When Bruce Hammond describes Evelyn Downs he says it’s the ‘jewel in the crown’ from a Traditional-Owner point of view, and for conservation. Bruce is our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnership Manager in South Australia, and for him the opportunity to buy this land is professional and personal. He understands its cultural significance.
“Evelyn Downs is very strongly connected to the Antakirinja Matu-Yankunytjatjara people and is a very important place.
“We'll work in partnership with them to protect and manage this Country for current and future generations. This region includes Coober Pedy and the Painted Desert and is connected to many family groups, reaching as far as Bon Bon Station Reserve, another Bush Heritage-managed landscape. This country has been managed for 60,000 years by First Nations peoples.”
The property is gigantic, around the same size as the ACT, and located 150km north of Coober Pedy.
It’s in the Painted Desert, which is revered for its landscape of yellows, oranges and reds that has evolved over tens of millions of years.
Evelyn Downs is rocky outcrops, flat chenopod country, striking Coolabahs and River Red Gums. It’s ephemeral wetlands, creek lines and numerous cultural sites. It takes your breath away as you drive, walk or fly across the 235,057-hectare reserve.
“Then you have the Breakaway-type Country,” says Healthy Landscapes Manager Graeme Finlayson, “which is such a special place.”
The Breakaways are massive escarpments that emerge fiercely above desolate rocky plains. It's thought they were once like islands rising out of an ancient inland sea that evaporated when a continental shift warmed the climate. “You should see them change colour in the sun,” says Graeme.
Bruce and Graeme are advocates for Evelyn Downs – they’ve identified this place as a property we have to buy, a place we can’t lose to environmental decline. When the owners approached us and asked if we would like to take hold of the land and transition it from farming land to a nature reserve, we knew it would be a history-making milestone for Bush Heritage. It would be our largest nature reserve to date.
It neighbours Mount Willoughby Indigenous Protected Area, which adjoins the Tallaringa Conservation Park and would in turn create a connected landscape of 1.9 million hectares!
It’s also home to a number of conservation significant plant and animal species, including: the Bronzeback Snake-lizard, Grey Falcon and the Plains Mouse, all which are nationally listed as vulnerable.
Bush Heritage’s 2030 Strategy has a goal to deepen and double our impact by 2030. We know we can’t turn our heads from the unsettling environmental decline around us – the summers laced with ash, the peculiarly warm winters, the flash floods, the crackling dry and species decline. A dual biodiversity and climate crisis is upon us and we have to do more to protect our landscapes and people who call them home, and we have to do it now.
“The catch 22?” says Graeme. “Biodiversity loss drives climate change and climate change drives biodiversity loss.”
“But the good news is that biodiversity can also be our strongest natural defence against climate change. ”
Around the time we launched our strategy, the Australian Government made a commitment to protect 30% of land and sea Country by 2030, joining a global movement known as 30 x 30.
To achieve this as a nation , we need to protect more land. Evelyn Downs is a massive opportunity towards our goal to double the amount of land that Bush Heritage manages directly from 1.2 to 2.4 million hectares.
“This is a strong, powerful bit of Country,” says Bruce. “It’s developed over millennia. It’s not just visually striking but culturally and ecologically important and today we have an opportunity. We can buy this land and be part of the story of its protection.”