It was the end of 2019 and we were spending Christmas in Victoria, journeying across the coast in our caravan on our way to South Australia. In true Christmas fashion, all caravan parks were fully booked so we decided to spend the night camped amongst the bush in a remote national park. Morning came, and we were packing the kids up ready for a day surfing and finding respite from the predicted 40-degree heat. To our surprise and curiosity, we noticed a large dark shape motionless on the road about 100 metres from our campsite. Upon closer inspection, we came upon a tragic scene. A very large wombat had been hit by a car during the night and left to die. We began to leave the scene when we noticed something pink and wriggling in its lower belly. It was then we realised that this was a mumma wombat and there was a joey in its pouch, still alive.
We jumped on our phones to Google the local wildlife rescue service and came upon Wildlife Victoria’s website. We filled in the emergency rescue form with our details and location, thinking that a volunteer would be able to perform the rescue and we could go on our merry way. Alas, it was not to be. Discovering a phone number at the bottom of the page I decided to make a call to ensure that the form had been received. I was surprised to find a hysterically laughing volunteer on the end of the line, who informed me that I had submitted the wrong phone number and he had just woken up an unsuspecting and very confused person at 7:30am on a Sunday morning with: “you got a dead wombat for me mate?”. Relieved to be finally speaking to the right person he put me onto his colleague, the wombat rescue expert.
We began chatting to said expert, who reluctantly informed us that no one was able to come out and help. It was up to us, she said earnestly, to save the life of this little wombat joey. Talking us through the process, she advised us to invert the pouch and press on the dead mother’s stomach to prise the baby out. However, this was not to be. Rigor mortis had set in and the pouch was gripping onto its precious contents with vigour. It was then that the volunteer casually asked us if we had a pair of scissors or a knife and some sort of prising implement. And suddenly it dawned on us what she was asking. We stared at each other in horror.
So here we were, a baby in a pram, an inquisitive yet slightly over-whelmed four-year old, and two stunned adults, bent over a huge stiff wombat on its back, about to perform our first veterinarian surgery. “I’m not doing it, I’m not, you’re way better at stuff like this, I mean, you’re a fishermen,” I said to Jeremy as I thrust the surgical implements into his unwilling hands. And so, the process began, with the volunteer on the phone providing moral support and guidance when our spirits wavered. Slicing the pouch upwards the chief surgeon had to be extremely careful not to come in contact with the joey beneath. When the incision was long enough it was up to me to use our camping wooden spoon (more used to stirring pasta than performing critical surgery) to prise the unsuspecting creature from its home.
It was at this point that we heard the rumble of a car and all looked up from our task to meet the stare of a Sunday morning surfer driving past, a horrified expression plastered on his face. “What sickos” he must’ve thought, “slicing up road kill for breakfast”. Anyway, our task was nearly over and our little friend was almost free. However, one part of the operation remained. Our lovely volunteer on the phone quickly informed us that the baby might be still attached to the teat, and if so, serious damage to its mouth could ensue if he was ripped away. There was only one solution. And that was to cleanly and efficiently chop the teat off and prise it from the joey’s mouth. This job was unfortunately delegated to me. And let me tell you, chopping wombat teats in half with scissors is the stuff of nightmares for a breastfeeding mother.
So our furless friend was free! And we all rejoiced, whooping and hollering into the morning air. Upon inspection, the joey had remarkably survived the car crash uninjured, which was an immense relief to us and our volunteer friend on the phone. As much as caring for a wombat in our caravan for the next month appealed to our four-year-old son we agreed to meet up with a volunteer wildlife carer who lived nearby. And so we met Nadine, a middle-aged, hippie-ish earth mumma clad in a colourful flowing dress, and radiating the warmth of a lady who spends her days nurturing earth’s orphaned creatures. It was then that we knew that despite his rough start in life our little friend would be well-cared for until he was ready to fend for himself. She named him 'Wollie-Poa'. Wollie, a slightly hippier version of our very original suggested name, Wally, and Poa, a delectable grass that is the favoured meal of wombats.
I’ll be updating pictures of Wollie-Poa’s progress on the Journal throughout the year.
Please donate to Wildlife Victoria, they are currently overwhelmed by the amount of native animal bushfire victims and need your help www.wildlifevictoria.com.au