Strange encounters of the feathered kind…
In a previous post I alluded to the feral goats I encountered on a road trip to North Devon, while researching my novel The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay. A further trip to south west Victoria, a region I have visited often in the past, brought a strange encounter with a very large, feathered opportunist.
As parts of the novel are set on a farming property in this volcanic region I wanted to refresh my memory of the countryside. The volcanic soils make it perfect for farming and it is famed for its wool, dairy and wheat. The old cones of dormant volcanoes speckle the rich farmlands, many of them with lake-filled craters. For example, Lake Purrumbete, near Camperdown, is one of the world’s largest crater lakes at 2.8 kilometres across.
The basalt rocks that once spewed from these volcanoes are ubiquitous as building materials throughout the area. Dry stone fences, woolsheds and homesteads are all constructed of this dark blue/grey stone, including the fictional homestead ‘Wuurnong’ of my novel. As a young woman I lived for a year on a 5000-acre sheep and wheat property in this region and I remember its magnificent bluestone woolshed. I think I was more impressed by the woolshed than the grand bluestone homestead.
Anyway, a refresher trip was called for and a pitstop on that journey was one of my favourite picnic and walking spots near Warrnambool — Tower Hill. Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve sits in a volcanic crater at the heart of a cone shaped hill, partly filled by a lake. It is part of the Aboriginal cultural landscape and visitors can join a walk through the reserve with a guide from the local Worn Gundidj people. Another interesting fact about Tower Hill is that the land was degraded by pastoral activities but in the 1960s volunteer groups began replanting the crater using a 1855 painting by colonial painter Eugene von Gerard as a guide.
Tower Hill is renowned for its wildlife, with 150 species of birds, grey kangaroos, koalas and… emus. I had encountered the emus of Tower Hill before. One tried to steal an ice cream from my son on a previous trip. (At a winery picnic an emu stole one of those hard umbrella-shaped lollies on a stick from a friend’s child and we watched in horror the lollie’s progress down that poor emu’s very, very long neck).
This time my husband and I looked on fascinated as the emu in the photograph strode over to a tradie taking time out to eat lunch in his ute with the window open. As the emu approached, the sensible man quickly closed his window. Then we all watched in amusement as it knocked on the window with its beak for about a minute before walking away in disgust when the man refused to wind down the window and offer it his sandwich.
The rangers ask that you don’t feed the animals. But I think they forgot to tell the emus.