It is no secret that I love animals. One of the main things I look for when searching workaway for hosts is whether they have animals or not. Snowy River Camps was perfect because we had SO many opportunities to get up close and personal with their furry friends!
First up were the dogs, all incredibly loveable and each with distinct personality quirks:
1. Whisper was a Border Collie who’s one true passion in life was playing fetch. In the yard she would go racing down the lawns after her trusty tennis ball and when we would walk around the property she would chase sticks.
She was the only dog capable of jumping the fences and whenever you left the yard, she would quickly make her way over and be by your side. Whenever we went to work with the horses we had to tie her up because she would get over excited and chase after them which could prove dangerous.
2. Lionel is a breed of dog called a Kelpie (an Australian breed that was bred for herding cattle, sheep, etc). A former working dog with a less than pleasant past, tied up to a rusty drum, only released when he was needed to do work and only fed twice a week. Thankfully Merry and Peter rescued him and he was now enjoying retirement. You could definitely tell he never received much attention, especially if you ever coaxed him indoors. He would sit by the door and tense up, unsure of what he was supposed to do. He also spent his afternoons in his dog house because that’s what he was used to in his former life. We tried to bring him for walks and play with him but he wasn’t too interested.
In an effort to relive the old days, we would sometimes see him staring intently at the sheep in their paddock. He would start to doze off a bit in the heat, but when we would come closer he immediately woke up, alert and fixated on the sheep once more, as if to prove to us he was working hard.
3. Then there was my personal favourite, QC. She is a yellow labrador formerly belonging to a girl who was keeping her in a tiny apartment. Unfortunately for QC, it was getting too expensive and hard to manage for her previous owner, hence her relocation to the farm. Her favourite past time was eating.Everything and anything. If she could, she would just lay in the shade and eat all day.
She was tubbier than the other two, but not grossly overweight by any means. When she wasn’t eating, she would lay in the sun for a while, heating up, and then switch over to the shade, over and over and over. She would continue sunbathing until we would eventually go for an afternoon walk. She seemed to enjoy the walks because it enabled her to eat cow poo (yes cow poo) and also to take a dip in the dam. She wouldn’t go very far, but you could tell she loved being in the water.
Another animal living amongst the dogs in the yard was a fallow deer named Bambi. He had been rescued by one of the staff members when he was orphaned as a baby. She fed him, cleaned him and even let him sleep in her bed. But once he grew too big for the house he came to live on the farm, enjoying the sprawling lawns and constant attention. He seemed a bit confused about what he was. Sometimes he would act like a dog, running after kids in the yard, coming over to the table during meals to mooch and he even wore a collar. Other times he was like a cow or goat, wandering about, eating prized flowers and herbs, regurgitating grass and chewing his cud.
Mostly we were just amazed by how strange he was. Even though he had more food than he could possible eat, he still managed to eat non-edible items like plastic table cloths, articles of clothing and even rope. If there was food around, he would make sure he ate it all as fast as possible so that the dogs couldn’t have any. Here’s an example of him eating an entire carrot (basically gagging it down) just so he didn’t have to share with QC).
He would sometimes head butt you if he felt he wasn’t getting enough attention, and if you chased him for it, he would jump in the air and make strange honking noises. One of his favourite past times was ‘massaging the dogs’ as Merry would say. He would walk up to one of the dogs and start licking / biting fur on their backs and when he was done, they’d be left with a giant cowlick. It was pretty disgusting, but the dogs didn’t seem bothered by it at all. Bambi may have been strange, but all his quirks made him quite loveable.
Our favourite residents were the wombats. Being from Canada, we had never seen a wombat before (or really any other marsupial for the matter, apart from the odd kangaroo in zoos). Merry loved all living creatures and showed great respect and love for them. But her favourite by far was the wombat. For years Merry had taken in orphaned wombats in the area and raised them as her own. When we arrived she had two resident wombats, Wallee and Matilda.
Wallee was the baby and we met him our first night on the farm. In the fading light we noticed a small black blob on the lawn and wondered what it was. Within a few seconds of hearing our voices, it turned and ran over to see us. It was Wallee, and it was love at first sight. He had only been living on the farm for a couple of months and was merely 10 months old. We had the chance to bottle feed him that night, burping him, helping him find his way to his make shift toilet and preparing his bed.
It was a dream come true. We looked forward to spending time with him every day and he soaked up the attention like a sponge. Often during the day he would be very sleepy and curl up for a snooze in your arms. At night however, after a good feed, it was play time and he would attack pillows (or our legs if we weren’t fast enough with the pillows). For some reason Lionel became very entranced with Wallee and given the opportunity, he would sit outside Wallee’s outdoor house and stare at him. He wouldn’t want to play, or hurt him, he would just stare. It was pretty strange.
As Wallee got bigger and braver, he would search for ways to escape his yard into the next. One day I heard some strange scuffing noises and discovered him lodged between a water heater and the wall of the kitchen. It took four of us 20 minutes to finally get him out (with the help of a broom), but he escaped unharmed. We made sure to put bricks in the way to avoid a repeat incident.
One thing we learned about wombats is that they have very poor eye sight. Have you ever looked at how tiny a wombats eyes are? It’s part of what makes them so adorable. It also results in them running into pretty much everything (especially when it’s dark). One way they cope with this is by urinating. A LOT. Once they reach around 1 year of age, they begin to leave a very smelly, very sticky urine trail behind, every where they go. Think Hansel and Gretel. Except really gross. Because of this, there is a strict ‘no wombats in the house’ rule after a certain age. Hence why Matilda lived outside.
Matilda didn’t come out to meet us until about a week into our stay. I remember expecting her to be less adorable than Wallee (he is a baby after all). It turned out, she is just like a giant Wallee and she still loved to cuddle and be near people. She was only two years old after all, and probably still mourning her cushy place in the house that had been taken by baby Wallee.
Although in our eyes she was massive, she wasn’t fully grown. Apparently wombats continue growing until they were four years old and so she had a long way to go yet. Merry told us that she loved to be picked up (not surprising since we are constantly picking up and cuddling Wallee). Unfortunately for Matilda, she weighed a lot. I can’t tell you exactly how much because I really don’t know, but if I had to guess I would say at least 50 pounds. Dan still managed on occasion to pick her up and make sure she got lots of love.
Often we would only see her at night (being nocturnal), she came out of her burrow near sundown and foraged on grass. Sometimes we would be walking back to our house in the dark and hear this ominous, heavy breathing noise quickly approaching, only to be greeted by Matilda. She was a really sweet girl, except when Wallee was around. She was very keen to get to Wallee (their areas were separated by fences) and on several occasions we would come out in the morning to discover that she had found a way through and trashed his outdoor yard. Thankfully he slept in the house overnight so he wasn’t harmed. I didn’t really know what she would do to him if she had the chance. Dan and I attempted on several occasions to ‘wombat-proof’ the fence line but it seemed like she always found her way in somehow. One day she was in a very foul mood after smelling Wallee on my clothing and cornered me by the fence where I was working. At first I just pushed her away when she came over but she became more and more aggressive until I was actually worried she was going to attack. Apparently in the wild wombats can do a lot of damage and aren’t as sweet and loving as these two. We fed her some carrots and she seemed to return to her usual self after that.
We also spent time with the other farm animals including the dozen or so horses, sheep and cows. One day we were brought a sick young sheep who had been found caught along the fence line. His head was straight up in the air and he didn’t seem responsive. If you stood him up he could stay balanced if you didn’t touch him, but if he fell over he wouldn’t be able to get back up again. We tried to feed him some grass but initially all he would do was loudly grind his teeth as if he had lock jaw.
We weren’t really sure what to do so we made sure to give him plenty of water and keep him in the yard beside our house. Merry chatted with the local vet who said that he was likely suffering from a Vitamin B6 (Thiamine) deficiency and that we needed to start giving him shots to bring his levels back up. We noticed over the first couple of days that he was able to drink water more readily when we poured it in his mouth and he even began to rest his head. Within a week and a half we were able to put him back with the other sheep and we noticed he was grazing the field all on his own. We were so thankfully there was a happy ending for this little guy!
We had such a fantastic time working at the camp and definitely our most cherished memories are the times we spent with the wonderful animals. We loved having the opportunity to work with so many animals we had never handled before!