Rebel Wombats

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I was on Tasmania’s Maria Island recently. Found out the wombats there aren’t particularly good students.

Indeed, the wombats on Tasmania’s Maria Island have ripped up the How to be a Wombat manual. Torn it to shreds and buried it in one of their dis-used burrows. While normal behaviour by their brothers and sisters in the Vombatidae family dictates that wombats are nocturnal, those living under the Maria postcode are revising the family tree.

There are neither private vehicles nor predators on Maria and in the absence of the usual threats the wombats are so chuffed about the short odds of reaching retirement age they are readily seen sashaying about during the day.

The lack of cars and other killers is also good news for Forester kangaroos ─ Tasmania’s version of the eastern roo ─ and birds. About Darlington, the island’s only settlement, there are fields clipped neat as golf greens where Cape Barren Geese sit on nests and seem so unperturbed you’d swear they had bazookas stuffed up their feathers.

Maria (the ‘i’ is pronounced the same as the ‘i’ in island) is often referred to as a type of Noah’s Ark. The geese and the kangaroos were sent to the island, a national park since 1972, to breed insurance populations. The island has since become a strong hold for other birds including the forty-spotted pardalote, but the geese and the wombats have formed a dominant ruling coalition.

Approximately 20 kilometres long and 12 kilometres at its widest point, Maria would be two islands but for McRae’s Isthmus, a wedge separating the Mercury Passage from the Tasman Sea. Just a short ferry ride off the mid-east coast of the Tasmanian ‘mainland’, Maria also doubles as a nirvana for walkers. Bishop and Clerk (599 metres) is the island’s most astonishing point.

The summit is about two hours’ walk from colonial-era Darlington. The last stage to the peak is a taxing scramble over scree and then chunky hurdles of dolerite. The top of Bishop and Clerk consists of great stone pillars, which up close are disturbingly sheer sea cliffs but with tabular tops. The vertigo seems to disappear when you sit down and stretch out on one of the sections.

And when the nerves settle you can admire the uncommonly spectacular views over a sizeable chunk of Tasmania’s east coast, over Fossil Bay and to the Freycinet Peninsula. You might also witness the almost impossible grace of wedge-tailed eagles. Two pair had their way with the world, putting on a show as they cruised the coast far below the point where we sat. Know how to read a text book these eagles.

Greg Clarke

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Greg Clarke

Greg Clarke regularly contributes to newspapers and magazines in Australia and throughout Asia. He once lived in London's East End, which aside from the proximity to ripping curries and cheap haircuts proved handy while he was at The Sunday Times. Greg regularly plunges into Tassie’s extraordinary wilderness as much for adventure as a way to shed some of the pounds he stacks on while sampling way too much of the island’s food and fine wine. When he's not travelling or writing his daughters take him on wanderings in search of fairies, wombats and devils.

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