The Wallaby Whisperer

Ever since she was a kid Gwen Dempster-Schouten has loved animals. She had 16 pet possums as a child growing up on West Dome Station in Southland. When she saw a wallaby at Waimate, during a visit with her Dad on a hunting trip, she wanted one of those too.

‘You couldn’t have a pet wallaby unless you lived in Waimate. I moved here 40 years ago, and began rearing orphaned wallaby babies.’

Gwen is one of Waimate District’s great characters. Her business, Enkledoovery Korna, is a wallaby sanctuary that’s been home to hundreds of orphaned wallabies that’s she’s hand-reared and trained.

She feeds the young wallabies every three hours around the clock. Natural remedies - including koromiko tea in case of diarrhoea - and handmade pouches lined with polar fleece are part of her treatment regime.

As for the issue of wallabies as a pest, she’s practical and to the point.

‘You’ve got to be realistic. The government has to keep the wallaby population down, either by hunting, or by poisoning.’

Gwen’s marvellous menagerie also includes her eight-year-old possum, named Stella. 

‘When I was a kid I wanted a donkey, a parrot, and a monkey - I think a possum is the closest thing I could get to a monkey. I had a pet donkey, and I still have a two parrots - Blackie and George.’

She says she learnt patience from her parents, and she learnt to dream thanks to a primary school teacher.

‘All of us loved animals, but I was the dopey one that loved anything that crept or crawled. Mum and Dad were very patient. And I had a marvellous teacher who lined us girls up and told to get a career before we got married and had children. We had to be able to look after ourselves.’

Gwen’s chosen trade was hairdressing, and she still has a small number of human clients. 

Favourite thing to do:

‘Interacting with people.’

Favourite bite to eat:

‘The Waimate Hotel. Fabulous meals, amazing staff - not that they make much money out of me, because I don’t drink. I bring home a ‘Stella Bag’ of leftovers for the possum. I always say to people, do you want art on a plate, or a real farm feed? If you want a real farm feed, go to the Waimate. It’s closing at the end of February, and we’ll be supporting the other places. ’

Favourite thing about Waimate:

‘It’s the people, the closeness in the community. It takes a village to support a community, and we have that here.’

For more information on Gwen's wallaby park - Enkeldoovery Korna - click here.

Kate O'Connell