I was fortunate to spend time last week up on beautiful Olkola Country in Cape York (about a seven-hour drive north of Cairns) to be part of a very exciting national recovery team meeting for Alwal, the Golden-shouldered Parrot.
Joining me were many other equally passionate and dedicated people – Olkola Traditional Owners, Olkola Rangers, representatives from neighbouring Traditional Owner groups, pastoralists, researchers and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.
This meeting was significant for a couple of reasons; firstly, Olkola Elder Mike Ross is the Chair making it the first Aboriginal-led threatened species national recovery team in Australia; and secondly, it was the first time in 15 years that an official recovery team meeting had taken place for this beautiful and culturally significant little bird.
When the plan is finalised later this year Alwal will have coordinated, best practice management actions in place for its recovery with all stakeholders on board. Having Mike lead the team – or the ‘Barefoot Chairman’ as he’s affectionately known for his love of having the earth under his feet when on Country – is a huge win for Alwal. The parrot is the totem of the Olkola people, and I have absolutely no doubt that they will be the ones to bring it off the endangered list – it’s going to take time, and investment, but I have every faith that they'll do it.
The amazing Sue Shephard, a neighbouring pastoralist who has been a passionate parrot conservationist for more than three decades, and Dr Gay Crowley, who did the first research on Alwal with Prof Stephen Garnett in the 1990s, are both part of the recharged recovery team. Mike, Sue and Gay, along with Olkola rangers Ashley and Joseph, took us for a tour to some fantastic nest sites, and to show where storm burning has effectively reduced woody thickening.
Butcher Birds are one of Alwal’s biggest threats, so if trees invade the open grasslands where Alwal nests (in conical termite mounds) the butcher birds can prey on the parrot nestlings and adults much more easily. It was also very special for recovery team members to be taken to a scared freshwater spring site, the Storyplace of Alwal and a very significant cultural site for Olkola.
Back at our base at Elgoy (Dixie Station) there was time for lots of cups of hot tea and yarns. Thanks to our wonderful Bush Heritage volunteers Mick and Kerry, there was even camp oven roast leg of lamb and two different puddings! I don’t think a team has ever had more delicious food to keep them going.
It’s just the beginning for this newly established Alwal National Recovery Team and we have a long road ahead of us to secure the future of Alwal. But with Olkola Traditional Owners leading the way, looking after their Totem and their Country, the future looks brighter than it’s ever been for this little parrot.