Our rainforest garden: Look out! There's wallaby poo on the path!

Not everyone likes wallabies.

I have a friend who has a beautiful house with a large garden that she established, in a new housing estate, not far from the coast. The site inherited a wild wallaby that must have been a relict from its recent past as farm or bushland. This "brazen" animal was the bane of her life. It chewed the buds off her roses and nibbled the delicate bits from a variety of plants.

On one occasion it committed the sin of all sins – it pooed on her verandah. (Now perhaps I should explain that wallabies only eat vegetation and their droppings are relatively hard and dry, composed mainly of fibrous matter, unlike cat and dog poo which is smelly and disgusting.)

I tried to tell her that it was much more valuable to have a wallaby than a rose bush, but she remained unconvinced, and they often chased this animal out of their yard.

Then, one day it was gone.

This is the sad tale of wildlife on new housing estates. People move in, with their gardens and cats and dogs and cars. The wildlife is there initially, and is taken for granted, and then it just disappears.

My younger daughter lived for a while in a house on a housing estate a few kilometres south of Townsville, near Alligator Creek. It had plentiful, wonderful wildlife, including agile wallabies (Macropus agilis) that were often seen grazing by the roadside. But for how long? There was frequent evidence of wallabies being hit by cars, and many families had dogs. How long will it be before the population collapses and most of the wallabies disappear?

In our rural district, in the time that we have been here the opposite has occurred. The land was all cleared for dairying a hundred years ago, and much of the wildlife disappeared. During the 1970s and '80s people became aware of the value of the rainforest that had been lost. Now many conservationists have moved in and small areas of rainforest are being replanted.

When we first moved here, there were no wallabies in our yard. I don't know if there were any in the district- we never saw them.

Actually there were no native mammals on our property, of any sort. The odd echidna visited every now and then. There were a few bandicoots which, unfortunately, our dog put an end to. (We don't have a dog any more. In fact, we don't have any pets or domestic animals at all nowadays.)

We did once see a quite terrified Eastern grey kangaroo (Macropus giganteus) hopping along the road at the front of the house, but it couldn't find any friends in our district, and was never seen again.

The first sign that wallabies might be moving in came when they started to uproot my newly planted Eucalypts. A man at the markets kindly explained that wallabies and kangaroos jerk upwards with their jaw, after taking a shoot in their mouth, pulling out any plants that are not well-anchored in the ground. I have noticed that wallabies seem to be particularly partial to Eucalypts, and also Brush boxes and Lillipillies. Maybe there is something about the Family Myrtaceae, although they also seem to like Plum pine seedlings.

I had sacrificed a lot of seedlings before we saw our first wallaby. The first to come, about 15 years ago as we increased the native vegetation on our property were swamp wallabies (Wallabia bicolor). These magnificent dark, bushy animals are solitary, and in colour vary from the deepest of browns, to a bright russet red. They mostly stay in the more vegetated parts of our yard and are quite rarely seen on the lawn areas. I often hear them bounding away into the bush, when I meet them on paths snaking through denser shrubs.

Our first pademelon, a red-neck (Thylogale thetis), had been released by a wildlife carer, I think. Initially it was quite tame and would come up to you if you spoke to it quietly. As time went on it became fully wild, but it often returned to our lawn to feed at night. It may have found a mate, because now we quite frequently have more than one pademelon at a time, on the lawn.

They are very wary and will bound away at the least sign of movement. I have been planting low shrubbery in the gardens around the lawn area, to provide thickets for them to hide in during the day, in the hope that we might see more of them at dawn and dusk. These tiny wallabies are a delight to have around.

Our newest arrivals have been the Red-necked wallabies (Macropus rufogrifeus). They have been here for about three years, now. They are much paler than the swampies, with silvery-grey fur that is distinctly more pinkish on their upper backs. We often see them in small groups, and out in more open areas such as on our lawn. I think they are now more common here, than swamp wallabies.

We like having wallabies around, and I put tree-guards around vulnerable newly-planted seedlings to prevent damage.

So, if you ever come to visit us, please look out, because there is bound to be wallaby poo on the paths!

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