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Byron Shire
December 7, 2023

Pottsville koalas: three dead as community argues over men’s shed

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This koala was euthanised following its capture. Photo supplied.

Koala advocates say they are seriously concerned about the survival of Tweed’s endangered koala population after volunteers found five koalas diseased and/or dead over a three-day period last month.

Friends of the Koala (FoK) member David Norris says three of the koalas have died and the other two face an uncertain future after rescue efforts in late July.

He says volunteers found the creatures less than twenty kilometres apart in Pottsville and Bogangar.

‘Three of the koalas were found clumped together in the bushland south of Kellehers Road and north of the Black Rocks sports field,’ he said in an email to Echonetdaily.

A fourth koala was already dead when volunteers found it nearby under a log and a fifth koala was later rescued from Clothiers Creek Road in Bogangar.

Volunteers took all five koalas to the Currumbin Wildlife Hospital where workers said the four living koalas had chlamydia but couldn’t say how the fifth one had died.

A dead koala was also found but cause of death is unknown. Photo supplied.

Pottsville koalas at higher risk of chlamydia, says advocate

Currumbin Wildlife Hospital workers reportedly had to put down two koalas due to the severity of illness and are still caring for the last two.

Mr Norris is also a community representative on the Tweed Shire Council’s Koala Management Committee and says the capture of this many diseased koalas so close together is unprecedented at Black Rocks.

But he says Pottsville residents have gathered photographic and veterinary evidence showing koalas in the area have higher rates of chlamydia than other koalas in the Tweed shire.

The findings reflect research led by University of Queensland Professor Clive McAlpine that shows koalas living in fragmented habitats are at a greater risk of getting chlamydia than koalas elsewhere because populations are denser.

High-density living for koalas can lead to more sexual activity, territorial aggression, a lack of nutrition and other stresses from nearby land-use.

Men’s shed DA worries koala advocate

Mr Norris says he is calling for governments to take stress factors into account more when evaluating development applications and is concerned about the possible expansion of the Pottsville and District Men’s Shed (PADMS) on Black Rocks Sports Field.

Shed operators have applied for more time to keep the shed on the oval, as an initial temporary period of five years granted by the Tweed Shire Council expires.

But Mr Norris says the latest application is to be decided by state authorities.

The PADMS has also applied for an extension of the building but Mr Norris says with an Osprey birds’ nest nearby, and curlews and koalas within fifteen metres of the shed, any ‘human-related disturbance does cause stress’ and authorities should ‘apply precautionary principle’.

Koalas versus ‘old men’

The so-called ‘precautionary principle’ essentially means avoiding all possible risks.

Mr Norris says the Black Rocks Sports Ground is three hundred metres within the Pottsville wetland and is at the junction of three koala corridors.

Mr Norris has also referred to koala ecologist Dr Steve Phillips’ opinion the land should be returned to koala habitat because, he says, of a ‘strong likelihood’ the mens’ shed project will impact on the Pottsville wild koala population.

But Pottsville and District Mens Shed Founder and Inaugural President Alan May says he has known David Norris since 2013 and Mr Norris doesn’t support mens’ sheds.

Green versus green?

Mr May says Mr Norris is high on rhetoric but low on facts and nature has a way of culling wildlife so that the majority of animals will continue to survive.

He says as bad as chlamydia is, it won’t affect all koalas.

‘David would suggest koalas and humans can’t live in a symbiotic relationship,’ he told Echonetdaily.

‘To make a suggestion that a five-metre extension to a building would negatively impact on koalas is ludicrous,’ Mr May said.

‘I support “green” views but I do have a problem with “green” views that neglect other issues in society,’ he said.

‘It would do a lot more good to get rid of feral cats than a few old men trying to make a positive change in their lives.’

Mens’ shed brings much-needed ‘self-worth’, says founder

Mr May says 72 men are currently using the shed to regain a sense of self-worth, usually after retiring from decades of full-time work.

When Echonetdaily spoke to Mr May, he said he just come from the mens’ shed in Pottsville where men were making painting easels for primary school students in Burringbar and nesting boxes for wildlife as well as ‘playing cards and drinking tea and coffee’.

He says he hopes the impact of the mens’ shed on mens’ health in the Pottsville district will be significant.

Meanwhile, Mr Norris says the shed was originally supposed to be demountable and relocatable.

He says the Tweed Shire Council is looking at a master plan for Black Rocks Sports Field and has already rejected proposals for a fun day there, along with ideas for tennis courts.

Sick and dying koalas ‘a bit of a shock’

The discovery of the sick, dead and dying koalas was ‘quite a bit of a shock’ to rescuers, says Mr Norris, describing it as ‘a wake-up call that precautionary principle needs to be applied’.

But precautionary principle application is voluntary and non-enforceable.

Mr Norris told Echonetdaily the council is reluctant to use precautionary principle because developers may decide to sue the council for refusing building applications.

He says New South Wales needs stronger biodiversity and conservation laws.

State laws were changed under the Mike Baird government, with koala advocates describing the changes as devastating for wildlife.

As for koalas and other wildlife versus expansion of the Pottsville and District Mens Shed, Mr May says ‘we’re all trying to co-exist’.

Tweed Shire council responds

A spokesperson for Tweed Shire Council told Echonetdaily that they are following up on the rescued animals with the licensed rescue and rehabilitation organisation, Friends of the Koala.

‘Disease is prevalent throughout koala populations with 100-280 koalas per year rescued in the Northern Rivers between 2010 and 2017. Disease is the greatest reported factor contributing to the need to rescue and treat koalas, representing 56 per cent of all attributable incidents for the Northern Rivers between 2010 and 2017. While this number of animals being rescued at the one time is concerning, there is no evidence to suggest that there is any link with any specific activity in that area,’ said the spokesperson.

‘Council is currently finalising the planning requirements to enable construction of a koala a holding facility at Pottsville that will form part of a key research project into the vaccination of koalas against chlamydia.’

Tweed Council are also developing a Masterplan for the Black Rocks Sports Ground that recognises the ecological value of the area that will be completed later this year.

‘Council is currently assessing the public submissions and specific issues raised by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and the Environment in relation to the Men’s Shed licence extension application,’ confirmed the council spokesperson.

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  1. I do not think it is productive to revisit the
    Pottsville oval debate. The Mens shed is a reality and the question now is how the Shedders and other users can contribute to the an effective stewardship of that environment that enhances the prospect of koala survival. It is not clear whether this is even possible. Mr May’s remarks also need correction. Chlamydia is associated with habitat destruction and nature does not have a way of culling koalas to ensure their survival. That is is an unscientific piece of wishful thinking. And humans and koalas doe not live in symbiosis ! It is Mr May who is short on facts and basic understanding , not Mr Norris who is well informed and passionate about the future of Pottsville koalas, about whom we should all care.

  2. The shed could be built elsewhere but it’s the only choice koalas have. How about some empathy for the others who are desperately trying to survive.

  3. The Pottsville and District Men’s Shed ( PADMS) have applied to expand their facility at the sports field to approximately 4.8 times its current size ie from its current 256 square meters to 1200 sq meters.

    They have also applied to extend their licence to operate at the site by 5 years beyond the remaining 2 years 8 month period, with an option to extend a further 5 years (approximately 13 years in all), ie the licence could be extended to the year 2032.

    Council prepared and lodged the development application for PADMS on the grounds that PADMS would only be granted a limited use 5 year licence at the sports field, and that the shed was to operate at the field on a temporary basis and another permanent location for the shed should be found.

    The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage questioned the proposed location of the facility, raising concerns regarding impacts on koalas, and providing comment and recommendations in a letter dated 10 July 2015 as follows:

    Should the consent authority approve the application, OEH recommends that

    1. The community facility is to operate for a period of up to five years after which, the development consent lapses.

    2. A monitoring program must be established for the duration of the approval period to monitor changes to the incidence of matters that could impact threatened species including, but not limited to, attacks on and injuries to wildlife, dog complaints, noise complaints, vandalism and hooliganism. This program must establish a basis for an audit into the management and operation of the facility such that the consent can be reviewed at the end of its fourth year of operation to determine whether a modification to the consent (beyond five years) is appropriate and can be justified.’

    The shed opened in March 2018

    In a report dated 24 February 2016 to the NSW Environmental Defenders Office regarding the PADMS approval [refer ATTACHMENT 3], Dr Phillips states:

    ‘I am of the opinion that there is strong likelihood of a significant impact on the Pottsville Wetlands-Black Rocks local koala population if the proposed action (PADMS at Black Rocks) was to proceed.
    The proposal (PADMS facility) has the potential to contribute to an increased risk of extinction for this population by way of:

    a) Creating a sufficient level of disturbance through noises associated initially with construction and thereafter ongoing activities within the Men’s Shed such as the episodic use of power tools that individual koalas currently ranging in the south-eastern corner of the Black Rocks Sports Field may disperse away from the source of disturbance for varying periods of time and so become predisposed to an elevated risk of disease, vehicle-strike, domestic dog attack and/or misadventure..’.

    b) …It is clear that a number of home range areas occur in the immediate vicinity of the (PADMS) construction footprint. Hence the loss of additional koalas from the remaining population as either a direct or indirect consequence of the proposed action in this instance, is thus foreseeable on the basis of knowledge regarding the response of the species to an escalation of disturbance variables, such as noise, as well as the increased probability of vehicle strike due to greater numbers of vehicles.’

    The Black Rocks by the Sea Koala Plan Of Management 2004 for the sports field and surrounding core koala habitat states:

    ‘Disease may be a major threat to the Pottsville Koala population. Animals most at risk are those which occupy disturbed or isolated habitats which are subject to human related disturbance….Koalas occurring in more fragmented habitats are likely to be highly stressed.’

    According to the research article ‘Time-delayed influence of urban landscape change on the susceptibility of koalas to chlamydiosis’ by Clive McAlpine et al:

    ‘Qualitative comparisons of studies among koala populations in undisturbed and disturbed habitats suggest that chlamydiosis is likely to increase in populations under pressure from landscape change, particularly in urban areas.’

    ‘Fragmentation may also influence disease susceptibility through nutritional deficiencies or physiological stress from adjacent land-uses.

    Fragmented habitats increase the risk of disease transmission through changes in population density or clumping of individuals around key resources, and by increasing sexual encounters and aggressive territorial behaviour.

    Fragmentation reduces landscape connectivity and increases landscape resistance, thereby decreasing gene flow between populations and potentially increasing their susceptibility to disease.’

    New research titled ‘Physiological stress levels in wild koala sub-populations facing anthropogenic induced environmental trauma and disease’ by Dr Edward Narayan at the Western Sydney University states:

    ‘The demonstrated long-term stress caused by environmental trauma can lead to significant physical and psychological changes in koalas. These changes can result in increased signs of koala stress syndrome, increased risk of infection, suppressed reproduction, growth and development and high mortality rates.’ [Refer https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-42448-8 .]

  4. I’m a huge supporter of the men’s sheds movement. It’s an excellent, community nurturing programme and the more we have the better off our communities will be. Those wanting the koalas and other biodiversity in that place to thrive need to remember the men’s shed helps us living things to thrive.
    That said, the men’s shed could be anywhere and the koalas and other biodiversity only have ‘there’. With good will on all sides from these universally nurturing people, there’s surely a more appropriate place for the shed and many more besides.

  5. Mr May’s comment that “nature has a way of culling animals so the majority will still survive” is absurd – bordering on ludicrous

    5 dead or dying out of an estimated 30 or so does not sound “Natural” to me!

    And please show me a koala ecologist who has claimed humans & Koalas can live in “Symbiosis”?
    Symbiosis assumes it is mutually beneficial – How on earth can humans – with their cars, pet dogs, urban developments and accidental bushfires – benefit Koalas ??
    All of these are LETHAL to Koalas

    So how does that symbiosis work again? What is it we contribute to koala welfare ?

    Sorry I just can’t see it

    Please stick to the facts Mr May – Dave Norris is a good example – he is deeply involved & researched in these Coastal Koalas.
    He has studied them both in the field & in ecologist reports over the past 7 years.
    He has hundreds of photos and evidence for his statements which I’m sure he’d be only to happy to share.

  6. What a great opportunity there is here. Just think, when the last Pottsville koala is dead these old men can utilise their precious Black Rocks shed to produce wood (or metal, or plastic) koala replicas so that their grandchildren can get to see what the extinct koala looked like!
    Then those same proud grandads could step up production, sell their excess koala replicas and make lots of money for “tea and coffee”!
    Most fabulously, the death of all koalas locally will be a huge win for rapacious developers, as there would be no pesky Australian wildlife to delay their insatiable lust for personal profit!!
    Yes, it’s a win-win situation for all the old men – those from the mens shed, those in the Council chambers, and those on the Gold Coast. And who cares about koalas when a few old men can win, eh?

  7. The men’s shed can be relocated, the koalas and other wildlife desperately need this environment as pristine as possible. There are a lot of options for the shedders, but none for koalas
    I for one cannot understand the selfish, entitled attitude that leads Mr May to promulgate such biased and ridiculous views about wildlife survival.
    Empire building on public land in the bush so anyone can ‘drink cups of tea’, is not reasonable.

  8. TOTALLY agree with BRUCE..what insight…you think just like me. Wildlife ALWAYS comes out second best, I’d say 9th best, in relation to development/pets/traffic/greed etc How sad that our precious but declining wildlife is less important than some Ol Dudes who could put their shed elsewhere.Who gave them DA permission in the first place ? Koalas have NO choice where to live, we have taken ALL OF THEIR HABITAT.I am angry but more heart broken ….our species is a plague on this planet.

  9. The hypocrisy in this on going debate continues to astound me. Mr Norris’s home is the main reason the koalas are in this state. It has nothing to do with the Men’s Shed, it is urban development issue and encompasses a great deal more than a sports field.

    The koalas need an East-West corridor to flourish. They have been cut off and isolated from other koalas by the HIGHWAY years ago!

    Why on earth would you encourage them to stay near people populated areas and roads??? It’s not their ‘only’ option.

    The people community is in place where it is. The koala damage is done. They are not dying because people are using a sports oval that is near them, they are dying because they were cut off from their larger community TO THE WEST and people (just like Mr Norris) chose to build houses on their stomping grounds.

    Leave the Men’s Shed alone!!

  10. I am new to this debate, as I have only just started using the Shed. I brink a young disable man there to access wordworking and be taught by men at the Shed. I am constantly amazed by the community projects being worked on, either to assist individuals or groups. We do not have the luxury of attending a different Shed, as this is the only Shed that welcomes people of all abilities. I don’t know Mr Norris and until now never even heard of him, but I’d have to ask if he lives in Black Rocks Estate. Is part of it personal and the little bit of extra traffic upsetting his peace and quiet? The Shed is only ope 3 half days a week and would have less impact than any sporting events held there

  11. There seems to be a lot of blame of the koala deaths on the 9hrs a week the Men’s Shed operates, when the area is surrounded by housing development that nobody seems to acknowledge. Maybe it’s the significant land clearing for that, that is responsible, along with increased traffic, pollution and the 24/7 urban noise that it creates, that impacts on the koalas.
    It appears David Norris does not support the Men’s Shed, so he is obviously venting his own agenda, using the Men’s Shed as a scapegoat for the issue of the koala deaths.
    Koalas are precious and we have a responsibility to protect them but let’s get a proper perspective on this issue, AND the existence of the Men’s Shed at Black Rocks is not it!

  12. In his email to Geoff Provest dated 18 March 2015, Allan May stated: ‘The vision we adopted was to create a facility that can service the men in Pottsville for this and future generations and to achieve that goal we require more than a postage stamp size block of land. Approximately one hectare is what is needed for men’s shedders of the future to work with.’

    The Pottsville and District Men’s Shed currently occupies 256 square metres, and they have now applied to expand to 1200 square metres. That is, 4.8 times its current size. They have also applied to extend their licence to 2032. How many more applications will be made before they achieve their one hectare vision? That is, one quarter of the Black Rocks sports field could be occupied by a light industrial facility in the middle of a koala corridor!

    With koala numbers now so low and the prevalence of stress-related disease so high, the extinction of our endangered Tweed Coast koalas is imminent. If we have any chance of saving our koalas, we must listen to and act upon the advice of koala experts like Dr Steve Phillips whose expert opinion in February 2016 was ‘that there is strong likelihood of a significant impact on the Pottsville Wetlands-Black Rocks local koala population if the proposed action (PADMS at Black Rocks) was to proceed.’

  13. All the comments attacking Mr Norris and praising the existence of the men’s shed appear to totally misunderstand and totally miss the point. The ridicule and denigration of scientific data and those who rely upon it to support serious arguments is precisely why the world is gripped by a climate change crisis.

    Even if you hate koalas, there is a legal obligation in NSW to consider the impacts of proposed developments on them because they are a threatened species. The Tweed Coast koalas are now legally listed as an Endangered Population, at very real risk of extinction. Koalas have specific habitat requirements. Koalas need large unfragmented areas, but this is all they have left. Read the reports, they are not written by people making a fortune from koalas, they are by scientists desperately trying to get their urgent message understood in the hope of trying to ensure their survival. As recently as the mid-1990s this koala population was considered “relatively” stable and “relatively” safe. But in 16 years the population declined 80% – fact!. Why? three deliberate bushfires, urbanisation destroying habitat, cars, dogs, and disease caused by stress.

    This is not fiction or green extremism – it is science in action people. Yes the Mens Shed is a good thing, but it could be anywhere else and was only ever supposed to be temporary. Since then the situation has become far worse for koalas. They need protection where they exist, including from sources of stress such as noise, dogs, vehicles. Plans to increase the shed size 480% is a major redevelopment so it is apt to question whether the location is appropriate. Almost any other location would suffice. Koalas don’t have a choice. Time to move the shed.


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