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Articles Blog

Australia's Animals

Karyn Planett

Kookaburas, Brumbies, and Wombats

Forget the koala, forget the kangaroo. We all know their celebrated stories. Let’s look at the other freaks, oddities, weirdos, and dopey-looking animals calling Australia home including those who found their way here by ship. Let’s begin with the kookaburra because he’s rather famous in this neck of the woods.

Give Us A Laugh Then, Mate!

Australia’s kookaburra is lovingly referred to as a “laughing jackass.” Not to his face, of course, ‘cause he’s got a nasty habit of pecking interlopers on their heads when they’re least suspecting. Just know he’s the biggest of the kingfisher family. But rather than spend his days fishing, he hunts for bugs, snakes, rodents, even lizards. He greets the crack of dawn with raucous laughter, a melody that’s the music of the bush. In fact, his tune fills the soundtracks of many Australian movies. The kookaburra is so famous, this “bushman’s clock”, that he’s even got a song about him. Written in 1934 by Girl Guide leader Marion Sinclair, it goes like this…

Kookaburra sits in an old gum tree,

Merry merry king of the bush is he,

Laugh, kookaburra, laugh, kookaburra,

Gay your life must be.

Let’s leave it at that!

We’ve also got little budgies (budgerigars) that, to the untrained eye, are parakeets. Australia’s most common parrot, they’ve been shipped all over the world since being discovered by John Gould in 1794. On the other end of the scale, literally, are the flightless emu and cassowary. The emu is second in size only to the ostrich and can run 50 kilometers per hour. The cassowary has a helmety thing called a casque atop his head and is considered unattractive to everyone except his Mum. But, enough about the birds. Let’s move on.

Some Of The Others

You’ve got your echidna, which resembles a mobile hairbrush. Like the platypus, it feeds its young milk yet lays eggs and represents the elite class of animals known as monotremes. The platypus, if you haven’t seen one, looks just like a flat-tailed, web-footed, broad-billed, furry hot water bottle. Sorry, it’s true.

Then there’s the frill-necked lizard that resembles Diana Ross singing in Central Park wearing orange tulle during a lightning storm. Remember the event? This lizard is Australia’s reptile emblem and his frill is the size of a dinner plate. Add to that his flopping tail, gaping mouth, nasty hissing, crazy hopping, and you gotta walk away. If not, you’ll get a painful bite.

And, finally, the wombat. He’s been compared to a hairy, black bulldozer. His not-so-little underground burrow-home can be 30 meters long with cozy sleeping rooms. Hence, the wombat is the largest burrowing herbivore and wreaks havoc on any landscape.

Hitching A Ride

Europeans brought animals with them, some good for Australia (sheep and cattle), others not. The story of some of these feral animals that’ve changed the face of Australia follows.

Camels. Hundreds of thousands of camels. Well, not originally. They multiplied, as they are wont to do ‘cause they don’t have TV. Historians record that Afghan cameleers brought the first batch to Australia 160 years ago, give or take. They served explorers and pioneers well. Camels work eight to ten hours daily, gallumping along up to 25 miles with 600 pounds on their bumpy backs. Given their freedom when mechanized transportation was introduced, they took to the bush.

Cane toads, on the other hand, are a huge menace. In 1935, they were brought to Queensland to combat the cane beetle. The beetles perished, the toads thrived, and the rest is the ecological nightmare that helps Australia defend its strong stance regarding non-native animals.  

Twenty-four wild rabbits, introduced as game in 1859, turned into 300 million! They’re like teenagers. It became a monumental horror. Then, the myxomatosis virus was introduced 50 plus years ago and effectively killed over 90%. Survivors still destroy the landscape.

Water buffalos are a very large disaster. Mean suckers, these. They flourished in the tropical north where cattle couldn’t. Brought from Indonesia in the early 19th century, they supplied meat, milk, and hides for the settlers. They damage the environment to feed themselves because they weigh 1700 pounds and stand nine feet tall. Do give them a wide berth if you see any!

And we’ll close our little nature lesson with the brumby. Named by the Aborigines, he’s a wild horse descended from the stock brought by settlers in the 1780s. A “waler” is one that dates back to when the whole country was called New South Wales. They’ve been around a long time. Brumbies are now being culled, sadly, but they “destroy habitat and cause erosion”. In the meantime, it’s wonderful to see them run free. And let’s leave it at that.