My minor obsession with bats developed several months ago when I discovered a shop which had a fruit bat as a pet.
For a small donation I was able to feed him a piece of fruit off a toothpick.
I had always maintained the impression that bats were ugly and creepy creatures, so I was surprised to find that, up close, they are actually quite beautiful.
It had an adorable, fox-like face, with teeny, claw-like hands that reached excitedly for the fruit I presented. But what really captured my attention was its wings.
They were so dark black that they seemed almost blue. They also appeared to be so thin that a strong gust of wind should have torn straight through, and yet they were practically impenetrable.
The bat’s tiny claws scratched at his wings as he stretched and rubbed, itching and cleaning himself.
I was intrigued as I saw the delicate material stretch and retract, the bat’s claw perfectly outlined on the other side, and yet not even creating the tiniest tear. From this brief encounter I was infatuated. So, when I heard about the Australian town of Grafton, which boasts the largest population of fruit bats in the Southern Hemisphere, I knew it was a must-see.
On the drive there I began to envision an exhilarating evening. I had read that the bats spend their days on a small island on the Clarence River. At night, the island’s nocturnal inhabitants make a mass exodus off the island and can be viewed from all over Grafton. I decided I wanted to get as close to the action as possible and began to formulate a plan.
My travel companions, Jenny and Leigh, and I would rent a canoe and paddle out on the river. We would venture close to the island and, just as the sun went down, we would see a pack of bats launch off the island all at once. In my head there were so many they blocked out the moon.
Upon arrival in Grafton I was informed that this fantasy was not going to become a reality. Not only was the boat rental too far from the island to paddle out, but I was also advised that large groups of bats tend to defecate and my fantasy would have landed me in a boat covered in bat faeces!
Jenny, Leigh, and I returned to our caravan park sorely disappointed. I clambered into my tent and proceeded to pout until Leigh suggested we pull out our camping chairs and make the most of our night in Grafton. Perhaps the bats would fly over our campsite.
As dusk descended we sat outside our tents, anxiously gazing up at the night sky. We began to relax and enjoy the cool night air as we listened to the softer refrains of Elvis drift from a neighbouring cabin.
When the sky was almost completely dark we saw the first bat fly overhead. It was quickly followed by another, and another, until suddenly there were dozens. They soared silently, diving low, landing in trees, wrapping their bodies in their massive wings.
It was unlike anything I had ever seen.
We sat there for ages, gazing up at the sky as if watching a meteor shower. I saw more bats that night than I have seen in the rest of my life and I went to bed with the kind of smile reserved for those rare, perfect evenings.