Real Life

Man builds village for guinea pigs in Tasmania

Welcome to Guinea Vale, a home away from home
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Steve Ransley, 55, from Hobart, Tas, shares his story with Take 5:

One look at my new guinea pig, Basil, and I was smitten.

“He’s going to need a mate,” I told my wife, Sharon.

It was 2019 and I’d decided to get some guinea pigs as a way of mowing the lawns of the orchard out the back of our place, where I grew cherries, blueberries and apples.

A friend had heard I was on the lookout and gave me one.

“His name’s Tim Tam,” my mate said, but it didn’t seem to suit him, so I changed it to Basil.

I got guinea pigs to help mow the lawn in my orchard. (Image: supplied)

Guinea pigs are communal pets who need company so, once Basil arrived, Sharon went straight out and bought me another, who I named Squirtle after the Pokemon character.

Within the next two months, three more were given to me: I named them the Ginger Ninjas.

The five all got along so well and had plenty of room to play and explore the orchard.

“What happened to them mowing the lawns?” Sharon joked.

Truth was, these pets had won me over so easily with their charm and gentle nature that I’d forgotten about their purpose.

My guinea pigs all got on so well. (Image: supplied)

Growing up, I’d had pet rabbits and we kept several sheep on our property, but guinea pigs were something else.

Inquisitive by nature, they were both active and relaxed and each one had its own unique personality.

Each time I approached them, I was greeted by their whistles of excitement that made me feel very lucky for their company.

And my collection kept growing.

On Christmas, birthdays and Father’s Day, I’d be given more … I eventually ended up with 37!

I soon ended up with 37 guinea pigs! (Image: supplied)

Realising they needed extra room, I started building miniature houses complete with white picket fences, clothes lines, rubbish and recycling bins for them to interact with and explore.

I made everything myself except for the deckchairs, which I bought online, and, before I knew it, I had an entire town for them!

Erecting a sign which read Guinea Vale, home of the Guineas, I marvelled at what I’d created.

Sharon was amused.

“When you do something, you really go at it full-bore, don’t you?” she laughed.

Building Guinea Vale also required some planning.

Thirty of the guinea pigs are female, so I had to keep the seven boys in a portioned-off area so breeding wouldn’t get out of control.

I built the entire town myself. (Image: supplied)

When I showed this little community to my four grandchildren, they were enthralled.

“Goppy, you’ve got to put them on TikTok,” they all encouraged.

I ummed and ahhed over it – Guinea Vale was a special place for me and my family, and I wasn’t certain I wanted to share it with the world.

But my youngest grandchild, Otto, four, lives interstate and when lockdowns meant we couldn’t be together, I sent him regular videos of what the guinea pigs were up to.

“He can’t get enough of them,” Otto’s mum told me, sending photos of him transfixed by the videos on his tablet.

My grandson, Otto, loved the videos of Guinea Vale. (Image: supplied)

From there, I made a public Facebook before eventually signing up to TikTok in 2021.

If it brings a smile to one other person, then that’s a big thing, I thought.

The video-sharing platform gave me the chance to record the guinea pigs’ antics and add music or other graphics.

In the first video, I shared 10 seconds of me feeding one by hand before making more of their meal times.

In others, I added laser swords to make it look like two of them, Ginger and Pip, were engaging in some kind of Star Wars-style battle, and I captured the time a blue-tongued lizard entered their village looking for fallen berries, which I called Guinea Vale Meets Jurassic.

The guinea pigs weren’t bothered by the lizard’s presence, and it was more interested in exploring their home than eating them!

I got creative with my guinea pig videos on TikTok. (Image: supplied)

Animal-lovers from around the world started messaging me, many had their own pet guinea pigs.

Thank you for making me smile, they’d write.

And for me, that’s the whole point.

At a time when we’re constantly bombarded with bad news, people want to experience the good in the world.

Meanwhile, Guinea Vale has continued to grow.

Soon, I plan to ad a pub, called The Walnut Tree Inn.

It’s my tribute to my great-great-great grandfather, George, who ran a pub in the United Kingdom, and hatched raids from the Walnut Tree Inn in Kent, UK, before he was transported to the penal colony of Port Arthur, Tasmania, to carry out his sentence.

My guinea pigs are loved right around the world. (Image: supplied)

And I’m going to expand the town in the orchard even more…

Later this year, I hope to add a church, based on a similar sandstone one near our home.

“If any of you’re naughty, that’s where I’ll send you,” I joke to the guinea pigs.

I won’t be introducing any more pets to Guinea Vale, but I plan to keep sharing their adventures for as long as I can.

Welcoming these pets into my life has made me a whole lot happier, and it’s very rewarding to know that people around the world get to share that joy, too.

For more, visit @GuineaVale on TikTok

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