The devastation of the bushfires that destroyed so much of Australia in the summer of 2019/2020 is widely known. But only now many months later are scientists coming to grips with the sheer loss of native animals across the east coast of the country. But amongst the tragedy are the amazing stories of survival, the Zookeepers who rescued exotic wildlife from the flames and the many people who gave wildlife shelter. Amongst the incredible tales are that of Potoroo Palace Native Animal Sanctuary who were forced to evacuate with their animals multiple times and are now nurturing many more animals back to health.
This is Australia’s story of Gratitude for Alexandra Seddon
About ten minutes from Merimbula in the beautiful Bega Valley of NSW, the sanctuary allows visitors to savour the rare opportunity to see a koala, wander among the kangaroos, touch a snake, stroll through the cooling mist of the walk-through aviary and see animals as Australian as the Dingo and Wombat in a habit much more like their own than in a Zoo. This summer, however, was not only stressful for staff members but also for the animals too. During the bushfire crisis, the sanctuary had to evacuate three times. “It takes us a long time to get all of the animals out. It takes a while to put them somewhere safe,” worker Serge Nachtergaele says.
But this wasn’t the first time the sanctuary had come so close to disaster, in 2013 founder Alexandra Seddon describes another close call, “The police just turned up and said you’ve got 20 mins to get out, don’t worry about the animals, just get the people out and don’t worry about the animals.” She said the fire looked very fierce and clearly staff safety was the priority. They did as told and evacuated very quickly, but each handler also grabbed as many animals as they could, loading them into their cars. “Everybody swung into action, taking away all the animals that could be taken away and ran the sprinklers and mist sprays on the ones that had to stay,” she said.
Many would ask why they persist under such challenging conditions, but an insight into the life of Alexandra Seddon reveals an unparalleled commitment to wildlife, community and the environment. She came to the Bega Valley in 1975 from Papua New Guinea, where she had been working with PNG teachers, mostly in drama and creative writing. She began farming with her brother in Candelo, and so Cowsnest Community Farm came into being, with a kibbutz type structure: to each according to his/her need, from each according to his/her ability. The idea of Cowsnest was to set up a community farm where anyone could come and contribute their skill and labour even if they had no money to buy land.
This has now been incorporated and now officially comes under the auspices of Potoroo Palace. Out of Cowsnest, in 1985, grew the Candelo Arts Society, which continues to flourish. There is also a 57-acre feral-animal-proof Sanctuary at Cowsnest, a half-way house for injured and orphaned native animals who are on their way to a soft release. In 1996 Alexandra initiated the Waterbird Sanctuary in Pambula, which has become Panboola, Pambula Wetlands and Heritage Project, over 200 acres right in Pambula. In 2000 she began the Pambula Flying Fox Hospital and Conservation Area, 34 acres protected by a Voluntary Conservation Agreement.
And on September 25th, 2006, a senescent Yellow Pinch Wildlife Park was bought, and slowly rejuvenated to become Potoroo Palace, Native Animal Educational Sanctuary. Now with the fires behind them, Alexandra and her army of workers and volunteers are caring for many of the survivors, the latest addition to the Sanctuary a baby Koala perfectly named, ‘Hope’. If you or anyone you know has worked with the sanctuary or knows a volunteer, please contact us here, as the Share Gratitude community would like to thank those involved. We encourage you to follow us for more Stories of Gratitude and invite you to share your story – or send a simple message of Gratitude to those behind this initiative, please visit sharegratitude.com