This adorable-animal-behaving-badly story from renowned Tasmanian poet, Sarah Day, whom we sincerely thank for being brave enough to share her story of fear and marsupial bloodlust.
Some years ago I drove with friends to stay at Cradle Mountain. We arrived late in the summer afternoon and walked from the old Waldheim huts down to picturesque Dove Lake. The sun was sinking low and with it the temperature. We turned from the lake to find a large wombat approaching.
I remember exclaiming something naff like “Wombats, aren’t they adorable!” On cue, the one metre creature altered course slightly and made a beeline for me. I felt complimented to be singled out as it headed stolidly closer. I continued, no doubt, to utter those low guttural noises we make when we see something that touches us.
It was at the moment it lifted itself vertically and planted an adult hand sized paw on my thigh that the first waver of doubt flickered. I took a step back and the wombat leaned with me, its paw or rather claws, which were hefty, gripped harder. I took another step backwards and the wombat took a number of steps forwards to the mirth of those I was with. Again I retreated, the feel and look of those claws remaining with me, as the wombat advanced. I turned and began to jog, assuming that the wombat would lose interest and be diverted by my friends. Not so. It too broke into a trot, hot on my heels. That such a solid and heavy looking animal should be able to pick up its feet in this way was surprising.
The road climbed slowly, I could hear the wombat right behind me. I picked up speed and began to sprint, throwing a glance over my shoulder as I turned the corner of the zigzag back to the huts. The wombat hadn’t lost ground. I could hear laughter in the distance below. I gave it all I had and pelted the last fifty metres to the hut, slamming the door behind me.
This was over thirty years ago. I’ve encountered many wombats in the interim. I love to watch them in their habitat, in forests, dunes, on beaches, coastal plains, on farms. They are grand animals with their great heads, their barrel like muscularity, big paws and thick fur and their funny, pedantic territorial habits – lay a stick on one of their cubic scats and when you come back another, fresher scat will be balanced staunchly on the stick. On many occasions they’ve walked close beside me, sometimes unseeing, their eyesight, especially in daylight is not acute. They are more likely to smell people, it’s easy to see when they’ve caught a whiff of you on the wind and begin to bolt. Since my Dove Lake encounter though, I’ve always been circumspect close up to wombats, my flight reflex on alert. And I’ve just checked with Wikipedia who endorses my story and memory; wombats can indeed run at speeds of 40 km per hour for up to 90 seconds. Don’t be deceived by those short legs.