Close Encounters With Australian Wildlife

It sounds a little naive but before I arrived in Australia, I only associated its animals with its vast areas of wilderness.


I thought I would have to drive for days into its red centre to walk among Roos or spot wombats crossing the road. I never even entertained the idea of seeing the elusive platypus in the wild.

However, within just a few weeks of living in South Australia I was put in my place. Every dawn as I drove to the winery where I worked, I had to beep Galahs off the tarmac and be wary of any kangaroos hopping into my path. During the working day numerous spiders and rodents would fall unlucky victims to the huge open tanks of red grapes slowly fermenting in their skins. Roadside snakes, both dead and alive, were equally common.

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An Eastern Brown Snake slithers out of my way on an inland kayaking trip.

When the vintage season wound down I moved inland and east by 1,000 kilometres to suburban Canberra. I say suburban despite the suburb of Braddon being only ten minutes walk into Canberra’s commercial centre. Once in a share house with a neat lawn on a main road, I thought my brushes with wild animals would end but if anything, they multiplied.

In the grand scheme of the Australian continent’s evolution, Canberra has been around for less than a millisecond: A purpose built capital that sprung up from nowhere in the 1930s. So naturally, its animals hadn’t received the memo for our arrival. On numerous bizarre occasions I found myself dealing with encounters more akin to a safari experience. Wombats on the side of hockey pitches, lost kangaroos on the main road following a big night out (me not them) and possums jumping from trees on my way home from the local.

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An Eastern Rosella joins me in the back garden in Canberra’s spring. 

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An Australian Bearded Dragon interrupts a weekend cycle around Lake Burley Griffin.

You probably think I’m exaggerating and so does everyone else who’s never been to The Berra. Of course, it’s possible that their imagination has been burned by one too many Aussies pranking them about the infamous, yet completely fictitious, Drop Bear. Either way, my anecdotes are hard to evidence.

One way I’ve found to convince the skeptics is to show them that the average Canberran has to attach cable ties to their cycle helmet to prevent attack by swooping magpies. Yes, that’s right, swooping magpies. If ever there was proof that Canberra is more nature reserve than metropolis then this is it. Local newspaper, The Canberra Times, has even written advice articles on the topic.

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After hours spent looking out for the shy Echidna on Tasmania’s Dove Lake trail, one joins me in the carpark as I wait for a shuttle bus!

My assumptions on Australia’s wildlife were constantly challenged during the three years I spent in both its cities and wildernesses. Whether on a cycle to work, a weekend hike or even the notorious amble home from Canberra’s Moosehead’s pub, animals were never far away. In fact, I eventually did see a platypus in the wild only thirty minutes drive from my front door.

I had been right about one thing though. I never actually found the animals, they always found me.

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Arguably the most elusive creature in Australia, a platypus swims across a pond in Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, just twenty minutes from Canberra.


 

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5 thoughts on “Close Encounters With Australian Wildlife

  1. Ah, how can you write so nostalgically and yet live in grey, cold England. Come Back to Canberra! Just a couple of weeks ago I went to stay with a friend in Warragul, east of Melbourne. It was 44 degrees there on the day I arrived. Next day the max. was only 13. Now that is Australia!

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  2. You were so lucky to see a platypus. I’ve only ever seen one in the wild, in far north Queensland. And as for swooping magpies, they’re not confined to Canberra. They are everywhere and are to be avoided at all cost during nesting season. They’re lovely birds the rest of the year.

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