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DAY 1 SUNDAY 3rd Three vehicles departed Rockhampton at around 0930 hrs with Harry and Carmen in one, Gail, Terry (the visiting French student) and Mary in the second, and Shirley and myself in the lead vehicle, towing an off road trailer.

The trip to Longreach was an interesting one for Terry, with me calling out on the U.H.F radio periodically – “wild pig on the right” or “jabirus on the left”, “emus on the right” etc. We stopped for lunch at Emerald for around an hour, continuing on to arrive at the Gunadoo Caravan park at Longreach just before dark, and just in time for a roast meat and veggie meal, followed by bush poetry from a fellow called Mark. It was dark, cold and quite late after the entertainment, so we all just threw our swags on the ground and retired for the night.

DAY 2 MONDAY 4th The dawning of a cold second day brought with it some sorrow as Harry announced that he had suffered two consecutive sleepless nights worrying about his flourishing business, and so had decided to return to Kingaroy. After a hasty breakfast and sadly, seeing Harry off, we packed up and set out on our journey via the main street of Longreach and a brief shopping spree.

Within minutes we had left roads with which I was familiar and were off on the real bush part of our adventure. The country was flat and open with occasional low scrub, but very, very dry. We pulled up and inspected numerous creeks on our way north, reporting on fifteen canopies in each creek. A brief stop at Muttaburra Hotel allowed Terry to buy some beer (apparently comparable to its French counterpart). We lunched under a Coolabah tree on the banks of the Thompson River. Corned beef and cheese sandwiches and orange juice went down very well in a wonderful spot. The only ingredient that was missing was water in the river.

Early in the afternoon we decided that we would not make our destination that night, so went in search instead, of a spot that Gail remembered and recommended as a campsite. We were unable to locate this spot and so, after examining a few more creeks, made a mad dash for the station, where we arrived just before dark.

After brief introductions we were escorted by the owner, Bill, to a beautiful spot on a creek, at which we were to camp on a soft bed of sand surrounded by river red gums. This was to be our place of rest for around a week, a more fitting spot you simply could not discover. This was Walkers Creek, a dry creek bed with which we would become fairly familiar in the ensuing days.

Again the day had yielded quite a deal of wildlife including Emus, Kangaroos (both grey and red), Wedge Tailed Eagles, etc. A pleasant evening was spent around the campfire after a meal of Carmen’s stew, and a couple of wines. Our pleasant evening was enhanced by a visit during the evening by Bill, his wife Rhonda, and two of his grandchildren, Julia and Luke.

DAY 3 TUESDAY 5th The night had proved to be much warmer than our previous night in Longreach, and we all awoke refreshed for our first day of serious work. We had breakfast and whilst the ladies washed up, I dug a trench latrine, much to the detriment of my poor old spine.

Soon we headed out on foot in a southerly direction, following the creek upon which we were camped. We formed a line and examined the creek banks and bed for any sign of Koalas. Much possum sign and some glider sign were found. The further south we progressed, the more Koala sign we found, although this was still few and far between. Bill and his grandchildren joined us for the later part. When we reached the first fence we returned to camp for lunch, having covered, very thoroughly, between one and two kilometers of creek line. The dry creek bed had been bounded by river red gums, the odd coolabah, and some gidgee, interspersed by that dreadful menace, parkinsonia.

We had been surprised at the large number of birds, in particular the smaller varieties, including a very large and active flock of Blue Martins. One wondered where all of these birds found an adequate supply of water on a regular basis.

After a fine lunch we headed north along the creek, again plenty of sign, but no koalas. We walked from 1230 hrs to 1500 hrs. We had just turned around to walk back to camp when Bill called on the radio and offered to pick us up and give us a lift back to camp. The offer was gratefully accepted.

Back at camp Gail and I set up a shower, and we all managed to clean up whilst it was still quite warm. An interesting experience during the evening was the occasional explosion of the river rocks surrounding our campfire, thankfully not to anyone’s detriment. Dinner of sausages, bacon, and no less than seven veggies was truly magnificent. This after Bill and his family joined us for drinks.

DAY 4 WEDNESDAY 6th We awoke to a beautiful morning, wondering where the winter had gone. The weather had turned very mild indeed. Gail was first out of bed due to a hungry tick, attempting to attach itself to her knee, awakening her. After breakfast we headed north along the creek line again, covering some parts of the creek that we had not yet covered. At around 0940hrs it was announced on the hand held U.H.F radios, to our great delight, that the ever-reliable Carmen had sighted our first koala.
The animal proved to be a large male that appeared to be in good condition. It was decided to keep track of this animal on a daily basis, and then catch and tag it towards the end of our stay. The main reason for this decision was that it was situated right at the very top of a very large river red gum, and so at this stage was not considered ‘catch able’. The animal was unceremoniously christened ‘Kenny Rogers’.

The rest of the day was spent searching creeks, with not much found. Later in the day Bill took us for a drive to his high country, supplying us with magnificent views of almost all of his property. I was surprised to find out from Bill that he was currently running only 630 head of cattle on his 33,000 acres. He said that in a ‘good’ year he could run up to 800 or 900. You could hardly call that intensive farming.

That night, after another lovely meal we headed of to bed. Mary went first, and soon her snoring became the topic of conversation. It was suggested (in jest) that perhaps she might attract a koala.

DAY 5 THURSDAY 5th We, and particularly Mary, experienced a very rude and exciting awakening on this morning before daylight, as a large male koala had actually crawled over Mary’s swag, whilst she was inside it and then headed up a nearby coolabah tree. The immediate conversation led to debate on whether this was the same animal. A quick effort, just on daylight, to flag the animal down the trunk failed. We decided to wait till full light, and also get Bill along to witness the event. After Bill arrived and it was sufficiently light we set up for the catch.

Gail went up the tree, the animal was flagged out to the end, fell, and was cleanly caught. All the tagging, sampling and measurements completed, the animal was released in a nearby tree. The old rule of release into the catch tree was wavered due to the tree’s proximity to the camp. The animal’s body condition had proved to be a nine - a strong and healthy male in its prime. This we found an encouraging sign.

What a wonderful start to the day! We all then enjoyed a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs. All that was left was conjecture about whether this was the same animal as the one found the previous day. Also much discussion about the animal coming into the camp, Mary bearing the brunt of many jokes about her snoring.

Again the day was warm, but Bill reported a forecast of cooler weather. Prior to leaving the camp after breakfast we measured the distance between the two sightings by G.P.S. It was 2.61 kilometers. It had seemed further but of course this measurement was in a straight line. A quick trip back to the tree where the first sighting had been made confirmed that the animal was not there, strengthening the argument that these were one and the same animal. An ensuing search of the creek bank for a couple of hundred meters in either direction also found nothing.

From here we proceeded to the northern most point of the creek where we had searched and continued on uphill in a northerly direction. The presence of eucalypts was receding and giving over mainly to gidgee, a type of acacia, which is good for fence posts and firewood. We walked up the creek until river red gums gave way to ghost gums and then to gidgee alone.

Wildlife seen during this walk was a mob of pigs, an emu and a large male eastern grey kangaroo, but unfortunately, no koalas. We were unable to stifle comment about the condition of the land and of the vegetation. The area was extremely dry and arid, with no grass at all on the low lands. Many of the trees were dying or looking very stressed, and the location of underground aquifers was very evident from small patches of healthy looking river red gums along the creek.

To our delight Bill drove up through the bush to where we were, and drove us back to the camp sight. We were all very tired so we were granted the remainder of the afternoon as a rest period. Later in the afternoon Gail, Mary and Terry assisted Bill with some mustering on four wheeled motorbikes, later returning to the camp hungry and very dusty.

A fine meal was prepared and Rhonda, Bill, and another one of their grandsons, Brodie, joined us for the meal and a long chat. Brodie, a six year old, was mesmerised whilst Terry played the Jews Harp. Terry tried hard to teach Brodie how to play the instrument, having little success initially, but this was to improve during ensuing evenings. Terry’s grasp of the English language was improving rapidly and he was proving to be a most pleasant fellow who fitted in very well with all of our activities.

DAY 6 FRIDAY 8th We awoke to a clear and slightly cooler morning. After breakfast we did an inspection of the creek near our camp in both directions to see if we could find where the koala had moved to during the night - to no avail.

Bill arrived with Brodie, and we headed off by car through the neighbouring property to an other area. Here we headed up Rockhole Creek. The vegetation was a little different, gidgee was replaced by boree trees, another acacia but with lighter colored bark, narrower and shinier leaves and is also good for fence posts and firewood. The creek was also sprinkled with bauhinia and the occasional mulga and bendee (both forms of acacia), along with the usual river red gums. Further up the creek we came across narrow leaf ironbark, emu apple trees, which have wonderfully bright green foliage and another eucalypt that we were unable to identify.

A long way up the creek we came off the flats into very different country, with rocky hills and escarpments. This struck me as some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen, despite the dreadful dryness and lack of grass. I was compelled to stop and put on paper the words that came to mind. “Incredibly magnificent, awe inspiring scenery. What a wonderfully diverse and beautiful country we live in”.

At the top of the gorge we were entering, we came to an area that almost had the appearance of an oasis. This area housed an abundance of varieties of trees and shrubs. It was here that we found and admired a Burtons Legless Lizard. Young Brodie took great pleasure in holding it for a short time and then releasing it. Bill showed us to an eagle’s nest. From beneath this nest we collected quite a lot of skulls and other skeletal remains. By this time Gail had to remind us of the purpose of our being there – to look for koalas!

Next Bill escorted us up through a rocky, climbing passage, to a large cave, which housed a water hole that must be visited by a plethora of wildlife. More awe-inspiring scenery! Bill had proven to be an excellent tour guide, offering abundant information on both the local flora and fauna. Next we headed back down the creek, across some open ground and back down another branch of the creek to the vehicle. Little Brodie, who was only six years old, became very tired towards the end and Terry carried him on his shoulders for the last leg. We were all surprised that the little fellow had gone as far as he had.

After returning to camp and enjoying a late lunch we headed to the high country to see if we could find koala sign amongst the ironbarks and around the dams. Bill, Brodie, who by now had become an almost permanent attachment to Terry, Bill’s sister Mary and her husband Alan, who were visiting for the day, accompanied us. Nothing of any great interest was found, although I got quite a surprise when I almost stood on a rabbit behind one of the dam banks.

Later the family came to the campfire for drinks. After a fine dinner and a chat we all wandered off to bed.

DAY 7 SATURDAY 9th We awoke to a slightly cooler morning again, hoping that it would not warm up too much. Bill and Brodie arrived and we headed off back to the high country to check out a couple more creeks. After heading off down a creek for quite some time we reached our meeting point, but when we got there we realised that Shirley was no longer with us. After waiting for quite a while we decided on a search method and away we went, keeping in contact by hand held radio.

Whilst searching, Carmen found tracks in the creek bed that were heading in the wrong direction. From this, she and I deducted that Shirley had become detached from the group and was heading back to our starting point. The most frustrating part for me was that just at the wrong time the battery in my radio had gone flat and I was unable to contact the others to let them know. The outcome, however, was a good one. We found Shirley safe and well at our starting point and we all decided that there were a couple of lessons to be learned from this somewhat worrying experience.

After a short break, we proceeded further down the same creek to a fence line. A few old signs and a very small amount of fresh koala scats were found. The country here was mainly gidgee, with a sprinkling of river red gums along the creek. Further down there were many narrow leaf ironbarks. Not a blade of grass was to be seen anywhere, in fact the only grass we had seen on the whole property was some sick looking spinifex grass in the high country. This grass is apparently of little or no nutritional value to cattle. Soon it was time to head back to camp for a light lunch and a short break.

Off we went again, dropping Shirley, Carmen and Mary at a branch of the main creek to investigate it beyond where we had already been. Whilst they did that, Gail, Terry and I drove back to what had been our starting point and investigated the creek in the opposite direction. The eucalypts petered out very early. Nothing of note was found at either spot. We then returned to camp at around 1630 hrs. Terry reported that he was finding it hard going in the middle of the day, as he is not used to the heat. It certainly was unusually warm for winter.

Day 8 Sunday 10th We awoke to another beautiful day and a flat tyre on one of the vehicles. Gail announced that for us, Sunday was not to be a day of rest, so after a hearty breakfast and a wheel change we headed off with Bill and Brodie. We did an ‘animals only’ survey on the main creek, on which our only sighting had been, from the southern boundary of the property to the next fence in a northerly direction. Nothing was found.

After smoko we went to another part of the property where we surveyed another creek. Again nothing was found with the exception of fresh possum and glider droppings. On arrival back at camp we were greeted by a pair of Red Tailed Black Cockatoos which Terry took great delight in photographing. After a late lunch it was decided to have a short rest and then to begin packing for our move to Marrinnya National Park, but the day was not yet finished, yet another surprise was in store!

Later we travelled to the homestead where Bill and his daughter in law, Jane (Brodie’s mother), guided us to an area where they keep some fascinating fossils. These are reportedly many millions of years old and have been studied by a number of universities. They included almost complete fossils of Muttaburrasaurus, platyosaurus, fish and others. The plan is for these to be preserved in a special area for public viewing in Hughenden in the future.

For dinner that night we were joined by Bill and Rhonda, their son (also called Bill) and his wife Jane and, of course, Brodie along with his brother Luke. All enjoyed a great feast. Upon completion of the main course, Bill junior and Rhonda disappeared in one of the vehicles for a short while, returning with a welcome surprise. Trifle, jelly and ice cream for desert! We really had eaten well on this trip.

Final goodbyes were said to all but Bill and Rhonda. Little Brodie left delightedly and tightly clutching his newly acquired gift of the Jews Harp, with which his new friend Terry had completely mesmerised him.

Day 9 Monday 11th We awoke to another fine morning and vigorously began to pack for our move to Marrinnya National Park. With breakfast and the packing over, we headed to the homestead to say goodbye and thank you to Bill who had been a wonderful host.

From here we left for Hughenden, with Terry and I in the lead vehicle and the ladies trailing on behind. At Hughenden we got the puncture repaired and restocked with fuel, water and provisions. We then visited Rhonda at the baker’s shop where she worked to enjoy an early lunch of pies and saying our goodbyes to our wonderful co-host. It was at this time that Terry received a small gift in return for his kindness to Brodie. One suspects that Terry will always treasure that gift.

After a brief visit to the information centre we were on the road again. We headed east to Prairie and then south to Tower Hill Gorge, which we had a little trouble finding. It should be noted that Tower Hill Gorge was the spot at which we had intended to camp on our way to Iona, but Gail’s memory and her navigational ability had proved to be no better than mine. Again along the road there had been a mixture of banter, sightings and warnings about road conditions on the radio.

On arrival at the gorge a truly beautiful sight greeted us - an oasis (typically) in the middle of nowhere. Mary had a swim, I did some fishing (no fish caught) numerous photographs where taken and a relaxing time was had by all. Of course all of this was only allowed after the mandatory survey of five trees each. All that was found was prolific possum sign.

After this brief sojourn we headed for Marrinnya National Park (Marrinnya being aboriginal for ironbark), or Shirley Station as it was originally known. On arrival we were greeted by one of the rangers, a fellow called Dean. He made us feel welcome, directed us to the camping spot, many kilometers from the homestead and promised to visit us with information on koala sightings the next morning.
On arrival at the spot we found things slightly more ‘civilised’ than at our previous camp. Some of us set up camp in an old shearing shed, others outside. There were toilets, old but effective, and an old broken water tank, which supplied an excellent spot to set up a shower. We were joined, shortly after our arrival, by a friendly couple from Victoria who had just began their retirement and were travelling the country via the National Parks. The highlight of the evening was when Gail, after deciding that one of the vehicles should be moved, jumped in to the back seat in order to drive it. Of course she then bore the brunt of a number of jokes. We were all tired so headed off to bed quite early. Thus - the end to another wonderful day.

Day 10 Tuesday 12th. On this day, a special day as it was Mary’s birthday, we awoke to witness a large and colorful moon setting over the western horizon. After a breakfast of bacon, eggs, tea and toast we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to Mary and presented her with a small gift and card. A little later the ranger, Dean and his wife, Kim, who is also a ranger, along with their baby Lillie, arrived. Dean gave us a quick orientation to the park by map, explaining where previous koala sightings had been made.

Dean then took Gail, Terry, Shirley and I for a drive to familiarize us with some of the area. This took some time as we spiked a tyre on the Parks and Wildlife vehicle and so had to change a wheel whilst away. On arrival back at camp we enjoyed an early lunch and then set off. Our friends from Victoria, Ron and Marge decided to walk with us; they had proven to be good company so we were happy for them to do so.

Very early in the afternoon we discovered that the map of tracks within the park was quite inaccurate and soon I was christened ‘U turn Kev’ as we drove around trying to find starting points for walks. Later we dropped Mary, Terry, Ron and Marge at a point on the main creek (Bullock Creek) south of the camp. They then proceeded to search that area of the creek between that point and the camp sight.

The rest of us drove to an area called ‘Dardanelle’s’ which is on the same creek further north of the camp. We also proceeded along the creek back towards camp. This creek was thick with river Red Gums, Coolabahs, and Blood woods. These were in far better condition than the trees on Iona and there were a number of waterholes along the creek but no sign at all of koalas. The country at this park appeared to be in better condition than that at Iona. There was a little green grass, the trees did not appear to be as stressed and the presence of natural water in places made us think that the park had been a little better served with rain, although it was still very dry. The main weeds that we were to come across were Parkinsonia, Negura Burr and Current Bush, the fruit of which I was soon to learn from Carmen, is good bush tucker.

The first crew was back at camp in a little over an hour, with Marge having lost a screw out of her nearly new prescription sunglasses along the way. Our crew took around three hours to get back. Upon our return Gail and I drove back to Dardanelle’s to retrieve our other vehicle.

That night for dinner Gail cooked wonderful spaghetti bolognaise. After sparklers and chocolate as a final celebration of Mary’s birthday we all wandered off to bed.

Day 11 Wednesday 13th On this day, after breakfast, we proceeded to cover the northern area of Bullock Creek from Dardanelle’s to the northern boundary of the park. We did this in two lots - Mary, Shirley and I in the northern and longer leg and the rest in the other. Nothing much of interest was reported by either crew. After returning to camp we again headed off to the southern end of Bullock Creek and covered quite a lot more of it. Again little to report.

Back at camp Gail, Shirley, Mary and Terry had a dip in the closest water hole. After a fine dinner of Carmen’s corned meat fritters Gail decided we would go for a drive around in the dark. In doing so we covered a large area of the park using torches as spotlights, discovering little except the lay of the land and vegetation types, until we came across some fresh koala scats in a small creek near an area called Bells. This sparked our interest for the next day. We returned to camp weary and looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

Day 12 Thursday 14th We arose to another fine and mild morning and after breakfast headed off for more searching. Gail and I searched Bells Creek from Dardanelle’s to the area where we had found the fresh scats the night before, whilst the others covered an area south of Dardanelle’s on Bullock creek where some older sign had been found a couple of day previously.
Not far into our walk (probably around one km) Gail became excited as she began to find fresh scats in the creek bed. Shortly afterwards she was heard to exclaim “fresh poo, so fresh that I don’t want to put it in my pocket!” This caused me to search the canopy in the area more diligently than I might otherwise have done and to our delight our reward was the discovery of a koala right up the top of, and well hidden in, a large coolabah.

The animal was so well hidden and so high in the tree that it was not possible to decide upon gender or any other detail. After taking the relevant measurements, recordings, etc. and congratulating ourselves on this wonderful find, Gail and I moved on.

A little further up the creek Gail was to make yet another rather interesting discovery. She came across no less than five echidnas in one group huddled around the base of a single gidgee tree. This is something that neither of us had ever witnessed before, as echidnas tend to be very solitary animals. After photographing this interesting phenomenon we moved on.

Coolabahs and river red gums gave way to gidgee and fewer sign was found until we met up with the others at Bells. They had little to report, but were buoyed by our discovery and insisted on being taken to the sight to have a look at our furry friend. We returned to camp for lunch and then set off back to the area near Dardanelle’s to show off our find.

On arrival at the tree the animal was still in much the same spot, making it very difficult to make a decision about gender, but it was decided that it was probably a female and that it could well have had a pouch young. This was based on the animal’s rather large abdomen, which we could not gain a good view of.

After much discussion we headed off. Gail and I went back to the vehicle and then drove to Dardanelle’s proper, removing all of our flagging tape markers along the way. Meanwhile Carmen, Mary, Shirley and Terry walked back from the sighting along the creeks to Dardanelle’s in the hope of finding another koala. Some sign was found, but no animals were reported. This led us to the end of our last full day at Marrinnya, as it had been decided to move on the next day. The original plan had been to leave in the morning and check out some creeks on the way out, but with the advent of the koala finding this plan had to change a little.

Prior to nightfall Carmen commented on the amount of cloud forming on the horizon. I scoffed at the suggestion that there might be rain on the way. Little did I know that I would not be allowed to forget that comment. After dinner Gail made a brief speech, thanking us all for our efforts and presenting each of us with a small memento. All in good spirits we had a good chat and then headed off to our swags.

Day 13 Friday 15th .We awoke to a heavily overcast morning that brought with it the promise of a cooler day. Again I was told it could rain. Again I denied it. After breakfast we headed back to the location where we had found the koala. It came as no surprise, on arrival, to find that the animal had moved on. A plan was formulated and executed, bringing about a thorough search of the creek in three directions. Nothing was found.

We returned to camp for lunch and then hastily packed, heading off early in the afternoon. By now it was threatening to rain. We left via the station homestead where we left a letter of thanks to Dean, and headed out of the National Park and on to the main road from Torrens Creek to Aramac. As we travelled it began to rain lightly, a matter that was immediately brought to my attention by the ladies despite it being so obvious. The original plan was to camp at Aramac but after arriving there and fuelling up (and after a brief look at the white bull) we decided to continue on to Barcaldine where we would eat and then probably camp.

On arrival at Barcaldine, where it had begun to rain quite heavily sporadically, we enjoyed a counter dinner on the verandah of one of the many hotels. We debated what was best to do with regard to accommodation for the night and decided to move on for a couple more hours in the hope of driving out of the rain.

On arrival at Jericho no shelter was to be found and the rain continued, so we decided to go on to Alpha, but that we definitely would go no further than that, as both drivers where by now becoming quite weary. On this last leg for the day I was most grateful to Terry for keeping up a conversation about fishing in France, a subject that interested me greatly and so kept me alert. When we arrived at Alpha there still seemed to be no shelter available to sleep under so we made camp as best we could, in a small area just outside of town.
Day 14 Saturday 16th. The next morning we arose feeling a little damp, a little dirty and quite weary but still in good spirits. A few good laughs were had at sights around the camp as bedraggled people began to emerge. A pleasant breakfast in Alpha, accompanied by a good hot beverage brought us all back to the land of the living and so we set off on the final leg of our journey. The rest of the trip was uneventful, with a safe but soggy arrival of all back in Rockhampton around the middle of the day.

I would like to offer my thanks to all concerned for this trip. It was one that I will never forget. I will look back on it with very pleasant memories and in the hope that we at least made a small contribution to koala research in Central Queensland. I might add that, as medic on the trip and having been in very remote areas with plenty of potential for injury or illness due to poor hygiene, I can report that high standards of planning and management ensured that no such thing occurred. The only thing I treated was a small scratch from barbed wire. I did not dispense so much as a band-aid or a panadol. Well done, Gail and all of the team members. And finally, to Terry, thanks mate for your company. All the very best with your studies back in France and we all hope to see you again sometime in the future.

Kev Rapley


We found Teddy, whose mum was killed by dogs. We found the little bear in a small tree crying for its mother who was torn to bits. This was in the 1930s at Kungurri where we lived on a cane farm. We took him home and kept him in a wire cage and fed him fresh gum leaves. After two weeks we could take him out and give him nurses and play with him. He became really tame. Our two dogs got to know he was one of us and would chase other dogs away.

After about six weeks he stayed in the house with us and he was the best ‘baby sitter’ we ever had. As soon as he heard the baby cry, he would run to the cot and jump in and pat the baby with his front paws and there was no more crying. Sometimes when we were having lunch, Ted would start snoring and one of us would have to wake him up.

There were a lot of blue gums growing where we lived and lots of bears in the trees. Ted would join them and feed with them but as soon as we called him, he would climb down and run home with us.

We took him with us wherever we went and he had a ribbon tied in a bow around his neck. He would sit on our shoulder with one paw on our head. At the dances he would be the main attraction of the night.

He lived with us for just over ten years and died in the 1940s. He was the greatest pet and mate we ever had and we all missed him.