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The magic of urban wildlife

There’s something magical about wild things in the midst of the concrete jungle. A couple of years ago, at a party at a house in Parktown North, somebody spotted something interesting up a tree. A torch was fetched and there, in the beam of light, was a genet. It seemed utterly unconcerned by the gawking crowd and yapping dogs below, as if it were on a suburban commute of its own.

There’s always something enchanting about a little bit of wildness in the most unexpected surroundings. In Sydney, I’ve been whale-watching out beyond Manly, heard and seen kookaburras and noted a couple of squashed ringtailed possums rotting slowly in the street, but the environment I’ve become used to here is largely quite urban and sanitised.

Given the less-than-appealing nature of some of the local wildlife — the world’s deadliest spider, the funnel-web, has a range that centres on Australia’s biggest city — that’s not entirely a bad thing.

Earlier today, while rushing to the apartment and back to take delivery of a fridge, I took the ferry out to Mosman. An announcement crackled over the PA system. It was the captain, informing the passengers that the boat was surrounded by dolphins. I craned out of the window to see the occasional gunmetal-grey fins slicing through the choppy water.

After the ferry chugged slowly away from the Cremorne Point wharf, the water suddenly seemed alive with slippery grey bodies. Every now and then, there would be a paler green form in the water below as some of the bolder individuals swam up to the boat, even slipping under the hull. They seemed to turn on their sides as they approached, as if to get a better look at the people staring down at them. They were close enough that I could see quite clearly that many of the animals were distinguished by large white markings, something I have never seen on South African bottlenoses.

The ferry rounded Cremorne Point and turned sharply to port, away from the harbour and toward Mosman South. Just as quickly as they had appeared, the dolphins vanished and the windswept waters of the harbour settled into ordinariness once more.

But for a moment, I was utterly enchanted. Several hours later, I’m still relishing the thrill. That’s the power of wild things in unexpected places, a fleeting hint of a world beyond tarmac and concrete and diesel.


  • During the day Sarah Britten is a communication strategist; by night she writes books and blog entries. And sometimes paints. With lipstick. It helps to have insomnia.