Friday, 17 March 2017

Just Us Girls


A large, male black wallaby (or black-tail swamp wallaby, as I still like to think of them) called our patch of bushland his home when J & I started building our cottage 25 years ago. A few years later a female, that I like to think is, or was, his daughter took over the patch, eating my camellias and cranesbills and imported (expensive!) Epimedium (and everything else, too). Every spring we'd see a young head crown and disappear, then the new joey would hop in and out of her homely pouch as it grew.
The mature wallaby would wander the garden, munching, cocking an ear, wondering if crazy lady would run & flap arms today - or take photos of her. At last, 2 years (& 5 months) ago, the wallaby-proof fence around the garden resolved the political situation nicely: ½ acre garden for me, a few acres of bushland for her. Sounds fair; and no more crazy lady. Now we can walk to our cars and our resident wallaby barely looks up from grazing nearby. It's partly having no dogs, of course, or we wouldn't see her at all. But we do see her, `mowing' grass by our gates, every day; and we love it.

Down along the creek bed there's an old wombattery but wombats are rarely seen these days - so it's a joy to welcome a wild creature that's either new resident or regular visitor to the home patch. `Spike' is an enormous echidna who is the first one I've known to not curl in a ball, but to march towards me trustingly. (Perhaps with age, it has poor sense of smell; I hope not.) Its huge muscular limbs get him/her up and down our hill with amazing ease, plodding, but indefatigably; I've never observed one so close! There's loads of ants in the garden so he/she seems to come through when he/she needs a snack, and his/her minimal disturbances of the garden are a bit of a calling card that make me smile. (On the other hand, tall mud yabby holes, like chimneys, and rather plentiful, are a bit of an acquired taste...which I am trying, hard, to acquire.)

By the back door I am growing lettuces in 4 large pots which need frequent watering and there must be some residual, useful water left lying about (my theory), and maybe some slugs about (J's excellent theory), which have attracted an antechinus to call this area home. These are sweet-looking native mice (carnivorous marsupials, really) that are famous for, well, having lots of sex in spring; then the males die off; so, the theory goes, there's more food for females and young in the dry summer months. So ours must be female. She darts about, with a tail nearly 20cm long, defying any chance of photography. (We've called her `Scamp'.)
Russel, our resident rustling blue-tongue lizard has not been seen of late but skinks are still fairly common, sunning themselves on warm paving, and whisking themselves away as you approach.
Recently, J spent a night away from home and in the morning I was heading to my car when `our' wallaby just stayed nearby, munching indigenous bushes (thank you, less bushfire danger) in an act, it felt, of solidarity. Of companionability. And I thought: `it's just us girls'; I quite like that - for no good reason whatsoever.
My hens (all girls) give me this companionability, too, when I'm planting in the veg patch, and they are 50cm away, on the other side of the wire, clucking happily it seems to me, as they scratch and find food, but move towards food-lady...just in case she tosses something interesting their way.
On International Women's Day this week an Imperial Jezebel (or Imperial White) butterfly (last pic) sat obligingly on a white dahlia in the garden, as I took photos of her. (Or him - J's opinion.) J's seen a large white butterfly meandering through the garden, which could be this beauty, with its extraordinarily colourful underside.
`Our' current wallaby is less nervous of me (which makes it seem likely he/she is new)...and I didn't see a joey last spring. Maybe she's having a rest. (Good for her.) Or...maybe she died and a new male has taken over the patch. If so...I'll miss seeing those joeys growing up each spring. Even `teenager' (as we unscientifically called a year-old joey) teaching a young joey how to get under my wallaby-deterrent fence, as it was then, to munch the garden. (At last, I can smile about it. And tell you the 3 - yes three - species of plant they don't eat.)
Yes, females can be interesting.
Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria (

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