The Wallaby Wars

Karen Radford Treanor 


Copyright 2017  by Karen Radford Treanor


Photo of a wallaby.
Ignoring almost all the major points on the list of things our new home must have, we made an offer on an outsize country cottage in rural Tasmania. We were entranced by the sunshine, flowers, swooping swallows, soaring eagles and the view of the nearby d’Entrecasteaux Channel. The cottage sat on the outskirts of Gordon, a town so small it isn’t really there at all—but oh! the views; the crystal air; the balmy temperatures and frisky breezes!

It was a day that any real estate agent would be proud to have ordered in specially: warm but not too warm; Marshmallow Fluff clouds floating over the nearby Channel, everything in the garden looking its best. There were even bumblebees, big story-book bumblebees, something I hadn’t seen in nearly 40 years of living on the other side of the big brown island continent of Australia.

It was only much later we discovered our New Found Land was inhabited by monsters.

By ‘monsters’ I don’t mean Tasmanian Devils. We were quite happy to have those increasingly endangered carnivorous marsupials living in the woods beyond the pond. Nor do I mean the quolls: weasel-sized, sharp-toothed, bright-eyed hunters of the dark hours. No, it was something much worse.

We probably should have asked a few sharp questions when we noticed the real estate agent took her shoes off at the front door the day she showed us the property. We took it as a sort of pseudo-Japanese homage to the house-proud owners, and duly removed our own shoes. Indoors was an expanse of light grey carpet, “nearly new”, according to the agent. We toured the house, admired the huge kitchen, the capacious bathroom and the enormous pantry.

As we walked around the gardens, I noticed occasional little droppings from a small animal—probably a fox terrier. Carried away by the many good points of the property, and hard-pushed by the knowledge that our rented accommodation was racking up a big bill, we made an offer on the house which was accepted with speed by the owners, who’d had it on the market for a very long time. They didn’t quibble about our desire for a quick closing—in fact, had already moved out more than half their possessions.

Two weeks later we packed up our four suitcases, two cats and several boxes of grocery items and drove down to Gordon. Accompanied by two yodelling felines, I arrived well ahead of my husband, who was coming in his pick-up truck and planning to do some errands on the way. Parking at the house, I picked my way carefully through the fox terrier droppings. I settled the nervous cats in the sun room and, finding a snaggle-toothed leaf rake in an outbuilding, set about cleaning the lawn. By the time Gene arrived, I had raked a lot of fox terrier poop and put it in a large circular container in the garden apparently meant for compost.

The moving company arrived bright and early next day, bringing a 20 foot sea container full of our household goods. The three movers made short work of unloading, placed all the furniture where I asked them, and piled 50 or 60 boxes in the sun room for later dispersal. Gene had rigged up some ramps and bridges so the truck could unload at verandah level and nobody had to go up and down stairs. That was a good thing, as I noticed that my raking had been somewhat haphazard and there were still some dog droppings on the lawn near the front steps. How had I missed them? No time to worry about that; the movers needed to know what went where, so I went back to work indoors.

Within three hours the truck was empty and the movers were having coffee and cookies and admiring the view. “Got a nice place here,” said the supervisor. “Good garden, too. It’ll look real nice, soon’s you get rid of the wallabies.”

Wallabies? The national rugby team had been in our yard?

Well, no: it turns out that all the droppings in the yard had been left by a small marsupial. Tasmania is full of them--wallabies and pademelons, small kangaroo-shaped beasts with a taste for greenery--any and all greenery--knee-high hopping marsupials with irresponsible alimentary canals and lightning reflexes.

The real estate saleswoman stopped by to see how we were settling in, and when we inquired about the wallabies, she said, “Oh, yes; the previous owner had constant troubles with them; I think there must be a hole in the fence. That’s probably an easy fix.” She gave us the business card of a friend who was a fencing contractor. Resuming her shoes, she waved and drove away.

I looked at the open gate at the foot of the driveway. “Probably that sign that says ‘Please close gate’ means what it says. It’s been open for two days and nights now...I suppose every wallaby in Gordon is now on our side of the fences.”

Gene sighed and got the hammer from his truck’s emergency tool kit. Rummaging in the old chicken coop he found some ancient garden stakes. “Let’s beat the bounds,” he said. For the next two hours we patrolled the fences on the acre of yard that surrounded the house, hammering stakes in any places where the chicken wire or sheep wire fencing had been pushed inwards or dug under. The stakes ran out before we reached the top of the hilly yard. Over the next few weeks we spent a modest fortune on metal spikes, stakes, poles and lengths of rebar, but eventually we felt secure. No wallabies would get into our yard from the wild wood beyond. We were happy for them to have the balance of our smallholding, as long as we could have a clean single acre near the house.

This did not solve the problem of the wallabies already on our side of the barrier, however. On any given evening you could shine a flashlight into the yard and pick up reflections from many pairs of eyes. Every morning there was a fresh sprinkling of wallaby poo on the front and side lawns, in the orchard, and under the clothesline—and sometimes on the verandah. Late at night you could hear the thumpity-thump of some bewildered beast unsure how to navigate the porch railings.

Wallaby poo is awful stuff, gluey and gooey and green, and nearly impossible to get out of the tread of shoes, or off a carpet. The only good thing about it is it has little or no smell, being mostly grass. Entering the house from the yard involved a strange little dance while one checked first one and then the other shoe. Going barefoot was out of the question.

For a few weeks we tried chasing the wallabies out of the yard. We’d open the driveway gate and the gate from the yard into the big meadow, then we’d go to the top corner of the property with buckets and sticks and work our way down the hill and across the lawn while making as much noise as possible. Since wallabies can turn on a dime, it was very rare that we were able to herd any of them through the gates; mostly they ran downhill and then cut across and back and hid in the bushes somewhere.

When we had been in our new home for two months, our younger daughter and her daughter came to visit. With four people we felt the Wallaby Muster might succeed. We stationed Sarah in the orchard with instructions to bang the bucket if she saw a wallaby try to get past her and head across the yard. I lurked behind the patio wall ready to cut off any attempts by a wallaby to make a U-turn back up the hill. Gene and Erin went to the hilltop and began banging buckets and yelling and driving the wallabies from their hiding places and into the daylight.

The first attempt came to naught, because Sarah was so entranced by the sight of the galloping wallabies that she forgot the idea was to scare them into continued flight. We explained the plan again, and the beaters resumed their place at the top of the yard. Once again the noise got the wallabies on the move, and thanks to our concentrated efforts, two of them were successfully sent through the gate into the large paddocks. The rest escaped back up the hill or deep into the shrubbery in the front yard.

A few months later my sister came for a visit and she, too, was coopted onto the Wallaby Muster team. Her fortnight’s visit resulted in one more wallaby being hounded out the gate into the paddocks. The best event was in September when all three children and some of their children came to visit. This made a big enough crowd to have some serious clout, and another three wallabies were sent out into the wide world to seek their fortunes elsewhere. However, some of the wallabies were female and producing young, and for every exile there was apparently a new birth. We didn’t seem able to keep up.

After the visitors had gone we sat down to plan a new and better campaign. Gene bought a “live catch” trap, which we baited with carrots and set under the trees near a known wallaby path. As hoped, we caught a wallaby. It was surprised and frightened and made strange little growly noises at us. We took it to the other side of the secure fences and let it go. It zoomed up the hill to the woods. That same night we caught another wallaby, and then another one When we had caught and released about 8 wallabies in less than a week, Gene said “I can’t imagine how we could have so many animals in the home acre and not be tripping over them.”

So we started marking our catch with a dot of white paint on the back. It only took a few nights to realise that we were catching the same spray-painted wallabies over and over. Somehow the creatures were getting back into the yard. Another circuit of the boundaries revealed a tree stump near the fence, a stump just high enough to act as a launch pad for a mature wallaby. More chicken wire was purchased and that section of fence was reinforced and its height increased.

After much effort we got down to three wallabies, and while they were not particularly bothersome, there was a very real danger they would reproduce and we’d be again under siege. One day I had a brain storm: leave the gate to the vegetable garden open at sundown, and hope a wallaby went in there. The plan was to go out about 10 p.m. with flashlights, shut the gate behind us, and if there were any wallabies in there, open the other gate into the paddock and herd them out. We tried this for several nights and on the third one, found two wallabies in the fenced vegetable garden. We opened the gate to the paddock and using sticks and flashlights, managed to chivvy one of the wallabies out the gate. The other one threw itself at the little gate at the top of the garden and managed to get into what we called The Middle Paddock, a steeply sloping half-acre that only a fool would try to patrol at night. We opened the other gate in that paddock and hoped the prisoner would bumble its way out eventually.

Over the course of a week we managed to trick all the wallabies from our yard into the vegetable garden and from there to the paddocks. When three weeks had passed and no new wallaby poo appeared on the lawn, and no further damage had been done to the flowers and bushes in the yard, we knew we had finally triumphed over the little hoppers.

They haven’t given up, however--if we don’t shut the hen house door at dusk we find two or more wallabies in there helping themselves to the hens’ layer pellets and drinking from their water bucket. The hens huddle on their roost muttering to each other, but don’t seem to mind the uninvited guests all that much.

Photo of Pepper.As with Liberty itself, the price of freedom from wallabies is eternal vigilance. All gates must be shut before dark, and if either of us is out late, the other has to stand ready to open the big gate to the driveway and shut it again directly the car has passed through. The integrity of the fencing must be assured by frequent inspection and adjustment.

An unexpected helper arrived recently. We acquired a kitten, which soon grew into a small cat. Pepper sees it as her mission in life to chase anything that moves. Amazingly, this seven-pound feline has been observed in the big paddocks putting a mob of wallabies to flight. I doubt she could bring down a full-grown or even a teenage wallaby—they outweigh her by three or more times--but as long as they don’t know that, we should be wallaby-free.

(Karen reports that on the day this story was published she discovered fresh wallaby droppings--on her side of the security fencing.  Sigh.)

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