A representative of the Gamilroi (Kamilaroi) people's main cultural totem species was returned back to country recently.
In August, a local family ( who wish to remain anonymous) witnessed an accident involving a koala on their property and contacted local wires carer Elizabeth Kakoschke for help.
"Inverell (Gooniwiggal) Tom was rescued on August 10 after he fell from a very tall Blakely's Red Gum tree," Ms Kakoschke said.
"Two boys who lived nearby had been watching the young koala playing at the top of the tree and nicknamed him 'Danger Mouse' for his treetop antics.
"The koala's mother was watching on from a nearby tree when a branch broke which sent the young koala hurtling to the ground.
"When the young koala fell the boys yelled with fright and their mother came running thinking one of her boys was hurt. She was stunned to find it was actually the young koala who was injured one."
The family rang WIRES Rescue and Ms Kakoschke collected, then transferred, 'Gooniwiggal Tom' to an experienced koala carer at Bingara.
"Veterinary examination at Bingara identified a serious upper limb fracture that required specialist treatment and thanks to a local off duty ambulance officer, who was returning to the Port Macquarie area we ensured Tom was able to access the care he needed as soon as it was possible," Ms Kakoschke said.
"Currently transfers to Port Macquarie Koala Hospital are via a network of volunteers who often meet up with the Koala Ambulance at Walcha.
"Numerous koala 'lifts' have been organised over the years through National Parks, NSW Police, off duty ambulance and hospital staff as well as wildlife carers. "
'Gooniwiggal Tom' was returned home last weekend thanks to an arborist, then two WIRES volunteers meeting at Bundarra.
"A designated Koala Rescue vehicle would certainly make the process more streamlined, but at this stage, carers are very grateful for the wonderful helping hands that other volunteers, services and members of the public provide," Ms Kakoschke said.
Rescued koalas are usually named using the place where they are found combined with the first name of the rescuer - or a name that the rescuer has chosen Ms Kakoschke explained.
"Prior to release, koalas are photographed, ear-tagged and microchipped to ensure they are recognised if they have any other reason to come into care further down the track," she said.
Last weekend a small group gathered to welcome 'Gooniwiggal Tom' back on to his country, and one of those was Gamilroi elder Kelvin Brown.
"Using the clapsticks I performed a spiritual sound off to tell spirits in the area that we were there to conduct cultural business, and that cultural business was the koala's return to country," Mr Brown said.
"Using the clapsticks tells the bad spirits to move away and calls the good spirits in to join in what we are doing, and as such, it gave a blessing to the event."
Mr Brown said the koala, or guda (goo-da) in Gamilroi language, was the cultural tribal totem to the Gamilroi people and must be protected and cared for.
"It must not be harmed by the Aboriginal people of that tribe and must be nurtured and cared for by members of that tribe," he said.
The rock wallaby is Mr Brown's personal totem and he said the return of the koala to its home was particularly poignant for him because of this.
"I was spiritually moved by the place most definitely because it seemed to be a place to me that aboriginal people would utilise and also a place that would be utilised by native species," Mr Brown said.
"I found it interesting that it was a place where rock wallabies were known to periodically be seen."
Ms Kakoschke said for a koala to make it to release is something to celebrate so where they can, WIRES make it a local community 'event'.
"Falling from a tree is not a common reason for coming into care so perhaps the 'drop bear' legend has an element of reality in Tom's case," she said
"He has made a wonderful recovery, and while the landholders didn't want their property details publicised, they certainly will be keeping an eye out for their koalas and the local koalas are very fortunate to live there.
"It is a glorious area with plenty of koala food and habitat trees, and a creek line for water - it is koala paradise.
"Koalas need a variety of different species of tree to survive and thrive. There are numerous food trees but Koala preferences are generally specific to the location where they were born.
"Gut flora are needed to digest different types of eucalyptus leaves and can vary from location to location. This is one of the reasons it is best practice to return koalas as close to the place they were found as possible."
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'Gooniwiggal Tom' is a juvenile, who is approximately 12 months old and just beginning his life as an independent young adult.
"He weighed 5 kg on release and based on his youth, overall general fitness and vigour, and the healthy local environment he has returned to, it is hoped that Tom will live a long and happy life," Ms Kakoschke said.
"Having local community members present for his release means also there are local people that will be looking out for him and other koalas in the area."
However, anyone finding an injured koala should not try to help them but call a professional Ms Kakoschke says.
"Immediate care of injured koala should only be attended by appropriately qualified persons as they have specific needs and can be quite dangerous to handle with their sharp claws and teeth," she said.
"In the North West at this stage, the primary goal of care is triage.
"If the koala has less complicated reasons for coming into care, then they can be managed locally, but if they have serious signs of injury or disease, transfer to a koala specialist is their best chance to pull through.
"The priority is to minimise stress, keep the koala in a comfortable quiet area, provide leaves misted with water and offer the koala water to lap.
"Minimal intrusion is the key to settling koalas and them accepting those strange humans are just trying to help."
Local contacts for koala advice:
Rescue: WIRES 1300 094 737
Gwymac Landcare Inverell: 02 67211241 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Northern Slopes Landcare Bingara: 02 67242052 email: email@example.com