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Hello, my name is Barbara and I’m going to read from my Land Diary. My place is wild in a not-quite-totally-attractive way. It’s all about rocks, trees, ants and … the very lovable echidnas. The house is right on the ground. A few months ago one afternoon, 6 echidnas came stumping along the verandah, one behind the other. I have to tell you, this was a major surprise.
Echidnas are seriously solitary, ungregarious bundles of spines oblivious to everything except ants.
The first stopped near the door. The others arrived and stopped one behind the other. There they stood. I watched. Nothing.
Suddenly the first one walked off, in a totally different direction. One behind the other the rest set off, same order, same pace, and disappeared between the trees. Now that was odd. In echidna terms it was sexy dancing, and people call it an echidna train. The front one is female, and her well-behaved admirers are the carriages following in precise order of echidna importance. It only happens round the end of winter.
The echidnas are a small egg-laying monotreme technically speaking, meaning they lay eggs but also suckle their babies. They’re stroll gardeners. I meet them unexpectedly down the paddock, round the house, up the hill, always by themselves, digging, signing the bottom of each hole with a final push of their pencil thin nose, shouldering rocks and logs aside to get at the ant-rich ground … they’re very strong.
I read that a monotreme researcher shut an echidna in his kitchen one night. (We won’t even wonder about that) and next morning found his fridge had moved to the middle of the room. They are formidable expert myrmecologist eating virtually nothing but ants and termites and their stomachs have no digestive acids other than the formic acid of ants.
Shape-changers, they can be as round and hard as a soccer ball one minute and as long as a scarf the next, depending on the moment. They do have short legs with the added quirk of walking on the knuckles of their back paws.
The Japanese garden book says ‘Stone gardens have pleasing incongruities and unexpected harmony’. That must mean echidnas. On hot days they trundle up the track to the bird bath. They clamber laboriously over the edge and lie down in the water. They might stay for five minutes, resting and scratching, completely immersed except for their snout. They climb out as carefully as they get in, pause, then lumber away through the trees, leaving a trail of damp sandy footprints to fade on the stone.
ABOUT BARBARA HOLLOWAY:
Growing up in the country, I’m a mixture of practical and impractical. My writing comes from the intersections of local and global, stoic and crazy, cultural and environmental. Though the published work is fiction, creative nonfiction and criticism, it always leans towards where human and the natural meet. Sometimes I pretend I’m running a writing workshop. For one student.
“I first came to Varuna as the first ACT fellowship winner in 1996, and back for more in 2008. Now I’m writing full time I keep my confidence up and ideas working by following the Writer’s House closely online.” Barbara Holloway
“Keith and Merle Go Round Australia”, comedy/story in Halfway House: The Poetics of Australian Spaces, 2010.
“Stop, Revive, Survive: the Car Place”, essay in Making Sense of Place, 2008.
“Decent Intervals”, short story Southerly 2008.
“The Logic of Birds”, an essay Southerly 2005.
“Wind, A Subject Enquiry”, an essay Southerly 2003
“Tarlo comes to Mind”, short story Picador New Writing, 1994
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