A koala dream for the Moorabool River in Victoria

koala dream trees Moorabool River

The region of Victoria that has the most potential for koala forest restoration is the Moorabool River.

The river already has a narrow, but important riparian forest continuous from its headwaters to the sea. The water flows clear and clean. Koalas already live on its banks, and in patches of forest nearby.

koala in giant red gum tree
A wild koala rests in a giant River Red Gum tree

The adjacent Brisbane Ranges National Park was once home to one of the healthiest koala populations in the state. Koalas still live there, but in lower numbers now.

The Moorabool has the most potential for restoration because most of its koala habitat has sadly been cleared in the past. Much of it could be restored by tree planting. It needs revegetation, for koalas and other wildlife, and also for water quality and to prevent erosion.

Moorabool River floodplain
Most of the Moorabool River forests have been reduced to just a few trees. This floodplain was once fully forested.

Victorian farmers are becoming increasingly enthusiastic about tree planting. Every year demand exceeds supply for Koala Clancy Foundation’s tree planting program.

These forests, if restored, could be even more important for koalas than they were in the past. Climate change is predicted to force koalas southwards, away from heat and dryness. Our own observations have shown this to be happening already.

Red gum branch over the river
River Red Gums can grow right over the water, providing a safe refuge for koalas in heatwaves.

Moorabool: Who she is and what the name means.

The Moorabool River flows through unceded Wadawurrung/Wathaurong Country. The Wadawurrung & Wathaurong have cared for the river for thousands of years, and continue to do so, to this day. The name of the river means monster, a reference to a bird with a scary call that sadly no longer lives in the area: the Bush Stone-curlew.


Where the Moorabool flows.

The Moorabool River starts as two streams in the hills of the Great Dividing Range west of Melbourne. The East Moorabool rises near Ballan above the Bostock Reservoir, and the West Moorabool begins north of the Moorabool Reservoir at Bolwarrah. The two streams join at Morrisons, then flow southwards to join the Barwon River at Fyansford, just west of Geelong.

The river flows through native forest and timber plantation near its headwaters at Bolwarrah and Ballan, a bit of native forest at Lal Lal and Bungal, and then the western slopes of the Brisbane Ranges National Park. South of Maude the forest disappears and the river flows through cleared farmland, with just one or two River Red Gum trees on each bank.

The Moorabool River south of Maude is beautiful. But it is a a shadow of its former self.

Moorabool River Gheringhap
The Moorabool River at Gheringhap, beautiful but only a fragment of her mighty forest remains

Before European invasion, the river forests of the Moorabool were vast – at Maude a gorgeous River Red Gum forest stretched 1.5km wide across the river, at Russells Bridge it was 1km to 1.4km wide, at Gheringhap and Batesford the red gum forest was 1km wide.

This was some of the best koala forest in the region. River Red Gum, Eucalyptus camaldulensis, is one of the koala’s most preferred food trees in western Victoria.

koala river red gum tree
A female koala in a huge River Red Gum, Eucalyptus camaldulensis

The narrowest sections, from Batesford to Fyansford, and short sections near Mattheys Rd and Old Mill Road at Russells Bridge, were 200 to 250m wide. In contrast, now nearly all of the river forest is less than 20m wide, with a few small sections up to 50m wide.

Koalas have lost nearly 80% of their habitat along the Moorabool River. What remains is too narrow for them to use.

Current and former extent of koala habitat Moorabool River
The current vs former koala habitat along the Moorabool River, Victoria.

Added to this, they’ve also lost 80% of the nutritious Manna Gum and Swamp Gum Plains Grassy Woodlands, the Narrow-leaf Peppermint and Yellow Gum Grassy Woodlands, the Bundy and Messmate Grassy Dry Forest, Yellow Box Valley Grassy Forest, the Creekline Herb-rich Woodlands that once provided them with variety and winter food.

Some of the remaining koala habitat on the Moorabool at Lethbridge

Why the Moorabool is important to koalas.

Koalas have been sighted in Maude, Russells Bridge, Gheringhap and Batesford along the Moorabool River, recently, in patches of only a few trees. They are desperately seeking quality habitat as climate change pushes them southwards.

Added to this, we were fortunate to find two koalas along the Moorabool River on our tree planting sites. Female koala Patsy was found at Russells Bridge while we were planting our 30,000th tree for 2023, and male Morrie was found at Lethbridge, while we were checking our audio recorders.

In 2023, Koala Clancy Foundation had five tree planting projects along the Moorabool River, which will restore 18 hectares. We planted a total of 14,786 koala trees along the Moorabool in 2023. These add to the 5,720 we have already planted there since 2019.

koala tree planting site moorabool
The planting site at Moorabool Manna Gums for Koalas

One of our projects in 2023-2024 is particularly critical. The IFAW Moorabool Manna Gums for Koalas project is sited at the northern-most point of the premium koala habitat zone, on a beautiful, historic sheep-grazing property at Lethbridge. Koalas still live in the neighbouring Brisbane Ranges National Park, and a few are sighted rarely downstream at Maude. But they need more nutritious trees with higher moisture content.

Read more: https://www.koalaclancyfoundation.org.au/project-moorabool-manna-gums-for-koalas/

Luckily previous owners preserved the ancient Melbourne Yellow Gum woodlands, which comprise half of the 450 hectare property. But they removed some of the rich, nutritious Manna Gum forest on the slopes near the river, on the most fertile farming land. Koalas will eat Yellow Gum, but it’s not their favourite. Manna Gum, however, is their most preferred tree in this region.

The current owners are custodians, concerned about biodiversity. They contacted Koala Clancy Foundation in the hope they could encourage koalas to re-establish on their land – they hadn’t seen koalas on the property for many years. They were open to all our suggestions, and agreed to completely restore the Manna Gum forest over two years.

IFAW planting for koalas in 2022. Louisa Jones Photography

With the enthusiastic support of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), we began the massive project in 2023, with the planting of 3,618 koala trees in June 2023. In 2024 we will continue with another 2,500 koala trees funded by IFAW.

Part of the IFAW grant included a component for wildlife monitoring. In late 2023, we installed audio recorders to coincide with peak koala breeding season. At the time of writing, we have recorded koala bellows (male vocalisations) on the property on two separate occasions.

As a very special bonus, whilst checking the audio recorders, we also found a koala!

Koala Moorabool River tree planting
male koala “Morrie” found at Moorabool Manna Gums project site
Dom from IFAW planting trees along the Moorabool in June 2023

To get involved with this amazing project subscribe here.

The project received a lot of media attention.

World Animal News: https://worldanimalnews.com/farmers-dedicate-459-hectare-property-to-bring-koalas-back-to-a-critical-region-of-victoria-australia/

Herald Sun/Geelong Advertiser 3/6/23

IFAW: https://www.ifaw.org/press-releases/farmers-land-koala-habitat-australia

If you have property on the Moorabool River and would be interested to make some of it into koala habitat please contact us here

River Red Gum leaves
Leaves and buds of a giant riverside Red Gum tree


Victorian Environmental Water Holder site: https://www.vewh.vic.gov.au/rivers-and-wetlands/central-region/moorabool-river

People for a Living Moorabool: https://mooraboolriver.org/

Corangamite Catchment Management Authority: https://ccma.vic.gov.au/waterways/waterway-management/water-for-the-environment/moorabool-river/

Deadly Story, Wadawurrung Country: https://deadlystory.com/page/aboriginal-country-map/Aboriginal_Country_Completed/Wadawurrung/Wadawurrung_Land

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