REAL AUSTRALIA

Voice of Real Australia: A piece of Tassie in NSW's Hunter Valley

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Devils released in the wild are chosen for their genetic diversity to ensure healthy families. Photo: Supplied (Aussie Ark)

Devils released in the wild are chosen for their genetic diversity to ensure healthy families. Photo: Supplied (Aussie Ark)

When I moved to Newcastle in NSW's Hunter region, at the top of my list was a visit to Barrington Tops.

The national park forms part of the World Heritage Gondwana Rainforest of Australia. It's one of the largest temperate rainforests in mainland Australia. The first is carved out of ancient volcanic flows. A plateau between peaks in the great dividing range, rising 1500 metres above sea level.

Walking through the park I felt very small. The timber giants, older than the city of Newcastle, stood tall and unwavering. I got dizzy looking up to the tops of the gums which would take at least four people, hand in hand, to hug.

The underbrush is lush. Everything is moss covered and damp. The creeks and rivers I crossed were flowing with freezing snow melt. I was only a couple of hours from home and I felt like I was in, well, Tasmania.

It's exactly why this alpine rainforest was chosen as a breeding ground for Tasmanian devils. Nestled in these ancient forests is Aussie Ark, home to around 200 devils.

More than 390 devils have been born and raised there as an insurance population for the endangered species.

In Tasmania, contagious devil facial tumour disease is wiping out devils. It comes after years of population decline due to human interference, including hunting and habitat destruction.

Previously, Tasmania had been their safe haven.

Thousands of years ago dingoes were introduced to Australia through Aboriginal trade with Asia. These dogs made quick work of the mainland devils. But those living in the pocket sanctuary of Tasmania survived.

Now 3000 years later the devil has been released in the wild on the mainland. Last year 26 devils were released into a 400-hectare wild sanctuary in Barrington Tops. Forty more will be released over the next few years. The Barrington Devils will eventually form a self-sustaining wild population.

When I visited, a joey named Dwight was thrust into my arms. It set about nuzzling into my arms, being an effective and adorable ambassador for its species - just as its handlers hoped.

I met a quoll, which climbed me. Australia has the worst record of mammal extinctions in the world, so in addition to saving the devil, Aussie Ark also keeps populations of animals like betongs and bandicoots.

But the reintroduction of mainland devils is not just about protecting the species, the apex predators also play a unique role in their new environment.

We spoke to scientists, conservationists and Aussie Ark devil handlers about what impact the Barrington Devils will have.

In Tassie, where there are more devils there are fewer cats - and more small native mammals as a result. It's hoped that one day the devils will play a similar role in NSW - so instead of just seeing foxes and cats when you go camping, you see the kinds of animals for which Australia is rightly famous.

It's a long way off, but it pays to dream, and next time I'm hiking in the forests of Barrington Tops I hope I get to meet with a devil.

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