The Giant Wombats of Manningham

On a sunny Spring day there is nary a better place to visit with children than Wombat Bend in Lower Templestowe. I used to live around the area and there was absolutely nothing like this when I was growing up. Indeed if there was such a place of shear joy and wonderment during my formative years then things might have turned out differently. Instead my parents encouraged me to explore local building sites to hone my play skills, fostering a world-view born of trespassing and the evasion of authority. 

Though this is a wonderful playspace (and while we're on the topic, when did parks and playgrounds become "playspaces"?), it would be remiss of me not to offer a word of warning. The Giant Wombats of the Manningham region (Vombatus Manninghamus), previously thought to be extinct, are alive and well here at Wombat Bend. I saw them with my own eyes and was lucky enough to capture a picture of them under the clever camouflage of an adult legionnaires hat. Luckily they are a nocturnal animal and the sound of children's laughter lulls them into hibernation during daylight hours.

Vombatus Manninghamus, previously thought to be extinct, with scar below right eye from territorial battle over the lower sandpit.

Vombatus Manninghamus, previously thought to be extinct, with scar below right eye from territorial battle over the lower sandpit.

T-Bone and Sea Bass seem scared of the slumbering beasts before I demonstrate how harmless they are by straddling one. "Just make sure you keep laughing," I implore them, "and no fighting with each other today. Might wake the wombats up". 

The park is fully fenced to keep the children and wombats in. The layout mimics the natural habitat of the Giant Wombat, however, and this means there are a great number of burrows, nooks and crannies in which children can lose themselves. On this occasion I was outnumbered by my children and this can be a difficult task in such a sprawling space. After a while you just have to accept that you will lose one or both of them for minutes at a time and try to suppress any lingering thoughts of those Beaumont children at Glenelg beach.

A visit to the toilet reveals they are in fine nick – cleaner and more hygienic than ours at home, in fact. I'm not sure whether that says more about the effectiveness of the Manningham maintenance crew or whether we are just dirty germ-mongering parents. The shocked looks from others as I allow Sea Bass to eat a barbecued sausage he has found on the ground indicates to me it is probably the latter.

Thankfully the mangled music of an ice cream truck distracts everyone from what a bad parent I am as these other adults are left to deal with their children begging for ice cream. I am usually a soft touch when it comes to sweet treats but that very same morning my wife had gotten all Rosemary Stanton on my arse for feeding Sea Bass cake for breakfast. To clarify: it was actually a piece of cake after he had already eaten a breakfast of pancakes, so it was probably the double cake that did me in. Had I instead called them crepes or pikelets I may have stayed out of trouble.

Having a kid on the autism spectrum makes one somewhat of a master in diversion and I am easily able to concentrate my children's attention on the sundial feature of the playspace rather than the crowd of eager children gathering around the ice cream truck. There is a plaque which gives instructions on how to use the sundial that I duly read out to the two intrepid time-tellers:

Sea Bass trying to tell the time.

Sea Bass trying to tell the time.

Stand on today's date ... turn your body so that you are looking along your own shadow ... the position of the shadow on the hour stones then tells you Australian Eastern Summer Time (Daylight Saving has been taken into account) ... During the months from late March until late October, you must subtract one hour from the time indicated by your shadow. 

"What's 'Daylight Saving'?" is the inevitable question from the inquisitive T-Bone, "if it's pointing at the six, why is it five o'clock?". 

"Umm ... Whoa, look over there! A batman swing! And a flying fox! ... Is that Emma Wiggle?"

Told you I was a master in diversion. For I could research, study, read every single piece of literature about daylight saving for the next ten years, and I would still have no idea why we do it and if putting my clock forward or back will render me an hour's more or less sleep. Around "late October" I just do what the people on the news tell me to do with my clock right after they've finished with their naff banter.

Over yonder there is a sandpit which has a faint whiff of wombat wee about it. The pit is meant to be fed by a hand cranked water pump, but like most of these darn things it has stopped working, as if its mere ineffectual presence is designed to teach children to cope with disappointment later in life.

My shattered children are heartened by some tacky strawberries they find in the sand but I ask them to leave some for the wombats. Speaking of which, it is starting to get dark and I think I saw one of them stir. Best be on our way so these feisty marsupials can feast on the fallen snacks of toddlers past.

Giant Wombat footprints, in case there was any doubt about their existence.

Giant Wombat footprints, in case there was any doubt about their existence.