Wednesday, 13 Sep 2000

ON THE ROAD, New South Wales

Overnight I heard the curlews calling on Koala Beach — bush-stone curlews are an endangered species and have been nesting at Koala Beach for the last two seasons. Last year they had two chicks, but unfortunately one was killed by a car and the other is thought to have been taken by a fox — there are feral foxes on the estate. Foxes are not native to Australia; they were brought here 200 years ago by the English for fox hunting and since that time they have caused havoc with all small marsupials and birds. The management committee on Koala Beach is now trying to reduce the number of foxes on the site.

Curlews at Koala Beach.

Yesterday was an interesting day — we had pretty intense but mind-expanding discussions. We are at a stalemate about whether to impose the dog ban on the next stages of development at Koala Beach.

Here are the issues I have to think about:

  • If we lift the ban, what will be the long-term consequences for the koalas? Can we lift the ban and still protect them?
  • If we do not lift the ban, what will happen? The sales of the development could stop, the development could go broke, and then at some stage in the future people would not take the necessary steps to protect the koalas.

Even if we don’t lift the dog ban at Koala Beach, this is an issue we must eventually face. Many of us have cats and dogs and gain great pleasure and solace from close interaction with them — we don’t want to live without them.

Furry friend or marsupial marauder?

I am a responsible dog owner. My three golden retrievers go to bed each evening, out of harm’s way. However, as gentle as they look, they would love to kill a koala if given the chance and indeed they have killed a possum on my property.

Could I live at Koala Beach without my dogs? What would encourage me to live there without them?

Current residents at Koala Beach love living there because the only sound they hear is “the sound of the sea.” No dogs barking. Are there enough people in Australia to buy this development who do not want to have a dog?

These are the issues in a nutshell. Those of you reading this may well want to write to me with advice. I will need it.

Often human dignity and respect are missing from the conservation debate — people say “they should do this,” “they shouldn’t be allowed to do that,” “they must do such and such.” I always come back to thinking about what my reaction would be if I had restrictions imposed on me and my home and my land. I have three dogs — in fact four out of five of our AKF staff who met with Brian Ray yesterday own dogs. Would any of us be willing to have them put down or give them away in order to live at Koala Beach? It’s such a hard decision to make.

In the end, you can’t tell people how to live their lives, but you can have boundaries and you can have certain areas of koala habitat, core habitats, that are sacrosanct and should never be developed.

Dogs don’t help his koala-ty of life.

I think that it is just a given that we will have to constantly find creative solutions to protect our wildlife. One thing’s for certain — there are no easy solutions.

Today I’m back on the road, driving from Pottsville
to Walgett in central western New South Wales. We have a field team doing work for our Koala Habitat Atlas project to map koala habitat at a scale that planners can use to make the decisions they need to make for koala conservation.

I drive from coastal, green New South Wales over the Great Dividing Range and west toward Walgett and Lightning Ridge. Lightning Ridge is an opal mining town and like many country towns is isolated by distance. The Olympic torch passed through Lightning Ridge a few weeks ago and by all accounts it was the biggest event to hit the town in decades!

You see a big change in the country as you cross the Range and reach the inland where it’s drier and the country is harsher. It has been so degraded since the time of white settlement, mainly by clearing for agriculture. The contrasts are startling — so much beauty and so much degradation. It’s hard to comprehend and digest it all emotionally. I love this country and it makes me sad to see what has happened, but I am also full of hope for the future, hope that there are solutions to the problems faced by koalas and this land.

Talk to you tomorrow.