Our property appears on some old maps as Wombat Flat, but there are no wombats here now. The old timers say there were plenty, but they lost the unequal battle with the plough. I like the solid strength of wombats – this adapts them well for a burrowing life. Like kangaroos they are marsupials. Their pouches open backwards so the baby doesn’t get covered in dirt during the digging necessary to find the roots they eat, and to shelter from the heat of the day in a cool burrow.
Wombats are the subject of many children’s books, and a firm favourite with our grandchildren. Many happy hours have been spent telling wombat stories. So when my four year old grandson came bursting into our bedroom saying “Come and look there is a wombat on the back lawn” I was not surprised. He is prone to tall tales, so we had a sleepy conversation which went like this-
Q “Now, Asher, tell me what a wombat looks like”
A “It’s got four legs for walking, and it’s furry, and it is sort of close to the ground”
Q “So you can think of the difference between a rabbit, and a wallaby and a wombat?”
“Well, you look closely at the animal again. Then come back and tell me what it is. If it is a wombat I will get out of bed and come and look with you”.
Within moments, an excited little boy was bursting back into the room saying-
“Get up, get up, There IS a wombat”
So; there was no option. I had to go and witness this miracle. And, miracle it was; there was a wombat on the lawn. By now I was almost as excited as him. We gathered Barry into the fun, and he found the camera and crept out of the front door to circle around behind the wombat. We needed a record of this momentous event.
As we emerged from the back door, Barry took photos and crept ever closer. The wombat, far from taking fright, waddled toward us. As it got closer, my emotions changed. From worrying that we would scare it, I tried to remember if wombats might bite children. It got closer and closer. Soon Asher was patting it, and we were feeding it carrots. Sadly, we are not on the Galapagos where wild animals have not learned to fear men, but this was no flighty wild animal. This friendly wombat was accustomed to people – it must be an escaped pet.
The next dilemma presented itself. Our nearest neighbours are more than a kilometre in every direction. None of those, or the next ring of neighbours had a tame wombat, so where had this animal come from? We were enjoying its company. It was delightful-solid as a little tank, with a waddling, pigeon-toed walk. It had long claws but was not threatening in any way. True to the books, it had a wide backside which felt like solid bone with a thin covering of fur. This was useful. If threatened the wombat would use his backside like a cork in a bottle, blocking an intruder from the burrow and attacking his more sensitive face or front quarters.
Our wombat ate the carrot with enthusiasm, suggesting this was familiar fare, but its origin remained a mystery. I hoped it would leave some droppings so I could test the claim that wombat faeces are square in cross section due to wombat’s ability to extract every bit of moisture from the vegetation it eats. I made a few phone calls to local nature enthusiasts, but none knew of an escaped wombat. We left the wombat in peace as we had lunch, and returned to find it gone. We could only hope it knew where it was going.
Over the next few days, there were many reported wombat sightings. Weeks later, we heard that it had returned home to Milang and was happily reunited. This wombat had travelled many kilometres. I’m glad it didn’t have a close encounter with a speeding car. And, next time my grandson tells me he has seen an unusual animal, I will believe him- unless, of course, he claims it is a Tyrannosaurus Rex, which is his current favourite.
Heather Webster, writer, Langhorne Creek grape grower, community advocate, red wine lover and commentator on things that matter in life.