When you move to Australia, people from home are sure to ply you with links to whatever horrifying listicle Buzzfeed has just come out with about all the deadly and gigantic wildlife the Lucky Country has on offer. So far, we’ve been fortunate to not have had any run-ins with dastardly or exciting critters, though I do live in constant fear that my luck at never having had a Huntsman spider is destined to run out any day … Why would I tempt fate by putting that in writing?!
Recently, however, we have been having close encounters with Australian wildlife in the form of a clan of possums who have taken up residence on our balcony.
Australian possums are marsupials, and no relation to the absolutely disgusting spawn of Satan North American opossum. The brush-tailed possum is a common sight in the city. The first time I ever saw one not long after we moved here, it was digging through the trash on the street, and unperturbed by human passersby. Once you discover that they’re not actually a rat – thankfully, as they’re probably triple the size – they’re sort of cute, at least in a “you stay in your corner and I’ll stay in mine, and we’ll get along just fine” sort of way.
We’d seen some outside our apartment from the first week that we moved in. They’d scurry across the balcony railing and jump into a nearby tree, not to be seen again until at least the next night, if not longer. One of them was a mother carrying a baby on her back, which was, I must admit, sort of sweet. I didn’t love having them right there, but never gave them too much thought until one morning a couple months ago when I was sweeping the balcony to prepare for a BBQ we were having with some friends. I heard a rustling in the built-in bench, and then the next thing a possum bolted out from under and off the balcony. Then another. And then another.
Cue shock, horror, screaming, and the immediate rousing of the sleeping husband, who needed a couple of minutes to make sense of what his raging wife was hissing and gesticulating about. We discovered that they’d made a nest of leaves inside the bench, which
we Partner-in-Crime cleared out. That night, with our very game guests present, the Family Possum made another appearance around the time of the cheesecake course, the littlest one running right under our feet. Much shrieking and insistence that we GO INSIDE IMMEDIATELY on the part of the female contingent surely set the feminist agenda back a decade at minimum.
A week or so later, my little family was having dinner on the balcony on a lovely summer evening, feeling safe that the nocturnal possums wouldn’t reappear for at least a couple of hours, when Bam!, from the balcony above, they raced down, one of them coming within inches of my little Hushpuppy.
That was certainly the end of our happy cohabitation, and we’ve been in an uneasy sublettership ever since. We alerted our property manager who consulted with The Possum Man (really), and they came back with the unfortunate-for-us news that possums are protected in New South Wales and, furthermore, as they are extremely territorial, it’s illegal to re-home them. If they get into the roof of your home, you can evict them, but from a balcony, there’s not much you can do.
Per the Possum Man’s advice
we Partner-in-Crime blocked off all entry to the bench unit, and we’ve also been spraying a deterrent spray from the hardware store that they promised us was just stinky to possums, not poisonous to either them or nearby toddlers.
It hasn’t done much good. We see them almost every night now, at least once, and often P-i-C, who is nocturnal himself, sees them coming back from their night’s adventures. He’ll go out and bark at them to move along, in which case they’ll usually head to the balcony above us, but if we don’t see them come in, they’ve been pretty crafty in trying to find new digs on our balcony. The picture above was taken when we found them sleeping in our BBQ grill. I cannot even figure out how they got in there under the hood! They’ve also tried a few times to get back into the bench, so the blockade is an ongoing enterprise. Hushpuppy is rather intrigued by them, and she loves to point to the balcony and say “possums!” Though I think she’s only actually seen the a couple of times, they made a distinct impression. I, on the other hand, have soured on the whole lot of them, and get particularly cranky when she asks me to read her Australian favorite Possum Magic. Magic my foot.
If it hadn’t been for our close encounters with them, I probably wouldn’t be so bothered by their presence, but as it stands, I’ve pretty much given up on using our balcony. I’d had fantasies of summer nights out there after Hushpuppy went to bed sipping some white wine and chatting, but I’ve had to give that idea over to the reality of our unpleasant tenants. I am reminded of high school English – it’s a classic battle of man vs. nature, and despite my hubris and burning desire for an al fresco glass of Riesling, nature once again wins the day.