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Home among the gumtrees

Jun 26 2018

Between them, Mike Fowler and his wife Fiona have seen almost half a century of service in the Defence force.


In 2001 Mike made the decision to transition out of the Army to join the Australian Public Service, while his partner continued to serve in the Air Force. He now volunteers as a koala rescuer.

“I loved being in the Army and I'd undoubtedly still be there if I hadn't been injured and decided to transition on my own terms,” said Mike.

He spoke to a lot of Defence mates before he made the leap and felt pretty well informed. But he still found it was a huge change.

“I finished school in year 10, and I joined the Army when I was 17 years and three days old! So I had worked for a little before I joined, but when I got out I didn't even know how to make a doctor's appointment,” he admitted.

“My kids have razor sharp creases in their school shirts!”

“It was a case of ‘I’ve got to ring and arrange it myself?’. It was a big learning curve, but you figure it out. Everyone else in society does!”

Mike accepted a civilian position with the Department of Defence and in 2003 the family transferred to Queensland. The kids—Peter, 17, and Grace, 15—have grown up in the suburbs of Brisbane.

But Mike wanted to do more. Around seven years ago he got involved in native animal rescue and completed training with Wildcare.

“Their workshops are second to none,” said Mike.

“I got my wildlife carer permit and joined Moreton Bay Koala Rescue. I mentor carers and we meet up once a month for an informal afternoon tea where we discuss problems and support each other.”

Mike has rescued upwards of 200 koalas, though he hasn't had the opportunity to raise a koala joey yet. However, he has cared for a huge variety of native animals and has raised possums, bandicoots and squirrel gliders.

“My first bandicoot joey was called Crash, and I'm currently looking after two brush tail possums.

“I do get attached to every single animal, but I know that they're not staying and the aim with every animal is that it's going back to the wild.

“I don't ever look at them as pets, but when they are joeys they still need the closeness and love that their mother would give them. I carry them in a pouch on my chest when I'm at home, and I take them with if I need to be out around their feeding time.

“You do have to distance yourself as they get older though. I don't want to raise a joey that thinks humans are okay, or cats and dogs.”

The vast majority of koalas need rescuing because they have chlamydia, cystitis or conjunctivitis.

“If we can get them early enough they can be treated and rehabilitated,” explained Mike.

“As for those that are injured, a koala can survive with a back leg missing, but if it has lost an upper limb there is no way it can hang on or defend itself, so it can’t be released.

“When I do get the chance to release a koala there's nothing better.

“We find a suitable release area, lift the cage onto our knee against tree trunk, and the koala will shoot straight up into the tree to get their bearings.

“And they all try to pee on you! Don't ever stand under it once they've gone up the trunk. I've been peed on many times from great heights.”

While the family are no longer totally immersed in the Defence lifestyle, there are still a few hang overs from those days.

“I quite like ironing,” said Mike.

“My kids have razor sharp creases in their school shirts!”

This article was published in the 2018 Autumn/Winter Defence Family Matters

In 2001 Mike made the decision to transition out of the Army to join the Australian Public Service, while his partner continued to serve in the Air Force. He now volunteers as a koala rescuer.
Mike Fowler