“In the past five years it’s been incredibly hard. We’ve had to do without lights at night and use torches,” she says. “Wombats are temperature sensitive so we’ve had to use hot-water bottles for the babies and wake up several times a night to refill them. But now we have power for heat pads to maintain a constant temperature.
“With a reliable power source, we’re looking at all the possible options of expanding our work to be able to provide an exceptional standard of care for wombats. We hope to be able to increase our orphanage’s capacity including treatment facilities, orphan care and education opportunities.”
Sharon says power supply has been a constant struggle for the orphanage.
“Until now, we were able to use the internet and lights only on sunny days because of our previous solar system,” she says. “We had to prioritise the daylight hours for internet and work use, washing and charging our head torches. Once the sun went down, that was it. But now thanks to Gippsland Solar we can enjoy the simple tasks of vacuuming, washing wombat pouches and switching on a light, any time of the day.”
The Smalls have been hand-raising orphaned wombats for almost 20 years on their two-hectare property, then releasing them back into the wild when they’re about two-and-a-half years old.
"Wombats stole our hearts... They’re full of character and personality, they’re loving and so thankful and are definitely smart."
Returning home 10 days after they were forced to flee the fires on 28 December, they immediately poured an entire bag of feed onto the ground and waited to see what would happen. “Cautious, creeping footsteps and whiskery snuffles surrounded us. Our magical orphans were safe,” says Emily. “We fell into a pile with them. Tears, dirt, ash and all.”
Four months later, when we spoke to Sharon and Emily, the adult wombats return home every night from their burrows in the wild for a cuddle and a treat. Sharon, a registered nurse, and Emily, a Wildlife Victoria operations supervisor, know each by name and personality.
When Nigel, a buck-toothed boy they hand-raised until his release, fell ill he knew to return to the Smalls who got him vet treatment. Emily then spent 10 days lying next to him on the floor to ensure his recovery. Not that she minded. “He’s a precious little boy and I have his paw prints tattooed on me,” she says. “I can’t explain it but wombats light my heart up.”