As our convoy of four vehicles drove out of Albany, Western Australia, the dreary drizzle came down steadily harder and we exchanged grim looks. Many people had travelled long distances to make it to this event marking the beginning of the construction of the Michael Tichbon Field Station on Bush Heritage’s Red Moort Reserve. But with no shelter on-reserve, rain such as this would bring the sod turning to a quick end.
It was as if the stormy skies were proving our point for us. Bush Heritage owns and manages over 10,000 hectares of bushland across six reserves between the Stirling Range and Fitzgerald River national parks in south-west Western Australia, on Noongar country. Sitting in one of the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots, and possibly the most floristically diverse region in the world, there are countless opportunities on these reserves for science and research. But the lack of shelter, accommodation or even basic infrastructure there has hindered our ability to maximise on those opportunities, with the nearest major town being more than two hours away.
The field station on Red Moort Reserve, generously supported by a donation from private philanthropist Michael Tichbon and a grant from LotteryWest, will change that. Featuring laboratories, meeting places, sleeping quarters, and displays explaining the region’s natural values, the minimum-impact building will allow us to better look after country by providing a much-needed base for field staff, ecologists, volunteers and day visitors.
Thankfully, the clouds cleared as we neared the reserve and we were able to fully appreciate our beautiful surrounds during the event. In a part of Australia that’s been heavily cleared over the decades, Red Moort Reserve has retained about 70 percent of its native vegetation, including one of the largest known stands of its namesake: the rare, red-flowered Red Moort (Eucalyptus vesiculosa). Its purchase in 2014 was made possible thanks to support from Beth, Phill and Rosalie Schultz.
Alongside speeches by Bush Heritage Chief Executive Gerard O’Neill and Michael Tichbon, we also had the chance to hear from the people making the field station a reality – KBuilt Construction Ltd and H+H Architects. Standing amidst one of the neatest building sites I’ve ever been on, architects Julie de Jong and Katie Schlager explained to us that the field station will be completely off grid, featuring solar panels and battery storage, a rainwater collection and reticulation system, and composting toilets.
KBuilt Construction expects the field station to be finished by the year’s end – just in time for the Red Moort summer flowering!