23 July, 2011

Wallaby tails and riding trails

Black or Swamp Wallaby on the Barwon
River at Newtown
I have run, walked and ridden my bike around the Barwon for several years now. Some time ago, I was informed that a family of wallabies live by the river - not as you might expect, in the more rural areas, but right, slap, bang in the middle of Geelong, on the Highton side of the river. For those who know this part of the river, there is a section between Queen's Park and the Princes Bridge were the river curves away from the walking track, leaving an area of marshy, low-lying land, covered in reeds, grass and young gum saplings. Those who run will know that this part of the river is situated between the 17km and 18km marks for the half marathon.
It is here that the wallabies live - or so I was told. Until today however, I had never seen them. I tend to be on the river during the hours of full daylight and knowing that kangaroos and wallabies tend to appear at either end of the day, around dawn and dusk, I assumed that this explained why I had to this point in time failed to spot one.
Today, during the course of a somewhat chilly ride around the river, I made my way along the track, past the low-lying reed beds and glanced across as I always do, on the off chance that the wallabies would be there and then, today - there they were! Initially, I only saw one, standing in plain view, watching as we scrambled to a halt and grabbed our cameras. A minute later, we saw another, hiding amongst the long grass off to the side. The pair were quite obliging, waiting while we snapped our shots and then headed back to the bikes.
So, who are these "urban skippies" - to borrow a phrase - that live by the Barwon? I believe that they are Swamp Wallabies (known locally as Black Wallabies but also called Black-tailed or Fern Wallabies, Black Pademelons, Stinkers or Black Stinkers). There are around 30 species of wallabies which are described as any macropod smaller than a kangaroo or wallaroo. Black Wallabies are found from the very north of Queensland, down the coast through to the south west of Victoria, including of course, Geelong.
Black Wallabies are semi-nocturnal and quite shy which confirms my suspicions as to my failure to spot one before now. They can often live quite unnoticed in the leafier areas of suburbia for many years.
Eastern Grey Kangaroo at Inverleigh
Urban Geelong of course, is not the only part of the river where these curious marsupials are found. A little research will show that there are wallabies in various places, both rural and urban. An urban lifestyle - not surprisingly - can sometimes lead to difficulties for the wallabies. A report in the Geelong Advertiser from January, 2009 described the rescue of a wallaby at Ocean Grove which had become stressed whilst trying to swim across the river and was in danger of drowning. Not content with one attempted river-crossing, the same animal had to be rescued a second time when it again tried to cross the river the following day. This time, it was taken into the custody of Jirralingha Sanctuary wildlife keepers who treated the animal for stress before releasing it.
Wallaby sightings on the streets of Geelong are not as uncommon as one might think either. An Advertiser report from January, 2011 described a Black Wallaby captured in Cox Road, Norlane having found its way into a nearby backyard and panicked. Wildlife experts claim to respond to seven or more incidents per week in and around Geelong involving Wallabies.
Naturally enough, wallabies are also found along the forested upper reaches of the Barwon in the Otways, and at Lake Elizabeth. I am also aware of a population of Eastern Grey Kangaroos in the vicinity of Inverleigh, not far from the confluence of the Leigh and Barwon Rivers and I believe that wallabies are also present, as they are in the vicinity of many of the small towns right along the river.

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