9th May - Warrawong Sanctuary

In 1969 work commenced on a project called Warrawong Sanctuary. The concept of Warrawong Sanctuary was simple. Fourteen hectares of land were purchased at Mylor in the Adelaide Hills. South Australia was chosen because in 1969 South Australia was the only State, in Australia, where building an Earth Sanctuary was not illegal.

At the time of purchase Warrawong was being used as a dairy and was devoid of native vegetation. Approximately 100,000 trees and shrubs have since been planted. Over two kilometres of creeks and pools were constructed. The land was surrounded by a fox and cat proof fence. The foxes, cats and rabbits were removed and the animals which once lived there have been re-introduced. The project was completed in 1982.

Warrawong Sanctuary has been fox and cat free for fifteen years. Over that time all the animals introduced have thrived. The brush-tailed bettong, Australia's smallest and then rarest living kangaroo, increased from 6 individuals to over 300. The long-nosed potoroo, Australia's most primitive real kangaroo, increased from 4 individuals to over 100. The Sydney sub-species of the red-necked pademelon, the last colony of this sub-species left in the world, increased from just 2 individuals to over 30. The southern brown bandicoot, the last remaining species of South Australia's 8 species just 150 years ago, increased from 4 individuals to over 200.

The only difference between Warrawong Sanctuary and any other bit of Australia is simply that Warrawong Sanctuary is fox and cat free.

The hypothesis was proven. Australia did not lose its wildlife through farming and grazing. Australia did not lose its wildlife through mining. Australia did not lose its wildlife through land clearance. Australia lost its wildlife through foxes and cats.

More importantly, Warrawong Sanctuary demonstrated that Australia need not lose its wildlife. It showed the way to go. The point is that wildlife are not endangered because they are hard to breed. Wildlife are endangered because there is nowhere left for them to live in the wild. Something has gone wrong. If this is corrected then there is no need to reintroduce wildlife, the wildlife already there will thrive.

So we have the ridiculous situation whereby our zoos are breeding endangered wildlife that have nowhere to go. Here in Adelaide we are breeding przewalski horses to send back to Mongolia. The reason that przewalski horses have disappeared in Mongolia is because the Mongolians ate them. At Taronga Zoo they are breeding golden lion tamarins to send back to Brazil. The reason golden lion tamarins are disappearing in Brazil is because they make cute pets. If the public’s view is changed, and that is happening through education programs in this case, then there is no need to carry out captive breeding.

Why do we have zoos in Australia? More importantly, why do we have government funded zoos in Australia? Surely they have passed their use by date. Here we have the incredible situation of our zoos stuffed full of rare and endangered animals on birth control because there is nowhere left for them to live in the wild. Then we have incredible statements made like, “our zoos are arks holding these animals until the day comes when they are able to live in the wild.” Surely if the wild is unsuitable today, it can only be worse tomorrow.

Warrawong Sanctuary also introduced the average Australian to their wildlife. When Warrawong Sanctuary opened to the public, the curator of Adelaide Zoo publicly stated, “People do not want to see tiny kangaroos, they only want to see big kangaroos.” A few years later he lamented, “What we need here at the Zoo are more tiny kangaroos, that is what people want to see.”

Australians could now see woylies, bettongs, pademelon, bandicoot and quoll. The Easter Bilby program began at Warrawong Sanctuary with the sale of the first of the Easter chocolate bilbies. Unfortunately the Rabbit Foundation registered the name and now the money raised from the sale of chocolate bilbies no longer benefit bilbies.

Probably the most interesting part of the Warrawong experiment was the massive opposition to it by those who’s job it was to save our wildlife. Until the success of the Warrawong experiment was announced in the early 1980’s, there was not one species of rare or endangered mammal which was not less in numbers than 20 years previously. There was not one conservation success throughout the whole of Australia.

Warrawong Sanctuary changed all that. In fact for a short while in the early 1980’s Warrawong Sanctuary contained over half the world’s population of western brush-tailed bettongs. Fortunately for the wildlife of Western Australia, it was not long before massive fox baiting commenced in Western Australia. The western brush-tailed bettong was to be the first mammal, in the world, to be taken off the endangered list the right way. Today approximately 20,000 survive, thanks to what started at Warrawong Sanctuary in 1969.

A feral-free compound was developed for the western swamp tortoise based on the Warrawong design. Probably the only downside was the refusal of the government authorities to give due and justified recognition to Warrawong. The western swamp tortoise program actually was awarded a Banksia Environment Award. It was Warrawong Sanctuary who really deserved that award. It is disappointing to see government departments, in Australia, continually stealing designs and ideas from the private sector without due recognition.

The reason for the opposition is very simple. Today, in Australia, approximately one billion dollars per annum is spent by various government bodies in the name of conservation. Very little of these funds actually do anything for conservation. A vast sponge of public servants soon group themselves to suck up this money. It is so clear, to anyone who wishes to consider the matter, that the way to save Australia’s wildlife is simply to create safe areas for them. Although the Warrawong fence did not need approval, it had to be stopped at all costs.

A two point campaign was launched to stop the fence. On the one hand the local council, Stirling Council, took out a court injunction to stop the fence. That injunction has never been lifted. On the other hand the Premier of South Australia, Don Dunstan, called a special Executive Council Meeting of the South Australian Government. Although I had broken no law, the police were ordered to lock me up. I was only released on signing a document agreeing not to build the fence.

Since this document was signed under duress, it was ignored and the fence was built. However, it would take years to understand how an unhappy group of public servants could wield so much power.

Help came from a most unexpected quarter. A police car called to pick me up. Could I please come and talk to the Head of Stirling Police. He was very embarrassed. He had found out that I had not broken any law. Yet I had been arrested and locked up. It was all a terrible mistake. I could go and get on with the job. The police would not interfere again. For seven years they kept their word. By then the fence was finished.

It was all too much for my family. My marriage was over. So were all my dreams. Although all my life’s earnings had been spent on Warrawong, its value was only $102,000. The pools, trees, shrubs and wildlife habitat were worth nothing. Warrawong was to be sold. By some good fortune I met Proo. We went into debt and bought Warrawong. The dream was once again alive.

The fence round Warrawong Sanctuary was completed in September 1982 just ten years after it was commenced. Although today, we would consider the eradication of ferals from 14 hectares to be a trivial undertaking, it was not so easy then.

There were a few rabbits within the fence when it was completed. There were also a few foxes. The rabbits didn’t last long. The foxes ate them. I was to learn my first lesson on foxes.

There are two sorts of foxes as far as developing fox free areas are concerned.. There are those who believe they belong to the place and those who believe they do not. The second group are easy to keep out. The first group cannot be kept out. They must be destroyed. If a fox believes the area is part of its range then it will do anything to enter that area. The day after the fence was “closed” at Warrawong Sanctuary, there were holes under the fence a person could crawl through.

I set rabbit traps in those holes and the next day there would be another adjacent hole you could crawl through. The fence wasn’t working, it was time to learn about baiting. A properly conducted baiting program destroyed approximately 60 foxes. Fortunately there were no deviants. Warrawong Sanctuary had no further problem with foxes.

Two cats lived on Warrawong Sanctuary when the fence was closed. Both were trapped and removed. The only further problem we had from cats was later during the “cat debate” when a number were thrown over the fence. However, they were in alien territory and just wanted to get out. They were very easily caught.

Since commencing development of Warrawong Sanctuary in 1969, a number of different habitats had been developed. These included open grasslands, scrubland, open forest, closed forest, rainforest, lakes, reedbeds, creeks and pools. By the time the ferals had been removed in 1982, Warrawong was ready to receive its new inhabitants.

Where does one get animals to reintroduce back into their former range now made safe? I had listened to the propaganda from the zoos for many years. They had talked of being an ark from which animals could somehow return to their lands again. I approached Adelaide Zoo. No! No! No! They don’t do things like that. Oh! No! That is not what zoos are for. I have not yet been able to find out what zoos are for. It was not until we had bought Buckaringa Sanctuary and on a visit there discovered Adelaide Zoo illegally taking rare animals from our land that I was able to get Adelaide Zoo to pretend to co-operate. However, that story appears later.

Proo and I were lying in bed one Saturday morning reading the Advertiser. We had been told that sometimes native animals were advertised under the heading “pets for sale”. There were none so I read through the other sections. I sat bolt upright in bed. I could not believe what I was reading. I think it was under “positions vacant” or something. It had been placed in the wrong section. “For sale, bettongs and pademelons, a closing down sale at Peterborough in the far north of the state.” I rang the number.

It would be first in first served. They didn’t expect much from the add since it was in the wrong section. They wouldn’t catch them till dark otherwise it would upset them too much. We should build some smaller holding pens for them since they were not used to large areas. We had a few hours to build the holding pens and get to Peterborough by nightfall.

When I was a child near Sydney I used to get great joy from watching some tiny kangaroos that used to graze near the forest edges. I was about to realise they were pademelons. I hadn’t seen one for thirty years. I remembered them well. They had a red neck and a yellow stripe on their hips. I had tried to look them up. The best I could do were red-necked pademelons. But they didn’t have a hip stripe.

We arrived at Peterborough at nightfall. We were the only people to ring. “Thank goodness for those stupid people at the Advertiser,” I thought. There were the pademelons I remembered from my childhood, hipstripe and all. There were also brushtailed bettongs. We set off home with our prizes.

These pademelons gradually built up to a small colony of about 40 at Warrawong. That was all Warrawong could carry. We have since desperately sought a larger, suitable area for these rare animals. We actually bought 1,000 acres at Byron Bay for them but the local pseudo-greenies stopped us developing an Earth Sanctuary there. We later attempted to develop one in the Hunter Valley but the pseudo-greenies again stopped it. We are at present trying to develop one west of Sydney.

A few months later we bought four potoroos from an animal dealer. Then some red-necked and tammar wallabies were added. Some red bettongs from an enthusiast at Port Broughton. A few hand-reared orphan kangaroos and Warrawong Sanctuary was looking good.

In 1983 Laurie Delroy of the South Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service gave Warrawong Sanctuary 6 woylies. These bettongs have thrived at Warrawong Sanctuary and were later used to stock Yookamurra Sanctuary.

In 1988 permits were issued for us to take 5 platypus from the Rocky River on Kangaroo Island. This led to a captive breeding program being developed at Warrawong Sanctuary. This research was funded by Toba Aquaria of Japan. $500,000 was supplied by Toba to research the breeding of platypus in captivity. These funds were used to develop the platypussery at Warrawong Sanctuary. More than 12 platypus have now been bred in a captive situation at Warrawong using these funds. Although Warrawong Sanctuary is the only place in the world with the expertise to breed platypus in captivity, no further funding has been able to be obtained and the platypussery is not being used at this time.

This point will be expanded on later. However, the sad fact is that under Australian law it is not possible for a company to spend shareholders’ funds unless it can be shown to give a financial return to the shareholders.

In 1988 permits were issued for us to take 4 bandicoots from Scott Creek National Park. Twelve excess bandicoots were later returned to the National Parks for recolonising.

Permits were issued for us to take swamp rats from private land. The young of these, together with the young bandicoots leave the sanctuary and the whole area surrounding Warrawong Sanctuary now abounds with bandicoots and swamp rats.

All the wildlife reintroduced to Warrawong Sanctuary have thrived. Clips of these can be seen at Warrawong Wildlife.

Unfortunately Warrawong was sold to some who don't care. 70% of it was sold off which destroyed the integrity of the fence. Foxes invaded and destroyed the wildlife. The Adelaide Zoo attempted to save what wwas left but the developers had degradded it too much. Warrawong now does not exist.