Students learn the bear facts about conservation

On Wild Koala Day we look at two public schools saving the koalas for future generations. Linda Doherty and Luke Horton report.

Two koalas in a tree for Two koalas in a tree for
Image: Fur real: Princess and Fluffy provide real-life learning for students at Delungra Public School.

At lunchtime today the 26 students at Delungra Public School voted to name their newest koala visitor as Blinky Bill, joining Princess, Fluffy and Honeycomb in the colony.

Eight koalas regularly wander through the school grounds and hang out in the trees, occasionally halting a cricket game or other playground activities.

The students have been delighted as new koalas appear, such as Fluffy, the daughter of Princess, and now Blinky Bill.

The school is at the forefront of koala preservation, having started a rescue and eucalypt propagation program for the endangered species after devastating drought saw the town’s koalas seek refuge in the school’s eucalypts in 2017.

Principal Toni Withers said the school had become a hub for the community, near Inverell, for koala protection and education.

“Our students have learnt that they can make a difference in the world, even though they are only small children in a small community,” she said.

“We have helped save our local koala population by rebuilding our koala habitat and educating students and community members about our local Aboriginal Gamilaroi totem guda, the koala.”

Students have also propagated hundreds of trees from seed and distributed them to community groups, residents and farmers, appealing to the koalas’ palate for white box (Eucalyptus albens), yellow box (Eucalyptus melliodora) and red gum (Eucalyptus blakelyi).

The study of koalas is integrated as authentic learning throughout the curriculum – students graph koala sightings for maths, write information reports for English, analyse tree growth for science, read about the marsupials and create artworks.

“It’s also a wonderful link to our local Aboriginal culture. Elders visit and talk to the students about how to care and protect their totem,” Ms Withers said.

A man in a koala suit A man in a koala suit
Image: Bearing it all: Tacking Point Public School principal Dave Munday celebrates Wild Koala Day.

Animal antics in the playground

Koalas wandering through the playground is also a common sight at Tacking Point Public School in Port Macquarie.

“We have a koala that walks through our assembly area quite regularly and sits in one of the bigger trees,” Principal David Munday said.

“We’ve also had them wander through our Out of School Hours space and quite often through the playground.

“I’d say there’s about a half dozen that regularly visit the school.”

Today is Wild Koala Day and the school has a day of activities to celebrate.

“We’ve got a visit by an arborist to talk about the kind of trees koalas like and what we should be planting at school,” Mr Munday said.

“The team from Koala Smart is visiting, as well as staff from the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital.

“It’s also a dress-up day and there may even be a koala suit involved.”

The day was organised by the Student Representative Council to increase awareness of koalas and their habitat, and to raise funds for the school to support its furry friends.

“The money the students raise will go towards purchasing seedlings and saplings to plant around the school,” Mr Munday said.

“We’ve already planted a substantial number along our eastern boundary and they’re quite fast-growing, some are now well over head height of the students.”

Port Macquarie is a well-known koala hotspot, and the community has embraced the cuddly creatures.

The city’s award-winning Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail – huge fibreglass sculptures hand-painted by local artists – are displayed across Port Macquarie, leading residents and visitors to discover interesting places from the mountains to the sea.

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