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An unforgettable volunteer experience

Published 11 Dec 2017 by Nathan Manders (volunteer)

I had a teacher who was always telling stories of the days when he was a jackaroo up in the Territory. I loved when he told those stories. He would always tell us we should try to get up there and do some work on a station or reserve. I would hang on his every word.

He would say, “The experiences you’ll get out there are second-to-none.” So when the opportunity came for me to head up to Cravens Peak Reserve for three weeks, of course I jumped at it, immediately thinking of what he said.

I arrived at Cravens Peak on a Sunday afternoon after a four-day trip up from Bendigo, Victoria. I’ve seen some pretty amazing things around Australia, but this country was entirely new to me.

I had dreamt of spending time in this type of country for as long as I can remember.

I grew up watching Malcolm Douglas and Les Hiddins on the TV and dreaming of exploring the places they did. I thought from watching their documentaries and others that I had a pretty good idea of what to expect when I got out there. But nothing could prepare me for how breathtaking it is to be actually out in it. The beauty of the place. The scale of the place. It was a completely different world. And I loved it!

After meeting the lovely reserve manager, Jane, and getting a quick tour of the homestead and living quarters, we headed out to take in a sunset from a vantage point on one of the spectacular Simpson Desert sand dunes. It was superb. There’s nothing quite like the dunes in the late afternoon sun. The colours and textures are just incredible.

After the sun had dropped away we headed back to the homestead where I’d spend my first night of the three-week stay in the only room with an air conditioner in the volunteer quarters. (Just as well, since the temperatures in the first week ranged from 40°C to 45°C. A fair jump from the 15°C to 20°C I left behind in Victoria 5 days earlier).

Day two saw Jane and myself embark on a quick tour of some of the 233,000 ha reserve. This also gave me a chance to get some practice driving in the sand dunes. On the trip we were able to get up to Meetuka, an old ruined camp site of a couple who used to maintain the vermin-proof fence about a century ago.

We also drove about four or so hours over to the western boundary fence to meet Matt (reserve manager at Ethabuka). We dropped him off some supplies (water and diesel) and headed back on the west track through Duck Hole and Painted Gorge, a route I would be taking by myself the following day.

The next day was an early start. I filled the slip-on tank with diesel, threw the swag in the back and got together some other supplies to take out to Matt again. I was going to spend a couple of days out there with him as a support, helping to move equipment and camps around while he worked.

The trip out to Matt took a few hours and was largely uneventful. I say largely uneventful because I had some slight difficulties with the mapping program on my iPad not tracking me, making it quite difficult in some parts where the track I had to follow was almost non-existent. So there were a few short detours to relocate the track, a quick call from Jane back at the homestead on the sat phone and some savvy use of the SPOT safety device to use my GPS co-ordinates to make sure I was on the right track.

That weekend Jane and I decided we'd take a trip up to S Bend Gorge to do a bit of exploring. We took the swags and set up camp on the banks of the bone-dry Mulligan River. We got plenty of exploring done through the gorges and down the Mulligan before we noticed some weather approaching. Later that afternoon we watched the clouds come in from the top of the gorge and debated whether to stay or break camp and leave before it got too wet and the clay pans on the way home became impassable.

As the rains got heavier we decided it would be best to get out while we could. Neither of us fancied the possibility of being stuck out there for a few days if the rain happened to set in.

The rest of my time at Cravens Peak was spent on numerous tasks both at the homestead and out on the reserve. There was plenty of mowing and snipping of buffel grass around the homestead and out at some of the camps. There was also infrastructure and equipment maintenance around the homestead and out at the camps to be done – like plugging flat tyres, moving furniture, fixing doors, painting directional signs and erecting them around the reserve, etc. We also got a few days of fence maintenance done along the southern and western boundaries.

This is just a very brief outline of some of my experiences during my three-week stay at Cravens Peak. I've left out a lot in order to keep it as brief as possible. I could go on forever about how much I learnt and how much I loved it. There's always something to do on the reserve. Always something that needs to be done.

It was my aim to lend a hand to whatever I possibly could while I was there. I wanted experience. I wanted to get as much done as I possibly could in my short stay. I wanted to learn. My ultimate goal is to gain employment in this field, and to gain employment I require experience. And in terms of experience, this trip was priceless. I only wish that circumstances could have allowed me to spend more than three weeks there.

To anyone in my position looking for experience in the field, I cannot recommend doing something like this enough. Not only do you get all sorts of hands-on experience, you get to do it in one of the most breathtakingly beautiful landscapes imaginable.

Just do it. Finally, a huge thanks to Bush Heritage and Jane at Cravens Peak for allowing me this experience. It's one I'll surely never forget.


Wedge tailed eagle

Enjoying the sun and the view

Perentie taking a drink

Eerie storm glow

Dry river bed

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