About two years ago, a dead possum inspired me to write a poem. I’d just moved to Melbourne and this possum, sprawled in a side street, was a rare sight for me.
I know, now, that many Melbournians have too much possum in their lives (i.e. rooftops). Yet that day it struck me that the reality of possums’ existence in the city was being lost in gutters, under the noise of cars and grocery shopping. It needed a moment of pause in poetry to bring it to our attention again.
The poem would have been called “There are Possums in Melbourne’.
But give it a chance! If I’d ever written the poem, it would have been from the perspective of possums in a city, creating a new perspective of the city for everyone who read it.
A few weeks ago I watched a TV documentary which did that – and more! It uses superb cinematography to explore cities, suburbs, and modern industry through the local wildlife’s experience.
What’s it called? I forgot! I want to share the following with you anyway: I saw scintillating displays like the Peacock Spider’s suburban backyard mating dance, and discovered how certain native animals are adapting to urban habitats – while others suffer from disruption to ancient symbiotic relationships.
There are Possums are in Melbourne – and Trees are Important for Your Domestic Peace
Some sort of flatmates.com for Melbournian possums might be in order. One that advertises share trees. Because ironically, the city’s rapid residential expansion means highly territorial possums are now facing a housing crisis.
The documentary shows us a tree in the middle of Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens at night. We see a mother possum chase her son out of the tree much earlier than a young possum would usually leave the nest: the tree is shrieking with bushy-tailed marsupials, and there’s just no space for the little guy. Nor in any other tree. And he can’t sleep on the ground.
We follow him as he leaves the Gardens’ sanctuary. The camera shows us his perspective as he travels through the city: highways, fences, dogs, are phenomena from his close-to-the-ground vantage point. What a great walking tour! For us. Our noses and ears aren’t quivering with a thousand possible threats. If he’s not killed on the way, this possum will likely end up in someone’s roof, where he’ll be well fed by resident humans or extracted by pest control.
The Deadly Dance in Your Garden
“In backyards across Australia, different species of Peacock Spider dance in the undergrowth.”
On a much smaller and more brilliant scale, peacock spiders might be the unnoticed jewels of your yard. They’re smaller than your fingernail (the largest grows to about 0.76cm, or 0.3 inches), and each species has its own mating dance and colourful patterning. People get very excited about this.
Thank goodness the male spider’s dance pleases the female in this documentary. Otherwise, she’d have eaten him.
Koalas Might Have to Start Drinking
For over 70 years a cattle farmer has enjoyed watching koalas on his land. He has recently taken to putting water troughs in trees for them after he noticed a drop in numbers: 25 per cent of the region’s koala population died in the last heatwave, according to the documentary.
This is strange because koalas are known to receive enough hydration from the eucalypt leaves they eat. It seems the chemical content of eucalyptus leaves is changing with climate change, and can no longer hydrate the koalas.
The male koala we see drinking from his new trough at dusk is a very thirsty one indeed.
Many More Exciting Interrelationships
There are also dingoes in mining sites, water dragons adapting to the easy life in Brisbane’s central gardens, and an island dedicated to fairy penguins in Victoria.
I’m grateful to this doco for inspiring me anew to go outside and look under leaves, and wonder what the seagull was before chips arrived…