LAST Sunday week, with the declaration of the Dharawal National Park, was a significant day because we believe the site is a refuge area for koalas.Its protection will mean there will always be a source of koalas to recolonise areas damaged by fire — free from dogs and cars.The site is linked by bushland to Holsworthy Firing Range, Woronora River water-catchment area, Heathcote and Royal National Parks to the east, Cataract River catchment area and Morton National Park to the south and via bush corridors beside Appin Road to the Nepean River to the west.So there will always be young koalas setting off across the countryside from our new national park to replenish existing populations or regenerate extinct ones.Several interesting sightings were reported this week, three local and two from further afield.Two local ones were from the northern end of Smiths Creek. This has been a popular site for the old male, Price, but our regular correspondent from that area, Bernadette, tells us the latest sighting was of a young, untagged animal. None of the koalas have yet been sighted trying to cross Pembroke Road near Wests League Club.It makes us wonder whether some koalas, like some cats and dogs, develop road sense. The third local report was from the retirement village at Kentlyn, a favourite site for koalas.One of the non-local reports was from Remembrance Drive, just north of Tahmoor. We know there is a population in the nearby Avon Dam catchment and that koalas are regularly killed near the Pheasants Creek bridge on the F6, but we expect to find other sites in the area as well. We tagged one young female several years ago at Pheasants Nest and it was later reported from Tahmoor.
We would love to know where she is now. As our koalas live up to 15 years she may still be there. The second non-local report was from Comleroy Road at East Kurrajong.
Sightings from this area are relatively regular and suggest there is a reasonable population of koalas.
Tristan’s DNA study, in fact, showed koalas from this area had greater genetic variation than our Campbelltown animals.
This means the Campbelltown koalas are fewer in number or went through a large population crash in the past.
Report koala sightings on the UWS pager, 9962 9996.
Bouquets to the NSW Government for giving the world the fabulous Dharawal National Park. It’s easy to find things to complain about, but the protection of this genuinely beautiful and important part of Australian natural and cultural heritage is something to celebrate.The Dharawal National Park is 6500ha of the upper Georges River catchment, bridging Darkes Forest north of Wollongong to Wedderburn in Campbelltown, and with two-thirds of the park in Wollondilly. It is tucked away between parts of the water supply catchments for Sydney and Wollongong, taking in some of the wild and scenic country of the O’Hares Creek gorge and Minerva Pool waterfalls.
The park includes about 20 threatened animal species, three nationally significant plant species, and the largest koala population in the Sydney basin. It contains pristine creeks and large numbers of internationally significant upland swamps with some of the highest densities of species in the world.
Not only does the park contain all this biodiversity, but it is also part of a greater green corridor linking Royal National Park with Budderoo and Morton national parks, and the Nattai and Blue Mountains reserve areas. Green corridors are vital for the long-term survival of species, because they allow plants and animals to re-colonise after fires, and to gradually adapt and move to new areas in response to environmental changes.
As well as being jam-packed with native species and ecosystems, the Dharawal National Park area is culturally significant to the Dharawal people. It is rich with nationally listed Aboriginal cultural sites, containing drawings, stencils, paintings and axe-grinding grooves. The land, water, plants and animals in the park are all important to Aboriginal culture.
The environment and culture of Dharawal National Park have now been protected from mining and development thanks to the dedication and hard work of conservationists and the many active environmental groups.
These truly heroic people have put in years of their lives working to benefit us all. They’ve researched, educated, lobbied and gained growing support over the years, for no financial gain.
Surprisingly, most of Wollongong’s well-loved, green backdrop of the Illawarra Escarpment, and the vital water catchment lands adjoining the escarpment, are not protected in the reserve system.
The escarpment is largely in private ownership and remains at risk to development pressures and mining. Even large areas of land that are in state reserves and the catchment ‘Special Areas’, remain open to coal and coal seam gas mining. The subsidence caused by mining has caused damage to riverbeds and water in the catchment, cracking riverbeds, draining water from the rivers, and polluting the water with methane and other chemicals.
Importantly, the Dharawal National Park is now protected from these mining impacts. It’s a wonderful first step for the NSW Government, showing that it’s listened to what many people in the Illawarra have been demanding – the protection of a beautiful natural area of high Aboriginal significance.
It has shown that it’s possible to change our priorities, and it opens the way for the Government to honour another commitment by also protecting our water catchments and farmlands from coal and gas mining.
Jill Merrin is a Wollongong City Councillor and a member of the Greens.
NEW NATIONAL PARK SOUTH OF SYDNEY LIKELY TO PROTECT KOALAS
On March 25, 2012, the new Dharawal National Park south of Sydney was proclaimed by Premier Barry O’Farrell. The park had been “promised” by former Labor premier Bob Carr in 1993.
The park came to fruition after a coal mining proposal in 2009 aroused fears that the coastal area would be decimated. Noting that mining below the surface would no longer be a threat, Pat Durman, executive committee member of the Macarthur Branch of the National Parks Association, said, “It protects the park to the centre of the Earth and it is a big win for Campbelltown.”
The mining project was proposed by BHP Billiton, an Anglo-Australian multinational mining, oil, and gas company headquartered in Melbourne Australia, and billed as the world’s largest mining company measured by 2011 revenues.
The park’s 14,800 acres (6000 hectares) of Dharawal includes rugged sandstone gorges, upland swamp, and urban watersheds, on Sydney’s back doorstep east of Campbelltown and Appin, south of Sutherland, and west of Wollongong. The park, which had been the Dharawal State Conservation area, includes Darkes Forest, Maddens Falls, and the pristine headwaters of the Georges River. Mrs. Durman said the park was also home to rare and endangered wildlife, and Aboriginal rock sites.
“We’ve actually done what we said we were going to do and delivered this national park,” said Campbelltown state Liberal Minister of Parliament Bryan Doyle.
Greg Bondar, CEO of the local Aboriginal Land Council representing the Tharawal people, said the Tharawals “have been involved in campaigning for this national park on our traditional lands since the 1880s.”
Long-time Dharawal park proponent, and secretary of the Georges River Environmental Alliance, Sharyn Cullis, described the new parkland as, “nature’s own wet and wild theme park with cool, deep swimming holes and bubbling, natural spa pools. Beautiful creeks make it an ideal place for summer water play.” With “other nearby national parks virtually bursting at the seams on busy weekends … in our ever-growing and recreationally insatiable city, (Dharawal) is the next national park we have to have.”
University of Western Sydney koala expert Robert Close, writing in a column for the local Campbelltown-Macarthur Advertiser, said that the Dharawal “is a refuge area for koalas.” Close believes the O’Hare’s Creek gorge in the park “is the place where koalas will survive bushfires—and by surviving bushfires, there’s always going to be recovery.” Close first noticed the importance of the gorge when he found a radio-collared male sheltering in a cave on a very hot day.
Preserving Dharawal, says Close, “will mean there will always be a source of koalas to recolonize areas damaged by fire—free from dogs and cars.” The new park is linked by bushland and natural corridors to a variety of other preserves in the area, including Royal National Park.
For now the park has few facilities—there is a designated path to Maddens Falls. Even for better known attractions such as Minerva Pool, the usual visitors are “local bushwalkers in the know.” Public input will soon be solicited for what’s expected to be A$1 million in new facilities.
Jeff McGill, editor of the Campbelltown-Macarthur Advertiser, recently wrote that, “All the good stuff is hidden down various tracks which are not marked at the moment, and even tend to disappear in spots. For an unknowing layperson from deep suburbia, you might end up more bushwhacked than bushwalked.” An opening event is expected on May 5. Visit the Friends of Dharawal National Park on Facebook.
Royal National Park, just south of Sydney, was proclaimed on April 26, 1879. As such, it’s the world’s second oldest national park (after Yellowstone), and according to Wikipedia, the first to be referred to by the term “national park.”