There is a Tasmanian belief that when you capture a brushtail possum, you must take it across a river to prevent return.
And not just any Tasmanian river. Preferably a wide, voluminous, continuously flowing river which naturally creates an element of apprehension whilst also reducing the chances of rekindling the sweet, sweet smells of home.
Old world beliefs are more commonly attributed to ancient peoples such as the Celts, but these stories often make their way into far more modern takes.
Alastair McDonald and Leo Maguire's rendition of The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond begins with a spoken word introduction:
"There is an old Celtic belief that when a man dies in a foreign land his spirit returns via the low road. In 1745, two Scottish soldiers were made captive in Carlisle; one of whom was to be set free, the other executed. It is the condemned man who'll return to Scotland by way of the low road of death and reach Loch Lomond before his friend who must travel the earthly high road."
The Irish version of the song with the same tune titled Red Is The Rose focuses on the heartbreak of losing a loved one. "You choose the road, love," and "my bonnie Irish lass" and "Clear is the water that flows from the Boyne" forever linking the historical nature of the tunes.
The Celts were tribes of people scattered across Europe, far wider than the common yet narrow assumption of people from Scotland and Ireland, who had distinct ethnic groupings with their own belief system, language, religion, and institutions.
They deeply valued music because it was believed to please the gods. The Celts, through Paganism, did not worship one God like Christians. Rather, it was several who were understood to take on animal forms. Thus, they placed great emphasis on animals and were respectful and wary because of their god-like characteristics. The Celts also believed in the natural world, with rivers and mountains and trees said to have spirits, much like the way First Nations people describe the county's natural features and their ongoing connection.
The history behind the Tasmanian brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) trapping and relocating belief is probably far less to do with ancient peoples and more to do with trial and error, but it does generate notions of romanticism and old-world charm.
So ... here we go.
"There is an old Tasmanian belief that when a brushtail possum is captured in a foreign land his spirit returns via the low road. In 2022, two Tasmanian possums were made captive in Tasmania; one of whom was to be set free not two miles from home, the other taken many miles away across the South Esk River and released under Ben Lomond. It is the possum who'll return by way of the low road and reach the box guttering and not the possum who will never cross a river to travel the high road."
The brushtail possum is an Australian marsupial protected by law. Extermination can occur via crop permit to protect pastoral lands and hand-fed farming stock.
There is also a Management Plan for the Commercial Harvest and Export of Brushtail Possums in Tasmania, which does not sound at all appetising, however, their fur mixed with merino wool does make an outstanding pair of socks.
Brushtail possums, who often occupy suburban trees that require pruning, are also very good at chewing through NBN lines, rendering hastily written working from home policies for COVID-19 null and void, with productivity consequently reliant upon the employment of a personal hotspot.
Their stealth-like practices and destructive habits are regularly far too sophisticated for suburban locals who reset NBN connections via modems and Wi-Fi extenders when the likelihood of re-connectivity is like the chances of a comfortably resided brushtail possum leaving assumed premises of their own accord.
Deep into the evening and under the nocturnal night, they screech like Banshees.
My late father would humorously taunt us as youngsters, warning of a mythical Irish creature often depicted as a woman - who would wail and shriek to indicate the impending loss of a loved one.
Compounded with my inconsolable fear of the dark, the thought of a wailing woman enshrined fear in a young mind that thought the night-time brought mysterious creatures and spirits determined to frighten, torment, and prevent sleep.
Thankfully, my fear and apprehension has lessened over time, but to this day I remember and can be triggered by the lurking of a native squatter.
The noises from a brushtail possum range from a low growl to high-pitched shrieks sounding more like a scavenging Tasmania Devil than a furry marsupial. Their behaviour under spotlight or when captured in humane and ubiquitous traps ranges from aggressive to utter calm, almost arrogant, safe in the knowledge that a close-by release point will enable prompt return.
There is another Tasmanian belief that fur seals relocated from the Huon and deposited at Low Head return home quicker than the four-wheel-drive and trailer that "Ubered" them 350 kilometres away from their Bain Marie habitat, but that is another story ... and I am tired.
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