Some years prior to moving into the weatherboard house, my wife Tab and I honeymooned in Tasmania, driving around the island for three weeks. We had a great holiday staying in some lovely hotels and bed-and-breakfasts; our accommodation was dictated in the main by a road map and our day-by-day impulses. But our trip’s blue ribbon accommodation, the one venue we purposefully pre-booked, was at Cradle Mountain Lodge, on the border of the World Heritage-listed Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park.
With some extravagance we took a deluxe suite, which turned out to be a charming pencil-pine cabin secluded in woodland away from the main hotel complex – very romantic indeed. And on that misty Tasmanian afternoon we were instantly taken by the surrounding wilderness which abounded with plants and wildlife.
At early evening after settling in, drinking a bottle of bubbly and having a spa I decided on a whim to paint my toenails. At the time I had no idea how such an activity would prepare me for my future encounters with possums, beyond that which was about to unfold.
While airing my nice cherry-coloured toenails to dry, I heard scratching at the window and drew the curtains to discover a Brushtail Possum clutching the cabin’s timbers presumably in search of food or warmth. It looked so cute, this cuddly grey icon of Australian fauna, and much bigger than the brushtails I’d seen on mainland Australia; dew-drops sparkled like crystals on its thick, coarse fur. I had to take a closer look. So I grabbed the camera, wrapped a towel around my waist and ventured outside onto the decking where my marsupial friend had clambered along the cabin wall, perched on a balustrade and readied itself to make my acquaintance. ‘How very civilised,’ I thought.
I raised the camera to focus and took one quick snap. And before my eyes re-adjusted to the darkness after the flash, the possum hopped down from its hold, scurried toward me, lunged forward and bit hard on the cherry which was my big toe. I think I screamed in that split-second and startled my attacker back a few steps but this only served to give it room for another onslaught on me. I jettisoned the camera and picked up a deckchair which I began to wave lion-tamer-like at the possum, who showed utter contempt toward my actions. Through the window in the door I could see Tab inside the cabin in fits of laughter watching her brave new husband protecting the fort from an encroaching invader, now grown a hundredfold like a rampant predator chasing its prey.
I felt a pang and glanced down to see blood streaming from my toe, I could also feel the towel loosening around my waist. My situation was diabolical. All the while, those nocturnal eyes focused on me with such a haughty glint I truly thought I was a goner.
I had to do something to break this standoff. So I let go of the chair with one hand and grappled behind to find the doorknob, released the latch and in one deft move discarded the chair, swooped into the cabin and slammed the door. The possum retreated back to the balustrade and shot me a look of its supremacy as my towel dropped from my hips to the floor.
I felt vulnerable standing there naked with a bloody toe. For one brief moment I thought the possum might steal the camera I’d left outside, but it dropped away into the darkness leaving me to dwell on the humble fact that I presented no match for it; I was easy fodder. I had no idea possums liked cherries.