Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bye Bye Wombat Ben

There was a farewell here at Onemilebridge yesterday. One we approached happily and, might I say, with relief.

Wombat Ben has been released into the bush. His stay in the Wombat Hilton was a short one — possibly a record.

When he arrived he was already a good size — about 15 kg — so the only tasks he had to achieve were to separate from his human carers and to allow his natural tendencies to come to the fore.

Well, he accomplished both those lickety split. He fled from us any time we approached; he preferred to eat the native grasses we picked for him rather than the oats and horse mix in his food bowl; and he rearranged his environment as assiduously as a backyard blitz team with a backhoe and an open cheque book. I reckon if he'd stayed any longer he'd have tunnelled or broken his way out anyway. You can see daylight through the gateposts now!

There was wombat poo outside the gate too, and evidence of a wombat trying to get into the enclosure. Maybe a groupie for what my commenter Judith calls our rockstar wombat.
We tied up the 'wombat flap' in the gate so Ben could find it easily. In the coming days we'll untie it but leave it unlatched so he can come and go if he wishes. We'll leave food in the bowl, but my guess is that possums will get that.

 I think we've seen the last of Wombat Ben. We wish him a long, happy life in the bush.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Noah and the Dove in the Year of Reading

Did you know that this year is the Year of the Farmer and The Year of Reading? Got us here at Onemilebridge covered, coming and going.

In the midst of all the excitement about Wombat Ben I just found out that my short story, 'By Night I Swim', took out second prize in the Fellowship of Australian Writers National Short Story Award. How great is that!

Am I allowed to say that I really like that story? Well I do. I've been tinkering with it ever since I began it on a visit to Daughter Number Four in San Francisco four years ago.

I won first prize in this competition in 2004 with a story called 'Signs I Don't Understand' that took me only a few months to write - quick for me. That story is set in Melbourne and starts when my narrator - coincidentally called Vivienne - throws an overcoat on over her pyjamas and sets off on a midnight dash to the corner store to buy a chocolate bar. She is picked up by twin clowns who insist that she accompany them to get a drink or two. Before she finally returns to bed there's a scuffle in a lane involving a gun and she's arrested.

The judges thought that story contained passion and joy and even a little chaos.

This current  story is totally different. It's about a girl, Rosie, whose mother has dumped her at the family farm while she heads back to the city. The farm, run by Rosie's uncle, is a sad place. The grandparents are dead, as is the uncle's baby son, and the aunt has left.
No ghosts or poltergeists inhabit the house. The opposite: when you put something down, it stays there forever, like the rusty tractor cobwebbed in the barn, my grandmother’s jam-making pot pushed to the back of the kitchen range, my grandfather’s felt hat, tide-marked with sweat and shaped to the fit of his head, left on the nail on the porch, above his gaping gumboots. One by one the people of my life have slipped away, leaving behind only their impressions in photographs, and possessions they no longer need.
It will be interesting to read the judges' comments on 'By Night I Swim'. The story was inspired in part by a small farm across the road from us here in Mole Creek. Ian, a nice elderly man, lived alone there in the farm house he'd grown up in. I began to imagine what the rooms of that cottage, inhabited only by that bachelor, would contain. I sent Rosie and her wild mother to find out for me.

Ian moved into a nursing home and the farm was sold, the house renovated. It looks adorable now but I'm glad I saw it before, so I could feed my imagination with it.

I used to consider myself a short story writer, but over the last eight years I've written and rewritten and rewritten three book-length projects. There've been several articles too, but it's been mainly those books: my memoir, a young adult novel and an adult novel.

Writing a novel can feel endless, and very isolating. There's no real way to check your progress. You're there alone, adrift in a frail craft on a choppy sea. I'm finally nearing the end of work on my adult novel, By the Book, now. I sent out  'By Night I Swim' like Noah's dove  — to see if there was anyone out there.

Turns out there was, and my dove has flown back to me not with a twig, but a prize of a different and very welcome kind.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Wombat Ben The Builder

Personally, I reckon Ben is going to be out of the Wombat Hilton and into the wild in record time. 

His renovations would put Grand Designs to shame! Though at least he can afford to complete his - and without a crippling mortgage too!

He's moved all the logs from one side of the top of the burrow to the other. It's hard to know if he's dug any new chambers down below, though I suspect he hasn't installed a dance floor and DJ booth. Not yet anyway!

The entrance now faces in the opposite direction, away from the gate into the enclosure, so perhaps he feels better protected from us. He still runs into the burrow the moment he senses our approach.

But his poo is firm and plentiful, showing that he is stress-free and confident. 

 He's continued to excavate under the hollow log too.

With all that energy, I imagine he'll do well when he's released.  I wonder what the other wombats will think of him.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What Wombat Ben Did Next

It's interesting to watch Wombat Ben adjust to his new circumstances and to see his natural instincts come to the fore. While he lived with his previous carers he regarded them as members of his family. Even when they transferred him to an outdoor enclosure he used to perch on a log each morning, waiting for them to arrive with his food. When they turned up he'd follow them around, nipping their legs when he could. When they tried to collect his poo he'd often sit on it to protect it.

Since he's been here at Onemilebridge he's been mostly nocturnal. Certainly, as soon as he's sensed our presence he's hidden in his burrow. This is a step forward as he learns not to bond with humans in his progression towards returning to the wild.

Gradually, though, he's begun coming out early in the day to eat.

And he's been up to some serious renovation. He's pulled a long piece of wood across to the mouth of his burrow and stuck it in place with a mortar of mud.

We think this is to protect the burrow from rain as its entrance had become quite open.

He's also been digging in other places, including under the hollow log.

He's certainly leaving his mark on the Wombat Hilton! It'll never be the same again.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Wombat Ben Settles In

Sleeping by day, emerging late afternoon. 

Serious renovations by night. 

Shy of these new humans.

Not eating much yet, very little poo on show. Early days yet. Just settling in.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Wombat Ben's First Day

Ben was not to be seen this morning, but there was plenty of evidence of his presence:

Some  loose poo, though that's to be expected from the stress of the move.

Some serious renovation of the main burrow. The Poa that was there yesterday looks like it's been demolished. And the hay has disappeared too.

Some evidence of digging beneath the hollow log.

This is a huge move for Ben, away from what is probably the only home he can remember, but so far it looks like he's about on track. We left some food in the container in the kennel and we'll return periodically to check if he's eaten it. Normally we'd remove his poo every morning, but for the moment we'll leave it where it is so he can begin to feel at home.

It's nice to have a wombat back in the Wombat Hilton. I know it's stressful for Ben right now but I'm sure in a couple of days he'll be settled in and ready to begin his transition back into the wild where he belongs.