Amphibian Exiles in Wollongong, by Gary Leonard
Robert Gilfillan, author of “The Exile’s Song” was not himself an exile, but no doubt the words resonated in the memories and emotions of the millions of Scots who left their homes as exiles, in the 19th century mainly for economic reasons, but in earlier times, to escape religious, racial and political persecution.
I think of Scots because of my own ancestry, but there has been a similar lament for the Irish. James Joyce and Samuel Beckett in exile may have lived in reasonable comfort and with a congenial circle of new friends, but it is apparent that Oscar Wilde’s last years were both lonely and humiliating. Although Wilde was unable to maintain the spectacular creative output of his pre-exile years, it is evident that, for some, a life in exile is a productive environment for music, literature, philosophy and politics. Indeed, Joyce wrote, “…. I wanted real adventures to happen to myself. But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.”
Australia has a strange relationship with exiles, starting with the post-convict transportation of political exiles: Irish nationalists like William Smith O’Brien were allocated their own cottages and servants at Port Arthur, presumably because they were “gentlemen”. Tom Keneally drew on the life of Artem Sergeiv in his novel The People’s Train (Keneally 2009). Sergeiv, a refugee from Tsarist Russia lived in exile in Brisbane, but returned to Russia in time for the October Revolution. During his seven-year stay in Australia, he managed to offend the sensibilities of those in power and spent some time in Queensland prisons. What must Sergeiv have thought of the paucity of culture, the indifference of the ruling elite to poverty and working conditions, but above all, the heat of Brisbane’s summer? Perhaps an erstwhile revolutionary comrade, Leon Trotsky, would have also felt some discomfort during his short, ill-fated stay in the heat of Mexico.
Exiles may begin to forget, and adopt new values and traditions: Don Watson (2009) describes the progress of exiled clansmen from the Scottish Highlands and Islands from Sydney, through Goulburn and eventually to Gippsland, where Angus McMillan and others actively participated in the killing or displacement of the Jumai, the original inhabitants.
Edward W Said describes the impacts of exile as “…. the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted.”(Said 2000). Said refers to “human beings”, but can we ascribe similar feelings to animals? Mark Rowlands is one contemporary philosopher who has used his own personal experience with a wolf to suggest that, not only do animals have souls, but also that humans have moral and ethical responsibilities in their relationship with animals (Rowlands 2008).
Just as millions of humans have been exiled by the actions of other humans, so countless species of animals have been driven either into extinction, or into exile in small, isolated niches as a result of human settlement, mining, roads, industry, agriculture and recreation.
One example of an animal exile in my home town, Wollongong, is the Green and Golden Bell Frog Litorea aurea.
Up until the 1980s, this attractive frog with its unusual call was a common occurrence from East Gippsland, in Victoria to Tyagarah, near the Queensland border and as far west as Bathurst and Tumut. (Goldingay 1996). The species was so common that it was collected for dissections in university biology classes and as food for captive snakes (Osborne et al. 1996). Green and Golden Bell Frogs appeared to have a wide range of habitat preferences, and were recorded in rivers, streams and creeks, wetlands, swamps, marshes, lakes, lagoons, farm dams and ornamental ponds (Pyke and White 1996). Since the 1980s, however, the population of this species has “…. declined precipitously…. leading to its listing as an endangered species in New South Wales in 1992 and as vulnerable by the Commonwealth in 1997” (Goldingay 2008). In 1995, there were considered to be only 43 locations remaining where Green and Golden Bell Frogs still existed, although in all but four cases the population size was less than 20 individuals (Pyke and White 1996). More recent surveys have concluded that populations in at least eight of these sites have since become extinct. (White and Pyke 2008).
The reasons for the rapid decline in this species are still unclear, although the alteration, fragmentation, degradation or removal of suitable habitat are factors which are accepted by most, if not all ecologists. Other factors which have been investigated include predation by the introduced Plague Minnow, or Mosquito Fish Gambusia holbrooki, predation by other frog species, predation by native and introduced fish, mammals and birds, increases in UV-B radiation due to ozone depletion, reduced genetic diversity, increased salinity due to climate change, an accumulation of fertilizer and other agricultural chemicals and the amphibian chytrid fungus Bartrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Mahony 2006; Goldingay 2008).
Occurrences of Green and Golden Bell Frog in the City of Wollongong are mainly restricted to areas around Port Kembla, (the industrial area to the south) although artificial habitat was established in 2002, within a residential estate at Woonona, (a suburb of Wollongong’s northern beaches) in order to accommodate a small population which had been originally detected in 1990. A large population at Coomaditchie Lagoon, (Port Kembla) was described by van de Mortel and Goldingay (1998) and the comment made that the population (of 63 adults and 422 juveniles) appeared to be successfully breeding in a lagoon which contained a high density of Mosquito Fish. High numbers of adults were also recorded in 1999 (Goldingay and Lewis 1999) and as recently as 2005 (Goldingay and Newell 2005).
Coomaditchie Lagoon covers an area of 1-2 ha, depending on rainfall and is located to the south and east of residential development, including an indigenous housing estate and to the west and north of coastal dunes. In order to protect the frog population and its habitat at Coomaditchie Lagoon, a Management Plan was developed, with funding from Banrock Station Winery (van de Mortel et al. 1998). Unfortunately, fishing enthusiasts have recently introduced carp into Coomaditchy Lagoon, with the result that the Green and Golden Bell Frog population is probably now extinct.
Other populations described by van de Mortel and Goldingay (1998) included Gloucester Boulevard, Port Kembla (26 adults in 1994, with reduced numbers in 1994 and 1996), Korungulla wetland, Primbee (2 adults) and BHP Steelworks, Port Kembla (5 adults and 19 juveniles). In recent times, artificial habitats have been established within industrial sites around the inner and outer harbours at Port Kembla, and in surveys during 2008, populations were recorded at a builder’s tip, a backyard swimming pool, sections of railway line, drainage channels and even within the grounds of several factories (Gaia Research 2009). In winter 2008, 15 Green and Golden Bell Frogs were found sheltering within discarded equipment at the Port Kembla Coal Terminal (Biosphere Environmental Consultants 2008). Such a location presents many dangers, including the potential for death or injury as equipment is moved, or from passing trucks and trains, as well as the possibility of pollution from coal waste. Moreover, like many industrial sites, predators such as foxes and cats regularly patrol the area. Protection measures that have since been introduced include exclusion fences, to direct frogs towards safer locations and to restrict entry by foxes and cats, construction of artificial ponds at the adjacent Greenhouse Park by Wollongong Council and development of movement corridors and habitat in areas owned by Bluescope Steel, Sydney Water, Port Kembla Coal Terminal, Wollongong Golf Course and others.
And so at last, efforts are being made by government agencies, local government, private enterprise and interested members of the public, to allow this species to survive in the City of Wollongong. The relatively salubrious accommodation which was provided for the Green and Golden Bell Frogs in a housing estate at Woonona does not appear to have been a success, with the population size falling from over 50 adults and thousands of tadpoles in 2004, to a few individuals in recent years. The apparently ideal habitat of Coomaditchie Lagoon has been destroyed by human ignorance and self interest. The created habitats within industrial sites around the inner and outer harbours have been more successful, although the reasons for this limited success are uncertain: perhaps the waters contain industry-associated pollutants which discourage the chytrid fungus, perhaps there are fewer predators.
Alternative accommodation has been provided for the exiled Green and Golden Bell Frogs of Wollongong. Human intervention was considered necessary, in order to save a species from extinction, but also as recognition that this species has a right to continue to live in association with human wants and desires. The next logical step may be to turn our attention to the plight of the human exiles who are currently seeking an alternative home in Australia.
Biosphere Environmental Consultants, 2008. Interim Plan of Management Green and Golden Bell Frogs Port Kembla Coal Terminal. Report prepared for Wollongong City Council.
Gaia Research, 2009. Assessment of Habitat, Dispersal Corridors and Management Actions to Conserve the Northern Port Kembla Key Population of Green and Golden Bell Frog. Report prepared for the Department of Environment and Climate Change.
Goldingay, R.L., 2006. “The Green and Golden Bell Frog Litorea aurea – from riches to ruins: conservation of a formerly common species.” Australian Zoologist 30(2); 248-256.
Goldingay, R.L., 2008. “Conservation of the Green and Golden Bell Frog: what contribution has ecological research made since 1996?” Australian Zoologist 34(3); 334–49.
Goldingay, R. & Lewis, B., 1999. “Development of a conservation strategy for the Green and golden Bell Frog in the Illawarra Region of NSW.” Australian Zoologist 31: 376–87.
Goldingay, R. & Newell, D.A., 2005. “Population estimation of the Green and Golden Bell Frog at Port Kembla.” Australian Zoologist 33: 49–59.
Keneally, T. 2009 The People’s Train. Random House, North Sydney.
Mahony, M., 1996. “The decline of the Green and Golden Bell Frog Litorea aurea viewed in the context of declines and disappearances of other Australian frogs.” Australian Zoologist 30(2): 237–47.
Osborne, W. S., Littlejohn, M.J. & Thompson, S.A., 1996. “Former distribution and apparent disappearance of the Litorea aurea complex from the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.” Australian Zoologist 30(2): 190–98.
Pyke, G.H. & White, A. W., 1996. “Habitat requirements for the Green and Golden bell Frog Litorea aurea (Anura: Hylidae).” Australian Zoologist 30(2): 224–32.
Rowlands, M., 2008. The Philosopher and the Wolf. Granata, London.
Said, E. W., 2000. Reflections on Exile and Other Essays. Harvard U. Press, Cambridge, Mass.
van de Mortel, T. & Goldingay, R., 1998. “Population assessment of the endangered Green and Golden Bell Frog Litorea aurea at Port Kembla, New South Wales.” Australian Zoologist 30(4): 398–404.
van de Mortel, Goldingay, R. L., Daly, G., Buttemer, W.A. & Formosa, P., 1998. Management Plan for the Green and Golden Bell Frog at Coomaditchy Lagoon. Report prepared for Wollongong City Council.
Watson, D., 2009. Caledonia Australis: Scottish Highlanders on the Frontier of Australia. Vintage Classics, Australia.
White, A. W. & Pyke, G.H., 2008. “Green and Golden Bell Frogs in New South Wales: current status and future prospects.” Australian Zoologist 34: 249–60.
This article appears in print in Kurungabaa Vol. 3 No. 2, May 2011.