By Tanner Ford, on flickr
Melbourne’s west before European settlement was a very different place. Broad reddish-gold grasslands swept out between red gum-lined rivers. Close to the Bay, tea tree thickets hid the deltas of the Yarra, Werribee and Little Rivers, with freshwater swamps and wetlands dotted around.
The wetlands were full of ducks, swans, egrets and pelicans. The grasslands were home to Plains Wanderers, Diamond Finches and Emus. The red gum river lines were rich with kookaburras, Eastern Rosellas and koalas, whose favourite food on the Western Plains was this tree.
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Victoria
With European settlement came change. The plains were overtaken by sheep and cattle, who loved to rest under the shade of the River Red Gums, and chew and rub against their broad trunks. Settlers needed firewood, and the Red Gums quickly became famous for their long- and hot-burning wood.
Slowly but surely the River Red Gum strip forests became patchy as the ancient trees succumbed to stock damage and firewood and timber harvesting. Then in some places, like the Little River, they disappeared altogether.
The strong breeding koalas of the river forests found themselves without a home. So being dominant animals they took the next best thing – the Yellow Gum forests on the slopes of the You Yangs. In doing that they forced the weaker koalas into some pretty awful habitat, and many did not survive. But this is what animals do – the strong fight, breed and keep the species alive.
For decades koalas persisted in the You Yangs, and would have continued to do so if humans hadn’t introduced a new challenge – climate change.
Climate change is drying out the forests. Climate change is making fires, droughts and heatwaves longer and more frequent. Climate change is forcing eucalyptus leaves to change their nutritional composition and become more toxic.
The forest that koalas could live in a decade ago is now starving them to death.
In Melbourne we are lucky. We still have a viable koala population, and we have science showing us a clear path to save them. All we need to do is put the River Red Gum forests back where they belong – in the rivers, streams and drainage lines of the Western Plains. This is the purpose of the Koala Clancy Foundation, and we need everyone’s help.
Working with Koala Clancy is Landcare, Melbourne Water and the Catchment Management Authorities who are committed to replanting the rivers and creating corridors for wildlife. We also have enthusiastic support from private landowners and farmers – they have been trying for years to revegetate and have succeeded in planting millions of trees. But more are needed, and the landowners are tired – they need new hands to help, and that’s where Melbourne’s huge urban population can get their hands dirty, plant a tree, learn about wildlife and have fun.
Koala Clancy Foundation organises Koala Conservation Days for Locals on the first and third Sunday every month, all year. From May to August we plant thousands of koala trees on the land of welcoming, environmentally-minded farmers. It is a privilege to visit some of these historic properties and to meet these custodians of the land.
September to April we remove weeds from koala habitat, water and maintain our plantings. On every Koala Conservation Day we visit some wild koalas and learn about their lives from koala experts who’ve studied this population for 10 years.
Get in touch with your country soul and help a koala.
Need to Know
The next Next Koala Conservation Days are:
Sunday June 18
Sunday June 25 (special extra tree planting date – all welcome)
Sunday July 2
Sunday July 16
After July, check out the link above for further dates.