spent one night in a hotel. I am the luckiest. Here are some of my main kind strangers (now friends). I’m sure the animals are grateful for them, too.
Donna of Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary (with Cruiser)
Phil and the girls of Sleepy Burrows.
Dianna of Rocklily Wombats (with Wiggles)
Warwick (right) of Rocklily Wombats, with George the builder
Janine of Shoalhaven Bat Clinic
Wendy (right) of Shoalhaven Bat Clinic with her partner Jenny
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:
I fed them their breakfast bottles:
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:
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…