Name: Roz Holme
Occupation: Founder Cedar Creek Wombat Rescue and Hospital
Age at interview: 56
Country of residence: Australia
Languages spoken: English
Advice to other women: "Just try. I always get people who say, I’d love to do this and I always say, Well why not? Just try."
Today I have the absolute pleasure of introducing you all to Roz Holme, who is the founder of Cedar Creek Wombat Rescue and Hospital in Australia. Now Roz has worked tirelessly to rescue and rehabilitate injured and sick wombats and wildlife for over 30 years. She has also been awarded the, ‘Pride of Australia Medal for Volunteer Of The Year For The Environment’, just to give you a little bit of an idea of the amount of work that Roz has done. So I won’t tell you anymore, I’ll let Roz do that. So welcome Roz. Can you please tell us about what you do?
Hi everybody I’m pretty much flat out with wombats. We mainly do wombats with mange. Now I think we worked out the dates and everything, we’ve been doing this for nearly 37 years which is quite scary. I take in the most critical and we are the only wombat hospital in Australia which is a big achievement for us. We mainly started doing this because no one liked doing the big male wombats or anything that was adult because everyone wanted the cute cuddly babies. So we decided let’s try and find a cure or at least help them with mange. Then the vets started to ring me and started to give me all of their animals. So each year we seem to get bigger and bigger and more time consuming as you can imagine, but very worthwhile I think.
It sounds like it has grown quite naturally. Did you have a vision for this to turn out the way it has?
Not really. I’ve always done wildlife. I grew up around wildlife. My parents were carers. My father used to bring me birds, chickens, you name it. It sort of went from there and as I got older and we started finding more wildlife hit by cars, I started bringing more in. I also worked at a rock wallaby sanctuary for quite a number of years. Everything in my life was sort of wrapped around wildlife. It wasn’t until we bought another property out west and I saw how bad the mange was in wombats and that nobody cared. A lot of vets were saying, "just euthanase it, get a shooters licence and start shooting them". I couldn’t bring myself to do that so I started to just ring up everybody and studied as much as I could about the mange mite and it went from there. A lot of the animals that are brought into care, the little baby mange wombats, which parents will actually kill their babies if they’re sick. All the vets said to me, "It won’t live, just leave it and euthanase it", and I thought... I was more determined then to make everything live. It sort of went from there. I started doing pictures of before and after. Started to, you know, show some of the vets, yes this does work, that doesn’t work, and it sort of went from there. It sort of really ballooned. The vets started coming to me then for training and vet students, I'll train them also. I just had a really bad feeling about euthanasing everything that can be saved. If we start euthansing all of the wombats we’ll end up with no wombats like the hairy nosed wombats. So I got really particular about saving them - more stubborn my husband always says than anything (laughs).
Good on you! How long would it take for a wombat, I mean obviously you have varying degrees of infection, but how long would it take for recovery of a wombat with mange?
It depends on the actual wombat but it can take literally months to bring them back. We have had some young ones, 15 kg I’m talking, that have taken nearly up to 12 months, but then I’ve had another one that bounced back in a couple of months. They always, when you first start the treatment they always look worse than what they are and some have got the will to live. I always say to people you’ve got to think of the wombat. If a wombat wants to live, they will live, but if they have no hope and have given up, they will die within the 24 hour mark. It’s really up to the wombat. I really do keep them warm, I do everything in my power to make them happy and warm. They can’t thermoregulate their body temperature when they have mange so they will literally freeze and get pneumonia. So with the vision of the hospital, I’ve always wanted this hospital, I wanted to make sure I could heat it and put air conditioning in it. Wombats actually hate heat when they are healthy, but I didn’t want anything to freeze. I wanted them to be totally comfortable. I put them all back on bottles no matter what size they are, so no matter what it takes sometimes it 4-5 bottles a day to get all the vitamins into them. Some will refuse to take the bottle, some will just absolutely love it because they are literally starving anyway. So it’s a matter of whatever I can do I just concentrate on that animal and just throw everything at them pretty much. I just don’t like them dying. I just want to save everything – I know sometimes I can’t. But so far I have a pretty high success rate which is great.
Fantastic. Wombats are very intelligent creatures and they are also very big and strong so I was wondering how you cope with these adult wombats when they come in. Do they adapt to your handling quite easily?
Yeah some do very much so – it’s like they know that you’re helping them. We also get a lot of dog attack ones in too and I think, "is this one going to break a bone?". Because they can be really aggressive... but I do find they will pretty much let me do anything to them. As they get better though they do let you know that they have had enough. I have been attacked quite a few times. I have quite a lot of injuries and scaring. But what else can you do? I think they do know that you are helping them and that’s the main thing. I try to give them as much love and keep everything as quiet here (as possible) so they don’t get frightened at any stage. All the adult ones have to go back to their own territory. So we try to get them better as quickly as we can. I did have one here that no matter what I did he just hated me and as soon as he even heard my voice all he wanted to do was rip my legs off! I had to tranquilise him a lot until I got him better but then he was fine! (laughs).
(laughs) They’ve all got their different personalities?
Every single one that we have had... and I mean we have had absolutely thousands by now - I try not to count them - we have had some great personalities, we have had some absolutely rotten personalities, we have had some very cheeky ones that are just happy wombats. But yes everyone is totally individual. I guess like any animal you can have your great animals and you can have your bad animals (laughs). But we still get some… I actually have one here today that I treated quite a few years ago and I micro-chipped her just to let everyone know that she is that particular wombat. She had mange that bad, she was in the floods we saved her from the floods and the majority of the vets said to me “she’s got pneumonia she’s going to die” and she lived. I actually have her as the pin up girl on my car! She come back today and I checked her microchip and it’s her and she actually runs straight up to me when she sees me. I can pat her. I do put a bit of feed out and then she goes and I won’t see her now for another couple months. But because it’s been raining here I think she thought “it’s cold and wet I’ll go home and see what food mum’s got!” (laughs).
A bit of a free feed and why not?! (laughs) I was wondering about the wombat hospital specifically. That’s a big undertaking. How did you manage to get that up and running? Because obviously you would need equipment and things like that.
Yeah, it was really extremely hard. We actually started off with a caravan which Australian Geographic helped me get. We had that for a year or two to take in the field, in case of fires and so forth. Then I thought with big wombats, when you’re treating them there was just not enough room. Then I met a good friend, actually she wasn’t at the time, but I met Sophie. This girl, she just rang me one day and said, "I really love wombats, is it ok if I come up and visit?". And I was like yep sure, you can come up and she said “what’s one thing you really like that you can’t get and can't afford yourself?” I said…. And actually I was being smart because a lot of people say, "what do you want?" and you never hear anything else. So I was like, "well I want a really good hospital and a new anaesthetic machine", and I was actually being quite sarcastic! A few weeks later she rang up and said, "I want to run a raffle" and I said, "That’s fine" and I had to get all the legal details for her. A few months after that Sophie rang and said, "Do you mind if we come up? I have a present for you", and I said, "Yes fine" and she arrived with a tilt truck and a hospital on top and it sort of went from there. It was really overwhelming because no one has ever done anything like that for me. She is like my daughter now. I won’t let her go. So it went from there. We have a couple of wineries who like to send people up to me and we send them down to them. Being in the hunter valley being wine country, they’ve helped us with the anaesthetic machine, they’ve helped raise funds for that. Microscopes. The only thing I did really get in debt for is an x-ray machine. I said to my vet who is a good friend as well, I said, "I really need an x- ray machine" and she said, "There is a lot of paper work involved". We had to nut it out for about 12 months and we finally decided on a cheap one that we could afford. We had to go to the bank, the bank said yes. So we borrowed the money. Yes, we got in debt. Then we got the x-ray machine and it’s been probably a couple of years to raise enough funds to get the equipment I need to run it properly. My vet Robin, donates as much time as possible to me when I haven’t got vet students here. So it sort of just fell into place. So once Sophie came on board, her love of wombats actually inspires me to keep going. Now she has a son of her own we are going to turn him into a Wombat Warrior, he’s got no choice! (laughs).
What a beautiful story. It’s nice to hear that someone else was so passionate to be able to help you move that forward.
Yes, well it’s very rare. We have never had someone so passionate and so dedicated to help. It’s really hard when my husband works away all week, I’m working another job to help bring in the income and trying to organise everything - to find the time where she just found the time and took it all on board and achieved a lot. Even with the raffle she organised, they were great raffles of cruises and stuff that I never even thought was possible to happen. I use the hospital, I’m pretty much in that everyday. I’ve always got animals coming in, especially a car accident wombat, they always need to be x-rayed. So it’s quite great to have a vet and good friend handy to come on board and give me a hand when I really need it.
And in terms of funding, can people donate and do people donate to your cause?
Yes we're a registered charity. I usually say to people just go onto the website. I don’t see the funds, it goes directly into a wombat account. I don’t see the account the only time I hear about anything is if there’s not enough money in the account. But everything goes directly to the wombats. I always say if people want to come up and see the wombats it’s via donation, to see the work that we do. But yeah, we get a couple of donations in with people but we don’t get anything huge. The government doesn’t help us what so ever, it’s pretty much mine and Kevin’s work. We pretty much fund everything ourselves. It’s really nice when someone rings up and says, "I want to donate $20". I say it’s fine, I’m not going to say it’s not enough, every little cent helps. So everything goes into that bank account. So I just use the card to pay for the food and buy all the medical stuff – because I still have to buy all the medical stuff. So I usually, I go up with the card and see if there is still money in it and believe me some of times there is none (laughs). But I mean it’s all worth it. Everyone says we're crazy and we should be thinking about retiring…. but it’s just all worth it for us. I wouldn’t be working the jobs I’m working if I didn’t want to do it. I just get all my wages put into the wombat account too so I don’t even touch that money, it’s all for the wombats.
My goodness. You sound so dedicated, but I’m interested. You said you don’t get any government funding or support which seems interesting me given the amount of work you do for a native iconic species. Is that because there is no funding available for the kind or work you do, or it is because there is no interest?
I don’t think there is any interest. I think if we were doing koalas or Tassie devils, I think we’d get more interest. No one seems interested in the wombat. We do get a lot of overseas interest that absolutely love wombats, but here in Australia not much at all. I’ve actually spoken to a few government officials and they all say the same thing, "Oh we should be helping! Because you're doing so much!", and we don’t hear any more. We put in for grants constantly, constantly put in for grants, but if an animals going to get it it will be the koalas or Tassie devils - which I do love as well, I don’t want to put them down at all - but anything to do with wombats, “It’s just a wombat”. But I always say to people, if we think that way about the wombats they’ll go extinct. Then everyone will go, "Well we should have done something earlier". But yeah, there’s just not enough interest in wombats. It’s really really sad and I think that’s why, I mean we did a lot of macropod work (kangaroo) and a lot of bird work, but I think it was more the wombats because no one cared. No one cared about the adult ones. Everyone was frightened of them and I’m trying to turn peoples interest around because they are a beautiful animal.
Oh they are! They are not only stunning to look at but their behaviour itself is very interesting
Yes, yes, very much so. Just to look at them every day, I think if I got up in the morning and there wasn’t any wombats here I think I’d be devastated. But even speaking to farmers and trying to turn everyone’s opinion around, everyone says the same thing “oh they’re just a wombat there are millions of them” - But there isn’t millions of them. I don’t know why everyone keeps thinking that but the more road kill we see, the more mange ones we see, the more wombats we see being shot, they will be wiped out in years to come.
That’s exactly right and I think people misunderstand, they think because they see road kill, they think that means higher numbers, but really it could it be because there is more traffic, that they’re in more populated areas or the animals are sick and they are moving across the roads because of that.
Yes exactly. When there is more food or there is no food, there is more movement going on, especially now with the rains. If their burrows get flooded or anything, they will go to higher ground. When they are sick they are obviously out during the day. My husband checks road kill every day and the numbers just get higher and higher. But we’re living in an area where people do travel here to the wineries, so we are getting a lot more traffic and a lot of people will hit a wombat and don’t think nothing of it. Either they think “Oh, it’s just a wombat” but when my husband and me started writing how many carcasses there were on the roads...he probably would be dragging about 5-6 off a week. So that’s really adding up - and that is just one road where he travels to work! Not counting all the other areas. So that’s pretty bad.
Yeah that’s terrible and then if you think about the joey’s as well, if you hit one wombat you’re not necessarily hitting one, you are hitting two.
Yeah exactly and a lot of people who hit a wombat don’t want to touch it. A lot of people won’t check the pouches or they think, "Oh no, its got blood on it and I just don’t want to touch it" and I always say to people, if you’re too afraid to touch it just ring me and I’ll come straight there or pick the whole thing up, put it in your car and bring it to me and I’ll get the baby out. I don’t think a lot of people, a lot of people just don’t care. I do get a lot of phone calls for kangaroos getting hit and I don’t do kangaroos as much anymore, but I’m getting more calls for them. But when it’s a wombat it’s, "oh no, it’s just a wombat". So we have to change that attitude I think.
I must say that’s an attitude I wasn’t aware of myself, I thought because you’d potentially see more kangaroos than wombats that people would care more about the wombats - but that is obviously not the case?
No not at all, and we’ve been getting more calls, probably last year it started, for dog attacks. A lot of people will say they are wild dogs, but no some of the ones I have been picking up have been actually somebody's pet. The owner will say that the dog attacked the damn wombat and they’ve left the wombat and we’ll hear about it weeks later. We have to go and fix the wombat up. People won’t control their dogs either and it’s like, you can’t let your dog’s attack wildlife. People say, "Well we live here!" and they don’t... but it’s not, it’s the other way around - the wombats were there first and you just need to control your dogs. I don’t tell people to lock their dogs up and I don’t expect people to lock their dogs up, but at least keep an eye on their dogs. We’ve got 30 wombats in just with dog attacks alone …. and it’s different ones to wild dogs or dingos because they kill them for food, but domestic dogs will actually play and rip the animals up. They don’t necessarily kill them. So it’s more stress for the animal and they will die a slow death if they are not brought into care, because of the stress of the actual dog attacking them. People think, they’re a wombat, they are tough, they’ll handle it, but it’s not the case at all. And it costs us a lot of money to fix a dog attack up because they’ve got a bad infection, their ears are usually ripped, their stomachs are ripped because a dog has to go to the soft part of a wombat to rip it and it's more damage and more expense for us to save them.
So I guess the message would be if you do see a wombat attacked by a dog don’t assume that the animal is ok, that that animal really needs help?
Yes, exactly, because kangaroos will do the same. They’ll wander off and die of stress in the bush and kangraoos will actually get a thing called myopathy and just die. I try to get the wombat in as quickly as I can as soon as I get that call. We did have one once that was ripped up. A lady rang up and said to me, "My dogs ripped one up, a few weeks ago and it came back and they ripped it up again", and by the time we got to that wombat the infection was so bad that we couldn’t save it. The infection was in the bone and damaged the bone and people think, just wash out the infection and give antibiotics, but infections actually affect the bone, once one starts being eaten away you can’t save that. Just trying to explain that to people with their dogs and trying to be nice about it at the same time... which is sometimes very hard for me.
Yes I can imagine it’s that real conflict of interest, because obviously you are an animal lover and you like dogs but if owners are being irresponsible, it’s hard to get that balance.
And I love dogs and I always say to people, what if the wombat turned around and ripped your dog up? Or your dog’s running around in the bush what happens if a snake got? It’s just irresponsible it’s not so much the wombat, it’s the poor dog can die too. I always say to people, you’ve got to be more careful with your dogs because. Are you going to be able to afford the vet bill when the wombat or the snake bites the dog? And they are like, "I never thought about it that way", and I am like, "Well you do need to think about it that way". If you love an animal no matter what animal it is you have just got to be a responsible owner.
Yes unfortunately I think that message doesn’t seem to get across. It seems to be a little bit of an attitude that owning an animal is a right, not a privilege of a responsibility.
Yes exactly. I mean we’ve got some great people in the valley who have even gone to the situation where they have put electric fences up, so the dogs don’t go further than their back yard. Rather than just a wire fence they put the remote electric fences up so the dogs can’t go into the bush to disturb wildlife, and I think well that’s fantastic. But unfortunately a lot of people don’t think like that. They just say, well I have a property here and I just want to get every dog possible and have it run away from the property. But they have moved to a wildlife area and I always say to people you’re not in the city now, you have moved to a wildlife area, and the wildlife was here first.
So I wanted to move on just a little and ask about your experience working in the industry of animal health. So in your case you are obviously an expert in what you do. You know all about wombat husbandry and disease management. You were talking about it earlier, about interacting with vets and obviously one of them is a good friend of yours. Generally speaking how has your reception been in those interactions with vets? Do you find they respect the work that you do?
Yes very much so. I actually have quite a lot of friends in the vet industry. I am a qualified Cert 4 Vet Nurse. I haven’t had any, any problems with vets what so ever. I have a lot of people ring up and ask me for my advice and I will never say I am an expert at anything because we are earning something every day. The vets have got a lot of experience with certain animals but with wildlife it’s hard to get that experience. That’s why I took on the vet nurses, the vets and the vet students here, so they can get their hands on a wombat, learn how you can fix them. A lot of vets didn’t know that busted pelvises and stuff like that can be fixed as long as the bone is in alignment of course. But yes, I don’t have any trouble with the vets I find them absolutely fantastic and I have a lot of great friends. My vet Robin, we actually met when she come to Australia from Texas, and I met her through a kangaroo, and it’s been over 10 or 11 years we have been friends for. She now has her own clinic and yeah. I try and work really hard. We would be lost without vets, we need our vets and you’ve got to respect them and they respect me too so it works really well.
That’s wonderful to hear. You were talking about vet students and so obviously people think of vet and they think vets treat all animals but that’s not the case. The majority of vets will treat dogs and cats and will not go beyond that - so do you find the vet programs are trying to accommodate more diversity?
Yeah I think so. I actually had Adelaide University contact me and said they wanted to put a few placements with me and a few other universities, because they’ve aren’t doing the wildlife study as such. So what I do is I actually had them stay with me in the caravan. I like to train them in day to day stuff. We don’t always have really bad sick stuff, but the majority of the time we do. So they just sort of learn a bit from me and I learn a lot from them too... but I am really specific with how you clean…especially with mange and it’s quarantine - my mange kids if they are really sick with mange no body touches them but me. No matter what vet comes in they can’t touch them particular ones because it can be transferred to other animals, so it’s really strict. I’ve got a big sign up, hands have to be washed, gloves have to be put on, gowns have to be put on. We don’t want to go to that animal and walk away to another animal and spread that disease further, so everything has to be stripped back and burnt. I burn a lot of stuff here and the vets sort of learn my way of doing things (laughs). But they’ve all been great. I’ve had some great students. One of our great students is working with my vet friend now and in our area vets have to deal with wildlife, some of them on a daily basis, so they do need that hands on (experience) to train themselves, living in this area and working in this area.
And so obviously in that case you are going to be a very valuable resource to them as well just as much as they are to you?
Yes very much so. There is pretty much not a day that goes past that a carer or a vet doesn’t message me asking me what do I think? I am not always right and will never ever say I am always right, but I always give some ideas to try and see if that works and if that doesn’t work then we’ll put our heads together and try and work something else out. Because every animal is so different you can’t just say “we’ll use this drug or this particular drug or that particular drug”, because sometimes it doesn’t work on the next animal. So you have to sort of, just got to sit down and work things out say we’ll give this a go and we’ll give that a go. See how we go. As far as wombats go if wombats are really sick and just don’t want to live, then no matter what you do to them they won’t survive, they’ll just shut their bodies down and say, "Well that’s enough, I’ve had enough." But it’s just sort of learning every day. I think, "Oh what’s going to hit me today", because a wombat will come in and you’ll try your normal stuff and it won’t work so you have to try something else. But no one’s ever an expert. It’s just trial and error with a lot of them. You don’t want an animal to suffer. If they are really busted up with broken bones and you can see the stress in their eyes… and you can the majority of the time, then they have to be put down. You don’t want anything to suffer unnecessarily at all.
Of course and obviously that is a tough call to make but it is a judgement call that through years of experience I am sure you would know.
Yeah if I see any animal…you know we get a lot of calls out to euthanase a lot of roos that have busted legs and people will say to me “why can’t you save it?”, but you have to look at the bone structure of the animal. How old the animal is. A few months ago a lady brought me a wombat that was only a baby wombat and said “please save it”. It was only a little baby wombat that had been thrown out of the pouch. It had been busted up so bad that even on the x-ray there was no bone to even try and put a pin in to fix. The bone, it was shattered. That had to be euthanased and trying to explain to some people that it is cruel to even try and keep it alive because it will never heal, it will never mend if there is not bone to attach it to. But yeah, some people just think,” yeah you can save it”. But well no. You have to think of the animal. If it’s in pain - and wombats will squeal with pain and I can’t stand the squealing - and you can look into their eyes you can actually see the pain in their eyes - and it’s like well no, you’ve got to pull the plug on this guy I’m sorry. Sometimes it’s a really hard thing for me to decide but I don’t like anything suffering, not at all.
No absolutely not. So I was wondering if you could give us a little bit of an idea of... well I say normal but obviously every day is different, but of what a “normal” day looks like for you? I imagine you’d get up extremely early to treat all of these animals?
Yeah at the moment. I’m getting up at 4.30 in the morning. I have a young baby joey in at the moment that a member of the public had and she is 3-4 hourly feeds right through the night. So I try and get all my inside animals done and then all my pen animals done. I also have security cameras and footage of on all of my sick animals in ICU pens and am monitoring that while I do bottles and then go out do all the outside stuff. Then I usually go and do my horse and livestock work, my paid job. I check on them. It’s quite a few properties I do. In between all that I might get a rescue call or see a mange wombat on the side of the road so I stop and do all of that. I’ve got to be back at certain hours to do more feeds so then I head back home do all my lunch time stuff and then the majority of the time I have got to head back out to do cattle work or horse work and then back home again (laughs). I must say I live on a very long dirt track and you do get fed up with driving up and down this dirt track.
From the sounds of it ….I mean this is a 7 day a week job for you, even if you are not doing your paid work on weekends the wombats have to be tended to?
Yeah, we don’t have holidays what’s so ever. We don’t really have weekend except I have my husband home weekends to help. I still do a lot of horse and cattle work over the weekends as well if people can’t come back to their properties. But the actual wombats are 24/7. They come first at all costs. I do try and get out to see my grandchildren as much as possible and bring them back here because I’m actually training them at the same time. So yeah, it’s pretty full on. Thank god my grandchildren absolutely love wombats and are a great help. Having them on the weekend or in the school holidays is a big help to me because they know how to do bottle and they know how to do feed, they know what to look for... but yeah trying to fit in my family duties in as well with all the animals…I always say to people though, I would rather my family come to me rather than me go to them because if I go to them it’s a 5 minute drop in call and then I have to bolt back home. But if they come here then we end up doing a BBQ and then I usually throw a wombat bottle in someone’s hand and somebodies got to help me feed.
But they understanding obviously? That you’ve been doing this a long time?
Yes. Well my son grew up with wombats he was absolutely the perfect baby sitter I hated it when he moved out actually he’s more into snakes and the creepy crawlies now though… but yeah they all understand. They all know. They all have had to live with me doing what I do form an early age so they grew up around it. They are all pretty much proud of the work I have done and the awards I have achieved and they love bringing all their kids to me to learn about wildlife as well. They do a lot of projects at school and they come here and do videos of the wombats - because they are not allowed to have the wombats at school – so they come here and do a hands on thing and we video it for the school so it works out pretty good for them (laughs).
Yeah I imagine! I know me being a kid I would have loved something like that it sounds incredible.
Yeah (laughs). But my grandson of 9 – he’s 9 going on 20 - I think but he rings you all the time driving us mad to come up and stay. And you know his morning is waking up with wombats in his bed or he just can’t wait to get to school to tell everybody that, "I had a wombat and I did this and I done that", so it’s pretty exciting for them. I tell them that when they get to my age it won’t be that exciting, but at the moment it’s exciting!
(laughs) Yeah, ride that wave while you can! Off the back of that I was wondering if you could discuss the likely out comes for young wombats that may be raised by members of the public who stumble across one? Because I know people mean well but I imagine this may be a big problem for you given that baby wombats are very very cute?
Yes it’s a major, major problem here. We very rarely get baby wombats in because they have always been taken by members of the public. They always give the wrong milk, they have to be given special milk. I think you can google it, there is a lot on the internet now but people will still do the cow’s milk and by the time we get the wombat back to us they usually have pneumonia. Wombats when they are drinking will gulp the milk and it will go straight to the lungs. They have to be get warm but not too hot because they dehydrate. The last wombat we got in, we heard about this wombat, we sort of started searching for this wombat. We sort of knew who had her but she ended up handing it over. The wombat had pneumonia that bad that she had to be in a humidity crib on oxygen. I think I had her there for about a week. I don’t know what kind of milk they gave her, they didn’t say, but I nearly lost her twice. She’s doing good now but I always say to people, "You know, you’ve got no licence and you want to raise wildlife, go and join a group there are heaps of groups in the area and get specialty training and do it that way". People think it’s like a puppy or a kitten - we’ll just get milk and shove it in its mouth and it will be ok but it’s not like that at all. We get so many... how do I explain it, the (wombat) gut is so complicated the cow’s milk will just cause that much damage that they can’t be fixed. Last year we had some young guys hand one in and they said “it’s dying, we’re not sure what we did but we know what we are doing”. Two days later it dies and I did an autopsy on it and it was just flooded. It was like they had just been pouring everything into its mouth and it had just gone to its lungs and it pretty much drowned to death… and it happens every year. We’ll get a call about a wombat with a lactating teat and we don’t know whether to stay there and camp out the night and wait to see if the baby comes back or if someone has taken it. No one sort of knows until the joey gets sick and they ring someone and say come and get it or they drop it at the vets. But you know, we spent last year on one particular place, we spent three nights camping out looking for a baby that we thought wandered off from mum, but it turned out someone had picked it up, and it’s time we haven’t got too. But you don’t want to say “I’m not going to go and check” in case the baby comes back - because sometimes the baby does wander off scared and it does come back. But if people pick them up, I would rather them just ring and say “look I’ve got this joey” and hand it in, rather than try and do the right thing and raise it themselves because you have got to be really careful with them is pretty much all I say. But it is very frustrating for all us carers when it happens.
Yeah, I couldn’t even imagine. I think people don’t think long term either. People get infatuated with cute little animals but a cute baby wombat turns into a very big wombat that bites and needs to run around.
Well we had one not that long ago, a lady rang us to say I’ve got a wombat trying to get into my door and she tried to push it away and it came inside and laid on her lounge…. and I thought well a wild wombat won’t do that! So we actually went to this property and it’s quite a fair way away from us near the water and I’m thinking wombats “don’t live here!” - you sort of get used to where wombats come from and the conditions they live in and we looked at this beautiful mansion house on the water and I’m thinking “there will be no wildlife living here”. We walked inside and there’s this wombat cuddled up in her blanket on the lounge. Anyway we went up to it and we picked it up and put it in the car and the lady said she has never seen a wombat here ever, but it broke into the door. By the time I got it home and examined it - a big healthy female wombat - and she was such a sook I thought, no you’ve been hand raised and then you start biting and scratching up the furniture and then you’ve been dumped. Which is crueller to dump a wombat, even in a wombat area that wasn’t their area because other wombats will kill them. We get wombats dumped at our gate. I’ve got security cameras all around our property at the moment. We’ve had wombats dumped at our gate and driven off. I would rather people ring me and say “I’ve got a wombat and yes I know I shouldn’t have it but can you please take it”, rather than dumping it at my gate which is a long way from my house …. because my wombats could have ripped it up but I can see it on my security cameras so I always bolt down there. But we do get a lot of wombats that have shown up in shopping centres or in people’s backyards and you just know as soon as you go near the wombat that it was a dumped wombat. It would have been that cute beautiful baby when they first got it and loved it and then they think, “oh I’ve got to go on holidays” School holidays is the main time that we get a lot of dumped wombats like you do dogs and cats and everything else. It’s cute while its little but then they want to have a holiday or go out for the night and they've got to get rid of the wombat.
And so this sounds like a very big problem and huge frustration for you. Are there any other big frustrations you face with the work that you do?
Not really. I mean everything can be really frustrating trying to save something (laughs)… but I mean members of the public I think are our worst and obviously the dog attacks, I mean some of the dog attacks can’t be helped. But the public do know what they are doing. They do know it’s illegal to have wildlife and you know it’s pretty much just saying to people, it doesn’t cost much to get training - I think its 20 odd dollars to join a group in NSW - and get the training and look after wildlife but if you’re unlicensed and you don’t know what to do, all you are doing is killing that animal. Then we have had people who have raised wombats and they are healthy but then they don’t want to let it go until it’s an adult male and then they are already attached and they ring up and say, “ well can you make it wild?”… and we do and we have special pens for those particular wombats, but them wombats actually hold my pens up for something more critical. We have a couple in at the moment in at the moment that we can’t go near, we just throw grass in and we’ve got to make sure they do turn wild or we can’t release them. If they don’t know how to dig or eat grass – and we have had one that didn’t even know what grass was – and they have to know how to dig a burrow and if they can’t dig a burrow there is no point in releasing them. So I’m held up for probably nearly 12 months with wombats like that… and then I’ve got to build more pens which we are currently in the process of doing now which then costs us more money and more time which we haven’t go to build them.
So it’s a huge problem that has many more repercussions than people think. I think people think they are possibly doing the right thing dumping them at the end of the day, but it’s actually a much more complicated process than just letting them go.
Yes and when people do hand them in, which I like because I like to know the whole full story of this particular wombat. I hate them being dumped and I don’t know what happened and why they obtained it. But I have had people sit and say “this wombat’s nearly 2 years old”… and you know it should be in the bush already. Then I will sit with them nicely and explain “I have to train this wombat now it’s, going to cost me a lot of money to get it up to par". I won’t just dump a wombat out into the bush I slow release here. I’ve got to explain to them how much it costs me. Where before I never used to worry about the cost, I was like yes I can do it, but I’ve got to make them understand that now it’s my problem and I’ve got to deal with what they have caused. Then they’ll go “aww.. …yeah, I never really thought of that” and I’m like, “well yeah I can’t just grab your wombat off you and dump it in the bush because my wombats will rip it up, and so it’s got to stay 6-12 months in a pen now so it can turn wild and know what it can and cannot eat”. Then people do understand once you show them their actually here and I can show, you know if you did this I wouldn’t have to worry about doing this now and yeah. They do get it I think, in the end. We do have a lady which we pretty well know very well now. She seems to do it every year and every year she will ring me and say “it’s getting sick can you take it?” and it’s like well you should have rung me when you picked it up. She doesn’t want to hand them over and every year I’ll get a call from this particular lady. She’ll say “I just picked it up” and I’m like, yeah, sure. I can tell when a wombat’s been living in a house and when they’ve been living outside. There is a big difference.
I was wondering what your experience and opinion is of the wildlife protection legislation in Australia and whether you thought there were any areas that need to be improved?
I don’t really dwell on it much. The only thing we are really concentrating on right now is the new legislation as far as forestry goes. The government are planning to log more areas. They’re the sort things I really get involved in now, because we actually live within a forestry and a logging forestry. So we at the moment, and it’s happening in quite a few areas not just ours, where the loggers will come in and log and they will actually put the dozers through to clean up what they have logged but they will actually doze over the wombat burrows. So we pretty much concentrate on that at the moment. I do get emails daily saying “what do you think of this that and the other?” and I’ve sort of got to concentrate on the most serious. There isn’t enough protection for any wildlife. They do need a hell of a lot more protection, especially in forestry areas. I have a girlfriend down south, a lot of her wombats that she released got buried because of forestry and logging. So… they are my main worry at the moment, I am trying to just protect what I can. Our property, everyone who moves near us…. we only have a few weekenders near us because we are fairly up in the bush… but I always go up and meet our neighbours and explain what I am doing, “you’ve got to drive slowly, there’s no hunting around me what’s so ever”. Yeah I pretty much try and protect my own stuff first and then give advice to other people who are in the same situation in forestry areas. It’s a really hard place to live. If I really had of thought about it I would have moved into a national park instead of forestry because you have a lot more protection than you do in a forestry. But yeah. I’m sort of involved in a lot of that kind of stuff right now and some days it really does your head in because you can’t save everything, I know, but you have got to make people stand up and listen to your fight to save particularly wombats and koalas. We have everything here; wombats, quolls, koalas, red tail cockatoos, rare rock wallabies. So I do get really protective of all of them because I want some people to know that they will be able to have their kids grow up and all those animals will still be here. But I think the way the government’s going, we are going to have no wildlife here for our grand kids and their kids in the near future because all the land is going to be wiped out.
It’s a very sad thought but a realistic thought unfortunately.
So I was wondering how you go about developing confidence in yourself? You’ve gone forward and pursued something that you love, you saw a wrong and wanted to help. So for people listening and reading how do you promote confidence to be able to do that?
I’m not sure. I think its years of growing up and always struggling with people who hate animals. I’m a very stubborn and outspoken person at times and it’s just trying. I didn’t do well at school, I am dyslexic. I started saving animals and I just sort of went, I’m going to keep saving them. I’m not sure whether I have that much confidence, but I just try. I always say to people, you know, everyone thinks you have a great life, I haven’t had a great life. I have been in a bad domestic situation and I have had cancer and a lot of health problems and it’s just, get back up the next day. You’ve just got to stand up and go, “well I’ve lived through that and nothing’s going to kill me and I’m going to save everything I possibly can”. You know, it’s just an everyday thing of thinking, “this could have happened to me but it didn’t”. If I didn’t have the wombats and save the wombats I don’t think I’d have the confidence I have today. I think they pretty much saved me rather than me saved them. I also have a wonderful husband now that can’t believe sometimes the work that I do, and he stands beside me every step of the way. Yeah, I’m not sure if I’m very confident or not because some days I think, “what am I doing? You know I need a holiday! I haven’t had one in over 20 years!" But you know, you get back up and you think, “well something needs saving or someone’s bandages need changing” and you just get up and do it.
That’s a beautiful positive outlook.
Yeah, I think everyone, and everyone that I train too…, I do have a lot of TAFE students sometimes and I always say to people, “as long as you try”. You are never going to be an expert at wildlife, no one ever is, but it’s just standing up and thinking every day, “well I’m going to save this today and I’m going to save that today”. It’s just pushing through every day and doing the best you possibly can. Money doesn’t come into it. If you do wildlife you are going to be broke for the rest of your life. You’re going to have a half finished house like I have always had for 12 years. It will never be finished but the wombats are comfortable and the wombats are happy and the wombat pens are great (laughs).
And what achievement are you most proud of? Is there any particular thing that stands out?
Not really, my husband always says, “you’re never a proud person”. I’m proud of just saving the animals that I’ve saved. I’m proud of proving people wrong when they say that animals not going to make it Roz, give up. I’m pretty much proud of you know, the hospital that I have now. If I go back to the miserable life I had many, many, many years ago, I think well I achieved a lot, I’m still alive, I have a wonderful family and grandchildren and a wonderful husband. I couldn’t wish for any better. Yeah. I’m quite happy within everything I’ve done….some days I do regret it (laughs).
(laughs) I have no doubt that at 4.30am when it’s cold and wet outside…
The 2am feed is killing me at the moment but I’m 56 now and I’m still alive! I didn’t even think that I’d make it to that. My house is always a mess and I have the most beautiful loving animals in it. And no. Yeah, I love getting up even to change a bandage or do an injection. It’s just something that I do.
Well thank you Roz, you’re a truly courageous and inspiring woman and person and I’m sure people listening and reading will feel inspired by you.
You’re very welcome.
I do have one final question that I always end on and that is, what is your advice to other women wanting to pursue a passion or to start a project?
Just try. I always get people who say, “I’d love to do this” and I always say, “Well why not? Just try”. I never had experience with wombats and a lot of things. I didn’t think I’d ever qualify to be a vet nurse let alone a Cert 4 vet nurse with being dyslexic as well, but I have a lot great friends that helped pushed that way to get me to where I am today. I always say to other people, just try. There are people out there who can help you, but if you’ve got a passion just do it. Just don’t even sit there and think about it. Just go out there and do it.
Wise words to live by. Thank you very much again Roz. It’s been wonderful to talk to you.