By GEMMA WOLK
The love of Tony Bischoff’s life is small, grey and fuzzy, but surprisingly, it’s not his wife Faye.
Koalas have always been his passion, and providing a better future for his small, furry friends is his endless endeavour.
Tony has dedicated the past 11 years to his current conservation mission known as the Blair Reserve Project, which is located in Port Macquarie, situated on the Mid North Coast. Since 2004, he has replanted over 17,000 new flora species, including 3,500 feeding trees for his beloved koalas.
At the crack of dawn on a Tuesday, when most would rather be sound asleep in the warm folds of their blankets, Tony sets to doing this gruelling maintenance work, weeding out stray species and replanting native flora. Now 62, this is how he begins his day, and regardless of the physical toll, he still seems to live for it.
“I’m a man obsessed”, he admits.
Walking into the Bischoff’s house, one is confronted with an array of nature books and eccentric animal paintings dotted in and between cuttings of mysterious plant stem and bags of unidentified seeds.
A passionate ‘wildlife warrior’ for longer than he cares to remember, it’s easy to notice Tony’s weathered skin from the years of sun damage, and see the scars and fresh wounds covering his arms and legs from the battle with stray weeds and uncooperative mulch.
Every week he drags himself out of bed at dawn and climbs into his heavy duty work gear, consisting of heavy tarp suit and face mask, powered by the assurance his hard efforts are benefitting the fast diminishing environment.
“It gives me inspiration to know that I’m doing my bit. I started to plant eucalypts because I felt that the local council and organisations like the RTA were removing too many koala food trees, and we were going to lose the majority of the population. Before long, I had somehow started recreating the reserve”, he said.
Tony’s love affair with koalas began when he was much younger as he would admire them clambering through his backyard in Dubbo, fascinated by their unique nature. Ever since, he has wanted to ensure the species remains a prominent feature wherever he lives.
“People don’t seem to realise how precious the species around us are, they just take everything for granted”, he exclaimed.
According to the National Conservation Council of NSW Koala conservation strategy:
“The overall conservation status of the koala in New South Wales is now classified as ‘vulnerable to extinction’ under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995”
”In NSW the koalas have disappeared from between 50 to 75% of their former range… In other parts of the State they are uncommon, rare or extinct. Historically koalas were abundant on the south coast of NSW, but now occur in sparse and possibly disjunct populations”
Mandy Smith of the Port Macquarie Department of Environment and Climate Change expressed concern regarding the rapid developments being constructed around Port Macquarie town.
“It is a particular concern for the koalas. It is going to be hard for small schemes such as the Blair Reserve Project to carry on trying to maintain these habitats. There will be too much pressure and work for them”, she said.
Things aren’t quite as rosy, or ‘eucalyptussy’, as Tony would like. Despite his best efforts, he is frustrated with the lack of support that his small project receives from the public.
Currently the project only attracts between two and ten helpers depending on the day and weather, meaning it continues to be a struggle to complete the necessary work.
“We did 600 mail drops around town recently asking for assistance, and never even got one response to come and help, absolutely nobody. It is the apathy and general disregard of the public that is why we are in this mess”, he sighs.
Chayne Flannigan of the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital stressed the importance of the Blair Reserve Project, and that without the help of Tony Bischoff, the welfare of Koala’s in Port Macquarie would continue to severely diminish.
“We’d be lost without them [Tony and his group]. They do such a valuable job and are assisting so much in the quest for sustaining the koala population”
With the koala habitat benefitting so greatly from his efforts, Tony Bischoff will continue to work toward the maintenance of the Blair Reserve, and is determined to carry out the rest of his days ‘doing his bit’ for the environment.
“The world is my backyard, and I’m going to take care of it” he chuckles.