They were paddling on the Murray River one day, world famous the next. We caught up with the co-stars of the koala video-gone-viral to see how they were coping with all the attention. If you haven’t seen the footage of our outdoor education students helping a koala stranded in high water, where have you been?
The clip, filmed on student Kirra Coventry’s phone on Sunday, has been shared across the country and on major news stations in New York, London, Italy, China and more. In America they described the Murray as a raging torrent, in Japan they referred to the canoe as an ark. “The story’s taken on biblical proportions,” laughs lecturer Chris Townsend.
In true nature-lovin’ outdoor ed-student style however, Kirra and co were staying cool, calm and collected. “It’ll blow over in a couple of days,” she says. “And if it gets too much I’ll be off on another trip on Thursday to the Castlemaine diggings. Which means I won’t have my phone for three whole days.”
For the past few days, Kirra’s phone, email and Facebook page has been running hot, with people keen for an angle on the moment she filmed fellow student Mat Wright pushing a canoe to the koala’s aid.
“I came back from an awesome paddling experience, pumped out an essay and made the news in Italy and New York,” she says. “I’ve been contacted by so many people around the world asking to share the video. It’s been on MTV.” Closer to home it’s been featured on The Project, Australian Geographic and even the Goondiwindi Argus.
“Mat and I were both writing essays on Monday night and I was getting Facebook messages, calls and emails, the phone was going crazy and it was a major distraction. I submitted my essay at 11.55pm and 11.59 was the cut-off time.”
Kirra says initially, she only intended to share the video with others on the paddling trip. “We had a chat group going for everyone on the trip and initially I was just going to post the video there but the file was too big and I was too lazy to change it, so I posted it on my Facebook page instead.
“Within an hour I had friends asking me to make it public because they wanted to share it as well and it just kind of exploded from there.”
Mat says while the experience of seeing his good deed go viral has been fun, it’s the rescue itself that will stay with him.
“It was awesome, it was really surreal,” he says. “The koala was so keen to get off that tree. If one of us went up to it with open arms it probably would have climbed onto us. We were just in the right place at the right time.”
He says he hopes the video will inspire others to likewise show kindness to animals, particularly our vulnerable koalas.
Mat and Kirra’s lecturer Chris says that hasn’t always been the case on Ulupna Island, where the video was filmed. “Significant populations of koalas were relocated to off shore and inland islands in the 1980s as a conservation measure, including Ulupna Island,” he says.
“Ulupna Island is also unique as it has not suffered large scale logging or grazing, so much of its native vegetation stands have remained intact, making it an important ecological study area.”
He says the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council recommended Ulupna become a National Park, but there was significant opposition from various quarters.
“The area has seen a huge rise in visitors, particularly campers. The upside is more people are enjoying the place. The downside is some of the appalling alcohol-fuelled visitor behaviour from a minority. There is a plaque at the Ulupna Island Campground explaining the prosecution of a 19-year-old male camper who repeatedly drove his ute into the base of a small red gum to dislodge a koala. When it fell to the ground, he ran over it and kicked it to death.”
In stark contrast, Chris says it warms the heart to know this footage of a simple act of kindness from his students has resonated with millions of people.
“With so much sad and awful news in the world this story has really struck a chord globally,” he says. “I’ve had phone calls and press interviews from around the world in the last 24 hrs. It has that rare human/native animal contact without an inch of malice.”