Things I like about Sydney No. 5: The agility and grace of possums.
If it wasn't for the ever-vigilant and faithful Sniff and his super-nosey nose I wouldn't be acquainted with the acrobatic skills of possums at all: possum night-life would have remained invisible to me. The large and thriving arboreal marsupial secret society that nightly romps and carouses amongst the tree-tops and over the roof-scapes of Camperdown would have passed me by.
Proudly I can say however, with Sniff by my side on moonlit walks, I have had a world revealed to me that remains resolutely hidden to most.
Our shared nightly scenario goes something like this... Sniff begs to be taken out at around ten or eleven at night for his last peeing-up-a-tree before bed. His begging invariably succeeds. We saunter down the road casually, breathing in the night air, worrying vaguely about mosquitoes and whether they bite when one's on the move. We watch clouds scud by and peer into people's lit windows to see what the neighbours are getting up to and to scoff at all the television sets. All is calm and peaceful.
Suddenly, like a mad thing possessed by the veritable devil, Sniff will hare off down the road, aiming with the accuracy of a Scud missile towards a particular tree, nose quivering, little legs scampering, ears pricked.
On arrival he'll pace around the tree trunk, sniffing ever vigorously, before trying to climb up it. This last part he's not very good at, luckily for possums, because invariably I look up and there, sat in the crook of a branch, will be a pale-nosed trembling bundle of fur with piercing, gleaming eyes and a big black bushy tail. The Possum Detector (or P. D. for short) has done it again.
Up above and below are photos of a typical Sniff discovery - the Common Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula), a protected species which feeds on blossoms, fruit and leaves. Rather urbanised now, the Brushtail will eat almost anything: tonight I unsuccessfully tried to tempt one down out of the trees with a piece of courgette in a friend's garden in Redfern...Their noses are exceptionally pink, their ears always at an impish angle (whoever created Yoda in Star Wars was conversant with the Brushtail Possum's ears), their claws impressively fierce, their tail luxuriously thick and black.
As for the acrobatic part, the other night the P. D. hared off down the road towards a distant telegraph pole and as I looked up a possum nimbly ran up a sloping wire to the top of the pole and then sauntered along the high wire with the greatest of ease, like the coolest of circus performers, waving its nonchalant tail. Extremely impressive, I thought. On a par with the squirrels of Islington who, when it comes to stealing bird food from supposedly squirrel-proof bird feeders, are as flexible as any circus contortionist.
The P. D. has discovered possums on rooftops and gables, in tall trees and small trees, has chased them across the park and into the cemetery. They obviously smell enchanting. Nothing excites him more...I worry that there will be nothing like them in London to thrill him in the same way. We don't have large marsupials roaming around at night. Perhaps foxes will have the same effect on him. They are, after all, powerfully smelly...