Sunday, February 8, 2004

On the trail of koalas and kangaroos
Kiran Soni & Madhukar Gupta

The loveable koalas
The loveable koalas

QUEENSLAND, called the "Sunshine State" is Australia’s third most populous state with 17 per cent of the nation’s population. This fast-growing city is the ultimate outdoor playground for 3-4.5 million tourists every year. Brisbane, a comfortable and sprawling capital, is built astride the meandering Brisbane river and located on the south coast.

Breakfast Creek in Brisbane was named by John Osley, who tucked into a moving meal here in 1823 on his voyage upstream. Breakfast Creek has shops and hotels. A pretty, though noisy, spot provides an excellent place to see the placid waters on Brisbane River. The real estate in nearby Hamilton and Ascot is quite exclusive. Newstead Gardens is named after the Newstead House, which is the Brisbane’s oldest surviving residence. A low, solid brick and stone building with slate roof, it was constructed as a private home in 1845 by a convict labourer Patrick Leslie. Newstead House stands out as Queensland’s most significant residence with spacious verandas, gardens and lawns overlooking the Brisbane river.

Newstead was extended and enlarged by the governor and soon became the quintessential Australian homestead. It was the focus of social gatherings. All -embracing verandas catch the cooling breezes and its distinctive balustrade has become the inspiration for other domestic residences. Upstairs, Newstead is furnished in the gracious style of the late Victorian period. The prisms of the ruby glass vases reflect the morning sun, the clock tolls the hour and the music box plays a sweet tune. Restored and now open as a museum, the house and the grounds are remarkably quite. Surrounded by century-old furniture, one finds oneself looking across the creek from the elegant windows. Newstead Park is a tranquil oasis set in the midst of busy city.

The kangaroo is among the most commonly found animals in Australia

Fortitude Valley, a tangled midst of shops, restaurants, bars, pubs and clubs is blossoming into Brisbane’s centre of artistic pursuit. Less than a kilometre away is the main thoroughfare of Brunswick Street, which has a dozen night clubs, an Irish pub and a compact China Town with busy restaurants, stores, martial art centres and street cafes.

Brisbane combines the friendly atmosphere of a large country town with the vitality of a modern city. It has the excitement and sophistication of the state capital, the charm of a well-preserved past and a beautiful natural setting, making it a perfect holiday destination.

Australia’s wildlife is unique, rich and diverse due to long geological isolation from other continents. Today, it has 770 species of birds, 283 species of mammals, 750 species of reptiles, over 200 species of frogs and an estimated 225,000 species of invertebrates.

No visit to Australia is complete without sighting, fondling and cuddling the unique, loveable and fascinating koala. The Lone Pine Sanctuary is home to the koala. It is conveniently located 11 km away from Brisbane and is accessible by boat, bus and car. It is a 15-minute drive from the city, five minutes from Mt. Coot Tha and 50 minutes from the Gold Coast. The Mirimar boat cruises run the regular service from North Quay and the city council bus plies from Adelaide Street opposite City Hall.

Established in 1927 over 50 hectares of bushland, Lone Pine Sanctuary is the largest koala sanctuary in the world. It is home to around 130 captive breeds of Koalas. The Lone Pine, a hoop pine next to a souvenir shop, was planted by Danial Clarkson in 1865. The native wildlife ranges from koalas and kangaroos to bushtail possum, common wallaroo, wombats, whiptail wallaby, sugar sliders, swamp wallaby and Tasmanian devils.

The koala is a marsupial wooly creature with a rounded head, long nose and no tail. Sleeping most of the day and feeding on eucalyptus leaves, it is an agile climber and spends most of the time living above the ground. The koalas, which has the habit of sheltering in dense foliage and resting for 20 hours a day, has a special digestive system to process the leaves, which are tough, fibrous and contain oil and toxins. Due to its nutritionally poor diet, the koalas conserves its energy by resting and sleeping for major part of the day. It rarely needs to drink due to the high water content of the leaves it eats.

The koala has few natural predators and as a species it is not endangered, yet it faces a number of threats. The most serious threat is the loss of a suitable habitat, and bacterial infection like chlamydia, which takes a heavy toll. Due to the Australian Government’s efforts to preserve the natural heritage of the country, the number of koalas has grown considerably. The famous Mt. Coot Tha offers a spectacular view of the lovely city.