Mick and Kerry Moylan are long-time volunteers with Bush Heritage and their contribution can't be overstated! Here they share their experience of volunteering in Cape York for the recent Alwal Recovery Team meeting with our Olkola Aboriginal partners.
After our artesian spring fencing job at Edgbaston, Kerry and I start out for Cooktown, for a few days off. We had earlier agreed to a Bush Heritage volunteer job north of there, helping with catering for a three-day meeting. The job becomes clearer during our trip and we meet Allana, Bush Heritage Healthy Country Manager for Cape York, in Cooktown on Friday 29th June.
How exciting to drive, part of the way anyway, to the tourist icon of Cape York! Even better, we'll experience being on country with Olkola people. The meeting was at former cattle station, Dixie, known as Elgoy to the Olkola Traditional Owners.
Allana explains that the meeting is a very exciting development in the conservation of the endangered Alwal (Golden-shouldered Parrot). Alwal is one of Australia’s most endangered birds and is a totemic species for Olkola people.
For the first time, a National Recovery Plan is being formulated by all stakeholders. We need to plan menus and help Allana shop for the required catering supplies. Fairly straightforward we reckon, so we fill a trolley at the Cooktown IGA and split the groceries between our car and Allana’s. Allana lends us a Bush Heritage Safety Grab Bag, which contains a satellite phone and the usual safety items for the trip. We'll log the four-hour trip with the Bush Heritage field safety system call centre as well. Kerry bakes a fruit cake and a sultana cake for morning and afternoon teas.
On the Monday we hook up the caravan early and drive north up the Cape York Peninsula development road (PDR) via Lakeland and Laura, where we refuel and contact Allana, who has picked up the Bush Heritage Communications Manager, Nicole, and freelance photographer Brian from Cooktown airport.
We arrange to meet further up the PDR at Hann River roadhouse for lunch. The PDR turns to badly corrugated dirt with bull-dust holes soon after Laura and we deflate all tyres. The PDR is quite the rat-race as it's school holiday time and the Cape York challenge is on! Twice we're passed, as we poke along, by fully kitted out 4WDs, only to catch up with them sometime later as they change shredded tyres.
After lunch we follow Allana and eventually turn off the PDR for the last 30 minutes of station tracks. By now in Olkola country, we have a smooth and beautifully scenic drive to the Elgoy ranger station.
After meeting many of the attendees, we set up camp. We cook a BBQ for the evening meal: steak and sausages with potato and rice salads. Kerry makes sure no-one goes hungry by making an apple sponge and serves it up with condensed cream. Beautiful!
The next morning we're invited to accompany the team convoy, to be shown around the country and to observe the results of different management strategies. All visitors are given an official welcome to country by the Traditional Owners.
Cooktown Ironwood tree foliage is used for the smoking ceremony, which makes us feel welcome and safe. We arrive at neighbouring Artemis Station where we all enjoy a great cooked breakfast. Sue, who is on the recovery team, and husband Tom, run the cattle property. Sue and Tom generously donate more catering supplies so we're able to incorporate some wonderful local produce into our meals: home grown and pickled corn beef, eggs, bananas and watermelons.
We're privileged to be shown a nest site (Alwal nests in conical termite mounds) by the Olkola rangers.
We're taken to other significant areas and hear stories about Alwal. Back at Elgoy we set out lunch – make-your-own sandwiches and fruit juice. Ranger’s partner Larissa takes me in the Polaris ATV to collect firewood for tonight’s cooking. There are now around 25 people but we have plenty of food for all.
Dinner is 3 legs of lamb, roasted in camp ovens, plus a big platter of corned beef and gravy for both. Along with the meat Kerry has prepared trays of roast potatoes, roast pumpkin, cauliflower cheese and tomato and onion pie. There's a big bowl of steamed peas. For dessert Kerry serves up bread and butter pudding and sticky date pudding. We're pleased to see that everybody is full and there are minimal left-overs.
Next morning we set out sliced watermelon, bananas, toast and cereal for breakfast. The meeting concludes late morning and the last of the cakes are devoured with smoko. Our catering is over and we clean up the kitchen and pack up camp. A very rewarding volunteering job and a privilege to be welcomed to Olkola country.
Sue has invited us to spend a couple of days at Artemis, where we're lucky to see and photograph some Alwal. Fantastic to see – we enjoy every minute with Sue and Tom. Tom has lived in the district for all his 70 years and he's starting to think about slowing down.
I ask him about travel plans. With a wry smile Tom says “Might go up to the tip one day, see what’s up there, eh?” He has never been there! After spending some time in the beautiful Olkola country with people who care for and respect the land, contrasted with the mad race of tourists on the PDR, we understand why Cape York is no tourist icon for Tom!