Removing fences at Boolcoomatta - a volunteer perspective

By Sarah Fitzherbert 
on 11 Oct 2015 

During the first week of October, a band of stalwart Bush Heritage volunteers descended on Boolcoomatta Reserve in South Australia to spend five days removing fences. The ten of us, mostly seasoned ‘vollies’, included Bob and Karolee Wolcott, who had been volunteer caretakers on Boolcoomatta for a month. Maurice and I were first-timers, keen to be on our inaugural volunteering stint for Bush Heritage. After briefing us, Reserve Manager Glen Norris handed over to Bob Wolcott, the volunteer Fence Removal Coordinator. Bob organised us into two groups to tackle different fence lines. One group also went out around the reserve for an afternoon picking up wildlife cameras that were ready for downloading.

We had perfect weather but it was hot during the day and the flies were annoying, so we elected to start at 7.30 every morning, and slaved away unstintingly until lunchtime. Going back to our cool quarters for a rest at midday before braving the afternoon heat was excellent, and each day ended at the dump (a mecca for artists), as we unloaded the day’s wire and star pickets from the back of the ute.

Earlier rain meant that the country was a lush grey-green, punctuated with flowers. Emus and kangaroos, with their young, were everywhere, also bearded dragons and shingleback lizards. A landscape that had looked fairly barren on first impression became ever richer and more rewarding the more time we spent out there, so by the end of the week Boolcoomatta had its claws in all of us.

Despite our keenness to work, Bob insisted on an afternoon off, and took us out on safari to remoter parts of the reserve to see the lie of the land and some historic sites, a real bonus when you expect just to work for the week. The birdwatchers among us were thrilled to see chirruping wedgebills, white-winged fairy wrens, blue bonnets (also our daily companions in the black oak stand we crossed each morning), red-capped robins and red-backed kingfishers. We even saw Sturt’s desert pea.

We all bonded over the five days and really enjoyed getting together on the last night, with too many snacks and Maurice’s home-brew, for Glen’s debriefing session. He pronounced our hard work a resounding success as we had removed about 12 km of fences, mostly along Oonartra and Eremophila tracks.

I can’t imagine enjoying any week of volunteering more than we did – we learnt to love the saltbush and mulga country, made new friends and felt as if we’d done something small but significant to help. There’s nothing quite like looking out over a landscape once a fence has gone to realise that signs of human habitation really DO spoil it – Boolcoomatta ‘fence free’ was really something to behold. I’m still digging out the thorns that made their way through my sturdy leather gloves but can’t wait to put up my hand for more volunteering on Bush Heritage reserves.

– Sarah Fitzherbert, long-time Friend of the Bush