18 December 2019 to 6 January 2020
We arrived at Bon Bon Station in the late morning of 18 December after leaving Port Augusta at around 6 am. We'd bought provisions in Port Augusta the day before and had enough for at least three weeks. There were abundant wild sheep and kangaroos on the road between Port Augusta and Glendambo in the early morning and we'd advise caution for future volunteers leaving PA at this time.
Clint and Kate Taylor (Reserve Managers) left Bon Bon on 20 December after briefing us on our duties as volunteer caretakers and various protocols including safety. We were familiar with most of these, having been volunteers at Bon Bon in October 2018.
Our accommodation was in the Overseers Cottage. We were the only people on Bon Bon during our caretaker term.
Water: Checking and maintaining bore water inflows into the 120,000L holding tank located about 1km from the homestead. This involved daily monitoring of tank levels and switching the borehole solar pump on or off to maintain a level of approximately 80,000L. The water bore is about 1km from the holding tank. We also kept an eye out for any water leakage around the homestead area.
Power: Monitoring the solar power generation facility, particularly the operation of the back-up diesel generator which was automatically activated when the battery levels dropped to a certain point. (We had to manually start the generator from time to time as it wasn't topping up the batteries when required. At one point we had to contact Clint Taylor for instructions when we were unable to manually start it. He was able to instruct us by phone on a trouble shooting process which was successful).
Mail: We were required to check for mail each Tuesday and Saturday. The mailbox is located near the Sturt Hwy, about 18km from the homestead.
Field work: Our list of tasks included track clearing and collecting rocks from tracks for use in securing a fence around an animal exclusion plot. The extreme temperatures experienced at Bon Bon, and much of Australia, often prevented us from doing field work. On our first day at Bon Bon (18 December) the temperature reached 47 degrees – the hottest day ever recorded across large parts of Australia. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, the week leading up to Christmas Day 2019 was the hottest week ever recorded across Australia.
On 20 December the temperature gauge at Bon Bon reached 49 degrees. Day time temperatures reached between 40 and 50 degrees for most of our stay. Night temperatures were typically mid 30s or higher.
Throughout this period there were two dry thunderstorms and dust storms. The coolest day was on 5 January, our last day, when the temperature dropped to 16 degrees in a rainstorm. Steady gentle rain fell all day, possibly dropping a total of about 15mm. We had a most enjoyable stroll around the Emu bush loop track in the afternoon rain.
The severe temperatures, which came at the end of the driest year ever in Australia, took a heavy toll on kangaroos and micro bats. We removed nine kangaroo carcasses from the homestead vehicle sheds and outbuildings during our stay, and saw many other kangaroos in distress in our travels beyond the homestead.
General homestead and office duties: feeding and watering the chickens twice each day, watering the vegetable garden twice each day and checking for messages. The chickens provided three fresh eggs daily, which were a welcome addition to provisions.
We also did some general cleaning and washing of bunk room bedding and checked the first aid kits in the office and vehicles. One outside job we did manage was to secure two insect screens to the office building.
On 22 December we drove to Kingoonya pub for lunch to celebrate Stephen’s birthday. Our singular social event was on New Years Eve when we visited the adjoining Mt Eba Station following an invitation from the owners (Margie and Peter) to join them for dinner. They were most welcoming, and despite the very different land management objectives, it was clear that the relationship with Bon Bon, and Clint and Kate, was a very friendly one. We gained a useful insight into just how difficult it is to maintain a large dry-land sheep station (over 300,000ha) in extreme heat and drought.
Despite the extreme heat and the resultant limitation on our field activities, we thoroughly enjoyed our time at Bon Bon and felt confident dealing with the various tasks and challenges we faced. We appreciated the opportunity to experience firsthand how the Bon Bon environment responded over the summer in one of the driest and hottest parts of Australia. It was quite different to our experience in October 2018 when the bush looked much happier and lush.