Pebbly Beach without kangaroos is akin to Kakadu without crocodiles or Monkey Mia with no dolphins. It just doesn't seem right.
Ever since watching the area 'go red' on the 'Fires Near Me' app last December I'd been worried about the iconic beach, located on the coast about halfway between Batemans Bay and Ulladulla, especially the plight of its famous surfing kangaroos.
When the firestorm hit the popular Murramarang National Park tourist spot on the night of December 3 last year, thorough preparation and brave fire-fighting from a lone national park's fire truck saved most of the buildings and cabins around Pebbly Beach, but the surrounding bush didn't fare as well.
Roger Dunn, one of two National Parks and Wildlife officers in that fire truck, recalls the harrowing night on the front line. "There was some sort of gas phenomenon happening in front of the fire, as the fire approached the whole headland exploded, tree tops were blowing off," he recalls.
A year on, and while some parts of the park remain closed for safety reasons (hazards including falling trees), others have reopened, and earlier this week, I tentatively turned off the Princes Highway and drove down the aptly-named Mount Agony Road towards the beach to check it out for myself.
My first glimpse of Pebbly is a somewhat surreal one. No matter what time of year I've visited in the past it's been a hive of activity. But today it's quiet, eerily so. There are no birds, no camera-toting tourists, and sadly, no kangaroos. No sign of any roo droppings on the dunes, either.
But all is not as depressing as it first seems for Pebbly's famous furry residents. According to local wildlife experts, the lack of kangaroos currently grazing on the grass at the beach doesn't mean the population was decimated in the fire. "We think less than 20 per cent of the roos here died in the fire", a park insider later tells me. Truly, an amazing statistic given the intensity of the blaze.
So where have they all gone?
"Most are in the surrounding bush as it's now full of lovely fresh young regrowth," reports my khaki-clad insider.
Colin Bailie, General Manager of the upmarket Pebbly Beach Escape who spends more time in this neck of the woods than anyone else, agrees.
"That's pretty much the story. We had about 40 roos left after the fires and they were hand fed until the rain and regeneration came in March. By April they had started heading up the hill and feeding on the new growth. There are only a dozen or so that I still see regularly around our place - mostly mums with joeys in the pouch."
Phew! They are still around, just harder to find.
When I'd criss-crossed this part of Murramarang with the Yowie clan about 18 months ago the forest was so thick that, in parts, you almost needed a machete to get through. The difference today is stark. Apart from the burnt logs on the ground, the first thing you notice when venturing away from the beach is just how open the bush is.
Also everywhere you look are signs of Roger's 'exploding' trees. One giant spotted gum that's been ripped in half catches my attention. What a sight. The remains of its charred trunk reach skyward like giant black claw. Heck, imagine the force that caused that. Just below the claw, patterns in the bark resembles the face of a kangaroo, or is it a goanna?
Sure it may be my over-creative imagination at play, but I take it as a sign of hope. The regrowth here is colossal, especially the eucalypts and the wattles. Over coming years, they will battle for domination. The watervine will eventually creep in and strangle a lot of the smaller trees, allowing only the bigger, healthier ones to flourish. Nature will take its course.
While the plants are fast recovering, the story is different for the wildlife. Or at least it appears to be. I don't hear one single bird. Even the repetitive 'whoop whoop' call of the usually ubiquitous wonga pigeon is missing. I keep searching for roos but don't see any.
There also aren't many people. The only other hiker I encounter exclaims, "Isn't it just wonderful to see all the regeneration," as he passes me. He's surprisingly walking in bare feet.
I normally wouldn't contemplate trekking through here without shoes, but the ground is carpeted with a regrowth of lush grass. What's better, the bootless hiker also reports seeing "plenty of kangaroos" deeper in the bush.
As clouds gather and it starts to sprinkle on the already sodden former fire ground, I leave Pebbly Beach with a real sense of optimism. I'm sure it won't be long before the kangaroos are back grazing on grass behind the beach and posing for photos with wide-eyed tourists. In the meantime, at least there's a long clear stretch of grass for Rudolph and friends to land on later this week. For, let's face it, if anyone needs a healthy dose of Christmas cheer it's the good folk of the South Coast.
Merry Christmas to all and here's to a better 2021.
Ultimate Beach House - you be the judge!
Three years ago, your akubra-clad columnist thought long and hard about whether or not to spill the beans about Yellow Rock Beach House - one of my favourite south coast holiday haunts (Beachside Bliss, 30 September 2017). I was torn between selfishly keeping details of the exclusive national park hideaway to myself and sharing them so others could appreciate it. After much deliberation I went with the latter, a decision my kids now regret as it's now almost impossible to get a booking.
Thankfully, NSW Parks and Wildlife Service has just flung open the doors on the 'Judges', a newly refurbished beachside bungalow at the same secluded beach. Earlier this week I was lucky to have a sneak peek. Here's my verdict.
The location: Yellow Rock is in the southern section (thankfully not burnt in last summer's fires) of Murramarang National Park, at Benandarah, about 30 minutes' drive (some dirt/gravel) north of Batemans Bay.
Judges: Sure it's a modern three-bedroom cottage with huge windows and an open plan living area but it's the large wraparound deck overlooking the beach which is the main drawcard here. Oh, and the open fire for cold nights.
On your doorstep: The beach, bay and bush. What more could you ask for?
Did You Know? 'Judges' was formerly owned by a NSW Supreme Court judge as a family getaway before it was gifted to NSW Parks.
Don't miss: Yellow Rock's sea pool, built over 50 years ago for the judge, has succumbed to relentless tides, but you can still splash in its shallows.
Map Mystery: You won't find 'Yellow Rock' on many maps. It's the name locals have bestowed to Three Islet Point, a rocky headland which protrudes into the bay, just to the south of the beach house.
Tim's Tip: For a big family gathering, book both Judges and the more modest (and yes, still my fave) Yellow Rock Beach House, then you'll have the whole beach to yourself.
Cost: From $350 - $450 per night (7-night minimum stay). For more information visit nswparks.info/judges or call 1300 072 757 (13000 PARKS). Be quick as it will book out very quickly.
CONTACT TIM: Email: email@example.com or Twitter: @TimYowie or write c/- The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie St, Fyshwick
WHERE ON THE SOUTH COAST
Clue: Best viewed heading south
Degree of difficulty: Medium
Last week: Congratulations to Peter Kercher of Holt who was first to correctly identify the location of last week's photo as the current and new (still under construction) bridge at Batemans Bay, as viewed from the northern side of the Clyde River. Peter just beat Roger Shelton of Spence, Robyn Brodie-Grant of Belconnen and David Evans of Fadden to the prize.
"I'm looking forward to seeing the new bridge," reports Dan Leslie of Curtin who confesses, "like most Canberrans we really missed our summer trips to the South Coast last year". Hear! Hear!
Meanwhile, Terry Sheales of Melba fondly remembers "crossing the river on the car ferry (punt) as a child in 1955," adding, "when the first bridge opened a year later, it was a far less interesting journey without the punt". Does anyone have photos of the old punt in operation? If so, I'd love to see them.
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and suburb to firstname.lastname@example.org The first email sent after 10am, Saturday 19 December 2020, wins a double pass to Dendy, the Home of Quality Cinema.
Yikes, it's a goanna!
This Rosenbergs Monitor sunning itself on the Mt Ainslie summit track startled a number of walkers on their daily constitutionals. "Walkers were forced to divert from the path and at least one person opted to turn back rather than run the risk of a close encounter of the goanna kind," reports Amber Carvan of Downer who, despite walking up the mountain at least three times a week for the past year, "has never seen such a thing".
The chance sighting was welcomed by Matthew Higgins who, several years ago, first brought the small population of goannas living on Mt Ainslie to this column's attention. "The sighting is very heartening as it confirms that the species continues to live almost in the centre of the national capital. Given that this goanna is listed as threatened throughout most of its range in Australia we are indeed fortunate to have 'Rosies' in our urban bushland. Bush Capital indeed!"