Platypus Matters : The Extraordinary Lives of Australian Mammals by Jack Ashby

Jack Ashby is the Assistant Director of the Museum of Zoology at the University of Cambridge, and an honorary research fellow in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at University College London. His first book was Animal Kingdom: A Natural History in 100 Objects and Platypus Matters: The Extraordinary Lives of Australian Mammals was published in 2022.

Let me start by saying that Jack Ashby is a marsupial loving eccentric and I just love him. His favourite marsupial is the platypus, followed by the echidna and then the wombat. He puts his special regard for these three creatures down to the fact that they “waddle”.

Ashby may well be a science nerd but he sounds like great fun around a barbie. In this book he makes the case that Australia’s wildlife is not a collection of oddities or creatures that can kill you as is so often presented in the media. He argues “why it matters that we think about how these animals are portrayed – how we talk about them, how we represent them on TV and in museums, and how we value them” . He states that “our unique wildlife is disappearing at a rate unparalleled by any other large region on Earth, and its conservation is surely tied to how these animals are understood.”

What could have very easily become another catalogue of interest only to other scientists or zoology students is fast paced, humorous and fascinating. Ashby’s respect for the platypus shines through with not only a discussion about their physiology, but also their history in relation to Indigenous Dreamtime, early colonial poetry, and an array of information which I have stored in my Trivia Bank.

For instance, newborn platypus ( or platypups) require mothers milk though platypus do not have nipples. They have milk patches. Who knew! The male is venomous, and war hero Keith Payne VC testifies that the pain from an affliction is worse than a gun shot wound.

And did you know that in 1943 Winston Churchill asked Prime Minister John Curtain for six live specimens as moral boosters and to promote the relationship between England and Australia during the middle of World War 2 ? (A Japanese submarine ruined those plans…..)

Facts about the other mammals are also intriguing : how echidnas have intimate relations, wombats pouches face backwards and why their poop is cubed, and taxidermy does not simply involve retaining an animals skin and stuffing it with tissue paper.

Many of these creatures aren’t well known around the world and even the qualified staff at international Natural History Museums are quite clueless. Did you know that Echidna’s back feet are backwards for digging purposes though taxidermied specimens do not reflect this, and the half a dozen Tasmanian Tigers around the world all have erections.

Great read. Jack, I’m in love…….Now feeling pumped for the next Trivia comp at the local bowlo.

Old Man Platypus

by AB Paterson

Far from the trouble and toil of town,
Where the reed beds sweep and shiver,
Look at a fragment of velvet brown –
Old Man Platypus drifting down,
Drifting along the river.

And he plays and dives in the river bends
In a style that is most elusive;
With few relations and fewer friends,
For Old Man Platypus descends
From a family most exclusive.

He shares his burrow beneath the bank
With his wife and his son and daughter
At the roots of the reeds and the grasses rank;
And the bubbles show where our hero sank
To its entrance under water.

Safe in their burrow below the falls
They live in a world of wonder,
Where no one visits and no one calls,
They sleep like little brown billiard balls
With their beaks tucked neatly under.

And he talks in a deep unfriendly growl
As he goes on his journey lonely;
For he’s no relation to fish nor fowl,
Nor to bird nor beast, nor to horned owl;
In fact, he’s the one and only!

Note :

Platypus are secretive creatures that travel alone. I have been fortunate to have spotted several in their natural habitat; once in the Royal National Park in Sydney and at a bush property on North Queensland’s Atherton Tableland. I also live 1 km walking distance down a bush track to what was once a Platypus Reserve. I keep walking down that way in case I luck out and spot another……

The 99th Koala – a Book Review

The 99th Koala by Kailas Wild is not the book to read if you are following authors aiming to be rewarded with the Booker Prize. This is a personal account of an ordinary man during extraordinary times who did some truly magnificent things. Written from the heart this is a book that is raw, with photos that will have you smiling one moment and wiping away a tear the next. Indeed, this is one of those books you’d buy just for the photos alone.

The 2019-20 Kangaroo Island fires burnt 211,474 hectares of land and resulted in two deaths, 87 homes destroyed and 59,730 livestock lost. The disaster affected nearly half of the island’s land mass and accounted for around 75 per cent of all hectares burnt in South Australia during the Black Summer fire season.  Who didn’t tune into the nightly evening news to watch the march of these deadly bushfires along the coast of  Australia?

Steven Selwood from South Australia Veterinary Emergency Management claimed 46,000 koalas were thought to be on the island before the bushfires. It is estimated as few as 9,000 remain, as the landscape was turned into scorched earth by the blazes.

Introducing Kailas Wild, self employed arborist, State Emergency Services Volunteer, and a conservationist with native animal rehabilitation training. Although the Australian Defence Force was on hand at Kangaroo Island assisting with the rescue of farm animals and wildlife a cry went out for more volunteers with tree climbing experience, and Kai drove for nearly 18 hours from Sydney to Kangaroo Island to answer the call.

For 7 weeks Kai worked long hours often utilising his own search and rescue techniques for koalas requiring medical attention. His ” days alone amongst burnt trees and dead animals” often left him emotionally and physically drained and ” starting each day crying into his Cornflakes”.

Kai successfully rescued 100 koalas which were transported to a makeshift Koala Hospital on the Island. Do you remember the media images sent around the world of koalas in laundry baskets receiving medical attention?  

Courtesy Reuters

Some koalas that looked healthy died of smoke inhalation and internal damages,  some died from nasty falls and stress, but many were rehabilitated and regained their health and were reintroduced to the wild including numerous joey koalas.

Two facts I found interesting :

  1. After a bushfire the blackened trees start to spurt new growth. I always thought this is a good thing. Guess what : fresh shoots on trees are known as epicormic growth and have a higher level of toxicity that makes them inedible for koalas. From the trees perspective this is a defence mechanism when it is trying to recover from fires.*
  2. Koalas in a tree may look healthy but it may well be that their paws are burnt so badly that any movement is extremely painful. These koalas generally starve to death………..and I simply can’t recount the tales about all the burns  that led to the peeling away of skin. 😢

Kai writes ” we all shared the profound sense of grief at the loss of over a billion of our unique wild animals, along with their habitats. The number was, and still is, beyond comprehension.”

This is the story of what one ordinary man could achieve under horrific circumstances. Let’s all take some inspiration from Kailas Wild.

This Book Review is an entry in the Gaia / Nature Reading Challenge.

If you sign up and submit an entry before the end of February Sharon from Gumtreesandgalaxies.com will donate an Australian children’s book about wombats to a new charity aimed at promoting children’s literacy You can read more here :

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/96945328/posts/3773908941#comments

*It has since been established that some koalas can adapt to eating new growth.

It’s Beginning To Look Like Christmas…

So, to borrow a phrase, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas….The days are long and hot, cicadas chirp throughout the evening, and the kookaburras and magpies start their birdsong from 3.30am onwards. Oh, and the grass needs cutting on a weekly basis. It’s exhausting I tell you.

Ronan Keating’s version…..

Refusing to go anywhere near a shopping centre and the humidity is preventing any reading of real worth. This means resorting to DVD’s because I just cannot view anymore tragedy on the telly. Thank goodness for the local Op Shop which also serves coffee and Hummingbird Cake for $8.

This week I found a copy of all time favourite, Valiant, a delightful computer generated epic set during World War 2, and covering the exploits of carrier pigeons. With its references to the White Cliffs of Dover, Andrews Sisters, the Dambuster theme song, and a cute white mouse working with the Resistance called Charles De Girl it goes way over children’s heads.

The movie ends with Valiant and his fellow members from Squad F being awarded the Dickin Medal with a message then displayed commending all the animals that in real life saved thousands of lives during World War II.

Forty five minutes of pure pleasure. Chew on that, Spiderman.


I did venture to the dark side, also known as having crossed the Brisbane River in a northerly direction, to enjoy carols performed by the Brisbane Army Band. Brilliant and a great wake up call to get into the mood.

This weekend a friend has volunteered to play guinea pig as I attempt fellow blogger’s ( Valerie AKA Muriopsis) Sweet Potato Casserole recipe as well as a tropical Coconut and Lychee Granita.

If all else fails I have this to fall back on. $5. Bargain.

Holly The Holstein and 11/11.

Despite disappointment earlier in the week I have had a win with a gorgeous rhyming book perfect for the likes of Harry Kilometres and other Little People.

Holly The Holstein is Russell Smith’s first children’s picture book with its roots going back to his childhood growing up on a dairy farm in Millaa Millaa in Far North Queensland. After completing an Arts degree Smith went on to graduate as an officer in the Australian Army, eventually retiring as a Colonel.  ( It’s a tenuous connection to the military but still should score brownie points with the son-in-law).

Holly is a dairy cow and when this book was published earlier in the year many dairy farmers were really struggling with floods and deregulation of the industry. In Far North Queensland where there were once over 200 dairy farms there are now only 38. Smith is therefore donating all profits from Holly The Holstein to assist dairy farmers doing it tough and has already raised in excess of $10k. 

Country kiddies have been dressing up as Holly The Holstein for this years Book Week which is good change from wretched Elsa and Bluey.

In other news, the Cleveland Cenotaph had a good crowd for the 11th of the 11th which was wonderful following the last two years of major restrictions.  It was heartwarming to see kindy kids taking in the proceedings; touch wood this will ensure these ceremonies will be commemorated for years to come.

October Books and a Visitor

A great many books meandered through this house during October thanks to two local Rotary fundraisers. The two $2 Mystery Boxes that I purchased for the Little Community Library, each containing no less than twenty books, are stacked in the garage awaiting rotation. Although mostly exLibrary books there are many that have held my attention, including my favourite read for October : Fractured.

Written by now Australian lass and Psychiatrist, Dawn Barker, this debut novel is about a happy family who have just had their first child which results in infanticide. It looks at the differing viewpoints of all family members and is a confronting read. Her second book is about surrogacy and her third addiction and family breakdowns, so Barker is putting all her medical training to good use.

The TBR pile is breeding, along with the tomatoes, with the humid weather.

I’ve just finished the next book club read – The Newcomer by another Aussie lass, Laura Woollett. Based loosely on the real life murder of a Sydney woman on Norfolk Island (infamous as it was the Island’s first ever murder) this was another confronting read because of its ugliness and brutality, which is in total contrast to the island’s spectacular beauty. I didn’t like the book, though it has made me think. That is often said to be the sign of a good story , isn’t it?


N I.

Starting to get organised for a visit from the Little People : the Labrador and Harry Kilom. Anything located two foot or closer to floor level is being relocated to safer territory and I’m having wonderful fun going through my daughters’ old children’s books. Especially Koala Lou by Mem Fox having had a visit from Bruce over the weekend.

Always welcome, Bruce.

Vale Humbekhali

Some sad news from our capital, Canberra, on the passing earlier in the month of Humbekhali.

Hummer, as he was known to his friends, died peacefully of old age.

He had been a fixture at the National Zoo and Aquarium for many years.

Sleep well, our friend. You will be missed.

On a lighter note the National Zoo has one of the best ever picnic areas ever : playground equipment, walking tracks, barbeque facilities, and lots of fun things to enchant Little People and us more cynical types.

Might be time to start planning another trip to the ‘Berra.

Doe Ri Me

Whoever knew there were feral deer in Brisbane?

Honestly, I had no i-deer.

I’ve never seen any in my 25 odd years living in South East Queensland, though there are three main species, originally introduced in the early 1870’s, found around the western suburbs of Brisbane. They are considered pests for a variety of reasons and Brisbane Council undertakes an integrated approach to deer management which includes “monitoring, education, trapping, and shooting”. I repeat: shooting.

Just like dogs and cats that have been injured and need to recuperate, need to be re-homed, have been orphaned, or generally need to be rescued, Brisbane has a Rescue Deer Sanctuary.

Lyall Deer Sanctuary, nestled in the foothills of Mt Samson, has been taking in deer in need for over thirty years.

On site are also cows, goats, chickens and peacocks, all friendly and demanding pats (and pellets at $1 a bag). This is a nice place to introduce the Really Little People to animals.

The real positive about this outing, other than our picnic lunch and the fawns with wet noses who wanted cuddles, was that unlike with dogs and cats that need a home I had no interest in putting a deer in the back seat of the car.

Up Close And Personal

The soft nuzzling combined with gentle clawing moved slowly up the inside of my thigh. Too shocked by circumstances I found myself numb, unable to move. Unable to think. Too stunned to react I sat perfectly still and waited for what was to come next.

The crisis was averted when the Spotter amongst the clan gave a chirp warning the fifty odd Meerkats in the enclosure of impending danger. The young female foraging for tucker under my billowing skirt immediately followed the spotters call and scuttled off towards the tunnels along with the others in her clan.

Living underground in burrows, which they dig with their long sharp claws, keeps mob members safe from Predators, especially in their natural environment of the deserts and grasslands of Africa.

Meerkats have bushy, brown-striped fur, a small, pointed face and large eyes surrounded by dark patches. They average about 50 centimetres long, including their tail and are extremely social animals.

Meerkats only go outside during the daytime. Each morning, as the sun comes up, the mob emerges and begins looking for food. They use their keen sense of smell to locate their favourite foods, which include beetles, caterpillars, spiders and scorpions. They”ll also eat small reptiles, birds, eggs, fruit and plants. Back at the burrow, several babysitters stay behind to watch over newborn pups. This duty rotates to different members of the mob, and a sitter will often go all day without food. The babysitter’s main job is to protect pups from meerkats in rival mobs who, if given the chance, will kill the babies. 

The Meerkat Experience at the Hunter Valley Zoo is certainly an Up Close And Personal one as I discovered.

The Zoo Keeper insisted that we sit on the dirt floor of the enclosure at all times during the 20 minute interaction with these inquisitive and social little creatures from the mongoose family. This reduces the fear factor for the Meerkats as we remain close to their eye level, and also reduces our abilities to make any fast movements which would frighten these flighty little creatures.

All our questions were answered by the Zoo Keeper who was able to identify all the meerkats and call them by name as she patiently explained their behavioural patterns.

Escape is certainly on ones mind when a Meerkat climbs onto your head, let me tell you. And why would a Meerkat climb onto your head? Two reasons : searching through ones hair looking for tucker is the obvious one – because who doesn’t have mealy worms in their long golden locks?- and also because it is a high point for that spotter Meerkat to watch for enemies.

This is a highly recommended interaction with the animal kingdom and one which we will always remember fondly.

The Hunter Valley Zoo is a private run zoo located at 138 Lomas Lane, Nulkaba, near Cessnock in the heart of the Hunter Valley, NSW. They also offer Close Encounters with Lemurs, Tamarins and Marmosets as well as exhibits of the usual array of animals and an extensive breeding program for endangered species.

With expansive picnic grounds and free barbeque facilities this is the perfect venue for family outings. There are regular talks from Keepers around the different exhibits which ensure that this is not merely a day gawking at the animals, but one where you can learn so much more about them.

My only tip? Wear trousers.

For more information go here:  https://www.huntervalleyzoo.com.au/

Edgar’s Mission and Story Dogs

Edgar’s Mission is a not-for-profit animal shelter in Victoria’s Macedon Ranges. It provides care for homeless, abused, injured or abandoned animals, especially livestock or “farmed animals”. The sanctuary, sprawls over 153 acres and is given over entirely to the wellbeing of 432 rescue animals: ex-breeding pigs, injured lambs, one-eared survivors of dog attacks, cows born with blindness or other birth defects, chickens, roosters, turkeys, rabbits, spring-loaded baby goats and stray cats lounging in the sun.

One of the programs instigated to assist is encouraging volunteers to read to the animals. Apparently they like children’s books, particularly anything written by Enid Blyton, although the goats have a tendency to chew on the pages.

The animals find the voice of someone reading quite soothing and it reduces their anxiety levels. Sounds a better option than Diazepam, doesn’t it?

I’m just not sure which book/s I would read to the farm animals. Maybe The Wonky Donkey and some Beatrix Potter?

My local Library has recently instigated a program where 6, 7 and 8 year olds can visit after school and they can practise their reading skills and gain confidence by reading to a Story Dog.

For more information go here: https://www.edgarsmission.org.au/category/blog/

This Weeks Homework:

What book would you read to the animals at Edgar’s Mission?