Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Kangaroos, Parrots, and Wombats--Oh, My!

It will come as no surprise to those who know me that my favorite places in Australia involved close encounters with animals.  While I enjoyed the wildlife of Western Australia (discussed in a later post), the two places I liked best were in Eastern Australia.

The first was at Depot Bay in Murramarang National Park, where we rented a cottage for a few days. There, we were surrounded by Eastern Grey kangaroos, who were relatively tame.  Probably because some people fed them, even though that was discouraged.

OK, so I fed one kangaroo! But I didn't feed it bread, which can kill them. Our neighbor there had purchased food that was safe and nutritious for the parrots and kangaroos.

Flocks of wild parrots kept us entertained. “This is Eden,” our neighbor, Deb, said. I had to agree. Between the kangaroos, the parrots, the wallabies, and a gorgeous beach, it was a little paradise.

One of the mob (the proper designation for a group of kangaroos) had an ear he couldn’t straighten. We called him Loppy. 

Here’s a photo of Loppy caught at our garbage can. The photo below is a little blurry, but I like the expression on his face. He seems to be saying, "What?"

Fortunately, none of the kangaroos got into our garbage. Lacking the prehensile thumb of primates, they were at a disadvantage.

We relaxed at Murramarang and took hikes in the forest and along the beach. And one night, we were invited to a campfire gathering by friendly cabin neighbors.  Dawn, a delightful woman with a captivating smile and twinkling eyes, said to me, “We were meant to meet.” We hope that’s true, because we want to see her, her daughter Liz, son-in-law Andrew, and their visiting Canadian friend Helen again one day. (Sorry, the only photo I took of these new friends didn’t turn out.)

Shy wallabies encountered on a walk.

The other place that will long live in my heart is the farm we stayed on in the Kangaroo Valley. Our host, Geoff, offers “The Man from Kangaroo Valley” guided horse treks.  He and Gail, his wife, also rent out holiday apartments (Rocky Mountains) on their large farm, situated in a green valley next to a national park.

Geoff, with a rescued pony and one of his dogs. He and Gail have rescued many horses and dogs.

Kangaroos on the farm.

Geoff seemed a lot like the seasoned cowboys I have known in Eastern Washington, who are tough and strong, but who also care about the welfare of wild animals. We really liked him. More than 300 kangaroos visit his farm in the evening, but when I asked, “Is it a problem that the kangaroos eat the same grass as your horses?,” he responded, “They were here first. And I think we should encourage native wildlife, don’t you?”  I certainly agreed. But it is kind of him, given that he has to feed his horses hay when the grass dries out. (He has to do that more often now, because with the drought of recent years the area has received only one-third of the rain it once did.)

Geoff told us where we could go­ to see wombats, which we did on my birthday.  How exciting it was to see these strange little near-sighted creatures, grazing on the grass.  Larger than a small dog, and fairly compact, ­­­they only emerge from their burrows after sunset. Kevin and I stalked them and then stood quietly while they came closer to us.

The wombats' biggest enemy is cars, for if they are caught in the headlights, they simply freeze. Perhaps even more than kangaroos, they do not know what to make of automobiles. Geoff is the designated shooter for the area, which means he’s the one who has to put down badly injured or diseased animals. You can tell that it pains him terribly to have to shoot an injured wombat that has been run over. “Many people don’t even stop to see if the joey [in the wombat’s pouch] is still alive,” he said. That’s sad because orphaned joeys can sometimes be saved.

Road signs warn motorists to look out for wombats and kangaroos.

While we were staying on Geoff’s farm, we met a fascinating young couple, Lauren and Rob, who were visiting from Wollongong, not too far away. Lauren has aboriginal ancestry. She shared some interesting stories about aboriginal people. She remarked that everyone seems to assume that all aboriginals play the digeridoo, when, in fact, only one aboriginal group does. I told her that, in the U.S., many people assume all Native Americans rode horses and lived in teepees, whereas, in our area, the Northwest coastal tribes lived in longhouses and traveled by canoe.

Rob, her husband, is a martial-arts expert, who learned at an early age how to kill someone in just a few moves! We told him we wouldn’t want to cross him! We had a lovely evening the night we stayed there, staying up late, ­­drinking wine with Rob and Lauren and swapping stories.

Their stories reminded me of a quote from Bill Bryson, who wrote about Australia in The Sunburned Country. He said:

It [Australia] has more things that will kill you than anywhere else. Of the world's ten most poisonous snakes, all are Australian. Five of its creatures — the funnel web spider, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, paralysis tick, and stonefish — are the most lethal of their type in the world. This is a country where even the fluffiest of caterpillars can lay you out with a toxic nip, where seashells will not just sting you but actually sometimes go for you.... If you are not stung or pronged to death in some unexpected manner, you may be fatally chomped by sharks or crocodiles, or carried helplessly out to sea by irresistible currents, or left to stagger to an unhappy death in the baking outback. It’s a tough place.”


Australians are very unfair in this way. They spend half of any conversation insisting that the country’s dangers are vastly overrated and that there’s nothing to worry about, and the other half telling you how six months ago their Uncle Bob was driving to Mudgee when a tiger snake slid out from under the dashboard and bit him on the groin, but that it’s okay now because he’s off the life support machine and they’ve discovered he can communicate with eye blinks.

Sure enough. We discussed funnel web spiders. Rob even taught us how to extend the time you have to seek medical treatment before death or serious illness results from a bite, from just minutes to an hour. Apparently, if you are bit on an arm or leg, you simply wrap a compression bandage horizontally over the bite, then wrap another down vertically from the top of your leg or arm, to keep the poison from migrating to your heart.  If you get bit on the head, then you need to wrap the compression bandage tightly around your neck until you can’t breathe. (OK, I am kidding about the last one.)

Rob and Lauren did not mention an uncle who had been bitten by a funnel web spider, but Lauren did tell about her father, who was bitten by a red-backed spider, also venomous. He didn’t go to the hospital when he was first bitten. Instead, he went the next day, after his arm had swollen to an enormous size, and then he had to stay in the hospital for nearly a week!

We felt lucky to escape from Australia without stepping on a snake or getting bitten by a spider. Nor did I chance picking up pretty shells of any shape, although I knew the poisonous one is conical.

On the farm, we were awakened in the morning by kookaburras, whose calls sound like raucous laughter. Kevin and I couldn’t help but giggle, even though we were barely conscious. Everyone should be woken by kookaburras at least once in their life.

A kookaburra in a tree on the farm.

Among the many birds we enjoyed in Australia were the flocks of cockatoos that appeared even in the downtown areas of the small towns we visited.


With so many wonderful animals, birds, and people, how could we not love Australia?

Note: See update to the Rarotonga post, which I forgot about and only added recently. I also made addenda to "Surprising Sydney."

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