I quite like wildlife, as long as it sustains a reasonable demarcation zone between itself and me. I’m indifferent to mosquitoes, flies and other bugs, as long as they stay away. Bigger hairy things are the same. Scaled crawlies can come and go, as long as they keep their distance. But sometimes there are occasions when you don’t get a choice and you are thrust cheek to jowl with the fauna and must follow your own instincts.
On a camping trip along the south coast of NSW several years back, we reluctantly played host to a few furry little bundles of joy. It started out quite innocently at a lonely, unmarked camping spot on a headland in a national park we’d only heard about from fisherman at our previous night’s camp.
We were well pleased. It was clean and peaceful and no-one else was here. And it was accessible too, before NSW National Parks rolled out its ‘exclude everyone except those in ballet shoes who wish to carry a tent and all their gear over a kilometre through the bush to camp’ budgetary initiative, oops, I mean lock-out laws.
Anyway, we had set up camp with some friends and gone for a late afternoon swim in the fading summer heat, enjoyed a good meal from the camp ovens and settled in for a pleasant evening of tall stories, unbiased political analysis and dubious jokes when we noticed the first stirrings in the undergrowth.
On the outskirts of our vision (limited by poor lighting rather than excess alcoholic consumption, of course) we observed a grey furry lump scurrying from bush to bush. Our initial feelings of sympathy for this obviously severely handicapped creature with the nasty hunchback quickly transformed into gooey parental compassion when someone pointed out that it was, in fact, a mother with a baby on its back.
“Oh, isn’t that cute,” we all chortled in unison.
The pair, which resolved itself into a mother possum and her young, soon ceased to dodge from cover to cover and moved forward into clear sight, obviously satisfied that we represented no threat to their existence. Then, after surveying us for several seconds, it dropped on to all fours, walked calmly and purposefully across to my mate’s chair and climbed straight up onto the arm – still with the kid attached and our friend in residence – reached out and took the post-meal biscuit and cheese from his hand and began nibbling.
Was this some kind of underhand Parks way of eliciting a toll upon us for our night’s camp? Were we expected to offer such tribute to every furred, feathered and scaled denizen of these forests? If we permitted this freeloader to get away with it how many more of its buddies might be watching and assessing their chances of scoring themselves?
All of these imponderables were working their way slowly through our limited brains when the next little pair of bright red eyes appeared in a dark gap between bushes. There was no hesitation with this guy. It walked straight out, took in the scene and strode confidently across towards our camp.
There was no hesitation when it got to our circle of chairs, either. It walked straight past us, head down, like it knew exactly where it was going, and strode in under the awning of our camper and into the tent. My wife – who was closest and had a profound connection to the order of our camper and its contents – leapt from her seat and rushed in a panic towards the dark abyss of the tent.
There followed a lot of curious noises, meek gasps and grunts, shouts of “come back here,” “not up there,” “oh no you don’t,” “put that down,” and then a frightening “oh, you dirty beast!” Well… that got me out of my seat. As I walked towards the camper there was a lot of “shoo, shoo, shoo,” and then out of the door came an innocent looking possum followed by my wife.
“What happened in there?” I enquired. The possum remained Mum but my wife chimed in, “when I got in there the little devil was rummaging through the clothing drawer. When I stepped towards it it grabbed a bunch of my underwear and ran towards the bed. It started waving it around above its head and then when I tried to grab it, it pulled a pair of my pants over its head.”
I glanced at the intruder, but it just sat innocently near the fire, looking across at its compatriot and scratching at its back, exuding a complete indifference to the accusations being made.
Alternatives raced through my brain. I could call in the police, or an exorcist? Maybe a qualified psychologist or the local priest? Nah, I rejected all those. I didn’t want any do-gooders or soothsayers or charitable bodies. I just wanted this animal – these animals (the furry ones, not my mate and his wife) – out of my life.
I looked at it. It had sat quietly near the fire since being ejected from the camper, and as my wife had zipped up the door it no longer had access there. After seeming to warm its little paws for a minute or so, it took in the presence of his portly lady friend with the kid attached, walked over, climbed to the arm the same way she had, grabbed the remains of the biscuit she was quietly munching on, pushed her off her perch and took over the position.
This was too much for my mate, who had sat transfixed by this marsupial version of Neighbours being played out on and around his furniture. He snatched the biscuit from the leathery little hands and threw it into the fire and shoved the little beast off his chair. However, as if to declare that it had handled tougher deals than this, it headed straight for the camp table where a plate sat with the last remaining biscuit.
It scrambled with some difficulty up one of the legs and was just rising over the edge when my mate saw its purpose and lunged to grab the wafer and popped it into his mouth. The possum seemed stunned. Apparently for the first time in its life of crime and marsupial thuggery it had been outflanked.
It jumped down, ran to my mate and sat looking up at him, apparently waiting for the morsel to reappear from his mouth, but when it didn’t it grasped his leg and, like all bullies betrayed its real cowardly inner motivations and began begging, clasping to him, looking wan and weak. It raised the back of one of its little hands to its forehead and slumped backwards as its eyes shut.
When that drew no response other than mockery and laughter, it leapt to its feet and ran around the camp, trying to knock things over and throwing up dirt. When that elicited no positive response, it stuck its little bottom lip out and stomped off across into the scrub and was gone, followed by the gaze of the matron and her child. We offered her a fresh biscuit, which she nibbled on quite contentedly then with great dignity headed back to her home among the trees.
Nobody likes a thug and a bully. Good riddance I say.
Check out the full feature in issue #111 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.