Sunday 20 March, 2011

Drenching rains in the Simpson Desert provided a unique experience for two Bush Heritage volunteers.

Bogged at EthabukaMatt and Brett's trip to Ethabuka turned out quite differently from what they'd expected! Photo: Nella Lithgow.

Matt Dahlberg and Brett Steers are no strangers to extreme weather conditions: they met in Antarctica working for the Australian Antarctic Division.

Both share a love of adventure, a passion for the environment and a background in the building trade, so when the opportunity came up to volunteer on Ethabuka Reserve, they jumped at the chance.

'I looked on the map and thought, "it’s somewhere you wouldn’t go as a tourist,’’' said Brett, by way of explanation.

Drama as roads flood

Their desert trip soon turned to drama when the rain started falling. All roads leading off the property turned into an ocean and the bulldust became very sticky mud.

‘Just running back to cover made you four inches taller because the mud stuck to the bottom of your shoes,’ says Matt.

But that didn’t stop them working. Among other things, the two volunteers installed a hot water system, fitted and plumbed a grey-water pit, reconfigured a bathroom and replaced old plumbing.

‘We both brought a book with us,’ said Matt. ‘In Antarctica we used to call it a bliz book because you’d get caught in a blizzard and have to sit it out and read your book.’ As it turns out Matt never got to read his book. ‘It was too much fun trying to work out ways to get your washing to dry and how to get things clean.’

Airlifted out

Meanwhile reserve managers Nella and Mark Lithgow were trying to work out how to get the pair out.

Eventually the ‘local’ publican came to the rescue in his light plane. ‘Flying out over it was amazing,’ says Matt. ‘We both knew we’d witnessed the country in rare and fantastic form.’

What rains mean for our reserve managers

Stocking up

The wet season in northern Australia usually runs from December to February each year. That means having enough food, equipment and hardware supplies to last for months.

'We've never resorted to baked beans,' says Nella. ‘When you're really down to the last of it – your dried foods, like rice, pasta and lentils – I use my massive spice collection to put variety into everything.'

Reserve management

With the extra vegetation the rains produce, more work must be put into fire management.

The heavy rains also wash away fences, allowing the neighbours' cattle to stroll through the property.

Normally Mark and Nella do their repairs after the summer wet season, but with the high number of rains this year, the repair of fences and roads has been an ongoing priority.

Sticky bulldust

Travelling anywhere in the wet season is a challenge. As always, the reserve managers need to be well prepared.

For every trip, no matter how small, they make sure they have their snap straps, winches and recovery gear with them.

The rains also cause erosion, washouts and ruts along the road, which they add to their long ‘to do' list.

Although Matt and Brett's story occurred in August 2010, some of our reserves and reserve staff were also affected by the damaging rainfalls over much of Australia in early 2011 and by Cyclone Yasi in February.

We are thankful that our staff are safe, however, and we extend our deepest sympathy to all Australians affected by the devastating floods. Bush Heritage CEO Doug Humann reflects here on the impact of these events for Australia and for Bush Heritage.

Cravens Peak and Ethabuka reserves were acquired in 2004 and 2005 with the assistance of the Australian Government under the Natural Heritage Trust’s National Reserve System Programme and The Nature Conservancy. Thanks also to Andyinc Foundation, the Hutchinson Foundation, The Nature Conservancy’s David Thomas Challenge and Peter Edwards for supporting vital conservation work on Cravens Peak and Ethabuka this year.

By Fiona Rutkay

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