European history of koalas

Koalas are an iconic part of the Macarthur region’s natural history with the first recorded European sighting of a koala occurring near Bargo in 1798 by John Price. In Campbelltown specifically, koalas were first recorded in the 1890s, some 100 years later.

Impact of koala fur trade

Colonisation of Australia by the early settlers resulted in the clearing of eucalypt forests for agricultural practices and later for housing. As the number of settlers increased, koalas became the target of hunting and a growing fur trade.

The practice was banned in the early 1900s in New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria. But in Queensland it continued until 1927 when the Australian icon was almost driven to extinction following a Queensland Government-endorsed ‘open season’. The mass killings of koalas were etched in history as Black August.

In the weeks leading up to August 1927, the Queensland Government collected licence fees from 10,000 hopeful koala hunters to boost rural employment and in response to reports of uncontrollable koala populations. The furs were popular in the coat, glove and hat industries in the United States.

Picutre of men and koala skins hung on wall

The slaughter caused so much outrage that within months the government banned the export of koala pelts. State governments introduced legislation to protect the koala with the Commonwealth Government introducing controls relating to the export of koala skin. On 10 November 1927, the Commonwealth Government stopped issuing permits that allowed for the export of koala fur.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the koala fur trade resulted in the death of eight million koalas across eastern Australia.

Koala furs packed on the back of a truck

Bush fires

During the mid – latter part of the 20th century and in particular from 1955 to 1975, a series of major fires impacted the Campbelltown Local Government Area (LGA) and are considered to have nearly wiped out the Campbelltown koala population. While details of the exact impacts are unknown, it is estimated that it has taken some 50 years for the population to expand to its current numbers and distribution.

It wasn’t until 1986 that the Campbelltown koala population became widely known when a population in the Wedderburn area was discovered. Over the next 30 years, significant research work was undertaken to study koalas, track their distribution and abundance as well as learn more about their overall health.

As a result of years of human induced impacts, in 2012 koalas were listed as a Vulnerable Species under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (now Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016). This declaration highlighted the official status of koalas being at great risk of becoming extinct. If the threats to their survival are not addressed, they could disappear from our local area, state or even country.

In 2018, Council completed generational persistence modelling (Biolink 2018). It is estimated that there is approximately 300 koalas currently residing in the Campbelltown LGA.