Ethabuka – a new era

Sunday 20 June, 2004

Bush Heritage ecologist Murray Haseler was the first staff member at Ethabuka Reserve.

We arrived at Ethabuka Reserve on 22 February 2004 after three long, hot days of driving. I had fitted out two 4WDs and was accompanied by past colleagues, zoologists Mike Mathieson and Luke Hogan, who had eagerly offered to help drive the vehicles to the reserve and have a look around.

Paul and Carol Spencer, the interim reserve managers who had arrived three days earlier, were there to meet us. The late-afternoon temperature was still in the high 40s as we pulled up, so we retreated to the old house for some  respite only to find it even hotter inside.

The house had not been lived in for years. Wind-driven red sand formed dunes across the linoleum and benches. Magnesium-rich waters had seized the taps but, as it turned out, not enough to prevent us from getting the water we needed to start the mammoth cleaning job.

Our first role was to sort out the house. The generator required some coaxing to get going but it did eventually allow us to run the air cooler. However, the effort was obviously too great for it. On the fourth day it burst into flames, the ice melted, the food spoiled and tempers flared, as the house was still at 40º C at 10pm.

Then the windmill broke down. However, thanks to the resilience of Paul and Carol, the house will be a suitable habitat when the new reserve manager arrives in June.

Most desert creatures survive the extreme desert conditions by going underground or being nocturnal. The heat and the drought had thus rendered invisible those small mammals that first drew our attention to Ethabuka. Dr Chris Dickman and his team from Sydney University arrived five days after us and, despite the conditions, showed us the sandy inland mouse, ningaui and even a mulgara.

There was great enthusiasm amongst the researchers because their work had now become central, rather than peripheral, to the management of the reserve. There was much talk of opportunities for future cooperation.

It appears, notwithstanding our humble arrival, that we will start work at this new reserve with an abundance of knowledge and goodwill from researchers, neighbours and locals alike.

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