RAAF Williamtown aims to plant 10,000 new koala feed trees

PLANTING: RAAF Williamtown's regional environmental officer Emily Ingram with FLLT Ewan Regazzo prepare to plant some of the koala feed trees at Williamtown.
PLANTING: RAAF Williamtown's regional environmental officer Emily Ingram with FLLT Ewan Regazzo prepare to plant some of the koala feed trees at Williamtown.

A RAAF Base Williamtown community initiative is aiming to plant up to 10,000 koala feed trees before the end of the year as part of a joint project with Port Stephens Koalas (PSK).

In the first day of planting on June 25 on a 40-hectare Defence site off Lavis Lane, around 30 volunteers manged to plant 1,700 saplings of swamp mahogany and forest red gum.

Williamtown's Senior Australian Defence Force Officer, Group Captain Peter Cluff, said the project's objective was to promote team harmony among the personnel and to show the RAAF's sense of community in Port Stephens.

"We felt it would be a worthwhile project to provide our men and women with a meaningful activity following the easing of restrictions from COVID-19, while at the same time helping out a worthwhile cause," GPCAPT Cluff said.

"We doubled our original goal of planting 5,000 trees between now and the end of 2020 and having watched our members rolling up their sleeves on day one, I am confident that we will achieve it."

ROLLING UP THEIR SLEEVES: From left: GPCAPT Peter Cluff, LACW Reaksmey Sophea, LACW Hayley Nairn and PSK's Paul Holmquest.

ROLLING UP THEIR SLEEVES: From left: GPCAPT Peter Cluff, LACW Reaksmey Sophea, LACW Hayley Nairn and PSK's Paul Holmquest.

GPCAPT Cluff said that he hoped the project would have a positive impact on the tireless work of PSK volunteers who care for injured, sick and orphaned koalas and assisting the native koala populations thrive after some tumultuous months.

"Planning for the project commenced in May 2019 with the base offering assistance by identifying vacant Defence land to support the cultivation of feedstock for the koala hospital."

Following the consultation and planning phase, a successful trial planting phase which occurred in late March 2020 tested and informed the active planting phase which followed on June 25.

Plantation manager Paul Holmquest, a longtime member of PSK, said the initiative would deliver important support to the koala hospital currently under construction at Anna Bay.

"Given the fire events that occurred across Australia this year, our feed stocks have reached critical levels with more koalas currently in our care. We are therefore incredibly grateful to Defence and the Port Stephens community for coming to our aid and assisting in establishing a long term solution to support the sustainment of feedstock supplies for our facility," he said.

The project is also being supported by Estate and Infrastructure Group, Joint Strike Fighter division, Newcastle Airport, Port Stephens Council, Worimi community members, as well as regional business and services all working together as one community.

Action committee member and lead ecologist for the council Lee McElroy provided specialist advice in the site preparation, while consultation was undertaken with Worimi community elders.