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The caretaking experience of a lifetime

Published 24 Jul 2017 by Michael and June Uhrig (volunteers)

When the opportunity presented itself to caretake Bon Bon Station Reserve, I jumped at the opportunity. I got on the phone and asked June Uhrig, my mother, to join me in the caretaking role. Remote caretaking roles with Bush Heritage have a minimum requirement of two people, in-line with basic remote area safety protocols – you always need backup!

We waited with bated breath as the application was considered and, after a phone interview with Healthy Landscape Manager (Glen Norris) and Bon Bon Reserve Manager (Clint Taylor), we were in!

The road to Bon Bon Station reserve is long. Coming from Gold coast in south-east Queensland, I drove to Newcastle, and collected June, and together we travelled the long road of around 2,500km to Bon Bon.

We had to consider supplies for our stay. We aimed for three weeks’ worth of food, and did a big shop at Port Augusta, before the final 400km drive to the reserve.

We arrived on Monday afternoon and on the Tuesday morning we rose early to begin the handover process. It was a whirlwind of information as we went through the induction including first aid, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and the Bush Heritage Field Safety System.

We covered things like the 'Power Check' – checking the battery status and generator so as to identify any issues on a daily basis and, 'Water Check', which involved a 4km drive south-west of the Homestead checking water levels and engaging the bore pump as required to maintain an adequate supply of reserve water to run the Homestead.

The Field Safety System was next. This is a process of ringing the Bush Heritage Call centre to log both June and myself in on a daily basis, nominating a timeframe (8 hours usually), and expected duties for the day. At the end of each day we had to log out before the timeframe was up, if you needed help and failed to log out, the escalation process began, to ensure we were ok. This system, I have to say, was awesome and gave us a feeling of comfort and support and peace of mind to know that people were watching over us in this remote location, and would be there if we ever really needed help.

As I'm a plumber we also went through a list of plumbing jobs that Clint was hoping I could complete, along with other odd jobs such as upgrading the chook house!

June was asked to look after the prized veggie garden and some small landscaping items along with transcribing the bore diaries into electronic format. This was no small feat with over 72 exploratory bores, of which around 32 were viable bores or wells across the property.

We also completed 70km of fox baiting as part of the feral animal management plan. This was a great opportunity to learn more basic safety principals such as the use of the safety 'Grab Bag'.

These have a Satellite phone, a SPOT device, snake bite kit, first aid kit and water. The SPOT device is a GPS-tracking device. In an emergency it can be used to notify the chain of command of your location. A rescue team could come directly to your location on the reserve based on GPS positions. Pretty cool really.

The reserve itself is roughly the size of Sydney (in area not population!). It covers many different land systems, each of which were evident on the property in terms of different flora and fauna over differing areas of geology and landscapes. This was one of the reasons why this diverse property was sought out and converted to a conservation reserve, and added to the national reserve system.

The land is truly spectacular, with so many lake systems, and drainage lines from small mountains such as Mt Ernest and Mt Sabine. It also features Gosse’s Woolshed Outstation, Myall Hut ruins and, of course, the massive Lake Puckeridge. Having had 76mm of rain in April the property was teaming with life – birds in particular, kangaroos in family groups, the ever-present emus and even some Australian Bustards, along with the many forms of Eromophila, Acacia aneura (Mulga), Acacia papyrocarpa (Western Myall), and Black Oaks.

The property is unique, with beautiful red sandy dunes to Gibber Plains, ephemeral lake clay pans, and the labyrinth drainage systems that mostly lead to Lake Puckeridge, in the south of the property. It has beautiful sunrises and sunsets, with the majesty of nature abounding all around us every step of the way. These were the things that offset the responsibilities we had in care-taking this massive property.

We had plenty of trials and tribulations as we adapted to the remote lifestyle, and required ingenuity to complete some of our allocated jobs with the available materials, rather than driving 400km to Port Augusta or 200km to Coober Pedy to get bits and pieces.

Careful planning was also required as when you do make a supply run you don’t want to forget anything! It was certainly an excellent learning process and an exercise in resourcefulness and logistics.

Trouble shooting the generator was fun as well, with assistance from Glen Norris over the phone. Problems and issues were overcome – the lights and fridges kept on working!

The challenges were many and the rewards were sweet. It was an experience of a lifetime, and one of many such experiences for myself in the Bush Heritage system I hope. Everybody’s contributes in their own way, coming together to build and maintain one of the jewels in the conservation network, this magnificent 216,000 hectare private protected area.

Thanks to Clint and the Bush Heritage team for the opportunity.

Beautiful sunset Beautiful sunset
June at a windmill. June at a windmill.
Myall hut ruins Myall hut ruins
A large mob of emus A large mob of emus
A day at the beach? Not! Michael and June enjoying sand dunes A day at the beach? Not! Michael and June enjoying sand dunes
Emus racing ahead Emus racing ahead
Beautiful lake system Beautiful lake system
Michael and June, Bon Bon Station Reserve Michael and June, Bon Bon Station Reserve
Michael and June at a community event. Michael tending to his impressive 3rd place winning damper at the Kingoonya cookoff Michael and June at a community event. Michael tending to his impressive 3rd place winning damper at the Kingoonya cookoff
Michael changing some batteries in a camera trap Michael changing some batteries in a camera trap
June transcribing bore diaries and getting some sun. June transcribing bore diaries and getting some sun.
Plumbing success! Plumbing success!

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