Somebody asked me to post about our encounters with the unique and frequently bonkers wildlife of Australia, so here goes. As we live towards the sticks on the edge of Research we see a fair bit. It’s not called the Green Wedge for nothing, so I’ll start with one of the main ones round here – possums.
There are two common types – the brushtail, which you can see above, chilling in a friend’s drain hopper – I don’t know where he goes when it rains. They’re the size of a large cat, and as you might expect have a large brushy tail. The other is the ringtail, which is a bit smaller, and has a long prehensile tail instead. Although they look quite a bit different they act pretty similarly.
Like many animals they’re nocturnal, so you don’t see them as much as you might think. However also like many Australian animals they’re not shy, and they’re everywhere. If you’re out on a warm evening one might well wander over to see what you’re up to, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Our first experience of possums was hearing something scamper across the roof. Something big. From down below it sounded like whatever it was up there was about the size of a great dane, doing relay races between the chimney and the air conditioner unit with its mates. This was in our first few weeks in Australia, before our container arrived, so we had nothing else to do apart from sit in our uncomfortable camping chairs and wonder what on earth was up there. A bit of research soon pointed to possums – apparently if it’s mice or rats then you can’t hear them, whereas if it sounds like a herd of charging rhinoceros, it’s possums. That sounded like what we had alright. Talking of sounds, they also make heavy breathing noises just outside your windows, which completely unnerved a friend of ours who was alone in her house one night almost to the point of calling the police…
We hadn’t actually seen one though. That all changed one night. The boys had gone to bed and we were freezing in our camping chairs (still no container, the heating had broken, Melbourne houses have no insulation, and although it’s not as cold as the UK it still gets pretty nippy at night in August). There was a small noise from the large open fireplace we had then. We both looked at each other. “Probably a bit of soot falling” I said, to Ginny’s somewhat disbelieving look. We went back to our books. About a minute later there was a scrabbling noise, a big thud, and a large brushtail landed right in the middle of our fireplace (there was no fire). I don’t know who was more surprised, us or it. I rushed to keep it contained behind the fireguard, while Ginny opened up an escape route to the front door – having a scared animal with good-sized claws that can climb anything is not necessarily easy to extricate. It squeezed itself out from behind the fireguard, left some sooty fur on the floor on the way, and bolted out the front door.
So we know what we’re dealing with now. We’ve had a fair few encounters since then. Another one down that chimney:
A ringtail this time, that led me a merry dance around the house and up and down the curtains while ignoring Ginny’s carefully proffered escape route.
Spot the gardening gloves – possums have sharp claws!
We were a little paranoid that one had got in while we were away in the UK – a trapped one can make a lot of mess, but happily all was clear when we returned.
In our last house we had a large corrugated translucent roof over the verandah, which got covered with detritus blown down from the gum trees. So one day I decided to clear it up by brushing what I could down from the windows above, and spraying what I couldn’t reach off with the hose. All was going well, until this ringtail climbed out of a rather large clump of twigs and leaves I was hosing away at, gave me an understandably peeved look and climbed off into a tree.
One steamingly hot evening we saw this baby ringtail wander along the top of our fence. It wasn’t shy at all – we tried to give it some water in a saucer as it was so hot but it seemed happy enough. It was pretty cute…
There’s a big industry in possum removal – all native Australian animals are protected by law, so if possums get into your attic or undercroft you can have big problems, and a lot of people consider them pests. But I like them, they’re fun!