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Malani's Koala Family Adventures - May 2024

It’s time to leave Cobram and head west along the Murray River where we spent a few nights in a tiny town called Barmah. We had read that koalas are common throughout the Barmah National Park and set off to explore the 4km Lakes Loop track. Unfortunately, flooding prevented us from completing this trail and we had to turn back before spotting any koalas. We did however spot 2 wild emus roaming through the bush!

We left Barmah disappointed, knowing that we were leaving many places along the Murray River unexplored and that we would need to come back another time when flooding wasn’t an issue.

Next, we drove 230kms south-west to explore the Koala Park at Creswick Regional Park. This place has a unique story. In 1942, forestry students constructed a netting fence in a section of the forest to be used as a breeding area for koalas. Koalas were released in the enclosure to breed and boost numbers of the local population. However, the interesting part of the story is, the koalas were all able to climb the fence and so dispersed into the surrounding bush. It makes me wonder how little they must have known about koalas back then!

The park has a network of walking tracks which according to our online research, there’s a good chance of spotting a koala, but unfortunately, we didn’t have any luck. All we found was a random laminated picture of a koala pinned to a tree! Someone’s funny sense of humour I expect. A local we met on the walk told us that koalas haven’t been spotted here for years. We fear our online information must be outdated and the population in this area has declined, possibly to the point of extinction.

When we got back to the van, we did a little more digging and was able to contact Michael from Creswick Wildlife Rescue. He told us that when he moved to Creswick in the ‘90s, it was not uncommon to hear and see koalas, even right in town. Sadly now, in the last 20 years of being a wildlife rescuer and photographer, he has only seen a total of 7 koalas in all of Creswick Regional Park. It’s another sad story for the koalas I’m afraid.

So, after 2 unsuccessful koala spotting attempts, it was time to get my koala fix at the Ballarat Wildlife Park, 18km south of Creswick. Here they have around 35 koalas and 100s of free-roaming kangaroos, among many other animals. I was not disappointed with this visit!

Some of the koalas here were very entertaining to watch, particularly one of the big male koalas that sat on top of the roof as if it were a throne, observing everyone and watching the day pass by. He almost seemed a little buddha like in his serene state.  We also enjoyed watching a mother koala with her little joey, poking its head out of the grey mass of fur to munch on eucalyptus leaves! Though it was eating them tip first, so I expect this joey is still learning how koalas eat leaves. It amazes me how these little ones manage to hold on while mum moves about as she normally would in the tree.

But interestingly, it was not the koalas that took up most of my attention. It was one curious and cheeky little kangaroo joey! I sat for hours amused while watching him annoy his kangaroo mob, jumping on and over their sleeping bodies, clawing at their face and demanding attention. He even fearlessly came over to me while I was sitting on the ground, climbed all over me and tried to chew on my shirt. It was fascinating watching the awkwardness of his long feet as this little joey clumsily tried to move around invading everyone’s personal space!

After fulfilling my wildlife needs, I happily headed off, back on the road with mum again. We decided to take a bit of a detour, this time heading north-west, because we were only 150km from the iconic Giant Koala. Whilst impressive in size, this koala was visibly old and run down. The enormous monument was created in 1989 and stands 14 metres high, 8 metres wide and weighs 12 tonnes!  

In 2009, the Giant Koala was renamed Sam in honour of a koala rescued from bush fires. Sam was a female koala that lived in the forests of Mirboo North. She became famous when videos and photographs of her being rescued by a firefighter went viral over the internet and TV stations, during the aftermath of the Black Saturday bushfires.

Sadly, after surviving the fires, Sam the koala was euthanized on August 6, 2009, due to her advanced stages of chlamydia. Her remains were taken to the Melbourne Museum and preserved as a symbol of the bushfires.

It’s not exactly clear why the Giant Koala was built but some believe that it was a tribute to the dwindling number of koalas in the region. Sadly, it has become a rare occurrence to spot a koala in The Grampians and surrounds. This seems to be a similar story for many central Victorian areas.

Well, that’s it for this month. No more koalas to add to our Wild Koala Tally, I’m afraid. Hopefully we will have more luck spotting wild koalas further south as we finally make it into Portland and begin heading east along Victoria’s rugged coastline.

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