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Izzy's Magnetic charm with koalas brings Queensland to a worldwide audience

Culture

A north Queensland girl affectionately known as “The Koala Whisperer” is winning hearts across the world after a documentary series about her family was picked up by global streaming giant Netflix.

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Izzy’s Koala World follows then-12-year-old Isabella Rose Bee (Izzy) and her veterinarian mum, Dr Ali Bee, as they rescue and rehabilitate injured, sick and orphaned koalas on Magnetic Island, off Townsville.

Izzy first gained attention when she featured on an episode of Dodo Heroes, a collaboration between animal-focused digital media company The Dodo and Nomadica Films that screened internationally on pay-TV channel Animal Planet.

Izzy’s story connected so well with viewers that producers approached the family about producing a full series on Izzy, which premiered globally on Netflix last week.

“The show is basically about my life, and my family’s life, and how we look after the koalas,” Izzy told InQueensland.

In an era dominated by gaudy YouTube celebrities and social media influencers, Izzy’s Koala World is refreshing in its approach – there are no over-the-top histrionics or shouting into cameras, and Ali praised producers for their honest depiction of her family.

An aerial view of Magnetic Island.

“When Izzy is in front of a camera, what you see is what you get,” Ali told InQueensland. “She’s not up herself, she’s just like the rest of us, you know? This is who we are.”

Izzy names all the koalas that come into the family’s care and over the course of the eight episodes of Izzy’s Koala World, viewers meet short-stayers such as Chompy, Rosie, Muffin and Twinkle, and some longer-term residents including Juliet, Storm Boy and her favourite, Leia.

The show is aimed at younger viewers, and Izzy’s sunny disposition, the program’s uplifting tone and hopeful nature and the undeniable appeal of her furry co-stars have combined to make for uplifting viewing in what has been a difficult year.

“I think it’s just what the world needs at the moment and the koalas desperately need the world’s help as well,” Ali said, adding that “even though it is primarily a kids’ show, there is a bigger message there as well”.

“Koalas are a real Aussie icon and I think it is putting them in the forefront of people’s minds, especially when people see how switched-on their kids get when they’re watching the program.

“All these younger generations are just going ‘wow, these animals are out there and we want to make sure that they still are out there for future generations to come’.

“It’s a very sweet story and Izzy’s bond with the koalas is incredible but we can’t just do it by ourselves, we need everybody to help, too, and that’s the feedback we’re getting, that people are switched-on and wanting to help and that’s amazing.”

Ali is originally from East Yorkshire in northern England and following her graduation from London’s Royal Veterinary College in 1990, she spent a decade working as a vet in the UK. After coming to Australia “via Hong Kong” in 2000, Ali met her now-husband Tim.

“We’re lucky enough to live [on Magnetic Island] and when I got here, I still wanted to work as a vet, so I worked at different clinics on the mainland and there was a bit of work here on the island,” Ali said.

“Tim and I decided that I should buy the clinic in 2006, because I’d been here since 2000 and Izzy hadn’t sort of appeared on the horizon so I bought the clinic and then, five months later, I’m pregnant … in a one-person clinic and being on call 24/7.”

Ali was only able to secure cover at the clinic for a short period of time after Izzy’s birth, so after only a few weeks’ maternity leave, she returned to her practice – with baby Izzy in tow.

“She was in the clinic from five weeks of age,” Ali said, adding that as she grew, she moved on from observing medical procedures being performed on animals from the comfort of her high chair to playing a hands-on role caring for injured wildlife.

“When wildlife would come in, she would go and sit with the animals and if I was busy, she would help my nurse Helen out to look after what whatever needed to be care for.

“So she’s always been a carer and she’s always been somebody that is just so switched on with animals and just instinctively knows how to behave around them and what they need.”

As a result of being around animals from such a formative age, Ali said Izzy had developed an innate rapport that hadn’t been “glammed up” for the cameras.

“With animals in general, she certainly seems to ‘get’ them but they do seem to respond to her, as well,” she said.

“I mean, maybe it’s just instinctively that she knows that you can’t be fully in their face, you have to be respectful, you have to be calm and quiet around them, whereas some kids just don’t get that because they’ve never had the opportunity to know any different. But yeah, there is definitely something pretty special there.

“Now, when I see her even wrangling adult koalas, if I’ve missed one when it’s come down the tree, she’s my backup, she’s my offsider, and she’s there with her towel and her blanket and she’s pretty impressive to watch.”

Ali and her husband Tim sold the vet clinic in 2013 and although she still works as a vet in Townsville a couple of days of week, her primary focus is on rescuing and rehabilitating the island’s koalas.

Di Ali Bee, Izzy Bee and Tim Bee caring for one of their charges at home on Magnetic Island.

“I’ve always had an interest in wildlife, but obviously being from Yorkshire my forte wasn’t necessarily koalas but it’s something that I’m just so passionate about now – koalas but obviously all other local Aussie wildlife as well.

“With the koalas, unfortunately it’s from our own pockets. We get little bits of funding dribbling through but I do two days a week in town, Tim is still doing his tyre business, and Izzy is now at high school in Townsville, too, she’s graduated from the island primary school.

“It’s still a really good lifestyle, and a great place to live, it would just be good if we had something purpose-built for the wildlife and I suppose if I could run the wildlife rescue as my as my day job … or night job.”

Despite only beginning streaming last week, the show has already garnered international critical praise and earned Izzy a loyal and fast-growing fan base.

“I’ve gotten a lot of fan mail already, I’ve gotten emails from places like California, Brazil, Chile, Thailand and India,” Izzy said.

Izzy said she hoped the show would engender a greater appreciation for Australian wildlife and ecology in its target audience.

“I just want to encourage people to look out for wildlife around their area and keep an eye out for them and maybe do some research so you can understand more about wildlife in your local area,” she said.

“I really want to keep on looking after wildlife, but I also want to take on an acting career, when I’m older, possibly.”

Which begs the obvious question – can viewers expect to see a second season of Izzy’s Koala World?

“Watch this space,” Ali said. “Certainly from our point of view, we would love to be involved with doing more. and I think the feedback that we’re getting from families with kids is that they are just absolutely mesmerised by the koalas, which is so good and if that’s the case, then I would think yes.  I would love to see more series happen.”

Izzy’s Koala World is now streaming on Netflix

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