We recently returned from 3 weeks of caretaking at the beautiful Hamelin Station Reserve, Western Australia. Being the middle of winter it was very different to the last time we were there, which had been at the very end of spring and already dry and heating up.
An extraordinary amount of rain had recently fallen, making water more readily available to wildlife across the 202,000 hectare property, and this was reflected in much less birdlife and animals coming in to drink at the reserve's artesian bore lake.
Luckily our favourite Whistling Hawk was still hanging out in his favourite tree to greet us as we entered the property!
We spent time with Ben Parkhurst, the reserve ecologist, to learn all about the motion-sensor cameras used in the field as camera traps. I’ve done some photo ID work before but never actually worked on the cameras.
We downloaded information from the camera Storage Disc (SD) cards onto a computer, recharged batteries, learned how to set and arm the cameras in the field, and how to use the Mapview software for photo identification work.
Over the next few days we completed two field trips to install cameras on two pre-defined camera-trap runs, each run installing 10 cameras. We covered some very beautiful and remote country. Because of the recent rains some of the tracks were in pretty poor condition and we had to navigate around some pretty rough washouts, but it was all great fun and a wonderful experience.
Part of the reporting requirements for the reserve is to submit periodic artesian bore pressure readings to the Department of Water. Two remote bores on the property, Sweeney Mia and Spinifex, needed to have readings taken, so we set off one morning to do this.
Sweeney Mia Bore was exactly where it was shown on our map and we had no trouble navigating our way there and taking a reading. However the Spinifex Bore proved elusive. Where it was marked on the map was only a decommissioned windmill and water tank, but no matter how hard we looked we could see no bore.
We walked into the bush and did a grid search, followed old pipes up a fence line for kilometres, retraced our steps convinced we had missed something, but had no luck. Tired, dusty and with the taste of failure in our mouths we returned to the Homestead late in the afternoon. More on this later…
Old stations always seem to have heaps of junk to be removed and Hamelin is no exception. There are two rubbish tips – one for rubbish – and the ‘Use Me Later tip’ for stuff which can be used later, also nicknamed ‘Bunnings’.
Over several days we moved loads of ‘potentially useful discarded materials’ (junk) to the ‘Use Me Later’ tip, even including a huge old Hills Hoist, which did prove a challenge but we somehow managed it with some imaginative and strategic angle changing of the hoist on the back of the ute as we went through gates so we wouldn’t crash into fence posts. All OH&S compliant of course.
There were quite a few visitors at the Homestead during our stay so we were kept busy supporting the groups by ensuring the accommodation was clean and set up for each. The first was a supporters' visit which included Melinda Warnecke, Bush Heritage Executive Manager, Marketing and Fundraising, and Alexander Gosling who is on the Board. It was lovely to meet everyone, and enjoy a red wine (or two…) was shared over the campfire in the evenings.
The next was a group of workmen who were on site to install a solar panel array to replace the aging hydroelectric system currently in use. These guys worked hard for many days, and it was fantastic to see the completion of the project and to be part of making history when the new solar system was turned on!
The array consists of 60 PVC panels and provides 20KW power to the Homestead and the Hamelin Outback Station Stay, which is on reserve. This project has been years in the planning and I congratulate everyone involved for their dedication and far-sightedness in improving and future-proofing Hamelin’s power infrastructure.
The final group was a visit by Lis McLellan and the prospective new managers of Hamelin so they could see the reserve first hand. Rex and I took them out for a sightseeing tour on the beautiful ‘wildflower track’ to show them some of the countryside, and also had another go at finding the elusive Spinifex bore. We thought that another pair of eyes might just see something we'd missed, but we still had no luck!
A couple of days before we left, a previous station worker called in and we asked him if he knew the location of the Spinifex bore. He did, and his instructions on how to get there proved – ahem – interesting to implement out in the actual bush. Did you know that ‘a little bit further on’ in Station Speak actually means about 3km further on? We didn’t, but do now!
The track was severely washed out in parts and we had to take some interesting diversions, but we eventually found it and took the pressure reading! The irony is that we were directed to come along a fence line from east travelling west. Had we come along the same fence line from west travelling east the track is easy and it would have taken half the time. Anyway, we happily dropped a pin on the Avenza reserve map so the location of the Spinifex bore is no longer secret. I now know how Dirk Hartog must have felt!
I can't finish this blog without mentioning the hard work of the wonderful team who run the Hamelin Outback Station Stay, open each year from March to November. Jackie Mahood runs and manages the business for Bush Heritage and Dave and Denise come each year to work and help Jackie keep the place running smoothly.
Until a new manager is at Hamelin they also do work at the Homestead and in the office to keep things ticking over. They've also done so much work on the Homestead to improve and transform a lot of the interior, exterior and surrounds – I don’t know how they did it all but they are truly miracle workers.
Jackie also invited us down for several morning teas of divinely delicious homemade biscuits – yum – thank you Jackie!
Our stay was very busy but interesting. It was great to catch up again with the Bush Heritage team in Western Australia, and also terrific to have met some from ‘ground zero’ in Melbourne. We’ll be back…