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It only occurred to me to node this place now that it’s gone. 99% of the area has been destroyed by the January 2003 bushfires. More about that later. In the interests of ease of writing and reading – the following paragraphs are written about Tidbinbilla as it was, and, I hope, as it will be again.

Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve:

Tidbinbilla nature reserve is an area of approximately 5,500ha in the Australian Capital Territory, 40 minutes from Canberra. It houses a collection of Australian flora and fauna – some free ranging, others kept in fairly spacious enclosures. Species at Tidbinbilla include the musk duck and speckled duck, platypus, koalas, red and grey kangaroos, the endangered brush-tailed rock-wallaby, long nosed potoroos, regent honeyeaters, emus, and a host of other Australian animals. A breeding program for the highly endangered Northern Corroboree Frog is planned for the future – the beginning steps are already underway.

The nature reserve is close by to the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex.

Conservation at Tidbinbilla:

The Brush-tailed rock-wallaby breeding program at Tidbinbilla has been very successful. The program has allowed the first return to the wild of captive bred brush-tailed rock-wallabies. This species has disappeared from much of its previous range due to hunting by early settlers, and predation and competition from introduced species such as foxes and rabbits. There is a breeding program of the carnivorous and very ferocious Musk Duck – “Ripper” and “Mrs Ripper” have produced a few bevies of vicious ducklings. This species is very aggressive towards other waterfowl, and to humans, so the majority of the musk ducks were confined. The rare speckled duck is bred in a fenced off pond area – their wings clipped to ensure they remain in the enclosure.

Education at Tidbinbilla:

The Tidbinbilla visitors’ centre and education centre provide a host of educational and entertaining exhibits. Ranger walks are provided daily, along with various special activities such as night-time spotlighting and film showings. The region’s rich Aboriginal heritage is celebrated, with displays showing the significance of the area and its flora and fauna to the native Australians. The early European settlers’ experiences in the Tidbinbilla area are examined as well. And, of course, you can always go to the visitors’ centre just to buy a cheap and rather tacky souvenir. If you really want to.

Exhibits at Tidbinbilla:

A long time favourite at the nature reserve is the Koala enclosure. A large area of fenced off Eucalypt forest – the enclosure is sufficiently large to sustain the population of 20 koalas that live there. From most areas on the walking trails you are unable to see the fence, and can believe yourself in unfenced bushland. The koalas are surveyed each morning by keepers, and their positions marked on the map at the entrance to the enclosure. This makes it easier for tourists to find the animals – as finding a small grey lump high in a large grey tree is often difficult. The koalas move very little during the day – so the map generally remains fairly accurate. The koalas are tagged and named, and their breeding and movements are carefully documented.

The Brush-tailed rock-wallaby exhibit allows visitors to observe these once common animals in an area very close to their natural habitat. As noted above, the breeding program has been quite successful, and tourists can enjoy watching these sure-footed creatures leaping around on their rocky outcrop.

The series of lakes and wetlands is home to a diverse group of species. Many of them fly freely about – returning to the wetlands by choice, while other more rare (or non-endemic) species, such as the brolgas, have had their wings clipped. A scattering of bird blinds allow viewers very close to the wildfowl, and occasionally provide the opportunity to see the elusive platypus that live in the streams.

Other facilities:

Tidbinbilla is well equipped with picnic areas, parking spots and barbeque facilities. Kangaroos, emus and other wildlife roam free in the reserve, so speed limits are quite restrictive, and visitors must be careful with their rubbish (and, indeed, their lunch – ‘roos and emus are opportunistic little buggers…). A day pass for a private vehicle is $8.50, and the park is open every day except Christmas day.

Tidbinbilla after the January 2003 bushfires:

As I said above – it was the devastation to this place that inspired me to node about it. 99% of the nature reserve has been burnt to varying intensities. 90-95% of the fauna is believed to have been lost.

Enclosures were opened and some were irrigated when the threat of fire drew near. Unfortunately, the fires were too intense, and the animals were reluctant to leave their habitat. Breeding pairs of the extremely endangered Regent’s honeyeater were lost, 30 of the 35 brush-tailed rock wallabies perished. All 20 koalas in the enclosure died – one koala from the rest of the park has been found and is being treated for burns. 11 of the 15 speckled ducks died, along with most of the musk ducks. 14 long nosed potoroos remain out of a population of 30. A Corroboree frog was also lost – adding to the threat to this species after populations were decimated in other areas.

Many of the waterfowl died – falling out of the air as they were overcome by smoke and heat. Kangaroos and emus perished, as did echidnas and wombats. Those left battle injuries and starvation. Kangaroos are already invading suburban areas of Canberra in search of food, as the drought leaves areas of grassland bare.

Facilities lost include the Education centre, the animal house research and breeding facility, wildlife enclosures, the front gate booth, many picnic tables and three staff cottages. The visitors’ centre survived, as did the nearby Deep Space Communications Complex.

R.I.P. Musk Ducks: Ripper and Little Ripper – you’ll never beat the crap out of the keepers again. Long live Mrs Ripper – glad you survived. I’m sure you’ll keep up the old keeper beating traditions.

R.I.P. Farley, Cookie, Elmo and all the other koalas. The keepers won’t have to do the koala walk in the mornings to pinpoint your location for the day anymore. Long live Lucky: the surviving koala – but I wish Farley had lived instead. I named him after my hero Farley Mowat, long ago when we captured and tagged him. The vicious little bugger’s gone now.

R.I.P. all the great old poplars – no more chopping back and poisoning your offspring.

R.I.P. all the bushland trails – no more walking them with hedge clippers to keep them nice and neat.

R.I.P. Ross Bennett’s old hammock in the koala enclosure.


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