The eastern quoll was caught in my headlights. Honey-coloured with creamy spots, the fur shimmering in the beam, quoll eyes sparkling, as wild as an animal can get.
It made a dash across the road, had second thoughts, stopped suddenly and then turned to run back into the shadows beyond the pavement, vanishing down a slope leading to the Sandy Bay Rivulet.
I’ve learned to drive slowly on my suburban street, aware of the volume of roadkill – about one dead Bennett’s wallaby a month, and an unknown toll of lesser creatures like pademelons, potoroos and bandicoots.
The quoll, wallabies and all the wildlife I see dead or alive on the bitumen fill me with horror and dread, but at the same time give me a bizarre sense of hope. I’m left confused and perplexed: life and death on the same stretch of highway leading to and from my home not three kilometres from the Post Office clock. The roadkill might be shocking but it demonstrates just how prolific wildlife is in the Tasmanian suburbs.
The first wildlife books I read were those written by English clergymen of years gone by, who urged me to get into what was termed the “countryside” beyond the red-brick reaches of post-World War II London where grew up.
Over the years, though, I discovered that the “countryside” of England, and then the bush of Australia took time and effort to reach. These wild places in the course of my lifetime had rapidly retreated, and if I wanted to watch wildlife on a weekly or daily basis I must look closer to home.
I learned to take what I could get, and find wildlife of interest there. Without cynicism and resentment, I have simply looked to my own backyard and found a wonderland there.
It helps that my backyard is bordered by the Sandy Bay Rivulet but I have to confess I didn’t pay it that much attention previously. I was still obsessed with “wild” places, and although the course of the rivulet looked pretty wild as it writhed like a snake through the Waterworks Valley, down towards Sandy Bay it was little more than a ditch.
A group of residents, though, viewed the rivulet differently and formed the Friends of the Sandy Bay Rivulet about a decade ago. They saw it as not the sewer it had once been in Victorian times but as a vital lifeline linking seashore with mountain, a wildlife corridor for birds and animals, and a watercourse for migrating fish.
The suburban environment is frowned on in some quarters. Many birdwatchers are cynical about garden birdwatching, describing our urban and semi-urban spaces as a false and harmful environment for wildlife. But I see the potential there for giving the people of the towns and cities a unique connection with animals and birds.
A garden might be man-made but all species can share it all the same.
That is why these little patches of greenery that we see dotted about the suburbs, in and out of formal designated gardens and parks, are so important.
I’ve seen about 60 bird species in or above my garden plus numerous animals, ringed-tailed possums the rarest before the sighting of the eastern quoll earlier this year. I’d struggle to see that number of species in many national parks with ease.
The Friends have striven to open up the rivulet as much as possible, and there are plans in the future for a footpath that would follow it right through the Waterworks Valley. It might even be possible to link the rivulet footpath to the walkway that is planned around Battery Point, a route that will finish where the rivulet enters the Derwent at Errol Flynn Beach in Sandy Bay.
If so, more and more people will be able to look at a new addition to Hobart’s connected green spaces, discovering the exotic in the familiar, the extraordinary in what was once considered the ordinary.
Talking Point, Mercury