Craig Wickham Interview
GUIDE Q&A: Craig Wickham
Kangaroo Island local and tourism industry expert Craig Wickham on what it's like to live and work on one of Australia's most untouched islands
By: SANDY CUNNINGHAM
Q: You were born and raised on Kangaroo Island. Have you been there all your life?
A: My family moved to Kangaroo Island when I was one year old—so technically not a local but I think the islanders would claim me as one of their own. I left the island to do my final year of high school, then worked for the national parks service in the Adelaide Hills before spending a year traveling and studying in South Africa, living in Cape Town. I came back to Australia and did a degree in Wildlife and Park Management and then worked with the national parks again in three different regions of South Australia.
I came back to Kangaroo Island in 1990 to work in tourism as that had been the industry my family was involved in, and the opportunity to blend my hospitality and environmental backgrounds seemed like a good idea. My wife Janet and I have been fortunate to be able to live in this great community and raise our two children, and I was especially pleased to be able to share so many of the experiences I had as a child with my own family.
Q: Kangaroo Island is often referred to as the Galapagos Islands of Australia. What should Outside GO guests expect to see here?
A: The Galapagos reference stems from the diversity and abundance of wildlife people are able to observe at a close range without impact. This diversity stems from the geographic isolation, which comes from being an island. We have 52 plants found on Kangaroo Island and many of our birds and animals are unique to subspecies level.
Our guests are pretty much guaranteed to see kangaroos, wallabies, sea lions, fur seals, koalas, and many species of birds. Other regular encounters [some are seasonal] are echidnas, goannas, dolphins, and occasional whales from about May through October. With a name like Kangaroo Island it’s the wildlife which draws North American guests, but once they’re here there are a whole host of elements which often elicit a comment to the effect that Kangaroo Island is a miniature Australia: all that weird and wonderful wildlife, red dirt roads, eucalyptus trees to the horizon, sheep and cattle farms, rugged coasts, beautiful beaches, and great local food and wine.
Q: We hear you are a wiz in animal mimicry. Where did you learn to do this? Were you self-taught?
A: I was unable to find a course entitled Australian Animal Noises 101 so had to go it alone! Being able to mimic some of the wildlife noises is useful in many ways—entertaining at dinner parties when things get a bit boring! Sometimes you need to alert guests to listen for a particular noise—the cracking of she-oak cones by endangered glossy black cockatoos, little penguins contacting their mates as they swim into shore…
"Sometimes guests will ask, “What was that call?” and I might have heard three different birds. So I can ask, “Do you mean, squeak squeak, brrrr brrrr brrr, or aaaaaarrrrrh?” Also, you can attract the interest of the wildlife, and they might come closer to investigate."
Q: What’s the scariest wildlife encounter a guest might have on the island?
A: I have seen all sorts of phobias, where people have been highly animated about all sorts of things—flies, spiders, lizards, you name it. Australia has quite the reputation in North America for having all sorts of dangerous beasts, which I find quite ironic given you have grizzly bears, mountain lions, massive elk… Yes, we have a couple of snakes which are venomous—but quite shy and retiring. Goannas have a nasty bite, but who gets close enough to get bitten? Only people trying to pick them up—not me—I do not want to frighten them as I want them to trust me so next time I see them so I can share the experience with our guests. None of it is scary or dangerous if you are given the right context and advice.
"That is my job as a guide, to be a positive interface between our nature, our history and culture, and our guests."
Q: Rumor has it you are a master of the barbie. What is your signature meal for guests adventuring with you?
A: Aussies love the outdoors and entertaining. Our approach is to host our guests in the same manner as we would if we had friends coming over for lunch. We use as much local produce as possible, design a menu which is light and fresh, and present it in a spectacular location. One of our lunches is grilled King George whiting—delicate fish a bit like sole—cooked on the barbie in white wine and lemon juice. It’s not as dry as grilling or as wet as poaching—somewhere in between. Plus grilled potatoes, haloumi— that’s sheep-milk cheese made by our neighbors, which we also grill—fresh salad, and homemade dressings. This is served on crisp white linen under a canopy in the middle of the bush. Guests have a choice of local wines, beer, and soft drinks, and it really goes down a treat.
Q: We have heard about your new baby, Scotty! Tell us more.
A: We came to be “parents” of a little orphaned tammar wallaby after the mother was hit by a car. One of our guides found him standing alongside the dead mother and picked him up and brought him to us to see if we could care for him. We have previously raised kangaroos, brushtail possums, and even a baby bird our daughter found. That was a month ago and he is doing really well so far—increased in weight over 40 percent, feeding confidently and starting to explore eating grasses and leaves. He lives in a pouch around either my neck or Janet’s, fed special formula about every four hours, gets out of his pouch in the sunshine and forages in the bush around our home for short periods. We are trying to emulate the experience he would have with his mum as much as possible. Ultimately we hope to be able to return him to the wild.
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Craig Wickham Interview
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