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Saturday 5 February 2022

Walkabout Wildlife Sanctuary: REVIEW

Walkabout Park Wildlife Sanctuary
feels like you're stepping into the home of that animal loving family who tell you all about their pets, their quirks, their names, and their cute idiosyncrasies. 

In fact, this wildlife sanctuary really does feel like a sanctuary for our furry friends.

Their own website gives such a wonderful backgrounder to the history of the place.

The 'gentle and unpretentious South African insurance executive' somehow came to be the guardian of this unique slice of Australian cultural and environmental heritage, and she explains it best.

Tassin Barnard, with her husband Gerald, own and manage this feral-proofed wildlife preserve on the Central Coast of New South Wales, and it all happened while house hunting.

While "looking for a house in the bush with no neighbours" - and over a decade later - they're still wondering how it came about that they are now the protectors of 80 acres of Australian bush alive with native wildlife and imprinted with ancient Aboriginal sites.

In fact, for the first five years of owning the sanctuary, Tassin commuted between an executive job in high finance in Melbourne, and the magical haven that is Walkabout Park on the NSW Central Coast.

Previously known as the Calga Springs Sanctuary, the Australia Walkabout Wildlife Park has been open since April 2001, but came into the Barnards' lives in September 2005.

It's a 50 minute drive north of Sydney, and it's the only feral-free natural bushland in NSW that also has the fortune to contain ancient Aboriginal sites, including cave paintings and middens.

While the whole site is roughly 170 acres, the area free of feral predators amounts to 80 acres. 

Surrounded by a state-of-the-art fox- and cat-proof fence, the exclusion zone is home to around 180 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs. Many of these animals are species on the verge of extinction, but here, protected from introduced dangers, they're thriving.

They consider it a "serendipitous find", but in the beginning the Barnards had no intention of becoming the guardians of the native creatures of a foreign land... their only real desire was to find a bushland home for their family.

When their real estate journey began, there was no way of knowing they would fall irrevocably in love with this unique but labour-intensive place. "We were looking, you could say, for a rural idyll," says Tassin. "Gerald saw this place in a magazine. It was quite dramatic – he clutched it to his chest and said, 'I'm about to show you something I know I'm going to regret!'

"So I was incredibly curious when he finally handed it over," says Tassin

Initially unimpressed by the ad, and Gerald's enthusiasm, Tassin nevertheless agreed to have a look. "Even once we got here, I didn't feel excited. It was so far from what we were looking for that I couldn't relate to what I was seeing. I left, but I couldn't get it out of my head."

Tassin soon discovered the park had got under her skin. "It was just so alive," she says.

"When you think of the bush, you think of quiet. What I realise now is that quietness is just aridity – it's the result of our destruction of the environment."

The preserve is filled with often uncelebrated animals, and the irony of this sanctuary is that the hum of the freeway is a stark contrast to the bustle of creatures in the undergrowth.

A view to ponder is: snakes, spiders and lizards - treated as vermin by city dwellers - are treasured members of this wild community.

The more the Barnards explored the park, the more committed to its survival they became.

"Barry Cohen [minister for the Arts, Heritage and Environment in the Hawke Government] bought this place when he retired," explains Tassin. "He said to me that at the end of his stint overseeing the environment he finally realised that it wasn't humans who were the biggest threat to native animals, but the predators we'd introduced."

Inspired by his former portfolio, Barry Cohen bought the land, had it rezoned and spent 13 years predator-proofing the sanctuary. In 2005, ready to retire and move on to a more leisurely life, he put the park up for sale. "The more we saw and the longer we talked to Barry, the more I realised not just how important his mission was but how much potential this place has," says Tassin.

Described as "10 Traumatic Years and $1,000,000" their story continues:

The Barnards had no way of knowing that they were about to embark on the fight of their lives. 10 days after taking up residence at Walkabout Park, the bulldozers moved into the bush next door. Rumbling up and down Walkabout Park's fox-proof fence-line, the bulldozers destroyed the fox-proofing and the animals inside were immediately vulnerable. This was the start of a nightmare for the Barnards. The NSW State Government was in the process of trying to sell the state-owned land next door to a multinational sand quarry. Initially worried only about the noise and the dust and their impact on the animals of, and visitors to, Walkabout Park, the Barnards at that stage had little comprehension of the real dangers that lay in store.

As they frantically educated themselves about what would be affected by this development, they learned first about the endangered animal and plant species that would be destroyed. The dangers to the environment began to dawn on them, but they still had little understanding of the extent of what was at stake. As they learned about aquifers (the sandstone 'spongue' that holds the subeterranean watersupply that sustains the area) and about sand quarrying (not scooping up sand in the desert, but crushing the aquifer rock into sand to truck it away to Sydney to build houses and make cement products) their alarm grew. Then they heard about 'hanging swamps' and what they mean for the environment, and what would happen once their water supply was cut off. And what about the Aboriginal sites?

A classic case of David and Goliath, and self described as "when good prevails", the culmination of this learning journey was the insight into - and legal acknowledgement of - the fact that the Aboriginal cultural landscape of the area includes a Women's Site that the archaeologists and anthropologists involved on both sides of the battle agreed is the most significant Aboriginal Women's Place in NSW, that there were others but they are all known to have been destroyed! It was ultimately this that saved the Calga Valley.

After eight years, from 2005 to 2013 fighting a political fight to stop the NSW Planning Minister from approving the quarry, two years from 2013 to 2015 fighting a legal battle in the NSW Land and Environment Court to overturn the Planning Minister's approval, the Barnards achieved what they had been told was not achievable.

They had taken the government to court, and they had won! Costing them all of their savings, and all of the working capital that they should have been putting into Walkabout Park, with no hope of getting any of it back, they are still smiling (or, at least, smiling again).

They add:

"Walkabout Park and the Calga Valley have a future. It is a tenuous one as the environment is constantly under siege by greedy and short-sighted developers and politicians, but they did win and the law is now on their side."

From our perspective, as visitors in January 2022, we couldn't have asked for a more hospitable welcome to the sanctuary.

It was actually an incredibly good feeling knowing we were entering the home of these beautiful creatures and they were so well looked after, not in captivity and not treated like show pieces for the visiting public, instead incredibly valued and loved and understood for who they are as creatures.

The park can be comfortably done in one day, and it's ideal to come on a day where it's too hot and wearing walking shoes, so you can do the bush walks on offer, and explore and enjoy the beauty of the Aboriginal sites, and cave paintings.

It's kind of imperative to do the meerkat experience - they are the cutest little critters on the planet, and very quick and intelligent little beings.

It's additional to the cost of entry, but you won't forget the fun these little guys exude and the joy they'll give you!

To book, call 02 4375 1100 or email info@walkaboutpark.com.au

Want to stay overnight, or explore the wildlife after dark?

Go the 'Wild Night Out' option.

For ages 16 and over only, it costs $180 for the first 1 or 2 people, then add $40 for each additional person.

There is also the all ages experience option, AND a 'private wild night out' experience.

Staying through the night is also an option for you! Book an eco cabin - ask them more HERE.

And... YOU can make a difference to this incredible Australian asset.

It's important to know that Australia Walkabout Wildlife Park does not receive any government assistance for operating costs - it's privately owned, with the park's operations funded by visitors and the owners' savings.

Sponsors, donations and volunteers make it possible for the Walkabout Park team to continue their conservation and education work. Walkabout Park is dependent on our support.

You can also, and I love this, donate things you have and don't need.

They say:

"You may have things lying around at home, or surplus stock in your business, that aren't useful to you but may be extremely useful for us. Donations or contributions 'at cost' will be gratefully appreciated. Right now, just some of the things we need include..."

  • Mulcher
  • Trailer
  • Industrial water blaster
  • Fencing, gates and gate posts
  • Reinforced glass panels
  • Rakes, brooms, wheelbarrows and hand tools
  • Small power tools
  • Pet packs and animal transport boxes
  • Bird aviaries and small animal hutches
  • Garden tool sheds
  • Long hoses and hose fittings
  • Portable water tank

You can also do a virtual visit, or even adopt an animal! YEP, adopt a bandicoot or flying fox, or a kangaroo or koala, or even a python.

Go HERE to do all that.

For all information, go HERE.


Friday 4 February 2022

'Celebrity Gogglebox Australia': Zoë Foster Blake and Hamish Blake

For the first time on Australian television, the highly anticipated star studded line-up of the 'Celebrity Gogglebox Australia' special episode premieres on FOXTEL, Wednesday March 2 at 7.30pm preceding the return of the fifteenth season of Gogglebox Australia from March 9- Wednesdays at 7.30pm- watch on LifeStyle and On Demand. 

The show will invite viewers into the loungerooms of our most famous celebrities, as they step away from their known habitats: panel desks, radio mics, stages, stoves, and television hosting duties. Get comfy on the couch with the celebrities as they become our first famous armchair critics on Celebrity Gogglebox Australia.


Foxtel today announced the first celebrities to take their position on the couch are Hamish Blake and Zoë Foster Blake, one of Australia’s most-loved couples. Best known for his success across both radio and television, Hamish started out in radio with comedy partner Andy Lee, and is currently heard weekly on LiSTNR with their self-titled, #1 rated podcast. On television, Hamish’s talent spans hosting, producing, and creating, as he entertains national audiences with top rating and award-winning shows including LEGO Masters Australia.


Zoë is the creator of  clean, cruelty-free Australian skin care line, Go-To and is recognised as an author of twelve books, including the best-selling beauty bible, ‘Amazinger Face’, children’s title ‘No One Likes A Fart’ and  novel ‘The Wrong Girl’, which became an acclaimed TV series.


Hamish Blake said: “We’ve trained every night for this over the last ten years, we’ve got this.”


To be announced soon, the line-up joining Hamish & Zoë on Celebrity Gogglebox include Australia’s most celebrated television hosts, comedians, radio presenters and performers. Viewers will discover what shows make our celebrities laugh, debate, and scream at their television screens and the question everyone is asking - will they be watching themselves?


Brian Walsh, Executive Director of Television – FOXTEL Group, said: “We waited until the time was right to commission Celebrity Gogglebox. FOXTEL has always held the view that if we were able to take one of our most successful shows and modify it and lift it with a celebrity version, we had to deliver the strongest line up of Australian celebrities. We believe we have delivered just that, for what will undoubtedly be the one of the highlights of Australian television in 2022.


FOXTEL is incredibly excited about our ensemble cast covering all fields of endeavor- television, sport, comedy, and lifestyle. Clearly if our first Celebrity Gogglebox resonates with our FOXTEL subscribers, our ambition would be to make it a regular fixture on the Gogglebox calendar.”


David McDonald, Endemol Shine Australia Head of Comedy said, “We’re beyond excited at the calibre of the celebrity Goggleboxers set to pull up a couch with us! We can’t wait to reveal the full line-up.”


Celebrity Gogglebox Australia is an Endemol Shine Australia production for FOXTEL and Network 10- which will air Celebrity Gogglebox Australia the following day after FOXTEL’s broadcast (Wednesday March 2 at 7.30pm), Thursday at 8.30pm on March 3.


Celebrity Gogglebox Australia will be available On Demand on FOXTEL following its broadcast on LifeStyle. 


Join the conversation:  #GoggleboxAU www.Twitter.com/@GoggleboxAU

www.facebook.com/GoggleboxAU www.instagram.com/goggleboxau/

www.facebook.com/lifestyleau www.instagram.com/lifestyleau/