WHEN Simone Aurino began rescuing and caring for koalas five years ago she felt she had finally found her place in the community.
Mrs Aurino said she felt a sense of “belonging” when she joined the Hunter Koala Preservation Society, but there have been far greater flow on effects.
The Anna Bay mother-of-two said she now has greater confidence when speaking in public, that koalas have brought her family closer together and the skills she has learnt during the years has helped her in other situations, like caring for her dying father.
“My training and experience has given me the ability to see certain things in perspective, and gave me the ability to nurse my dying father,” she said.
“It’s something I’ll always be grateful for.”
Mrs Aurino has always been an animal lover.
She was “brought up on the Leyland brothers” – Mike and Mal Leyland were known for their popular 1976-1984 television show Ask the Leyland Brothers – while her children grew up watching Steve Irwin.
In 2011, Mrs Aurino saw a photo of a koala with the society’s now president, Carmel Northwood, in the Examiner.
Interested in joining, she reached out to the society and met with carer Sue Swain who was looking after a joey. The moment she laid eyes on the joey she was “hooked”, she said. Mrs Aurino is now the society’s rescue and care coordinator.
She is the person anyone wishing to join the society will first meet with to talk about the realities – the highs and lows – of being a member.
Mrs Aurino is also one of the few carers who handle koalas requiring intensive treatment, which she does from her Anna Bay home.
Having koalas at home has provided a common ground between her family.
“They keep us grounded,” she said. “We’re all really different people, but through koalas we have formed some wonderful relationships and we socialise together.”
Like all preservation society carers, Mrs Aurino has had her share of heartbreak. But it is her passion for koalas overrides those moments.
“How special is it that you get to say you’re saving a species?”