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Ethabuka Reserve

Ecologist Max Tischler calls Ethabuka 'classic boom and bust country'.

When it’s dry, all the eye can see is red sand dunes and semi-arid plains stretching far into the distance. But when the rains come, waterholes, wetlands and remote river systems are jolted into life.

Perched in the north of the Simpson Desert, Ethabuka Reserve is a haven for desert wildlife and boasts a remarkable pantheon of mammals, birds and reptiles.

It’s home to a wetland system of national significance, brimming with shrimps, fish and waterbirds following good rains. It also has one of the richest lists of reptile species in Australia, including Australia’s largest goanna, the perentie.

And when times get tough, local animals retreat to the reserve, a regional dry season refuge.

All this has been protected thanks to the generosity of our supporters.

What this reserve protects

MulgaraThe nationally vulnerable mulgara. Photo: Jiri Lochman/ Lochman Transparencies.
Coolibah woodland at Ethabuka ReserveCoolabah woodland.
Photo: Wayne Lawler/Ecopix

Smaller mammals abound at Ethabuka, including the nationally vulnerable mulgara – a small but feisty carnivorous marsupial. Ethabuka Reserve is one of just a few places that still harbours large populations of this species.

Ethabuka also protects these significant species and communities:


  • Paucident planigale
  • Spinifex hopping mouse
  • Thorny devil
  • Woma (rare desert python)
  • Australian bustard
  • Freckled duck
  • Painted honeyeater
  • Eyrean grasswren
  • Grey falcon


  • Pituri
  • River red gum
  • Ironwood
  • Wild orange

Vegetation communities

  • Hummock (spinifex) grassland
  • Coolabah and bloodwood woodland
  • Mallee
  • Chenopod (saltbush) shrubland
  • Gidgee woodland
  • Grevillea tall shrublands

What we’re doing on the property

With our supporters' help, we're tackling the three ‘Fs’ – fire, ferals and fences – as the major management priorities at Ethabuka Reserve.

Cattle and feral camels have taken a heavy toll here. Camels foul important watering holes and destabilise dune crests, while past grazing by cattle caused severe damage to native animal habitats.

The cattle are now gone, and we are aiming to eradicate feral camels. The sensitive artesian springs are fenced off to keep camels out.

Wildfire is a threat to the reserve, but we manage the risk it poses using fire breaks and controlled burns.

This work is paying off, with areas of samphire and saltbush shrublands showing signs of recovery, and we’re finding more small mammals in the absence of cattle grazing.

It never rains but it pours

Every few decades a miracle takes place at Ethabuka Reserve.

The heavens open up across northern Queensland and turn the usually dry, parched landscape into a watery world teeming with life.

The Mulligan River, a dry creek bed 99% of the time, rushes through the reserve, filling waterholes, rejuvenating wetlands and turning the landscape green with new growth.

Bush Heritage ecologist Adam Kerezsy says that if the flood waters are high enough, as they were in 2010, the Mulligan joins forces with the Georgina River catchment further south, causing an explosion in migrating fish.

Stone grinding tools beside Pulchera WaterholeStone grinding tools beside Pulchera Waterhole on Ethabuka Reserve. Photo: Wayne Lawler/Ecopix.

Cultural values

Ethabuka Reserve is part of Wangkamadla country. The Wangkamadla have a long-standing connection to this land, with rock paintings and significant ceremonial sites scattered across the reserve.

The reserve once lay on a trade route linking Queensland's Gulf of Carpentaria all the way to South Australia.

The local narcotic plant pituri was traded in return for stone knives, seashells and even dugong-tusk daggers.

Images: 1 . 2 . 3 . 4 . 5
Page Last Updated: Thursday 8 November 2012

Map of Ethabuka Reserve

Detailed map >

Quick facts

Established: 2004
Area: 215 500 ha
Location: Western Qld, 640km south of Mt Isa


Two men and a boat Waterworld in the Simpson Desert


See our visitation page for current and upcoming opportunities to visit our reserves.


Thank-you to all our supporters, whose donations fund the day-to-day costs of managing Ethabuka.

Ethabuka Reserve was acquired in 2004 with the assistance of the Australian Government under the Natural Heritage Trust's National Reserve System Programme and The Nature Conservancy.