• Michelle Meehan | intouch magazine

Wild encounters in the heart of the city

Have you ever wanted to get up close and personal with a python or stroke the scales of a blue-tongued lizard? Well, make sure you check out Newcastle’s ever popular Blackbutt Reserve, where a ‘wild’ new addition is giving visitors the chance to do just that.

After 12 months of construction – hampered by the discovery of an old mine shaft that had to be capped – the Carnley Avenue venue now boasts a new Wildlife Arena and amenities block.

The arena provides an outdoor classroom environment enhanced by state-of-the-art audio visual technology worth $10,000, installed following a generous donation from Orica Kooragang Island’s Community Investment Program.

It will allow the Reserve to host tourist groups, school trips and events in a more interactive way, building on its strong program of work educating the community about the 250 animals who call Blackbutt home.

The first of those to benefit from the upgrade were students from New Lambton Public School, who took part in the facility’s official opening.

Since then there have been plenty of other locals and tourists who have experienced the excitement of the Wildlife Arena, which now also plays host to a weekly reptile show.

Presented by Blackbutt’s expert team of rangers each Saturday and Sunday from 11am, and every day of the recent school holidays, the 20 minute show allows attendees to meet, learn about, and at times interact with some of the Reserve’s scaly, slimey and slithery residents including Diamond Pythons, Eastern Blue-tongued Lizards and Inland Bearded Dragons.

Designed as a fun but educational experience for all ages, the reptile show ($2 per person) offers insights into the animals’ behaviours, physiology and habitats.

Of course, if you prefer creatures of the more cuddly and cute variety, the Wildlife Arena is also being used as the location of the Koala encounters ($6 per person), held daily at 2pm.

And these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the animals on offer at Blackbutt Reserve, which has been exhibiting captive wildlife since the first enclosures were built on the Lookout Road area of the site in the 1960s.

These days more than 250 animals including birds, mammals and reptiles live within its multi-award winning wildlife exhibits, with the newest additions including a 3.3m long female Olive Python, a noisy pair of Barking Geckos and a fascinating Krefft’s River Turtle.

Other longer-term residents include everything from parrots, owls, doves and swans to rock wallabies, wombats, possums and kangaroos.

Interpretative signage located along the wheelchair and pram-friendly boardwalk provide an opportunity for visitors to observe the fauna and learn about each species. Of course, there are more reasons to visit Blackbutt Reserve than just the chance to be wowed by the wildlife.

Occupying more than 182 hectares of land, it is the perfect place for a relaxing family picnic or to explore the wonders of nature, with children’s playgrounds, picnic areas and barbecue facilities, nature trails and other recreational facilities on offer.

The newly constructed amenities block will also add to its appeal for families, with the welcome addition of a family bathroom and parents’ room, along with male, female and disabled toilets. But these won’t be the last improvements Novocastrians can expect to see at what is considered the city’s “green heart,” with more than half a million dollars of works being planned for the next financial year.

“The construction of the Wildlife Arena and new amenities at Blackbutt realises a vision to protect and enhance the unique qualities of this treasured community asset,” Lord Mayor Cr Nuatali Nelmes said.

“It has been 20 years since significant funding was allocated to improve Blackbutt and the future looks very exciting for our much-loved green-heart of Newcastle.

“Council plans to undertake another $550,000 of works at Blackbutt over the next financial year including planning for an all-age adventure playground at Ritchley Reserve, improving pathways and car parking to compliment the new facilities. Blackbutt is a key city revitalisation project.”

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