Helen Wilson, Member, National Parks Association of NSW

We bushwalk for the good of our bodies and souls, but we can also walk in special places to think about how we can help to be better stewards of them. The NPA’s activities program provides opportunities for members to see for themselves what’s happening with our park campaigns.

Most members probably know about our Great Koala National Park (GKNP) proposal; at least that koala numbers have declined drastically and NPA is campaigning to protect swathes of their habitat in the Mid North Coast hinterland. Much of this is cleared but there are significant state forests which could be converted to become part of adjoining national parks.

I won the ‘Great Koala Getaway’ stay at Two Styx cottages near Ebor in NPA’s auction last year and this became the basis for a Great Koala National Park Exploration trip in May. We thought we might even see a koala, or at least find out what koala habitat looked like, what’s happening with the state forests in contention and how they connect to the existing national parks in the region.

Gondwana Rainforests

We started with New England National Park. It contains some of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area, which consists of scattered remnants of various ancient rainforest types along the escarpment between Newcastle and Brisbane. The NPWS website tells us that the World Heritage area includes ‘the most extensive areas of subtropical rainforest in the world, large areas of warm temperate rainforest and nearly all of the Antarctic beech cool temperate rainforest.’

We were stunned by the mossy grandeur of the cool rainforests in the valleys and along the waterways. Local botanist Phil Gilmour took us into the Cunnawarra National Park to see a special forest with the unusual combination of towering Eucalyptus nobilis above the pristine beech forest. There was no track. We felt very privileged and started to ask questions. How can such magnificent forests be so hard to find? How can people appreciate them if they don’t know about them? We were struck by the paucity of services, tracks and signage in the area.

Dorrigo

Dorrigo Rainforest Information Centre was a contrast, with its cafe, shop, education centre and several paved kilometres through the subtropical rainforest. This forest is well known and is more complex and dense than what we’d seen in New England, with some very tall and tangled trees, especially figs. It was enlightening to also walk the Never Never Track in a higher and less frequented part of the Dorrigo National Park. This was warm temperate rainforest, with coachwood trees and many tree ferns.
None of these beautiful and diverse forests was koala habitat. We discovered that they like more open woodland on more gentle slopes towards the coast. But of course proposed parks aren’t easy to find or explore. We moved on to Bellingen to see if we could get closer to the koalas.

Bellingen

There we visited our former CEO Kevin Evans, who now lives on rural land which is at least potential koala habitat. Indeed he has participated in a council project to plant koala-friendly eucalypts. Kevin also continues to be involved in the GKNP proposal along with Ashley Love and others from the Bellingen Environment Centre.
He took us to the start of the Syndicate Track, also in the Dorrigo National Park. The trackhead was marked by an obscure and rotting sign, and the steep track started across a paddock of cattle. Not very auspicious. But again the forest was stunning, much of it dominated by Bangalow palms.

Better Access is Needed

These tracks need to be better known, better maintained and better connected. People should be able to walk in and appreciate the variety and complexity of the Gondwana forests. There should be a workforce of skilled people maintaining them for the national treasures and potential tourist destinations that they are.
We were excited to hear that the GKNP proposal will include plans for more and better tracks, including a multi day walk through some of the Gondwana forests. Ashley Love says “Some volunteers are working on a proposal for a major walk, literally from the coast to the tablelands and back again. The walk will traverse iconic areas of New England and Dorrigo National Parks visited by Helen’s group as well as tall eucalypts at lower coastal ranges.”

This would add enormous value to the GKNP by attracting more visitors. NSW is behind other countries, and even other states like Tasmania, in recognising the potential benefits of well-planned multi day walks. NPA’s Forests for All booklet proclaims ‘New South Wales – The New New Zealand’!

A Future for Koalas

On our trip we may have only seen koala signs and seedlings of trees intended for them, but I hope that in 10 years people visiting the Armidale/Bellingen/Coffs Harbour region will be able to walk through and appreciate the range of forests and the variety of the landscape. They should be able to see koalas and understand what they need, including habitat corridors.

Following this trip we’ve been alarmed to learn that the state government has proposed that some of the state forests identified for the GKNP be opened up for much more intensive logging. This is already a destructive and unsustainable industry that permanently changes forest systems. May the objections of all those who understand the benefits of our great forests and their inhabitants override this insanity.
Thanks to Oisin Sweeney, Phil Gilmour, Kevin Evans, Bryan Johnston and Ashley Love for help with the trip and this article.

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