The Jirrahlinga Koala and Wildlife Sanctuary holds a very special place in our hearts. In the course of our house sits, we had an opportunity to work as volunteers. The homeowners work there and asked if we would like to help out while they were away. What an incredible chance it was to learn about Australia’s native animals, and to be close to them! So of course we said YES, and had an incredible time at Jirrahlinga Koala and Wildlife Sanctuary.
Jirrahlinga is an Aboriginal word that translates as “seek a home for a kangaroo”. Mrs. Tehree Gordon opened the Jirrahlinga Koala and Wildlife Sanctuary for injured animals in 1975. Jirrahlinga is, however, not only a place for animals but also helps people in need. People with special needs, the elderly, and the fragile are given meaningful time at Jirrahlinga through their interactions with the animals. They receive unmatched therapy. And, if we’ve learned anything in our travels, it’s how precious, memorable, and healing animals are.
Arriving in Australia
In Germany, just before we left for our trip around the world, we always associated Australia with koalas and kangaroos. So, when we landed in Melbourne, Australia, one of our biggest dreams was to see the unique native animals of Australia as soon as possible. We were so eager to encounter Australia’s iconic animals, that we bought a one-year zoo membership. We visited the Werribee Open Range Zoo, the Melbourne Zoo, and Healesville Sanctuary all within our first few weeks. Little did we know at the time that one day we would be lucky enough to care for koalas, walk dingoes, and feed kangaroos ourselves.
When you are so far from home, you want to see and experience everything that seems exotic to you. I remember how ecstatic we were on our very first day in Melbourne because we had seen Galahs, the grey-pink cockatoos. We didn’t know then that we would see Galahs nearly every day!
Same as the pretty Rosellas, who delighted us with their colors.
We love animals and we were looking forward to traveling Australia in our campervan, and the animal encounters that we would have. And what amazing encounters we have had!! We saw pythons fighting in the Daintree, Tiger Snakes in Tasmania, and crocodiles in the Northern Territory. We experienced wombats in the great outdoors, kangaroos at campsites, golf courses, wide-open fields, cassowaries in Queensland, and wallabies on Magnetic Island. These have been encounters that we will never forget. But a big encounter was about to happen…
An Unexpected Surprise
Traveling in a campervan is one of the best things we have ever done in our lives. And as much as we love van life, spending a winter in a campervan can quickly push you to your limits. We have no heating and no shower, and Australian winters can be very cold. So, we decided to take a little break from our travels and look for an extended Housesit. We were in South Australia but wanted to go back to Victoria one last time to try to play at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club. We found a housesit for a month on the Bellarine Peninsula.
The homeowners Jen and Ray were super nice and friendly, and we got along with them right away. We were totally on the same wavelength, which always makes a Housesit even more special. Jen and Ray told us that they were retired, but work as volunteers 2-3 times a week at a wildlife sanctuary. Interested, we asked what exactly their work at the sanctuary was. We mentioned to them that when the bushfires were raging in December 2019, we wanted to help at a koala hospital. Unfortunately, we were told at the time that we could only do this after taking a three-month course. As we were only planning to be in Australia for 7 months, we didn’t have the time. If we had known that COVID would hit us all and we would be in Australia much longer than we planned, we certainly would have taken the class. But at the time, however, we had no choice but to move on.
After hearing our story, Jen asked us if we would like to help at Jirrahlinga. Whaaaat?! Of course!!! We were so excited and couldn’t wait to be able to work at the Sanctuary.
Our First Visit to the Jirrahlinga Koala and Wildlife Sanctuary
We arrived for our housesit in Clifton Springs and spent a couple of days with Jen and Ray. They had arranged for us to visit the Wildlife Sanctuary so that we could have a look at everything. We had a wonderful afternoon at Jirrahlinga. Every day, the Sanctuary has various animal encounters. These are close encounters where the rangers talk about the respective animals. You get the opportunity to pet a baby crocodile, hold a snake, and see dingoes outside of their enclosures. On our first visit, we were closer to koalas than we had ever been before. And we even got a photo of us with a cute and sleepy koala in the background.
Then I held a snake, albeit somewhat hesitant and with a lot of respect. James briefly overcame his fear of snakes and touched them.
What an exciting first day as guests! The entire complex was so beautiful, and we could see that it was built with a lot of love. It didn’t seem like a normal sanctuary or zoo. Everything is kept as close as possible to the animal’s natural habitat. The animals don’t have toys or other things that you wouldn’t find in the wild. And you can immediately feel that the rangers and volunteers absolutely love their work.
We were ready, and Jen arranged for us to help one day a week. And our first day at work came closer.
Our First Day Volunteering at Jirrahlinga Koala and Wildlife Sanctuary
Our shift began at 8:30 in the morning. We received a very friendly welcome and attended the 9:00 am daily meeting. During the meeting, everyone is assigned their sections, and updates are discussed. How exciting it was for us when James was assigned to help with the “Big Animals” (the kangaroos, wombats, pademelons, wallabies, and emus) while I was tasked to help the koalas. Jirrahlinga is also home to dingoes, reptiles, cockatoos, turtles, swans, a fox, a fruit bat, owls, geese, and kookaburras.
James and the Big Animals
Our first day of work had begun. James went on a feeding tour with ranger Daniel. He first changed the water in the enclosures so that the animals had fresh water.
Then the food was distributed. While the animals were distracted and eating, the enclosures were cleaned. Finally, James cut apples, carrots, pears, cabbage, and broccoli, preparing for the next day.
He had a funny encounter right at the beginning. Daniel had warned him about a biting goose. The goose was in the enclosure with the wallabies, and when James wanted to distribute food, Carl the goose came running. Quite angry and combative, it seemed! James had no choice but to jump over the fence to avoid being bitten by him. At noon we all came together for a lunch break, and he told us about his little adventure, which amused the entire team!
Menekse and the Koalas
Thanks to Jen, I had been assigned to the koalas. And, to say that I was excited is an understatement! I had told my mom about our volunteer job, and she laughed when she said that we would probably only be sweeping poop. And if so, so what! After all, it was KOALA poop! I would be following along with Ranger Jack. Like Daniel did with James, Jack did a fantastic job! He showed me everything and shared his vast knowledge about koalas. It was so interesting to learn so much about these unique animals.
First, he brought the koalas outside from their overnight indoor enclosures. Jack carried the koala by the wrists in such a way that the koala faced away from him. This way the koala can neither scratch nor bite. Koalas have extremely sharp claws.
And a bite from a koala can tear open the skin. Jack said that if you have a choice, a snake bite is preferable to a koala bite.
I will take his word for it! 😊 Once the koalas were all outside, we started replacing the old eucalyptus branches with new ones. Then we refilled the water containers to keep the new eucalyptus branches fresh. Afterward, we cleaned the enclosures in the hospital. This included removing the feces, which is called pap.
Jack records daily how much pap is on the ground so he can tell whether a koala is healthy or not. The koalas are weighed once a week. If a koala has lost too much weight, he gets a special diet consisting of pumpkin soup to bring him back to strength.
We then replaced the mats with fresh ones. The old mats were taken outside so they could be hosed to remove the urine.
Finally, we sprayed the Eucalyptus leaves with water because koalas get their fluids from the leaves. I swept and mopped the hospital floor, and swept up the pap outside, and my work was finished. I had time to take some photos before I set off to help James and Daniel.
Knock Off Time
Our work was finished at 2 p.m. and for me, it didn’t feel like work at all. It was indescribable to be so close to the animals. James was pretty tired in the evening and enjoyed teasing me that he had cared for more animals than I had!
Playing with Dingoes
We thought that our day was already fantastic, but another highlight was waiting for us. Jirrahlinga has dingoes – wild dogs – that are taken for daily walks outside their enclosures.
We were allowed to pet the dingoes and hold them. It is simply incomprehensible to us that we had this opportunity. I know that I am repeating myself but being so close to native Australian animals is like a dream come true! The dingoes licked our faces, cuddled with us, and gave us an enchanting smiles.
We had seen dingoes in the wild when we were on Fraser Island. And we kept our distance. But at Jirrahlinga they seemed like normal domestic dogs. We even saw and pat dingo babies. Looking back, we still can’t believe it. We cuddled with dingoes! How crazy and unique is that?!
Holding a Koala
It was a lot of fun to be able to volunteer at Jirrahlinga. Everyone there was so friendly and helpful, and not only did we meet great people, but on our last day, we were treated to the cherry on top: we were allowed to hold a koala! The moment when little Bo, the baby koala, crawled onto my lap… I had to pull myself together so that I didn’t start crying with joy.
Ranger Danny explained that you should hold a koala at the bottom of his butt and rest the other hand on the top of his head. This is so that he would not try to climb higher. I must have rigorously followed these instructions because unfortunately there is not a single picture where I do not have my hand on Bo’s head. Lol!
James was less fortunate because Bo jumped away from him just seconds after he sat down. The reason was that James’s rain jacket didn’t provide a good grip for Bo. Koalas need a solid surface to hold on to, and the jacket was just too slippery.
Nevertheless, we both had the chance to pat Bo, feel his scrubby fur, and feel his little body on ours.
Thank You Jirrahlinga
James and I realize how lucky we are and are grateful every day. Being able to have these experiences is so special for us and something that we will remember forever!
We would like to express our sincere thanks to the entire team at Jirrahlinga Koala and Wildlife Sanctuary. They do everything they can to ensure the welfare of the animals. Thank you to Mrs. Tehree Gordon, who founded the Sanctuary in 1975, and has saved many animals since and provided them with a home. Her tireless work, effort, and love for the animals are a wonderful example for us all. And a very special thank you to Jen and Ray, who made this unforgettable experience possible for us!
If you have the opportunity, be sure to visit the Jirrahlinga Koala and Wildlife Sanctuary and enjoy a day in harmony with the animals. It’s worth it!
Thank you Jirrahlinga!
Where is Jirrahlinga Koala and Wildlife Sanctuary located?
The Jirrahlinga Koala and Wildlife Sanctuary is in Barwon Heads on the Bellarine Peninsula, Victoria, Australia.
How much does it cost?
Children (4-15): $15
Family (2 children+ 3 children under 15 years): $75
How do I get tickets?
On-site at the entrance.
However, there are also special programs for groups, which can be booked through the office. Call +61 352 542 484 during opening hours for inquiries.
Daily from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.
Due to COVID, opening hours may vary.
What animals can be seen at Jirrahlinga?
Kangaroos, wombats, pademelons, wallabies, emus, dingoes, reptiles, cockatoos, turtles, swans, a fox, a fruit bat, eagles, owls, geese, kookaburras, and of course koalas.
Jirrahlinga Koala and Wildlife Sanctuary
Address: 170-200 Taits Rd, Barwon Heads 3227, Victoria
Phone: +61 352 542 484
Email for inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org