An update from Fiona Stewart, Reserve Manager at Charles Darwin Reserve

By Fiona Stewart  
on 20 Aug 2015 

I am reminded on a daily basis of the delights of living at Charles Darwin Reserve (CDR) and have been feeling particularly lucky since becoming Reserve Manger. Now that it's wild flower season, it’s easy to feel appreciative of my surroundings. Every morning the vista from the house changes as more flowers appear and I contemplate the jobs board.

Autumn and winter are the busy months with a continuous stream of visitors, including scientists, community groups, schools, media and others.

We began the season by hosting a local young woman from the Morawa District High School for work experience. Alexandra Whitehurst is a Badimaya Woman, who after completing the Gundawa Young Leaders Course, asked to extend her understanding of the work of CDR as well as conservation work in general.  Alexandra worked solidly throughout the week with myself and Richard Hamilton, who is the field officer based here on a part-time basis. The aim was to extend her work and life skills and I believe this was achieved admirably as she worked on a number of projects including fence deconstruction and the removal of tumble weeds.

Alexandra would like to complete school and go to University (mightily encouraged by those of us at CDR) and after experiencing the hard manual labour, she stated that she was even more determined to finish school! Alexandra did make a funny observation about the manual labour Richard and I were undertaking and how it was ironic that we had completed Year 12, and in my case, a University degree or two.

A first weeding bee in mid-June was attended by a fabulous group of CDR volunteers led by Janet again. The amazing patience and care these volunteers display for CDR is an absolute joy to behold.

I found them all one afternoon tenderly weeding out a small beautiful creek line we have in the front paddock. All were on hands and knees leaving no weed unattended.  The top half of our front paddock system has had a thorough ‘going over’ this year and it looks fabulous – all without any chemical work, thanks to this group of volunteers. Tumble weed was on my agenda and this group removed trailer loads. For many it was a relief to ignore the Paterson’s Curse for once.  I treasure the stimulating conversations that I experience around the table in the evenings when I can join them after Banjo and Tanami are in bed. I love learning from ‘wise elders’ and that is truly what most of them turn out to be.

Bird groups, science tagging and relationship building with the mine down the road filled up the rest of June. The biggest exercise at the time was the continuation of the cat baiting program. Richard and I spent many hours driving around CDR replacing batteries and SD cards in the many cameras we have placed in the North and South of the property. This continued until a month after baiting and exposed me to the ever-changing nature of the place.

Driving so far across the Reserve for the monitoring work gives me the privilege of watching the entire wild flower season unfold before my eyes. Every round is full of different species doing ‘the colour thing’ (I am not a botanist) and it was hard not to stop and walk into the bush all the time. On these rounds I saw the most extraordinary mistletoe flowers, as well as more Mallee Fowl than any other year, which is a positive thing for the Reserve’s population.

The Leaning Tree School from Geraldton visited for their annual conservation camp and did a marvellous job of planting, building tree guards, dealing with the tumble weed and constructing bush cubbies. I laughed so hard from my position on the back of the trailer as I watched grade 4 and 5 boys aim for the biggest tumble weed balls they could find, before screeching as the prickles became real.  Watching kids in the bush immerse themselves and learn with gusto is something that will always inspire me. The kids apparently want to come back next year and do even more work!

At the same time we hosted another Gundwana Young Leader, Marley Fraser, who after completing school and a 6-month TAFE course, approached CDR to see if he could help out in any way. Marley is a young Badimaya man and the Leaning Tree Kids loved having a younger bloke helping out on their camp.

Campers have been steady all season so far and all have expressed delight after their CDR experience.

Visitation by local community groups continues to be a highlight for us at CDR. We recently hosted Sudbury Community House on a women’s reconciliation trip, as well as the local Morawa Hospital Health and Aged Care Group (HACG).

Supporting the elderly HACG residents who had all lived in the district their entire lives to experience the flowers and CDR in all its winter glory has been a valuable lesson in the rich and diverse history of this region.

It is a fine thing that this community groups feel they can contact Bush Heritage and experience CDR in a safe and informative way.