We had a rather turtly time, driving home across the Gippsland last week. Instead of sticking to the highway, we turned off shortly after leaving Bairnsdale and took the back road to Sale – via two wee villages that were so wee we missed them altogether!
But we did meet some of the locals. I was knitting my nancy, Abby was plugged in to her ipod, and Julian and I were chattering every now and then. All of a sudden, he shrieked, “That was a turtle!” slammed on the brakes and pulled over to the shoulder of the road. He was as delighted as a small boy :-) ”That was a turtle in the middle of the road. Shall we go back and rescue it?!” Well of course!
It was a rather battered turtle – his shell was dull and mossy and after squirting Julian with a wonderfully swampy “juice”, he tucked up tight into his shell. Abby bounced on out of the car and we had a careful look before Julian trekked off through the long grass, towards a dam where he left our timid friend.
We were all a -chatter and excitement after this. Then, after barely driving another 5 kilometres, there was another one! This turtle was plodding determinedly – but oh so slowly – across the road … we passed it safely, but as it continued to cross behind us, another huge four wheel drive was approaching … and the turtle was right in its path. Now we could see the car from quite a distance away because the road was so very straight. Once again, Julian pulled over, chucked a u-turn, zipped back up the road, stopped, I put the hazard lights on (it was really quite safe because the road was so straight and very very quiet and there simply wasn’t time to pull over first) and Julian jumped out, grabbed the turtle – who flapped his legs in furious indignation and let rip with an even greater spray of eau de swamp, and ran to the other side of the road. The driver and passenger of the oncoming car gave us the thumbs up – big smiles – and tooted their approval :-)
Julian returned to the car, parked it safely and we all got out again to check out turtle number 2. He was much more curious – or cross – and gave us a long and pissed off look. I’m quite sure he wanted to tell us that he was on his way to a very important date with a pretty girl turtle waiting for him in the open, swampy drain that run between the road and a farm – they were planning their spring eggs – he was quite capable of finding his own way, and we had just made him look very silly. Then, he turned on his heels and stomped off.
We did a bit of research on them … god bless google … and discovered that they were both Eastern Longnecked Turtles – native to Eastern Gippsland. They eat small invertebrates, insects, fish and tadpoles and prefer farm dams to lakes because there is less competition for food. They wander regularly from one waterhole to another – apparently they have an adventurous spirit – and are often seen on the road, tramping off to check out if the grass is greener on the other side. Sadly, this means they are regularly killed and the Landcare Group of Eastern Gippsland does suggest moving them on when you find them on the road, but always move them in the direction in which they were pointing because they know where they are going and will only head back that way if you put them on the wrong side of the road. Phew! Julian guessed that when he picked both of our lads up – so we were only hurrying them safely on their way.
They are becoming quite endangered – the other threat to their population is the wretched fox. Foxes are very fond of turtle nests in spring time – all those eggs – yum! yum! – and destroy 95% of them. Blasted foxes! So the older turtles are getting smashed on the road and the babes aren’t even being born. Oh dear!
We white settlers haven’t been very good for the native wild life of Australia – first we bought the foxes with us – for the sport of fox hunting, unbelievable huh! – and now what we don’t wipe out with land clearance and introduced predators, we do in with our cars. Sigh!
Nevertheless, it was such fun discovering the turtles of east gippsland! The drive from Merimbula to Melbourne is a longish one – about 8 hours including stops – and having done it several times, it does become a wee bit repetitive. But those funny little turtles with their long long necks and stinky, stinky perfurme certainly added sparkle to the journey. We can still smell them on Julian’s gloves!