21 November 2022

What did Canberra look like 250 years ago? New visitor centre reveals all (and adds lizard pats)

| James Coleman
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The ‘nature playspace’ at Wildbark, Mulligans Flat Nature Sanctuary. Photo: James Coleman.

It’s a problem whenever wild animals are involved. Nature reserves and animal enclosures – even zoos to some degree – promise close-up encounters with creatures great and small. But more often than not, you’ll go home with a photo gallery full of the blurry hind legs of lizards, captured from afar.

Not at Wildbark.

Canberra’s newest nature-based learning centre was formally opened on Friday, 18 November, as the public’s gateway to some of Australia’s most endangered species in the Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary in Throsby.

Visitors can chat over a coffee at the cafe while the children frolic in the play area before patting the bearded dragons and setting off through the 1200-hectare fenced nature sanctuary to see other fauna and flora up close.

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Wildbark is a joint effort among five entities – the Woodlands and Wetlands Trust (WWT), ACT Government, Odonata Foundation, Australian National University (ANU) and Suburban Land Agency. Work started five years ago.

ACT Minister for Planning and Land Management Mick Gentleman described the new centre as “a front-row seat”.

“I’m excited for Canberrans to have this new nature reserve and state-of-the-art visitors centre so they can get up close and personal with the special flora and fauna we have here in the ACT,” he said.

Regular animal talks and lizard- and turtle-feeding activities are already underway, with storytime sessions featuring books by Australian authors to come in the new year.

The visitor’s centre will also provide leading experts and artists with a place to host educational and creative experiences for all ages, year-round. The public can book the space for their own private functions and make the most of the views too.

These ideas and more were taken from the community, including Ngunnawal traditional owners, during the consultation on the ‘Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary Strategy 2050’. This aims to improve the role of Ngunnawal culture in its management.

The sanctuary was established in 1994 as a nature reserve, and thanks to a high chicken-wire fence and years of pest-purging by rangers, it became the first conservation area in Australia to be free of foxes, cats, rabbits and hares.

It’s dedicated to restoring more than 1200 hectares of critically endangered Box Gum Grassy Woodland, while also accommodating several threatened plant and animal species, including some previously extinct on the mainland for more than a century.

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ACT Minister for the Environment Rebecca Vassarotti said the new Wildbark facility and strategy were key to conserving Canberra’s grassy woodland ecosystems.

“Sitting at the entrance of the sanctuary, Wildbark is a gateway into the Australian landscape of 250 years ago,” Minister Vassarotti said.

“The sanctuary allows the community to experience native animals up close and get hands-on with conservation and research activities.”

Wildbark guides offer historical walks throughout the sanctuary during the day, or special night tours after dark. This allows visitors to catch glimpses of the nocturnal wildlife, such as the eastern bettong and eastern quoll that have been extinct in the region for more than 100 years.

For more information on the new facility, visit the Wildbark website. Free parking is available off Rosenberg Street, Throsby.

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