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A snippet from my volunteer work on the ‘Dedicated Naturalist’ Project, helping to decipher and digitise, record and publicise the life’s work of naturalist extraordinaire, Dr Mary Gillham. Today I’ve been reading Mary’s diaries from the year she spent in my homeland, New Zealand, and rather enjoyed her meeting with a local character called Percy.

Thursday 14 March 1957
On my way back to Mog [Moginie House, where she was living] thro’ the wood tonight I made the proper acquaintance of ‘Percy the Possum’. Previously we had only heard each other – he having formed the disquieting habit of sitting on the fire escape outside my window at dead of night and making the most disgusting noises. Ear-splitting grunts and croaks sufficient to wake even me. I spotted him on a low branch in the dusk, was foolish enough to stand underneath and got a large, partly eaten apple dropped on my head. We discoursed in squeaks and grunts for a period, then I descended to road level to get the torch from my bicycle the better to see him with. He waited obligingly, objected not at all to the light, and continued to fraternise for approximately ½ an hour, moving slowly around a few yards away from me to display his soft brown fur, handsome squirrel’s tail, pink nose and huge ears to advantage.


And a couple of weeks later …

Tuesday 9 April 1957
Percy, the big bright brown ’possum, is now a regular feature of the last part of my walk home through the dark or moonlit bush – sitting crunching apples on the kowhai next the Mog orchard. Persephone, his smaller greyer companion, is equally friendly to the passing stranger but remains in the lower part of the Mog wood.

I should perhaps add here that, although Mary creates a charming picture of this Australian marsupial, the Brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) is considered a major pest in New Zealand due to its destruction of our native flora and fauna.

For the full story about the Mary Gillham Archive Project, check out our website, and follow our progress on Facebook and on Twitter.