Happy 10th birthday Cravens Peak

Monday 11 April, 2016
Former reserve managers Nella and Mark Lithgow at Cravens Peak. Photo Peter Morris

In 2006, Bush Heritage purchased 233,000 hectares of remarkable desert country. In 2016, Cravens Peak celebrates its tenth birthday, and the remarkable people that have brought it this far.

It was 2008 when Nella Lithgow first opened her ute door and landed her boots in the  red desert dust of Cravens Peak Reserve, on the edge of the Simpson Desert. The reserve was young; only two years earlier, supporters, along with funds from the Commonwealth government, had enabled Bush Heritage to purchase this vast mass of gibber plains, red sandy dune fields, semi-permanent waterholes and Coolabah woodlands.

Opportunity and challenge

Nella and husband Mark looked out at the contrasting colours, from the deep reds of the landscape to the stunning blue of the skies. This was to be home for three years, where, as reserve managers, they would take on the task of caring for the 233,000 hectares of Cravens Peak. Nella felt they had been given a special and unique opportunity – as well as a challenge.

“We were very aware of what we were taking on,” says Nella. “In that kind of environment, where the landscape is so vast, humans are a token. When we considered the age of that environment, our presence seemed sometimes so small – and the commitment we needed to make to it, so long-term.”

“But then there are times you see your impact in an immediate way – like when we removed the internal fencing.

Gay's DuneGay's Dune

“When we started, we felt like we were on a station. And when we finished, suddenly the land opened up, and we felt like we were in an open parkland – a conservation reserve, where wildlife could move freely.”

The arrival of matt, Amanda and Isabella

Other families have also answered the call of Cravens and the landscape that Bush Heritage and its supporters help to protect. A handful of reserve staff and their families have lived for stints at Cravens Peak, including Matt and Amanda Warr, whose first baby, Isabella, spent her first eleven months of life there in 2013 (before the family moved to nearby Ethabuka Reserve).

While most folk mightn’t consider a homestead on the edge of the desert a likely place to raise a family, Amanda and Matt saw it as a bonus that their family was always together, joined in the one place, with shared goals. “If I ever needed Matt, he was always close by. We are always together. And we get to witness Bella enjoying nature – trying to chase the lizards and looking at the trees.”

Peter and Linda

The summer heat can be stifling, and presents one of the biggest challenges for those working at Cravens Peak. But then the rains come and bring transformation to the landscape and relief to those like current reserve manager, Peter Welldon. “Flowers come out. There are suddenly plants on the sand dunes. You see a total transformation in under two months, just from a little bit of rain.”

Before and after: on the left is Cravens Peak in 2006. On the right is Cravens Peak today, flourishing after a decade of careful management. Photos by Murray Haseler.Before and after: on the left is Cravens Peak in 2006. On the right is Cravens Peak today, flourishing after a decade of careful management. Photos by Murray Haseler

Peter, together with wife and staunch Bush Heritage supporter, Linda, took on the baton for Bush Heritage and its supporters in 2011. They agree that a sense of community between neighbours, locals and the community in general, is imperative to thrive at Cravens Peak.

We are blessed to enjoy the unique beauty of this country every day – from the transformation after rain, to the different colours of the desert sands and skies mixed with the marvellous array of flora and fauna.

Peter Welldon, Reserve Manager “It’s important to have family around you,” says Peter. “You’re so isolated out here. Neighbours and other locals are important too. People out here look out for each other. You can’t be an individual out here, you can’t be a loner.”

The loss of Mo

Mo Peiterse and Steve HeggieMo Pieterse and Steve Heggie a during preparations to fight a fire on Ethabuka Reserve.

There can be no greater awareness of family and community than with the loss of a member of that community. In 2012, reserve officer Mauritz Pieterse, known affectionately as Mo, perished whilst working at nearby Ethabuka Reserve, protecting a place he loved dearly.

The loss of Mo, one of our most passionate and well-loved defenders, was felt deeply, and will be for many years to come.

Nothing has lessened the importance of the tight-knit reserve community that Nella Lithgow had experienced acutely back in 2008. “You need each other in a different way at a place like Cravens,” she says. “You need other people to share the journey with – both the tasks, which sometimes seem mammoth – but also the joys.”

It is now eight years since Nella and Mark arrived at the reserve that dusty day – and ten years since the place became a Bush Heritage reserve. In that time Cravens Peak has hosted a community of neighbours, scientists, archeologists, university students and researchers who have helped the reserve arrive at where it is today: an established conservation reserve, positioned – with the ongoing help of Bush Heritage supporters – to meet the conservation challenges of the future.

“The people that come onto that reserve are gold – and so are our supporters,” says Nella. “They are driven by their love of the land and what they do. Their passion is inspiring, and it’s infectious.”

What has your support helped us to do?

Dragon lizard. Photo by Adam KerezyReptiles are also thriving after 10 years of conservation work by Bush Heritage Reserve Managers. Photo Doug Humann
  • Remove stock, restoring sparse and sporadically‑available food to the native food chain
  • Upgrade the rundown homestead and infrastructure, enabling staff, volunteers and contractors a base from which to work
  • Replace the old diesel generator with solar panels, saving thousands of dollars in diesel costs
  • Welcome Cravens Peak’s traditional owners, the Wangkamadla people back to country and draw up a cultural heritage agreement
  • Reduce feral animals, especially camels, cats and stray cattle

What has this helped to achieve?

Planigale.Planigales are common on Cravens Peak. Photo Adam Kereszy.
  • Rapid improvement in the Mitchell grass plains and wetland areas
  • Regeneration of the gidgee and mulga woodland vegetation between the dunes
  • Shift in plant species composition from grazing‑resilient species to more palatable native species of grass and herb
  • A flush of insects, a globally‑renowned diversity of reptiles, small mammals and desert birds following welcome rains
  • Satellite imagery shows the property is remaining greener for longer than neighbouring properties following rains.
  • University of Sydney studies show a shift in patterns and increase in diversity of small mammal species in ungrazed or lightly‑grazed areas

Cravens Peak Reserve was acquired in 2005 with the assistance of the Australian Government under the Natural Heritage Trust’s National Reserve System Programme and The Nature Conservancy. Bush Heritage thanks the many supporters that continue to support our work at Cravens Peak Reserve.

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