Mission - Stirling Downs - Enjoying "the bush" - Ongoing work - Doreen Lovett
Thanks to our supporters
-The Western Trip - Disease in Koalas
Rendezvous with Phascolarctos cinereus

Bird species list for Iona Station & Stirling Downs
The Thomson River trip
Travelling the country
This was the third expedition to the Thomson River over the last eight years. Previous trips were in early spring 2000 and 2003. On those occasions the team travelled to Longreach and then up the river via Muttaburra to Iona Station and Moorrinya National Park. This expedition diverged from that route. We were able to visit a property in the Tambo district. So our itinerary was to include a few days at Tambo before travelling directly to Iona Station near Hughenden.

The team consisted of experienced volunteers Carman Drake, Mary McCabe, Shirley Hopkins travelling with me in one vehicle and new volunteers, but experienced bushies, John Rideout and Barbara Howard in a second vehicle. John and Barbara left a few days earlier. The second vehicle departed on the 28 August.

We left Rockhampton and travelled via Emerald to Springsure. From there we followed the Dawson Development Road up the Nogoa River Valley and crossing the Great Dividing Range near Castlevale to reach Tambo for the night. John and Barbara were waiting for us there. The following day we travelled together about 40km south to Stirling Downs - our first study location in the headwaters of the Ward River.

The Ward River flows south to join the Warrego River which, in turn, flows to the Darling River.

We spent a few days on Stirling Downs as well as a “flying” visit to the nearby Bayrick Station. This excursion was cut short by threatening rain and greasy black-soil tracks. Rain eventually delayed us a day at Stirling Downs, but this was spent profitably trudging through black-soil paddocks to the creeks in search of koalas. We were warmly received by property owners Jenny and Jim Skelton. They kindly allowed us to use their shearers' quarters -providing us with a well equipped base for our field work, property maps and reports as well as a very tasty fruit cake.

A day behind schedule we travelled west through heavy rain to Blackall then north to Barcaldine and then under clear skies to Muttaburra on the Thomson River. Here we set up camp in time for a wet and windy storm. Roads remained open and next morning we travelled north through the Landsborough Creek catchment to Hughenden and on to Iona Station. We set up camp on the banks of Walker Creek in time for another very wet night.

Walker Creek flows west to Landsborough Creek which flows to the Thomson River. The Thomson flows via Cooper Creek to Lake Eyre.

Our Newsletter is compiled by Doreen Lovett and carefully read for errors. I'd like to place on record a vote of thanks to Doreen for the splended job, both in content and layout. Doreen gathers the text and photos from several members and painstakingly puts it together. I'm sure the News Letters bring great enjoyment to all our sponsors and readers.

Weather cleared during the following morning but left us with some heavy black clay to walk through for a day or so. We spent the next week working on the creeks and hills around the property before John and Barbara left on the 9th September. The second vehicle departed on the 10th September. It was good to see Bill and Rhonda Rogers and their family after a few years and we enjoyed their kind hospitality, excellent company and fine cooking during our stay.
We travelled to the township of Torrens Creek (in the headwaters of the Flinders River that drains to the Gulf of Carpentaria) and then south following Bullock and Torrens creeks before turning east and passing Lake Galilee and crossing the Great Dividing Range, for the second time, near Lou Lou Station.


A male koala from Iona Station
We camped by the roadside in silver leafed ironbark woodlands before descending into the Burdekin basin, crossing the Belyando River and on to Clermont on the eastern slopes of the Drummond Range. From here we travelled across the Fitzroy basin on the high quality sealed roads busy with industrial traffic. We arrived in Rockhampton late that afternoon on the 11th September.
The trip lasted 15 days and we covered 3025km – mainly on dirt roads and in high range 4wd. We crossed five of Australia’s major drainage basins (Fitzroy, Murray-Darling, Lake Carpentaria and Burdekin basins) all supporting koala populations
The grasslands and grassy open woodlands of Stirling Downs. Mary and Carmen are on the way to hunt for koalas  
Koala footprints at Stirling Downs
  Finding koalas and hugging trees

On Stirling Downs Jenny Skelton gave us an orientation property tour and then guided us to a well preserved koala skeleton. We quickly found fresh signs of koalas but walked a lot of creek lines before finding one elusive and somewhat ginger koala (Carmen did the spotting above Mary’s head!). Managers Matt and Jenny Peters kindly allowed us a flying visit to Bayrick Station. This was a short but productive trip and within an hour Mary spotting a well camouflaged koala in the forest canopy.

At Iona Station Bill Rogers directed us to areas where he had most recently seen koalas. After many kilometres of creek-walking we found three koalas (two males, one female).

A female koala from Iona Station
But it was not all fun. The team spent many hours measuring trees so that the koala habitat can be described meaningfully. While they did that I wandered amongst the trees counting the number with koala pellets beneath them and measuring their girth so that I can have a measure of koala activity within the different plant communities and see if there was any size pattern in the trees with koala pellets beneath them.

In summary we found five koalas, collected one skeleton, measured almost 1,500 trees and collected three dozen bags of koala pellets. We also became experts in distinguishing koala pellets from possum pellets and aging the koala pellets by colour, texture and smell. The koalas used mainly river red gum and coolabah but also gidgee, boree, napunyah (less frequently), and rarely narrow leafed ironbark.

The camp on Walker Creek at Iona Station
Shearers' quarters at Stirling Downs
Enjoying “the bush”
Hardly an appropriate heading when referring to the Mitchell grasslands. However, you cannot spend days looking on the ground for koala pellets, in the canopy for koalas or across the paddock for the best path without encountering the richness of the landscape. So Barbara and John collected bird lists for both localities; Mary admired attractive rocks that could fit well into her garden; Carmen looked greedily at rocks, timber and abandoned and rusty bits of metal in old property rubbish dumps that held potential for transformation to works of art. She did find a very little time for sketching. And then there was the excitement of encountering unexpected fossils in the mud and sandstone of the ancient inland sea. The undulating grasslands, stream fringing forests, gidgee and boree woodlands and the Spinifex and ironbark uplands all held their own appeal especially in the warm light of sunset and sunrise. Red and grey kangaroos, wallaroos, swamp wallabies, emus and bustards were abundant and added to the excitement of driving on rural roads.
The ginger koala from Stirling Downs
Koala habitat at Iona Station. River red gum and coolabah fringed the stream. Boree woodland occurred on the adjacent clay flats. Koalas were using the gums, coolibah and boree trees immediately adjacent to the creek
Ongoing work
We have brought back a large amount of data and specimens that require analysis and interpretation. The tree measurements will be used to develop a description of the composition and structure of the koala habitats at each location. The koala pellets will be analysed to discover the species of tree eaten by the koalas. It will take some time to complete this work but we should have some results by the new year.
We now have a better understanding of where to find the koalas and some guess as to how far they move each night. So we are now planning our next campaign. More on that in the future.

The landscape of Iona Station. The homestead is just visible in the top right

Shirley, John, Barbara, Carmen, Jenny, Alistair, Jim
Thanks to our supporters
Jenny and Jim Skelton, Matt and Jenny Peters and Bill and Rhonda Rogers kindly allowed us access to their land and facilities. Dave Akers from the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency went out of his way to facilitate property contacts for us.
The Harvard Travellers Club provided funding towards transport costs for this expedition. The Central Queensland Koala Volunteers provided field equipment and some travel costs. CQUniversity Australia provided administrative support as well as access to laboratory and computing facilities. The support of the team participants in running the trip and providing resources is gratefully acknowledged.

Alistair Melzer
18 September 2008

Finding a koala in gidgee at Iona Station and Stirling Downs


The Western Trip
With our car packed to capacity, with tents, swags etc., Alistair Mary, Shirley and I headed West to survey the outer limits of koala habitat. It's five years since our last visit and news of koala’s sightings have been minimal. However we are hopeful that a colony will still exist as the last few seasons have seen more rain.

We went first to Tambo via Springsure - it’s a very scenic road running along the edge of the Salvator Rosa range with its wonderful escarpments rising up like jewels in the afternoon light. At Tambo we met up with John and Barbara who were to be part of our team and this is their first venture into koala spotting. They are both avid bird watchers as is Alistair so a list of birds was soon being compiled and the constant exchange via radio was ‘did you see that wren, that woodswallow’ etc. I managed to see the emus and bustards and the odd wedgetail but anything smaller flittered past in a blur.
We camped overnight in Tambo going on to Stirling Downs in the morning, where we were welcomed by Jim and Jenny. We were given the shearers' quarters to bunk in. We unpacked and made ready to look for koalas. Koalas had been on this property for many years but with the prolonged drought they have not been seen for some time. The country is lovely open plains, the grass a soft creamy ochre. The homestead yard was surrounded by the most wonderful large bottle trees, quite a sight.

We looked out on grassy paddocks where an occasional sheep grazed and mobs of kangaroos hopped past, our delight in this sight was not shared by Jim or Jenny.

On our first inspection of the creek we found koala droppings, recent enough to know the animals were still in the area - this was good news to all.
Next morning we searched another creek-line and found more evidence of koalas but again no sighting. We then set about doing our vegetation survey work of nearest neighbouring trees up and down the creek. This took all day and some of the neighbours, (large coolabahs mostly) were a long way from one another. We were dragging our legs by late afternoon. Again we are amazed by the mobs of kangaroos hopping across the landscape.

Morning brought the promise of rain so we headed off to another property where koalas were frequently found and within half an hour Mary had spotted one. Rain began falling so we hastily returned to Stirling Downs before the rain made the black soil difficult to traverse.

Afternoon was spent doing vegetation survey along another creek. This area had a lot of gidgee and some red gum so the trees were closer. Barbara and I almost walked on a large snake, no one else saw it and said we imagined it. The rain started in earnest just as we finished. We were all thankful that we were in the shearers' quarters and not in our tents as rain fell through the night. With the vegetation work done we decided to spend the next day Monday searching for the koala we knew must be close by. We set out in teams and scoured the area where the most recent evidence was found (freshest droppings). We found it heavy going at first as the wet clay soil built up so much on our boots. It was mid afternoon before we finally spotted the koala just gazing down at us from a red-gum tree. We trudged back to the homestead glad that we could report that koalas are still living along the creek lines. A freshly baked fruit cake was on the table for us. Jenny had baked it for us. We all enjoyed our afternoon tea.
In the morning we packed the vehicle and farewelled Stirling Downs and headed north west through Blackall, Barcaldine, ( where I was able to say hello to my son Bob) and Aramac arriving in Muttaburra in time to make camp. A small storm blew up just as we finished our meal and we all took shelter in the amenities block until it was over.



Natural Treatment for Disease in Koalas

In Victoria, at least, some veterinarians are applying homeopathic treatment to stressed wildlife. According to the Flower Essence Centre these vets believe that stress (from loss of habitat, urban development, attacks, etc) is a big factor contributing to the emergence and prevalence of various diseases, and perhaps chlamydia and “AIDS” in koalas may be treatable with a homeopathic approach.

The Flower Essence Centre says that the use of natural medicines for treating wildlife is a new field in Australia and not much research has been on koalas. Apparently some remedies can be applied topically so would not interfere with a koala's digestion.

Alistair Melzer is not aware of any such research or treatment in Queensland but a Google quick web search revealed 155,000 entries related to veterinary homeopathy globally.


Rendezvous with Phascolarctos cinereus
' A Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia' by Peter Menkhorst and Frank Knight tells us that "the koala is an arboreal, agile climber, descends to the ground when necessary, is mostly solitary, its diet is almost entirely eucalypt leaves, and it is inactive for 20 hours in 24".

We found this to be very true, when, in late August and early September this year, we were invited to join a group of koala researchers to see if we could find any trace of these elusive mammals near Tambo in the south and Hughenden to the north. Our endeavours were indeed successful for there were five koalas located in total – four males and one female.

Our learning experiences included deciphering koala scratch marks on trees, recognising the difference between koala scat and possum poo, sensing the freshness of this very excrement, pinpointing the location of this waste product and becoming aware of the tree preferences of this unique creature. Another new challenge for us was the koala habitat survey (nearest neighbours) where our knowledge of tree genera was extended and we became “real” greenies by hugging multiple trees.

On the whole, the weather was kind to us – not too cold and with two nights of welcome rain.

We were very impressed with the professionalism and dedication of the team with which we worked, the hospitality and generosity of the property owners and the co-operation of the five koalas for revealing themselves for our scrutiny.

We wish all researchers the very best and hope their results are most rewarding.

Barbara and John