For our last month in Australia, we decided to try out a website called HelpX. In retrospect we wish we had discovered it sooner, but alas. Anyways, HelpX is a site that connects willing helpers to hosts looking for help. The basic principle is that as a helper you work for an agreed upon amount of time for the host (usually around 4 or so hours a day) in return for experience, accommodation, and sometimes also food. The type of work can be anything really, though the most seem to be in the realm of farming/construction-type labour, or childminding/cooking/cleaning-type household work.
Due to Chris’s laziness I was in charge of looking for HelpX hosts, and I gravitated to the wildlife-related ones. And this is how we found ourselves in the tiny town of Majors Creek, at the home of the one and only Wombat Bill and his wife Les.
Bill’s house is easy to find because of the big telecommunications tower on his property. The locals have dubbed it “Bill’s Erection” hahaha.
Bill and Les have built a wombat refuge on their property where they rescue orphaned and injured wombats, raise and rehabilitate them, and eventually release them back into the wild. When we were there they had 7 adult-ish wombats, 3 “toddler” wombats, and many baby joey wombats living at the refuge.
The refuge is near Canberra, in New South Wales where wombats are a protected species. The main reason that they come to into care at the refuge is due to car collisions. Like kangaroos, wombats killed by cars often have little joeys still alive in their pouch.
Tiny Little Wombats
Scout (named after the To Kill A Mockingbird character) and Billy were two little joeys we got the chance to cuddle with. Wombat joeys at this age basically spend 100% of their time sleeping and eating in their pouches.
These two were at the age where they had gotten a bit of fur and were almost but not quite ready to venture outside their pouches just yet. Super adorable! You could tell they were getting a bit curious, and not so afraid of poking their heads out and looking around. Billy seemed pretty interested in Chris’s beard; maybe Chris looks like a wombat.
Les said the Scout and Billy were almost at the age where they would move up to the next step, which would involve putting their pouches into a small box where they would be able to get out and test out their legs. Since Scout and Billy will grow up together (it’s nice for little wombats to have friends!) the box will have a compartment for each of them so they can check each other out and get used to being together.
We didn’t get to feed the little joeys as it’s pretty delicate work, however I did put my sewing skills to work and made some little flannel pouches for them.
Is what I nicknamed them, although they are more like Womtoddlers, I suppose. Sleepy, Cinderella, and Snow White were wombats of about a year old and SO CUTE. The three of them had been raised together and trundled around in a little pack.
Wombats of this age are independent enough to walk around and graze but not big enough to dig burrows or defend themselves. In the wild, they would be weaned and out of the pouch but still living with their mother. During our time at the refuge we picked many buckets of grass to put in the shed for their nighttime snack.
The wombabies slept a heated shed and were moved into the yard to graze during the afternoon. Carrying the wombabies from the shed to the yard and back again was one of my favourite jobs. They are very floppy and adorable when you pick them up! And also quite heavy haha.
One of the big jobs we worked on was building a room in the house so wombats of this age and smaller could be kept inside in a easily monitored area. I think my dad would have had a heart attack watching us put up drywall (or gyprock, as they call it here), but I think we did pretty good considering our lack of construction experience. We screwed “nobbins” into the wall framing, hammered nails into drywall, hammer-drilled concrete, and cut stuff with a vibrating saw. We almost knew what we were doing by the end of it.
Every year Bill and Les make a wombat calendar to raise money for one of the wildlife groups they are apart of. As such, my other favourite job was rolling around in the wombaby enclosure trying to take pictures of them. When they are this young they are still small and friendly so you don’t have to worry about them knocking you over or biting your finger off. They are pretty curious actually, and photographing them was often tricky because they often got TOO close to the camera.
The Big Guys
The bigger wombats lived outside and received pellets everyday to supplement the grass in their enclosure (unfortunately due to the amount of grass they eat each day, you would need a pretty enormous pen for it to be self-sustaining). The still-maturing ones had an outdoor enclosure attached to an indoor shed area. The most mature wombats had solely outdoor pens and dug their own burrows. And their burrows are pretty impressive! We know, because we had to fill up a few haha. We also sent a little remote-controlled car down one to search for a missing wombat, before concluding that he must be some sort of escape artist.
The biggest wombat was named Jock. Though HUGE, he was actually pretty nice as he had been a bit brain damaged in a car accident and thus didn’t really know how to act like a wombat.
Gem and Ruby were the grumpiest wombats. Around two years of age, wombats start “going wild”, and stop being so friendly towards people. Ruby and Gem always hissed when people went into their enclosure, so we always fed them very quickly.
Bandage was my personal favourite. He was named so because he had a broken leg when brought in and so he wore a bandage around it for the first while. Bandage’s fur was really dark, almost black, and very fluffy.
Patches was originally living in one of the shed-attached enclosures when we arrived, but we got to see her being moved into one of the big outdoor-only enclosures while we were there. Hilariously this mostly involved Bill just picking her up, dropping her in a cage in the trunk of his car, then driving her to the new enclosure.
The other two wombats living in the outdoor enclosures were Lefty and Sunshine. We barely saw them, since they were hiding in their burrows and avoiding us most of the time. This is actually a good sign, because wombats need to remember to be afraid of people before they can be released into the wild.
Releasing wombats back into the wild is actually quite tricky due to their territorial nature. Bill and Les don’t release their wombats until they are as big as can be, as this gives them the best chance of survival. Wombats often fight over territory in the wild so obviously it’s better to be bigger.
Bill often gets called out to do rescues of wombats and kangaroos nearby (Les is pretty much stuck at home feeding pinkies). While we were there, he went out to a few calls about kangaroos. We accompanied him on one call, where a kangaroo had been seen panicking and trapped in the garden in the back of Braidwood’s museum. After we got there we poked around for awhile but couldn’t find anything; I guess it got out again.
We also went to a farm where a wombat had gone under a shed and the farmers little dogs had cornered it. It turned out that it had a really bad case of mange so that turned into a euthanasia instead of a rescue. I sat on the porch and played with the dogs rather than deal with things being shot. But that is part of the wildlife care duties.
Majors Creek is basically just a pub and some homes, but the nearby Braidwood is a sizeable town with a school and museum. We visited many times for snacks and supplies. We also went to an art show at the local community hall. The show was for Jack Featherstone, a local artist who has been painting for almost all of his 89 year (so far) life. Bill was providing the music, in the form of folksy guitar (with a sweet foot-operated drum kit). We got to eat snacks and hob-nob with the fancy folks of the town while looking at lovely paintings. All in all a pretty good night out! Bill pretty much knows everyone in Braidwood; any picture I tagged him in on Facebook had a bunch of likes from his friends.
Doggies and Roos!
Bill and Les also had two little rescue dogs named Missy and Isabel. We took them for some nice sunset walks around Majors Creek. As there is a mob of kangaroos that live in the area, Missy and Isabel had to be kept on their leashes at all times.
It was winter and the grass was not so plentiful, so the roos often came right up to our cabin to graze. Chris scared the crap out of himself one night when we went outside and almost ran right into the big alpha male.
After our week with the wombats, we were pretty sad to say goodbye to all their little furry faces! Fortunately I have about 500 pictures to remember them by.