Boolcoomatta – learning to see the land

Rebecca Spindler
Published 22 Jul 2019 
about  Boolcoomatta Reserve  
A galah enjoying water. Photo Bec Spindler.<br/> A galah enjoying water. Photo Bec Spindler.
What is the collective noun for a group of galahs? Photo Bec Spindler.<br/> What is the collective noun for a group of galahs? Photo Bec Spindler.
Bent and bowed, but not broken. A tree at Boolcoomatta.<br/> Bent and bowed, but not broken. A tree at Boolcoomatta.
Sunset over the arid rangelands.<br/> Sunset over the arid rangelands.
Reserve Manager Kurt Tschirner with an ancient River Red Gum.<br/> Reserve Manager Kurt Tschirner with an ancient River Red Gum.
A Tawny Frogmouth watches us.<br/> A Tawny Frogmouth watches us.

Boolcoomatta is a wonderful expanse of land in South Australia, just an hour and a half west of Broken Hill.

The big skies, the never-ending undulations of chenopod grasslands and sparse shrublands, which from the right perspective, look just like a Fred Williams painting.

The red soil  that shows up the green pockets of plant life in high contrast. As a passionate but seriously amateur photographer – it is impossible to do it justice.

I grew up in Alice Springs. I was actually there for only a couple of years, but I did more growing in those years than any of the years before or after. I took my shoes off the first week and didn’t put them back on until I was dragged back to Melbourne. The red soils seeped into my clothes, my skin, my sense of who I am.

Returning to the heart of Australia makes me feel like I am filling up from the souls of my feet. An arid landscape captures beauty just as dramatic as any other – you just have to look the right way.

We're now officially in Australia’s longest recorded drought. Boolcoomatta tells the story of that drought. There are floods and sprinkles of rain that help maintain hope – but the underlying reality is still hard.

There are plants and animals that have moved on or lost the race for survival in this drought, and make no mistake that race is hard fought and sorely lost. But there is resilience as well. Boolcoomatta means 'people of the kangaroo' in local language. And even after many years of tough, doing-it-hard drought – they are here – still with us in the landscape.

After just 30mm rain, the plants and animals are displaying their resilience. The signs of Wedge Tailed Eagles on the property are a great indication that wildlife is out there. The galahs have come back in force to feast on the budding salt bushes and liven up a dawn chorus. The apostle birds, the emus dancing across a sunset scene, the Chirruping Wedgebills and Tawny Frogmouths – all find something in the landscape to sustain themselves.

Perhaps even more important, are the endangered species like the Plains Wanderer and Yellow Footed Rock Wallaby. The habitat available to these species shrinks with every one of our encroachments – our towns, farms and mines…. all this aimed at making our lives comfortable, comes at a cost. And yet, here these species are – still with us in the landscape. What do they see? I wish I knew, but maybe I am learning.

The patches of sanctuary that these species find are protected and nurtured by Reserve Manager, Kurt Tschirner and his family, who make Boolcoomatta their home. This family is a light in the wilderness, full of love and laughter. To live out here is a privilege sprinkled with adversity. Your main social outlet comes through the wires of the NBN, your playground is also your work space and your entertainment is self generated. And yet, here they are – still with us in the landscape.

A galah enjoying water. Photo Bec Spindler.<br/> A galah enjoying water. Photo Bec Spindler.
What is the collective noun for a group of galahs? Photo Bec Spindler.<br/> What is the collective noun for a group of galahs? Photo Bec Spindler.
Bent and bowed, but not broken. A tree at Boolcoomatta.<br/> Bent and bowed, but not broken. A tree at Boolcoomatta.
Sunset over the arid rangelands.<br/> Sunset over the arid rangelands.
Reserve Manager Kurt Tschirner with an ancient River Red Gum.<br/> Reserve Manager Kurt Tschirner with an ancient River Red Gum.
A Tawny Frogmouth watches us.<br/> A Tawny Frogmouth watches us.