Lake Reclaimed

December 06th, 2018
Lake Reclaimed
The Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary is one step closer to achieving its goals with the recent purchase of Lake Cumbungi.

A crucial part of the sanctuary's ecosystem, the artificial lake provides water for a system of creeks and pools that flows through Warrawong helping to feed one of its most popular species – platypus.

Shy and elusive, platypus are unique and unusual animals.

Their duck bills and beaver tails famously confounded European scientists who thought the specimens of this venomous, egg-laying mammal were a hoax.

In 1990, Warrawong founder Dr John Wamsley and wife Prue brought platypus to the sanctuary from Kangaroo Island.

“At first we had two females and then a year later we brought in two young males,” Dr Wamsley said.

“Offspring appeared and they bred every year since.

“There were in excess of 20 platypus while we lived there but now there are fewer than eight
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“This is a captive colony – they can't live outside the sanctuary because of predators like foxes and need a lot of support to survive.”

Dr John Wamsley had almost a kilometre of streams built which connected to large lakes and pools via pumps keeping the water moving along a bed of rocks chosen to help provide food for the platypus population.

“We put in thousands of tonnes of limestone rubble to increase alkalinity of the water running,” John said.

“Platypus eat glass shrimp which need the alkaline water.

“But the whole system was trashed and it still needs a lot of work to get it running again.”

David Cobbold and Narelle McPherson have been resuscitating the Warrawong sanctuary that was closed in 2013.

Their renovation of the site has included repairs to Dr Wamsley's pioneering fox-proof fence and now with the purchase of Lake Cumbungi another piece of the Warrawong puzzle has been put into place.

Lake Cumbungi has a surface area of an acre, is 17 metres deep and provides water to the Warrawong waterway.

“We've rectified an anomaly that should never have been allowed to happen,” David said.

“The waterways John Wamsley designed has been without flowing water for 12 years which completely undermines the design of the system.

“The pumps still need electricity – which is another problem – but hopefully we can get the population back up to the point where they are having one or two puggles each year.”

David and Narelle have undertaken the mammoth task of breathing fresh life into the neglected sanctuary.

“We just have to chip away at it and try not to worry about the big picture,” David said.

“You just do your best and make sure that's good enough to produce the results you want.”

Buying back Lake Cumbungi was an important decision to make for David and Narelle who were lucky to have the lake come on the market in the first place
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“There just happened to be a divorce and property settlement which meant we were in the right place at the right time,” he said.

“It very much forced us to have think about what we wanted to do.

“We’ve had to borrow a lot of money to buy Lake Cumbungi which has wiped out our borrowing capacity.

“Either we were to buy the lake or put in glamping tents but in the end we decided on the long term approach.”

$45,000 from crowd-funding helped pay for stamp duty on the purchase which shows the cultural capital tied into Warrawong.

“There is a lot of good sentiment toward this place and even anger that it was ever closed,” David said.

“We have a lot of help through volunteers with weeding and other services which all adds up.

“Getting the lake back as part of sanctuary means we are one step closer to returning Warrawong to how it's meant to be.”

Now in his 80th year, Dr John Wamsley has been influential in building the climate of environmental conservation that continues to strengthen in Australia.

“The building of Warrawong led to a number of species not becoming extinct,” he said.

“And before Warrawong there were no fox-proof fences in Australia.

“Today there are 25 large fox and cat free areas either built or under construction.

“If people want to see Warrawong prosper and last then they have to support it.”

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