"You are such a numbat!"
I used to take umbrage at an old school friend when these words were directed at me, but these days I'd take it as a compliment.
Whaaat? Yep, numbats are cute, clever and innovative. Sadly, they're also battling to beat extinction.
What were once common cat-sized marsupials found across the southern half of the country are now only found in two pockets within Western Australia due largely to fox and feral dog predation. In fact, there's now only about 1,000 numbats in existence.
There's one numbat though that is extra special.
He's a larger-than-life animal canopy that greets visitors when they arrive at the Mindeerup (Min-dee-rup) creative precinct - the new tourism gateway to South Perth. The giant origami-styled numbat acknowledges nearby Perth Zoo’s commitment to the preservation of this endangered species. At almost 24 metres long and more than six metres tall, this six-tonne numbat even has a ribbed underbelly to reflect the Swan River ripples. Designed by Architectural firm Iredale Pedersen Hook, he's accompanied by a similarly colossal frill neck lizard - another creature needing Perth Zoo's conversation attention.
Equally as intriguing are other Mindeerup artworks including a family of friendly meerkats and a trio of promenading emus. Created by WA artists Mikaela Castledine and Russell Sheridan, these works acknowledge the historical links between the area and Perth Zoo, which is just a short walk along Mends Street from Mindeerup and its ferry terminal.
Mindeerup is a traditional Noongar name meaning ‘place of the shore’, and I found it the perfect spot to escape from the bustling city when I last visited Perth. It was a short and pretty ferry ride from the CBD to the South Perth play space too.
And there is lots of public and street art popping up around South Perth in addition to these Mindeerup beauties. That is because under the City of South Perth’s Policy P101 – Public Art, it is committed to contributing two percent of any project cost worth more than $2 million to public art. That’s a minimum of $40,000 for each project!
And it's that kind of commitment that helped the City of South Perth take home the gold trophy for the Best Metropolitan Street Art at this year's awards.
Outdoor art aside, how will wild numbats fare at beating extinction?
Hopefully, not bad. They have some innovative ways in eking out a niche for themselves. For starters, they're courageous diurnal (daytime) foragers - a rarity in the marsupial world. And for what do they forage? Termites. Nothing else - just termites. In fact, they're the only Aussie native that feasts solely on them. They achieve that thanks to another innovation - a thin cylindrical pink tongue that is almost half as long as the numbat's body! And finally, these cousins of the Tassie Devil have what's called 'disruptive camouflage'. It's a way of hiding in plain sight thanks to stripes that break up the animal's outline, creating an alternate, strongly contrasting pattern which tricks predators into thinking "Nothing to see here".
Maybe all these wondrous characteristics helped the numbat become the state animal emblem for Western Australia!
* The focal point of the Mindeerup precinct is a collection of innovative technology pieces. "Karl Kep Ngoornd-iny”, which means Fire and Water Dreaming, is a collaborative piece by Whadjuk Noongar artist Yondee Shane Hansen and Art+ (Art Coordination) that uses light and sound technologies to tell a timeless story of the Noongar seasons and the life cycles of Country that the traditional owners observed. "Yedi Waangki-ny", meaning Songlines, is by the same artists and is a series of eight sculptural reliefs with patterns that reference emu feathers, rock formations, water holes, rain clouds and songlines.
Images: City of South Perth.
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