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Volunteers answer researcher's call

Published 21 Dec 2016 by Kathleen Davies & Brian Redman

In the opposite corner of NSW, somewhere out the back of Bourke, lies Naree Station – a long way from home for us.

In November 2016 we answered the call to volunteer at this iconic station owned by Bush Heritage, helping UNSW PhD student Justin McCann in his studies.

We were joined by another willing, adventurous volunteer, Zoe Burke. With Justin as our fearless leader we traversed and criss-crossed kilometres of channel country and semi-arid lands setting and checking monitoring traps, helping with vegetation surveys, counting and tagging nests in waterbird colonies, joining in on a grasses identification workshop, and so much more.

Enjoying the hospitality of hosts and station managers David and Sue Akers and joining them for a few meals and chats added to the experience at Naree and adjoining property Yantabulla, and allowed an insight into their work on the properties.

Despite the searing heatwave that engulfed the region during the visit in the last week of November and first week of December, the majority of allotted tasks were done. Temperatures on several days reached 45 degrees so work was restricted to early mornings and later afternoons. Evenings didn’t offer much respite from the heat and dinners were more often than not shared with hordes of flying insects.

But the natural, cultural and historic aspects of the area provided for distractions from the heat.

The trumpeting calls of resident Brolgas each morning heralded the beginning of busy days.

A variety of bushland and water birds eagerly hugged the perimeter of the nearby lagoon created by the underground bore overflow, historic relics littered the landscape, and contact with friendly local people was also not short in supply.

The country had experienced good rain over the previous months, contributing to good vegetation growth and water courses still holding water. But the heat and wind made its presence felt, drying the more succulent vegetation to crisp brown nothingness, exposing multitudes of burs, turning those vegetation surveys into activities that would cause nightmares! Driving the wildlife to shelter in cooler places.

Special finds in the pit fall traps though, such as Stripe-faced Dunnarts, brought a few smiles.

Trekking across evaporating channels of water, passing feral pigs gorging on sweet green grasses and seeming oblivious to people in their midst, witnessing colonies of nesting birds normally associated with water, watching Justin fly a drone that photographically mapped the areas and wading through wetlands gave a stark contrast to the expected bleached dry ‘desert’ one expects in that part of the country. There were occasional old red sand dunes but their true arid secrets were well hidden this season.

On the last day as we left Naree Station and travelled through Bourke the temperature was around 47 degrees. But despite that intense heat the effort to be at Naree was worthwhile.

We could see how people wanted to understand their country and its inhabitants, the effects different farming and management techniques have on everything, how the isolation eats away at many and how they crave for help with new ideas, support for old and new, and how much they admire this country’s unique flora, fauna, the environment and seasons that affect it all.

To see and experience the region, the wildlife, meet the locals, gives a different perspective on the country.

Rather than put all your own knowledge and skills away, you can see how as a volunteer on projects like this, that what you have to offer can still be useful, and you gain a rewarding experience in return.

Station life is something that appeals to us and after experiencing this unique opportunity in the outback we would probably do this again if the chance came up.

The team undertaking waterbird survey at Back Creek Swamp. Photo Sue Akers. The team undertaking waterbird survey at Back Creek Swamp. Photo Sue Akers.
Vegetation monitoring. Hard work in the heat. Photo Sue Akers. Vegetation monitoring. Hard work in the heat. Photo Sue Akers.
Back Creek Swamp delights. Photo Kathleen Davies. Back Creek Swamp delights. Photo Kathleen Davies.
Wake up sleepy chick. Photo Kathleen Davies. Wake up sleepy chick. Photo Kathleen Davies.
Kathy, Zoe and Brian with David and Justin. Photo: Sue Akers. Photo Sue Akers. Kathy, Zoe and Brian with David and Justin. Photo: Sue Akers. Photo Sue Akers.

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