Digging for a difference

This article has photo gallery Published on SBLT Max Logan (author), ABIS James McDougall (photographer)

Location(s): Gundaroo, NSW

Warrant Officer Ray Sangster makes a new furry friend during a working bee at the Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary, Gundaroo. (photo: ABIS James McDougall)
Warrant Officer Ray Sangster makes a new furry friend during a working bee at the Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary, Gundaroo.

A group of Canberra-based Navy people have provided a welfare boost to some of Australia’s furry friends.

The team of 18 RAN members from the Directorate of Navy Workforce Management (DNWM) took up shovels and rolled out wheelbarrows to complete a number of labour-intensive tasks during a working bee activity at the Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary in Gundaroo, New South Wales.

Wombat enclosures are built with the strong, robust nature of the inhabitant in mind. Tasks on the day included laying freshly mixed concrete to strengthen the perimeter of the enclosures, renovating burrows, removing rocks from burrowing areas and fixing shade cloth material to surrounding fences. Some lucky sailors and officers also had the opportunity to feed and interact with several of the sanctuary’s younger wombats.

Creator and Manager of Sleepy Burrows, Ms Donna Stepan, OAM said the working bee was a valuable contribution towards tackling the significant workload at the sanctuary and provided positive outcomes for its residents - up to 60 Common (Bare-nosed) Wombats.

“What the Navy team have done would have taken the team here up to 5 months to achieve,” she said.

“We really rely on people like this to help with the manual work and a large group are especially valuable.

“This will enable us to focus on new projects we have in mind for the future,” Ms Stepan said.

The event organiser was Chief Petty Officer Electronic Warfare Submarines Adrian Harrison of DNWM. The working bee at Sleepy Burrows was not his first trip to Gundaroo.

“I first got involved with the sanctuary in early 2017 when I saw an advertisement on the Defence network,” he said

“I began by providing material support - supplying food, cleaning products and medication for the wombats at Sleepy Burrows and it kind of snowballed from there.

“The working bee was all about getting in and doing some manual labour and taking a ‘many hands make light work’ approach,” Chief Petty Officer Harrison said.

The sanctuary is funded by donations and there is often no money left over to pay for labour-intensive tasks essential for the establishment and maintenance of enclosures and infrastructure at the sanctuary.

“We’re dealing with an incredibly stubborn and strong - mentally and physically - creature,” Ms Stepan said.

“It’s taken ten years to design effective enclosures to meet the needs of the wombats and all this infrastructure needs to be built – it’s hard work.

“We provide a sanctuary for all wombats - orphans, cruelty cases, illegal pets and some that are injured and currently in rehabilitation.

“There is a story behind every single animal.”

Ms Stepan received the Medal of the Order of Australia in the 2017 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to animal welfare. She and her partner Phil created the sanctuary 14 years ago after realising the animals needed a voice and a safe place.

For more information on Sleepy Burrows or to donate, visit: http://www.sleepyburrows.com.au