18 September, 2010

The way of the wombat

Hairy-nosed Wombat. Illustration by Gordon Lyne 1967
Who is not captivated by the charms of a wombat?  He's a stumpy legged animal, blunt at both ends. The wombat is a herbivore, who feeds at night and sleeps it off in his burrow during the day.

Common Wombat.  Painting by Jean-Charles Werner 1847
The Australian wombat is a solitary marsupial. The female produces one baby and totes it around in her pouch for at least six months. The pouch, like the koala's, opens backwards. Otherwise the pouch would fill up with soil and debris when on burrowing expeditions.

Over two hundred years ago the explorer, George Bass, was fascinated by the discovery of the wombat.  He wrote to Sir Joseph Banks back in England.

‘It is a squat, thick, short legged, and rather inactive quadruped with an appearance of great stumpy strength. Its figure and movements, if they do not resemble those of the bear, at least remind one of that animal. The head is large and flattish and when looking the animal full in the face, seems independent of the ears, to form nearly an equilateral triangle. The hair on the face lies in regular order, as if combed.’

Illustration by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the English poet, painter and illustrator, was the proud owner of a menagerie,  including two wombats.  In 1869, he acquired the first wombat, naming him Top.
"The wombat is a joy, a triumph, a delight, a madness," he wrote. Top was much loved. He followed people around the room 'nestling up against one, and nibbling one's calves or trousers.'
Unfortunately, Top was short-lived. In his grief, Rossetti drew the self-portrait above and wrote this verse.

I never reared a young wombat
To glad me with his pin-hole eye,
But when he most was sweet and fat
And tailless, he was sure to die!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just love the wombats, so pleased they are getting support.