I was going to write a post about the relaxing of restrictions in Victoria. They have had a very serious lockdown in Melbourne for 164 days. Everyone is so relieved that at last Victoria has had two days of no infections.
Instead, I have another story about koalas. On my way to our garage I noticed a dark shape hunched under a small eucalypt. It was a male (a buck) koala huddled over in the shade. I thought he might need water – although it is not a hot day. So, I took down a basin of water and offered it to him. He did not seem to be scared at all but drank steadily for a while.
I know that one of the signs of a sick koala is a tendency to stay on the ground. The ground is a dangerous place for them. So, I phoned up an organisation called Koala Rescue. A young lady arrived within half an hour with a large pet container. Using a towel for protection she picked up the koala from behind and placed him safely in the box. She said you have to be careful as their claws are very sharp, but they are not aggressive. Just frightened.
She thought that he had been in a fight and also he might have a virus. Koalas often get chlamydia. So my koala was off to hospital. I will be informed of his progress and when he’s better he will be returned to our property. Koalas are territorial. There is a shortage of habitat for koalas and they have been moving into urban areas. There they come into contact with domestic dogs. Furthermore, koalas have no road sense.
My koala did not seem to mind being photographed. So enjoy some close-ups.! Nothing much happens with koalas unless they are fighting.
For anyone who is used to the animals of Africa, it is a very subdued wildlife interaction.
25 October. I am on the beach a few minutes after dawn. The clouds cover the rising sun, blocking out the orange sunrise of the previous days. They are brilliant, backlit across the horizon against the early-blue sky, each unique shape mottled in shades of grey and white and sunrise yellow. Such a wonder of nature.
I am following the long footprints of a kangaroo: the last one to walk this path. There is no other human as far as I can see. A pair of pied oystercatchers is patrolling the sand ahead of me. I think from their behaviour that they might have youngsters hidden higher up in the marram grass. In the forest to my right a pied currawong is calling, his distinctive ‘clang, clang’. A pair of superb wrens are foraging in low grey bush closer to me. My dog Roy is intently sniffing for evidence of kangaroos: half-blind, Roy is still a hunter. Like me, he is happiest on the beach.
We are leaving Kangaroo Island today, and I have been thinking about how Australians need to care for this special island.
In 1802, when Captain Matthew Flinders arrived here in his ship, HMS Investigator, filled with a hungry crew, they were delighted to find so many (almost tame) kangaroos which they promptly slaughtered. In honour of this feast, Flinders so named the island. Flinders was tasked by the British Admiralty to map the coastline of Australia. They could not have found a better navigator or cartographer.
21-22 March, 1802. Diary of Captain Matthew Flinders. ‘Several black lumps, like rocks, were pretended to have been seen in motion by some of the young gentlemen, which caused the force of their imaginations to be much admired; next morning, however, on going toward the shore, a number of dark-brown kangaroos were seen feeding upon a grass-plat by the side of the wood and our landing gave them no disturbance. I had with me a double-barrelled gun, fitted with a bayonet, and the gentlemen my companions had muskets. It would be difficult to guess how many kangaroos were seen; but I killed ten, and the rest of the party made up the number to thirty-one, taken on board in the course of the day; the least of them weighing sixty-nine, and the largest one hundred and twenty-five pounds. These kangaroos had much resemblance to the large species found in the forest lands of New South Wales, except that their colour was darker, and they were not wholly destitute of fat.’
The island remains special for its wildlife. Although the mainland’s original wildlife has suffered from the introduction of all sorts of ferals animals, Kangaroo Island seems to have escaped the invasion by a few of the worst: foxes and rabbits.
Rabbits were released on Kangaroo Island several times but they did not survive, thank goodness. Apparently, they fell prey to the local Rosenberg’s goannas who must have found the rabbit warrens a perfect feeding ground. Kangaroo Island is the last stronghold for these goannas. The absence of aboriginal people is the reason given for the goanna numbers on the island. Aboriginal people left the island about 2,000 years ago. Kangaroo Island was separated from the mainland over 10,000 years ago by the rising oceans – enough time for species to differentiate.
The lack of some of the worst feral animals that plague the mainland and the paucity of the island’s soils have combined to preserve a lot of the native vegetation and fauna.
However, there is one animal that is a major problem: the koala. Twelve disease-free koalas were moved to the island in the 1920s, in a conservation response to the decimation of the koalas for the fur trade. And the marsupials loved their new home, finding it quite perfect. They took to the manna gums and the blue gum forests with gusto. The numbers have exploded. Rare manna gums are now threatened. So now there is a serious problem in the National Parks and eucalyptus plantations: too many koalas. What to do?
The obvious answer was to cull koalas but there was such an outcry at the idea of shooting or euthanising these iconic marsupials, this option was shelved. Of course, tourists flock to Kangaroo Island to see koalas and to have their photographs taken with them. Instead, at great expense, authorities have sterilised many koalas and moved some off the island. Still too many remain and they breed annually.
During the devastating bushfires of January this year, (almost half of the island’s 4,400 sq kms was burnt) thousands of koalas were wiped out (some say as many as 25,000). The scale of the destruction by the fires is hard to imagine. You can get some idea from the before and after images in this ABC report of February 2020.
Many injured ones were rescued and the sight of these pathetic animals resulted in an outpouring of donations for their care. Maybe 25,000 remain. BUT Kangaroo Island would be better off without ANY koalas. Whereas, kangaroos can manage their reproductive rate (embryonic diapause) in reaction to times of scarcity, koalas cannot.
Bushland on Kangaroo Island will recover, so will the koalas and the problem will continue. The larger question of how to preserve the island from inappropriate development (such as golf courses that need copious amounts of water) and lifestyle developments (that carve up precious coastal blocks for fly-in owners) remains.
I could walk the beach on my own this sunrise – a privilege that I did not take for granted. Long may Kangaroo Island remain a island where life is lived at a slower pace: a place where artists gather, boutique wine-makers offer you wine tastings while you observe wild kangaroos and locals care for our native animals.
I am following the long footprints of a kangaroo: the last one to walk this path. There is no other human as far as I can see. A pair of pied oystercatchers is patrolling the sand ahead of me. I think from their behaviour that they might have youngsters hidden higher up in the marram grass.In the forest to my right a pied currawong is calling, his distinctive ‘clang, clang’. A pair of superb wrens are foraging in low grey bush closer to me. My dog Roy is intently sniffing for evidence of kangaroos: half blind Roy is still a hunter. Like me, he is happiest on the beach
I tie the shoelaces on my walking boots as my father taught to me. He said it was his way in the Second WW: when you were in a ‘tight spot’ you did not want to find your boot laces suddenly flapping around. My father was an officer of the King’s African Rifles (KAR) facing Mussolini’s Italians in the remote highlands of Somalia.
You have to double the last loop of the bow into itself so you have a tight double knot. No flapping.
A tennis partner once showed me an alternative way, even more complex. She was from Eastern European and said her method was used by the Russian army. After you have done the normal bow, you thread the two loose ends and the bow loops back under the tight cross hatching of the shoe lace. Takes time to do this, but it’s firm: no tripping on the battlefield.
Today, in mild sunny weather, we went walking in Belair National Park in advance of the arrival of a cold front. There were no Italians stalking us, nor Russians gathering in the eucalypt forest. (However, we do hear that the Chinese are busy attacking our strategic assets). I wanted a first glimpse of spring flowering and native orchids. How glad I am to live in these times: a peace for us built on the wars of the 20th Century.
Belair National Park is South Australia’s first National Park – dedicated in 1891. It’s big: over 8 square kms and is only 25 minutes from our little city. The history of the park is the story of our state: an early demand for the rearing of stock, the harvesting of hay, the hewing of wood before the realisation that the remaining native forest should be conserved.
The State Flora nursery is located within its boundaries and we regularly buy native plant stock for our property from them. Today we purchased 10 tube stock of Eucalyptus porosa, the native gum tree that is found on our property and is a popular food source for koalas. My husband had read an article saying that the koala is threatened, perhaps even ‘critically endangered’.
Our response is to plant 10 more trees for them. There is no shortage of koalas on our property but the trees are looking thin.
We came home to find a small koala sleeping in the large gum, not three metres from the edge of our terrace. It was a good day: I remembered my father’s advice and the koalas will be happy at our home.
And on that note, to amuse you about the strange bush ways of us Australians, and to brighten your day, please enjoy: “Give me a home among the gum trees,” sung by the original singer / co-writer of the song, Bob Brown.
June 11. Our winter tennis competition started today, almost two months late. Its a more casual affair than our summer grass-court competition and is played in my local park about 3 kms from our home. We play 3 sets, first to 9. Surrounding the courts is a veritable forest of old eucalypts – most of them being the enormous and long-living River Red gums or Eucalyptus camaldulensis. A winter-rain river runs through the park and a new wetland is being planned in order to slow the river and clean its waters before they reach the Gulf of St Vincent.
Everyone was excited to start our tennis once more. Maybe even more so on a glorious sunny day with the temperature at 16o C. I stripped down to a tee-shirt. There is a greater sense that we are getting back to normal. What remains to be done is to open the state borders. West and South Australia, the NT and Queensland are reluctant as a few new virus cases are popping up in the most populous states of Victoria and NSW (7 overnight). Some of the cases are people in quarantine, newly arrived from overseas. Once our state borders are open, New Zealand’s government is considering a travel ‘bubble’ with Australia. Australians love travel and the snow fields around Queenstown in South Island, New Zealand are popular. They have real mountains there.
On the way to tennis I encountered a koala on the move. They seldom walk in the daytime. These are their hours of relaxation in a fork of a tree. This one was loping up the driveway in that strangely uncomfortable gait they have. The back legs look almost malformed and they have a grey patch of fur on their behinds. But once the animal reached a tree trunk it leapt up in bounds and I realised why HE was on the move. A female koala was perched on the next tree. The males smell the tree trunks to check on local ladies and this chap was hot on her trail. At night, we often hear the males proclaiming their territories. The sound is similar to a donkey braying. Not pretty.
We can start making plans once more: for lunches at local restaurants; for trips with my husband’s geology club to the Flinders Ranges in August; for our walking group to plan excursions and for more bridge sessions. What we are not planning is to apply for the 2,000 tickets for this weekend’s footy clash, or ‘Showdown’ of our two AFL clubs: the Crows and the Port Adelaide Footy Club. Even if we wanted to go, the tickets are in extremely short supply. Only 2,200 socially-distancing people will attend at the Adelaide Oval which seats 53,000+. But the show is starting….