Making sense of Candelo’s flying foxes – perhaps we can decide to cope with them?

Flying Fox, by Craig Greer
Flying Fox, by Craig Greer

There’s a colony of grey-headed flying foxes in Candelo, in the massive old plane tree by the bridge.  On the latest count, there are around 1400 bats roosting in its branches.

There aren’t many native species that arrive on our doorsteps in such sudden, large numbers, and with such noise, visibility, and aroma.

We’ll never see 1400 wombats hanging out on Candelo Oval at the same time!

Flying foxes challenge our sense of control over our urban spaces, failing to seek our permission to take over parklands, failing to give us notice for when they will check in or check out, and failing to place an order for what they might eat from our gardens along the way.

So are they simply unwelcome guests in our town landscapes?  Why might we want to attempt to understand their movements, their presence, and our relationship to their habitat?

In the Southeast region of NSW, grey-headed flying foxes are a well-known part of the landscape:  at Bega’s Glebe Lagoon a population has existed there for years, flying at night to feed on coastal forest flowers or south-west to the escarpment to flowering eucalypts.  They pollinate native forests and are an integral part of forest ecosystems.

However, native flora and fauna have become wrapped around the human footprint, existing in the margins, in strongholds that are weakened daily by pollution, deforestation and development.

Flying foxes are one of the few species that can actually transplant themselves back onto the human landscape – but it’s not always a comfortable fit for them or us.

This summer, they have been starving. Eucalypts that provide their usual spring and summer food sources have, for the first time in years, failed to flower at the right time.

Here in Candelo, I arrived back from a trip to Melbourne in November to find seventeen dead baby flying foxes under the poplar trees by the creek.  They were tiny.  The next day, checking under the trees, I found one alive.

The baby flying fox’s wings were spread out, her 7cm-long body tucked into itself, eyes closed.  She was cold.  I did something that you’re not supposed to do: I gathered her up in my jumper and tried to warm her up, taking care not to touch her directly, and I called Wildlife Rescue.

Some people find bats strange and scary, or smelly and annoying, and most will not get the chance to see one up close.

Annie from Wildlife Rescue named the baby flying fox Katie
Annie from Wildlife Rescue named the baby flying fox Katie

This baby was only just breathing, otherwise motionless, and at the mercy of my decisions. I held her and looked up into the tree.  Somewhere up there was her mother.  She would have nursed this baby to the best of her ability for weeks, as she slowly grew weak from lack of food. Eventually, her hunger would have caused her to stop producing milk, and her baby began to starve, eventually dropping from the top of the tree to the ground.

The other babies had not survived the fall or had died on the ground from the cold. There would have been more caught in the branches that I could not see. We were witnessing a starvation event, the evidence of which was brought directly to our town.

Candelo residents have reported losing fruit crops from their trees. The bats are tending to fly out along the creek line, so people in town aren’t suffering too much bat poo on their roofs or cars. But there is a low grumble of discontent in town: why are they here?  Will they keep eating my fruit crops? Should we move them on?

Flying foxes usually eat from just over 100 native plant species.  Around half of these are targeted for fruit, but the other half are flowering plants that can be visited over and over again as they continue to produce nectar.

Local fruit trees are usually visited by the weaker bats who aren’t able to fly to flowering plants in nearby native forests. The recent food shortage has made this behaviour more common.

Hugh Pitty runs monthly flying fox surveys at the Bega’s Glebe Lagoon colony for the CSIRO National Flying Fox Monitoring Program. He says historically there has been a camp at the Candelo Showground, which indicates they will continue to visit Candelo but probably won’t stay for good.

“It’s likely that you’ll see the camp last this year, and possibly next year, but it’s likely that it won’t be here long term,” he says.

“You’ve got water here in the creek, but it doesn’t have all the attributes that the main camp in Bega does”.

There are hundreds of previous camps around NSW that aren’t used anymore. The best long-term camps have permanent water, good shade, and no risk of disturbance from below.

When in 2001 the trees across the road from Hugh’s home in Bega became the site of the largest permanent bat colony in the area, he was fascinated rather than upset. He made them the subject of an animal habitat study for his Biology degree.

Hugh Pitty and Lea Pinker of the Bega flying fox survey team standing in front of Candelo's plane tree bat colony
Hugh Pitty and Lea Pinker of the Bega flying fox survey team standing in front of Candelo’s plane tree bat colony

“I sometimes say that my bedroom window is closer than you can legally put a bird hide vantage point for a flying fox colony,” he says.

Many locals are used to the bats, and the Glebe Lagoon colony is relatively uncontroversial.

In Candelo, the flying foxes make a bit of noise and don’t smell too bad most of the time – in fact, most days I find their smell takes me back to swimming at Mataranka in the Northern Territory as a 16-year-old on a school trip (how romantic!).

But the occasional wafts and the screeching aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and the picnic area underneath the plane trees is a bit of a mess.

With winter approaching, local flying fox colonies will move on and it’s difficult to predict where the bats will turn up in a few months’ time, or what they’ll do next summer.

The question remains the same, though, how do we balance our needs and theirs?

When spotted gums flowered near Batemans Bay a hundred thousand bats arrived on the town’s council land, creating what was referred to as a community crisis.

In Candelo the colony is just over 1% of the size of the former Batemans Bay bat population, and the inconvenience is easier to put into perspective.

Perhaps we can decide to cope with them – because right now it’s the flying foxes, and not our homes and livelihoods, that are in crisis.

Words and pictures supplied by Kate Burke from Raisin – stories of regional science and innovation

ABC Radio National cuts Candelo’s musicians

David Ross MacDonald from The Waifs
David Ross MacDonald from The Waifs

Over recent years, the town of Candelo has caught the attention of ABC Radio National presenters.

Many of Candelo’s resident musicians, such as Heath Cullen, Melanie Horsnell, David Ross MacDonald (The Waifs), Robyn Martin, Pete Wild, Michael Menager, Sam Martin & Phil Moriarty (of Mikelangelo & the Black Sea Gents), and myself have all been featured on programs like ­The Inside Sleeve, RN Afternoons and The Daily Planet.

Presenters like The Inside Sleeve’s Paul Gough have cottoned onto the fact that there’s something special happening in Candelo town, and they regularly shine a spotlight on the region when a new album is released.

However, ABC Radio National is set to cut all but one of its music programs in 2017 – including every single one of the programs mentioned above, in a move toward a spoken-word, digital model for the national station.

How will this affect Candelo musicians and their livelihood?  And what does it mean for regional RN audiences?

Candelo resident David Ross MacDonald has played drums with Australian folk-pop legends The Waifs for almost two decades.

ABC Radio National‘s music programs have been key to the exposure and successes of The Waifs over the past 18 years while I have been drumming for them,” David says.

“On the times I have got to play live and record in the ABC it has always felt like I was participating in a bigger Australian story that encompasses national identity and also felt a sense of pride and professional opportunity during such experiences.

“The cancellation or scaling back of music programming at the ABC will be to the greater detriment of the Australian music industry and also diminish the valuable role music plays in the creation and bolstering of national identity,” he says.

Radio National plays a special role in the life of many regional musicians and audience members.

Michael Menager
Michael Menager

Candelo’s Michael Menager notes:

“Programs like The Daily Planet and The Inside Sleeve provide a listening space for all Australian musicians and songwriters, independent or otherwise,” he says.

“It’s how many of us keep up with new developments, new ideas, new sounds from all over Australia (and the world) right from our regional homes.

“And – as has happened for me and for other regional artists – Radio National (in my particular case, via The Inside Sleeve) has given us the opportunity to play our songs and to talk about our music in front of a nationwide audience.

“To share the art that we create, and the process by which we create it, with listeners that we wouldn’t be in touch with otherwise,” Michael says.

Renowned Candelo singer – songwriter Heath Cullen describes how growing up listening to Lucky Oceans’ The Daily Planet informed his musical career.

“In Lucky’s show, I found a daily dose of new inspiration and discovered much of the music that would become a tangible part of who I am as an artist, as a human,” Heath says.

“There was nothing in the world like the Daily Planet, and I believe that is still true today.  The recent news that the ABC will be cutting the show altogether is heartbreaking to me.”

Heath Cullen
Heath Cullen

Radio National’s music shows play an important role in maintaining and developing Heath Cullen’s audience base.

“My work takes me all over the country, and wherever I go, RN has played a major part in connecting me with my audience – there are always people have heard my work on an ABC RN program, and so they come along to a show,” he says.

Candelo’s Robyn Martin, who has come back from a national tour with her sister Jodi Martin, says:

“Airplay and interviews on Radio National have been some of the most consistent forms of support I have received for the tours and albums I have been involved with.

“It is not easy to sustain a music career and it is even harder to imagine how to go forward with this professional life with diminishing opportunities on Radio National,” Robyn says.

Good national music programming can have unexpected benefits for regional audiences. As my bandmate, Ruth Hazleton states in her current petition to the ABC.

“Many regional listeners also comment that RN music shows provide a lifeline; particularly in difficult times, diffusing the effects of isolation and in combating mental health issues, which we know plague our regional communities,” Ruth says.

Kate Burke and Ruth Hazelton
Kate Burke and Ruth Hazelton

“Although Triple J and its digital cousin Double J will remain unaffected by the cuts, they do not cater for older and more diverse audiences.

“RN’s music shows deliver content rarely featured or supported by Double J and Triple J,” she says.

“While these are fabulous Australian institutions, we do not believe that we will be represented to the same degree by these services.”

Candelo musician Pete Wild describes the wider cultural impact of the cuts:

“The loss of RN music programming will limit Australians’ exposure to diverse cultural ideas and forms, and will make this country less harmonious and more boring.”

Change can be refreshing, but the cuts to RN seem more like a cultural slap on the wrist than a healthy makeover.

Can the ABC guarantee that future programming will be supportive of Australian arts?

“Our national broadcaster’s charter requires it ‘to encourage and promote the musical, dramatic and other performing arts in Australia’ and Radio National have, up until now, always done it well,” says Heath Cullen.

The decision to cut nearly all of this treasured music programming from RN‘s schedule is the wrong decision. It must be reversed immediately.”

Sign the petition to save music on ABC Radio National – HERE

About Regional podcast – episode 1, October 4 2016

Candelo by Google Maps
Candelo by Google Maps

Episode one was recorded on the banks of Candelo Creek, south-west of Bega but takes in the full geography of South East NSW.

First, the tragic story of 10-year-old Noa Jessop.

When Noa was hit by a car and died at the gate to his family’s farm, a heavy sadness fell across the Bega Valley community.

Tears have been a big part of the days that have followed, but so too has something powerful and remarkable.

Also, democracy is getting a shake up in the Eurobodalla Shire, with a jury of 28 everyday people formed to shape the work and spending of the new Council elected on September 10.

And you’ll hear of the hard work of the Perisher Ski Resort and the National Parks and Wildlife Service. They are in the snow on the side of Australia’s highest peak to protect the only Australian animal to hibernate during winter.

South Coast Music Camp
South Coast Music Camp

Music to finish from the South Coast Music Camp which has just wrapped up in Bega.

Around 200 people take part every year – including tutors from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and the Australian National Academy of Music.

Your feedback and contributions are welcome, via hello@aboutregional.com.au or Facebook.

Listing and streaming options:

Click here to listen via Audio Boom’

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Coming soon to iTunes!