by Martin P.J. Zinser


Some programs do have a strong relation with certain animals (like Perl with Camels). It turns out that the animal for DEC Datatrieve (DTR) is the Wombat.

It does contain a real gem in the helpsystem which can be retrieved using HELP WOMBAT on old DTR versions and HELP Commands_Statements_Clauses WOMBAT on recent DTR incarnations.

In case you do not have DTR handy to check by yourself here is the result of the Help command from DTR 7.2:


Wombats are native Australian or Tasmanian mammals. Like many other antipodean animals, they have strange [1] reproductive habits (less so than the platypus which lays green eggs and is a monotreme). They also have constantly growing incisors allowing (nay, encouraging) them to chew on bark, wood, softer rocks, etc. (Wombats are friendly, loyal, nocturnal, and not overly intelligent. Sir Everard Home reports, "In captivity it is as a rule amiable, the amiability being possibly associated with stupidity." He probably woke it from a nap.)

The family Vombatidae is divided into two groups: the naked nosed and the hairy nosed wombats. The naked nosed group constitutes the genus Vombatuis (or Phascolomis) and includes the Tasmanian wombat (V. Ursinus) from Tasmania and Flinders Island and the common Wombat (V. hirsutus) from south east Australia. These have coarse, harsh, blackish brown fur, a naked area on the muzzle, and short ears.

The hairy nosed group contains Lasiorhinus latifrons from south Australia and wombatula gillespiei from southern Queensland. These species have silky grizzled gray fur, a hairy muzzle, and larger ears. The consequences of all this to wombat society is further complicated by the question of who has more ribs.

Additional information available:
  • Wombats, particular

    Dante Gabriel Rossetti had a wombat who slept (during the day) in an epergne on the dining room table. He (the wombat) reappeared as a dormouse in Rev. Dodgson's book.

  • Wombats, uses of

    Live-conversation piece, alarm clock (third shift) dead-doormats; for food, see Wombats, food?

  • Wombats, food

    Grass, bark, leaves, fungi

  • Epergne

    Who knows? ...clearly someplace wombats sleep.

  • Marsupials

    Include bandicoots (which should be rabbits), koalas (which should be bears), tasmanian wolves (which should be coyotes), and wombats (which should be lethargic badgers). Pogo was a marsupial.

  • Sexual habits

    These are of interest only to other wombats, and then only between April and June.

  • Wombats, prehistoric

    Pleistocene Giant Wombat was as large as a rhinoceros.

  • Wombats, food?

    Would you want to eat a doormat that ate bark and fungus?

This help text has been part of Datatrieve since the very first Datatrieve-11 V1.0 for PDP-11 (Although it did enter relatively late in the development cycle, i.e. according to Jim Starkey, who developed the software, it was added by his wife around 2 O'clock in the morning of the day the program was submitted to the SDC). Still at that time the Wombat was not yet listed as one of the "regular" help topics. The Wombat was discovered by Chuck Watson, founder of the Datatrieve SIG. It became part of the product culture and so made the transitions to both the VAX and Alpha platforms.

Also an impressive graphical representation of this animal can be invoked using the plot facility of DTR using the following commands:


For all readers without DTR here is how the plot looks like:

DTR Wombat

The following pictures show the "real" wombat the drawing is based on, one as a close-up and one together with Jim Starkey.



Jim Starkey and Wombat

Jim Starkey and Wombat


Early versions of DTR contained some gems in the messages, but unfortunately these were removed in later editions for the sake of political correctness. Two I am aware of are:

If you used the line "AT MIDDLE of PAGE" (instead of "AT BOTTOM OF PAGE" or "AT TOP OF PAGE"), you would get the message: '"At middle of page" is innovative, but, alas, illegal'.

The command help advanced me produced the message 'You are not advanced'

  • [1] strange to us-they wouldn't have it any other way.

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Martin P.J. Zinser