James Fitzgerald has established a wildlife refuge on the Monaro that’s helping to boost the local koala population.

Photo credit: Ricky French

James Fitzgerald stands among the gum trees on his wildlife sanctuary, 25km north of Numerella in the Monaro region of New South Wales, and takes it all in. The tranquility of twilight is a far cry from the wild scenes James faced on this spot less than a year ago. 

Lightning sparked a bushfire on Australia Day, threatening to wipe out the entire 724ha James protects as habitat for native animals. A combination of favourable conditions and hard work from local fire crews meant they contained the fire before it could really take hold. “I remember the intense heat of the afternoon, sitting in a truck bouncing down this fire trail to the Bredbo River to fill up with water, then tearing back uphill to battle the blaze. It was a close call,” James says.   

James set up Two Thumbs Wildlife Trust in 2013, nine years after purchasing this former grazing property, which he named Hammer’s Hill. By 2016 he’d added two adjoining properties, Kalandan and Irwin’s Corner. As well as providing safe habitat, James specialises in rehabilitating sick and injured wildlife. He’s part of a dedicated network of wildlife carers all around the country who devote their time and money to protecting Australia’s fauna. 

It’s here, among the rolling ridges and granite outcrops that James often hears koalas calling to each other down in the valley. Ten years ago, James would only hear them at one spot. Now he hears them everywhere. This is one of the only areas in the country where their numbers are increasing rather than shrinking. 

James estimates around 2000 koalas live in the unbroken chain of bushland that flows north from James’s sanctuaries to the outskirts of Queanbeyan, 80km to the north…

Read the full story in Outback magazine issue #128