Hamelin bio-blitzing – DAY 1 – Location scouting

on 16 Oct 2016 

There’s nothing better than arriving somewhere smack-bang on lunch. The drive from Geraldton to Bush Heritage’s Hamelin Station Reserve is a good four hours, and we needed a touch more than just a refuel for our vehicles. The Overlander Roadhouse may have some 20 varieties of Chiko Rolls, but we were saving ourselves for Jackie Mahood’s (Hamelin Station Stay Manager) finest cooking.

About 27 clicks left at the Overlander Roadhouse we spied the signs to our destination: Bush Heritage’s Hamelin Station Reserve. A former sheep station, now turned conservation reserve, we dumped our bags in the old shearers’ quarters, were fed the first of many tasty morsels by Jackie and got straight to work; meeting up with Stromatolite extraordinaire, Erica Sousaari. 

Erica took us around Hamelin Bay where we did some location scouting for our guests who were to arrive in a day or so. We headed towards Shark Bay’s World Heritage listed coast at Hamelin Pool, following old dirt tracks and keeping an eye out for the turnoffs marked by a two-stack of old vehicle tyres.

Coming face-to-face with a couple hundred of the 2,000 year-old Stromatolites – or rather, the recommended distance from human flesh to living fossil – is quite the experience. Especially when you’ve got Erica on hand. We carefully tread across sands and fossilised fossils (the ones that aren't creating oxygen any more) to get closer to their microbial mats.

Erica explained that the salinity at Hamelin Pool is the lowest in winter, highest in summer. This is really counter-intuitive, but the Stromatolites don’t seem to mind. In fact, they thrive under such extreme conditions, where water temperatures can fluctuate between 20 degrees across the year. There's very little other marine life to be seen here.

Covering some of their black cauliflower heads, is 1,000 years of iron dust. This iron has accumulated on the Stromatolites’ sticky tops, leaving what looks like dusty red caps. To the untrained eye, they may not seem like much. But what makes them so special is that they were pretty much the first creators of oxygen on Earth. Their photosynthesising prowess is the reason we’re alive today.

Erica has been working with Stromatolites for nearly as long as they’ve been around. A slight exaggeration perhaps, as they’re 3.7billion years old and you’d best carry the decimal a few places not to anger your host for the afternoon. But nonetheless, she has years of experience.

We’re not just here to scout though, as Erica’s role includes pulling water at certain locations around the bay to test the salinity. Using a thin metal rod that’s buried nearly 2 metres into the wet sand, Erica pulls enough water for her measurements. Her equipment does some complicated math to assess salinity, while Erica then records the temperature and oxygen levels. Back in her home lab, she’ll run titration tests.

We explore a few metres behind us at Goat’s Lookout where this collection of fossils meets jagged limestone caves. A rough slice runs skyward through the rocks, formed when the limestone was forced upwards by trembling earth. During the heat of the day, kangaroos hide in the cool arches that have formed here.

Erica throws a few loose stones in to make sure we don’t end up bunking in with a big red roo. The air is still inside. And although there’s no sign of rock art or previous occupancy from the Malgana – the Traditional Owners of Shark Bay – you can imagine this could easily have been a good resting spot for many.

As the sun begins setting, we clamber back over the coquina shells to our vehicle. Another few twists and turns across the dirt tracks and we reach the old Hamelin Homestead. We walk up the rocky incline, brushing past shrubs and wildflowers, which release clouds of black and white butterflies. We’ve found our spot for sunset.

Here we’re overlooking the last remnants of the original Hamelin Homestead – where a vestige of an old well rests with a tree growing through it. The Stromatolites are a small stretch away, and it’s when the hazy sunset dusk shows a faraway moon, that you can truly imagine yourself in a more ancient time.