Works in the Herald 1933

"Warmbats," said my friend, the bushman, "is gettin' to be fair dawgs."

Although dark pigs would seem to me to provide a more fitting comparison, I hastened to agree.

"Warmbats," continued the bushman, "got no gumption. Net out rabbits an' they stays out. They got savvy enough to know they ain't wanted, but warmbats is too thick-headed to take a hint."

Again I agreed; for I had been having recent experience of the stolid wombat's ways.

With the idea of experimenting in a little landscape gardening I decided the other day to enclose an acre or two of land that for many years had been disputed territory so far as the wombats and myself are concerned. I had made half-hearted attempts previously to indicate that were not welcome in this paddock, but, as the bushman says, they are slow to take hints. They sneered at my prohibitions and walked through my puny defences with the inexorable urge and passionless persistence of military tanks.

With the garden in view, wire-netting seemed to be indicated, so we ran up a strong fence, burying six inches of the netting in the earth and stapling it securely to every post. At three separate points the fence intersected three well defined wombat racks, used regularly by these persistent prowlers upon their nightly sallies.

On the evening that we finished the fence, I removed the temporary guards from trees and flower pots, confident that my fort was impregnable.

Next morning, at two points, my nice, new netting had been ruthlessly uprooted. Evidence showed that one simple motion of a powerful forepaw had breeched the defences, and the wombats walked through to chew my eschscholtzias and sup prodigiously on foxglove and perennial phlox. Their troubles about digitalis - it serves them merely as a gentle stimulant.

Called into conference, the bushman suggested sunken logs.

"Warmbats," he opined, "are bull-headed cows. You got to wear 'em down."

A trench was dug along the fence's length and logs from twelve to eighteen feet in length, needing the combined strength of two hefty men to move them, were laid along the fence's foot and the earth well-rammed on top.

Next morning two neat tunnels ran beneath the logs on the line of two of the wombat tracks. At the third point a huge log, heavy enough to tax the thews of a strong man, had been bodily unearthed and contemptuously tossed aside.

Appealed to once more, the bushman began to look grave.

"Warmbats," he decided, not without a hint of admiration, "are pretty tough birds, all right, all right."

He then suggested a more deeply sunken barricade at the various points of entry. As he explained, wombats, in one aspect, resemble a certain type of politician; they are dogged possessors of single-track minds. yet unlike politicians, they know nothing of compromise. The motto of the wombat nation seems to be, "Wombats turn aside for nought." If they can not pass over an obstacle they will barge through it or burrow under; but to deviate from the beaten path is to be dishonored in wombatian eyes.

They have been known to spend nights tunnelling beneath a recently fallen tree that crossed their track when, by turning aside for six or eight feet they could have walked unhindered around the severed butt.

With much labor we put down the sunken palisades but, alas, one at least of the raiders seemed to be the possessor of a devious and original turn of mind unworthy of a true wombat. Finding his way barred, he simply went along the fence and put in another subway.

Importuned once more, the bushman had nothing further to suggest save special traps or a night's vigil with a rifle. Mere shot, he explained, would "bounce orf the cow's 'ide like 'ail-stones."

I slyly suggested that, should we bag one this way, some larder might be replenished with succulent meat.

The bushman snorted as I expected he would.

"May as well ask a man," he said, "to eat snake, with bardee grubs for a dressin'."

It is one of those queer bush prejudices, difficult to understand.

A man who has rabbit too often on the menu is regarded with pitying suspicion; but one who habitually dines on wombat courts social degradation in a forest community. Yet I have been told by those who took the social and gastric risk that the flesh of a young wombat is very like prime young pork. The mere sight of a scaly veteran, however, would repel a cannibal.

I hestitate to take the last advice of my bush friend. Even a wombat has some right to life and the pursuit of stolid happiness.

I have, at intervals, tried with no success (1) pointed stakes, (2) broken glass, (3) a notice warning trespassers.

Wombats don't care.

I have toyed with the idea of sinking a moat around my domain with drawbridge and portcullis complete; but the objective seems hardly worth it.

Meantime those "bull-headed cows" that are "pretty tough birds" and are "gettin' to be fair dawgs" continue nightly to chew the sorry remains of my eschscholtzias.

I think I shall abandon the idea of a landscape garden and perservere with the nucleus of a private zoo instead.

Herald, 14 October 1933, p6

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002-05