The wallaby woman of Waimate
07 February 2006

For 29-years Waimate woman Gwen Dempster-Schouten has been picking up the tiny baby wallabies found in their mothers' pouches when hunters shot their mothers. Now her property, EnkleDooVery Korna, just outside of Waimate is home to around 60 wallabies. That includes at least three babies that Gwen keeps in artificial pouches as she hand raises the orphans. She opened up her property to the public in 1999.

"I was born in the high country in Mossburn, Southland and we paid a visit to Waimate when I was about eight and that's when I saw my first wallaby. When we shifted to Waimate 29-years ago the first thing I did was I got myself a wallaby."

And the story grows from there. Gwen said some of the babies brought to her by hunters don't even have fur when they arrive. "The wee ones you have to keep really warm so they're kept inside. But as they get older I hang them in their pouches inside at night and put them outside during the day." As they grow, Gwen puts them into family groups such as mothers and babies, and bachelor boys and keeps them in 16 separate enclosures. It is there that members of the public can get up close and personal with the wallabies.

"I call it cuddle, feed and pat. You cuddle the babies and feed and pat the adults."

But that's not all the public gets to interact with at Gwen's place. She has historic sheep ? Finlayson sheep from the Herbert Forest whose ancestors were dropped off by Captain Cook; Sebastopol Geese which hail from the Black Sea and have curly feathers; Cape Barron Geese which are grey with a litmus green beak, pink legs and black feet and they make a deep honking noise. Then of course there are the other pets. The possums, ferrets, bantams, cats, dog, ponies, ducks, peacocks and Flemish Grey Rabbits. And Gwen wouldn't have it any other way.

"I love having them about. The wallabies are like my children; they are my children. Of course I have human ones but these ones don't answer back."

And there is a bit of irony here.

"People say I hope you don't invite that taxidermist down the road here? And I say well I have to. He's my son. They say one stuffs them and the other saves them."

Gwen's other passion is the great people she meets from all over the world.
"You meet really nice people. I had an American couple here this morning (Monday). They saw us on Animal Planet ? the Animal Planet people were here three years ago and filmed us ? and she really wanted to visit. Her husband said they didn't have time and they got all the way to Moeraki before he turned back because she wanted to come here so much. They both loved it. They said it was really worth it."

And Gwen has worked hard on the property. Parts of the complex are painted to look like an old time outhouse. Other parts are filled with family heirlooms that make up an authentic early 1900 parlour and bedroom. There is also an authentic trappers hut. Add to that the ghost stories and Gwen has visitors hooked.

"The English are always coming here with their ghost stories and I'm not going to be outdone by the English. So we make up stories about the old trapper that lived here and a lady in the parlour," Gwen said.