Reflections on a short stay at Charles Darwin Reserve

By Fritz and Beverley Balkau 
on 28 Sep 2016 

August 2016

We were the only visitors there. The sky was clear, the wind fresh, the air was clean, the ground fresh from recent rain. We camped at the designated site a few km from the homestead. The surroundings were a wonderful mix of diverse scrub and woodland.

The Charles Darwin Reserve reflects the implied promise of its name – a place of significant biological diversity where the evolutionary process of natural selection still plays out each day without outside interference. But you need to be aware, and look out for it.

Unlike, say, the Galapagos Islands, it's not so much an ‘in your face’ rapid and violent evolution but a rather gradual, discreet and mysterious process, spread out in space and time. That said, the reserve has changed over the years, and is changing still, in response to new environmental pressures and recent change in management regime. Protecting and enhancing its ecological values still faces many challenges.

We were privileged to be able to spend some time with Fiona and Luke, the site managers, who filled us in on the history and present status of the reserve, and the challenges they face to have the land return to a more natural bushland status, free of feral animals, invasive weeds and remnant building ruins and equipment.

The simple visitors’ facilities suited us perfectly after too many previous days spent at busy commercial camping grounds and motels. Several driving itineraries sketched out by Fiona allowed us to see from close up the ecological systems of woodland, saltbush, wattle scrub and remnant pasture land.

Even more fascinating was to simply walk through the woodland near the campsite. Parts of the reserve were ablaze with white, yellow, and violet flowers. Parrots called overhead, and thrushes flitted from branch to bow in the scrub. We scraped the frost from the picnic table in the morning; at midday we needed protection from the sun. Fleecy clouds drifted past in the afternoon. The sunsets were magnificent.

Being an old station, Charles Darwin contains numerous heritage items in the way of homestead, shearers’ quarters, old wells, wire fences and gates, abandoned farming equipment, even remnant camel bones scattered in the bush.

Hints of ancient wheel tracks led in various directions, rusted wire lay on the ground, still trapped in fallen fence posts that had been hand-drilled to pass the strands. The human heritage is a precious complement to the natural values of the reserve, and is a fascinating complement to the general ecosystem restoration that's underway.

After several satisfying days there, we departed with a better appreciation of the values inherent in the idea of bush reserves, and of the challenges and opportunities faced by its managers, as well as its supporters and volunteer workers who return every year to pull weeds and help with other jobs.

Conservation is an issue for everyone, and the opportunity to visit and see for oneself reinforces the appreciation of the work being done.

Thank you Luke and Fiona for making our stay possible, and congratulations to Bush Heritage for the foresight in making this acquisition.