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Be prepared for remote travel

Published 14 Mar 2019 by Michael Uhrig (volunteer)

As our wonderful Bush Heritage volunteers take to the road for the 2019 season of remote area placements, Michael Uhrig shares some important lessons learned (and some lovely travel impressions) from his recent caretaking post at Carnarvon Reserve in Central Queensland. Michael learnt that it pays to be prepared!

My partner and I were delighted to be given the Caretaking Role at the Carnarvon property. It's relatively remote with the closest service station about 3 hours away and the closest small grocery store about 3.5 hours away. When doing a trip like this I would normally get my car serviced, whether it was due or not, in preparation for a journeying into a remote areas like this. This time I didn't, which was a mistake! I was also driving on rear tyres that had tread which was fine for sealed roads, but too thin for the drive into the reserve.

The last few properties we travelled through had huge stands of the Smooth Barked Angophora, with their giant trunks red as the desert, while covered with white flowers – just so beautiful.

But we arrived at the property entrance to find one of the rear tyres had a one-inch hole. So out came my first spare and we changed the tyre at the front gate. Also on the way in the engine light came on, but we drove in the last 15km or so without issue.

Carnarvon Reserve was wonderfully different to the properties we had driven through, which were bare and obviously struggling under grazing pressure. Nature taxed to its limit. In comparison Carnarvon was almost lush and green with an astonishing variety of flora and fauna everywhere we looked. Then we reached the beautiful and well-set-out homestead site with its various buildings, which was awesome to behold.

The property is about 50km long and 15km wide. The long section runs east to west, bordering the Carnarvon National Park, and thus expanding the conservation footprint of the area by 57,000 hectares.

Reserve Manager, Chris Wilson, allowed us to use Bush Heritage vehicles (giving my ute a nice rest) to enjoy the various tours that have been set up throughout the property.

My favourite site was the White Stallion monolith and lookout towards the east over the National Park and the reserve itself.

A cultural site of the Bidjara people, it commanded respect, and we were awestruck with the smokey (due to fires on neighbouring properties to the south) sunset behind the natural features of the land.

Other tours brought to light more amazing cultural locations. The Piebald tour takes you south along a valley, to the head of a creek, with sandstone outcrops, one of which harboured some amazing rock art by the Bidjara people. It was an amazing experience just being there looking at these images of hands, goannas and an axe that had been created eons ago.

The property is one of the last strong holds of the endangered Brigalow vegetation community that has been wiped out on most of the operating cattle stations throughout the entire Brigalow belt.

The Brigalows fix nitrogen into the soil, which provides nutrients for the various other Eucalypts, Angophoras and smaller shrubs and grasses in the endangered community.

For regeneration efforts to bring back the native blue grass, the property used a method of harvesting seed and then sowing that on mass, in addition to an aggressive weed-control program of 3 months spraying each year, has paid off, with native grass such as the blue grass, kangaroo grass coming once again to the fore.

We also witnessed amazing Zamias/Cycads that were up to 1,000 years old, along with massive Callistemons (bottle brush), and a huge singular fig tree growing near one of the many springs – a reminder of the need to conserve this amazing property for the good of all.

Another conservation strategy used on the property is ‘cool burns’ as opposed to the damaging hot burns of uncontrolled fires. Through the use of cool burns in a mosaic style, this provides areas for the fauna to take refuge. The slow and controlled burn leaves the taller trees undamaged but at the same time reduces fuel levels and renews the land. A similar approach to the Indigenous burns. This also helps when the hot burns from neighbouring properties encroach on the reserve, limiting fuel loads in a renewing way, that slows any larger uncontrolled hot fires, and prevents damage to the endangered animals and vegetation that the reserve protects.

A shout out to Chris and his family, along with Bek, the onsite ecologist, and Tash the conservation trainee, and of course the volunteer efforts that have helped achieve these massive inroads to restoring the property to its natural state. It is dedicated people like this that bring hope and faith back into the conservation arena. An amazing effort over 10 years (so far).

Our responsibilities were to look after the reserve family’s pets, collect eggs and water daily as well as make sure all the fridges kept working every day and water reserves were at appropriate levels. We had no black outs so no need to run the generator. All in all, a pretty easy gig. Meeting Chris and Alison and their family was an honour – I was dying to work with Chris so I could learn from his extensive 10 years on the property. But another time perhaps – I hope to volunteer here again.

So the road home was a tough one, and reminded me again of the need to be well prepared for these journeys. The emission control light came on as we were leaving and there was nothing we could do but try to get home and sort it later. Not far from the property the spare wheel fell off the under-tray holder and lifted the car and threw it sideways as it passed under the tow bar.

That shook us up, but we tied the tyre on and kept going. A couple of hours later we were on the main drag and heading back through Roma, Chinchilla and Dalby. We stopped outside Toowoomba for some food. When we got back in and tried to pull back out onto the freeway, we could not accelerate!

RACQ was called, as the ute had gone into limp mode. Repairs were expected to take 2 to 5 days. We weren’t prepared to spend that much time in Toowoomba, but RACQ Ultimate Care came to the rescue and before you know it were had been towed the remaining 350k to our home, arriving about 1am in the morning.

Better tyres and a pre-trip service for the ute would have saved us a lot of heartache and grief throughout the trip.

It would have also provided peace of mind, that the vehicle was in its best possible condition for embarking on a journey to remote areas.

Michael Uhrig. Michael Uhrig.
View from White Stallion lookout. View from White Stallion lookout.
Michael under the monster fig tree. Michael under the monster fig tree.
Tim the tree hugger (it's actually an enormous Zamia). Tim the tree hugger (it's actually an enormous Zamia).

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