As I drive the windy roads through the Adelaide Hills, past vineyards, golden tanned farm lands, beautiful big gum trees, I’m anxious about what awaits me at Humbug Scrub Wildlife Sanctuary, as is always the way on the first day of volunteering. Though I needn’t have worried, run only by volunteers who have happily given up their time or found Humbug through the work-for-the-dole scheme, the sanctuary has a relaxed, no-frills atmosphere, yet this does not detract from the beauty of the place. This dry bushland is the Australian outback I have always known and grown up with. Years of family camping trips make such surroundings familiar, appealing and home-like to me.
I was to spend two weeks at the sanctuary helping out around the place, particularly with the animals; kicking off my high heels, chucking away the fancy handbag, replacing them for hiking boots and an esky, reconnecting with the earth. A reminder of why I chose to uproot my career a year and a half ago, starting an environmental science degree at an age when most people thought I probably should be settling down and accepting my lot in life.
The property, 40 hectares of bushland in the Mount Lofty ranges, was originally purchased by Thomas Paine Bellchambers, a conservationist way before his time, who established the land as a sanctuary for Australian native animals in 1905. It has been passed down, generation to generation, now residing in the hands of Neville Bellchambers, Tom’s grandson, who returned to run the property several years ago on the passing of his father. Neville speaks fondly of being raised here as a child and clearly shares a strong bond with the animals and surrounding land. When I questioned him about the workings of the sanctuary and ownership of the land he responded in his quiet spoken manner “the land does not belong to me, I belong to the land”.
Many of the animals that live here have been donated by families who can no longer keep them or rescued after being injured, unable to live again in the wild. Others, like the emus, ducks and kangaroos, visit from the nearby park reserves and hang around hoping to score a free meal here or there.
Working with animals makes each day unique, exciting. I bypassed brown snakes. Ducked and weaved as territorial pigeons flew at my head.
Got pinched a few times by cheeky parrots. Spent endless hours cuddling the koalas.
Made mindless chatter with the Sulphur-crested Cockatoos (hello, what ya doing, dance…). Confronted my fear of emus.
Pushed wheel barrows full of food around in 40 degree heat and got nipped across my back by the blazing Australian sun.
I loved every moment.
I even convinced Mum and Dad to come along to help out. Dad, the handiest of handy mans, spent the day with the koalas creating new holders for their gum tree branch dinners. Mum spent hours chopping food and wandering the property with me as we fed all the animals.
And we even had time for a spot of crafternooning, making and hanging an animal feeding guide for new volunteers.
On one of my last days at the sanctuary, as I was filling the water tubs, the warm summer breeze carrying the faint smell of eucalyptus stroked my face, shuffled the trees. The sky was filled with the gurgle of magpies, the cries of peacocks and the low grumble of the emus. I thought to myself, there is something magical about this rustic place. Sure, it is slightly run-down and Neville struggles sometimes to keep everything afloat. But Neville’s kind nature ensures that all the creatures are well-cared for and for those animals that would otherwise have no where to go, meaning a certain death one way or another, have a life and somewhere to call home. You may not spot it at first glance but if you take the time to really look, the natural beauty of the bush grabs your hand and makes you fall in love. It is understandable why Tom, over 100 years ago, chose to protect and care for this special place.
Love Alana xx
Humbug Scrub Wildlife Sanctuary is a not-for-profit organisation which relies on the generosity of volunteers and sponsors. If you are interested in donating your time or money to the sanctuary, you can contact Neville at the details found here.