There’s a whisper around town that platypuses are in the Obi Obi Creek…

by Gay Liddington

I entered the Obi Obi Boardwalk via the Maleny Showgrounds with the Platypus Whisperer. A misty smell of damp moss, decaying tree trunks, and teeming soil—the scent of life, tinged the air. The burble of the creek drew us along a leaf-littered path.

Maleny resident Neil Andison found at age 62 that he could not continue a job he loved because of health concerns. They withdrew his work licences after working 15 years with heavy machinery, specifically high-tech elevated work platforms. 

“It caught me off guard, but my other passion came to the fore. 

“In 2012, while walking across the creek bridge in town, I saw a platypus in the wild for the first time. It intrigued me and so I bought my first digital SLR camera and began photographing local flora and fauna, focusing on the platypus.

“Because I worked six days a week, I’d go for an early morning walk on Sundays and people would ask, ‘What are you photographing?’

“Conversations like ‘We’ve lived here 30 years and walk this way three days a week and we’ve never seen a platypus’ began. My general response was, if you turn around and look down, there’s one in the creek.”

That initial spotting of a platypus peaked Neil’s interest. His sightings and the number of people who had never seen one inspired him to toss ideas around with friends and the concept of starting educational tours developed.

“When I lost my licences, I thought, this is the perfect opportunity. The Facebook page I had created for my photos was well supported and so, after having my daughter design a logo, getting uniforms made, making brochures, Platypus Whisperer Guided Tours came to life four weeks after I had resigned from my position.”

Neil admitted to initially being embarrassed at being called the Platypus Whisperer. He explained how he came to be known by that tag.

“Friends and I used to walk regularly along the Obi Obi Boardwalk at the creek and I’d invariably spot a platypus. If I wasn’t with them, they wouldn’t see anything, so one day a friend said, ‘You’re a bloody platypus whisperer!’. 

“When I started the business, I embraced the name because it epitomised everything I did.”

As I traversed the boardwalk with my guide, I learnt how the Obi Obi Creek got its name from Ubie Ubie, an indigenous Djalla warrior, and that while our council region is less than 1% of Australia’s land area, it is believed to contain over 10% of known plant species, over 25% of known mammal species (including the world’s only monotremes, i.e., the platypus and echidna), and over 50% of known bird species. 

“In the region, we’ve got about 182 bird species that inhabit or migrate through the area. Walking along the boardwalk, one can experience the magic of subtropical rainforest habitat.

“Barung Landcare started their work on the Obi Obi Boardwalk in 1996 and, with the Sunshine Coast Council, continues to maintain it. Included is the care of the Maleny Precinct where Greenhills, Barung, and several other groups maintain the riparian zone that keeps the creek healthy.

“A healthy creek means healthy water, and healthy water means that platypus, who have a lifespan of over 20 years in the wild and have lived there for millennia, are going to stay there.”

My time with Neil made me realise how little I knew about the duck-billed platypus and, like a child, I barraged him with questions. It surprised me to learn that Europeans first encountered platypuses in Australia in 1797. 

The conservative establishment of Britain and Europe suspected that this ‘animal’ comprised a duck bill sewn onto the body of a mammal, a taxidermic hoax.

Neil continues: “The platypus is primarily a nocturnal animal that spends 95% of its time in the water. They tunnel into the creek bank, creating either a nesting burrow or a resting burrow.

“The resting burrow can be three to six metres long. That’s where they go to rest as they forage for about 16 hours a day to maintain a healthy body weight. They do it in short bursts, rest, then begin again. Their nesting burrows can be up to 30 metres long. The female drags in leaf litter and builds the nest at the end of the tunnel where she lays her eggs.”

In a community that is passionate about the environment, the word has spread about the work of Platypus Whisper

Neil recently received a message from a Canadian journalist who writes for Lonely Planet, who asked to feature his tours in their guide as part of the Sunshine Coast’s wildlife experience. Add to this guest speaking, radio interviews, photo exhibitions, the possibility of a documentary regarding wildlife preservation, and jewellery!

“Jim Goulton from Maleny Jewellers had seen my photos and asked if he could use them as a reference for making platypus jewellery—a range called Obi Waters. Also, Jim has just created the first piece of kingfisher jewellery from my bird photos.”

The Maleny Library invited Neil to exhibit his photo canvases for the month of September 2021. It was so well received that there will be another exhibition in March.

Neil Andison aka Platypus Whisperer told me that before moving to Maleny, “Walk was a four-letter word and bushwalk was two four-letter words strung together.” 

By default, he has become a specialist in his field, encouraging people to engage with nature, whether by foot, in a wheelchair, or a stroller.

Being made redundant when retirement was drawing close didn’t mean a loss of identity for the 62-year-old, it marked an opportunity, a time of transition—life after work.

Visit: facebook.com/platypuswhisperer1

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