by Sue Edwards

After the surprise and honour of having a wombat touch its nose to the tip of my boot while spending my quiet time near the edge of the bush at Moora Moora (an intentional community on Melbourne’s outskirts), I felt it must be my totem and a worthy mirror from nature.

Wombat was a Common Wombat, Vombatus Ursinus, whose home ground covers most of Victoria east of Melbourne, a strip inland from the coast and about half way up New South Wales, as well as the whole of Tasmania, with a few pockets elsewhere near South Australia and north of Newcastle. it is a protected species. Before Europeans came to this land, wombat’s range probably extended further west into South Australia and right up NSW into Queensland near Brisbane. These areas happen to cover most of the parts of this country that I am strongly drawn to. The Common Wombat has short, stubby but very powerful legs with broad claws which it uses for digging and a broad behind but very bad eyesight. It has strong front ‘arms’, sometimes glossy dark hair, and prominent front teeth, but I really think that’s as far as I want to go with the physical analogy, and I may already have pointed out too much!

I searched the Biological Abstracts, as I do like to ‘dig’ things out, but found that most of the information was too technical except for the interesting facts that wombats have occasionally been found in suburban Melbourne, they like to eat mainly native grasses as well as bark, rushes and roots, and they prefer to burrow in areas with sandy soil. I have always loved digging, once aspiring to be an archaeologist, and am currently digging out the soil from the back room of my house. I have chosen a very sandy place for my home and for a while I have felt a very strong yearning to get my hands in the earth. I have decided to honour this call and am going to pursue it by doing a Permaculture Design Course and enhancing my garden rather than by plowing through fences and making farmers angry.

Perhaps though I do have, or have had a tendency to like pushing barriers which is sometimes constructive but sometimes not appropriate for the context and thus not appreciated. Other times it may not be appreciated simply because people find it challenging.

Wombats on the one hand tend to be shy and nocturnal. They are also certainly strong and persistent. Persistence can sometimes border on stubbornness and both are qualities that I own, the former in particular having seemed vital for me in responding to the challenges of my life experience. But if, as Peter Cock says in his paper (1996:6), mirrors from nature are “more likely to be a message about what participants need to work on to move forward...or to face a troublesome pattern indicated”, then I am drawn towards other insights such as the one above about barriers. From this perspective I am alerted to remember that I am strong. I think deep down I know it, but often tend to forget it or doubt it. Perhaps I sometimes even subconsciously prefer to ‘forget’ my strength because I still tend to hide a little bit and don’t perhaps want the responsibility of being strong.

The other important thing that I learn from exploring the nature of Wombat is the importance of ‘place’. According to French (2002), wombats have an excellent ‘sense of place’ and can find the best place in a garden often better than we can, and to do as well as they we need to use our intuition not just our observation. The latter is a good point, but I think even more important than using intuition, for me in my life at the moment, is concentrating on building my sense of place.

Reardon talks of wombats following well-worn paths to spend time at their favourite ‘sits’. I feel that I need this in the simple sense of needing a routine in my life that takes me to places for which I feel a strong sense of affinity, having left work recently to pursue my heartfelt path.

But on an even broader and deeper level I have been struggling with feelings of being displaced and not really belonging here since I spent nine months in Asia and thought that I would have a partner, a family, the work and lifestyle of my dreams in Nepal. I had a very deep affinity for the place but the overall plan did not work out. I think I still feel grief about it and have not fully let go.

I have a friend here who when I talk about my yearnings for overseas tells me “We need you here.” Perhaps Wombat is calling me back home to find my path and my place here in this country. I am also drawn to spend more time just sitting in nature here, and being with it and remembering that I do love it, and I intend to follow this.

For more information on wombats, go to:

Cock, Peter H. (1996), ‘Ecological Practice for Nature Carers: Work in Progress’, Paper presented to the Social Ecology Colloquium: Sense of Place: Depth Perspectives on Australian Landscapes and Environmental Values, University of Western Sydney, Hawkesbury, Dec. 1996.

French, Jackie (2002) Diary of a Wombat. Pymble, N.S.W: Angus&Robertson.