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Living & volunteering on Boolcoomatta

Published 06 May 2020 by Volunteer Andrea Tschirner

I have lived on Boolcoomatta Reserve with my family for almost three years as my husband Kurt is the Reserve Manager.  When I haven’t been in the schoolroom during school hours with our kids, I've been a full-time volunteer for Bush Heritage. This week, I’ll share with you some of the behind-the-scenes jobs (that happen on reserve thanks to many volunteers). This will include some of the jobs that don’t normally meet the glamourous or photo-worthy attention for a newsletter or social media post.

If you haven’t been out to this part of the world before, let me show you around…. 

Once you leave the bitumen of the Barrier Highway, you cross a rough, dry creek bed to emerge onto an amazing open plain. 

Picture this: no trees, no big shrubs, just an almost endless horizon of greys, olive greens and browns. The sky is enormous and you drive into a wide and intimidating, yet somehow peaceful space that continues for many bumps and swerves.

After a few more shallow creek and stock grid crossings, you make it to the boundary fence of Boolcoomatta; this country is the ancestral lands of Wilyakali and Adnyamantha people.

As you continue along the track, you'll feel dwarfed by the amazing Mundi Mundi plains that extend to the east, all the way to the blue-grey Barrier Ranges in New South Wales. Ahead you see some small rocky hills come into view, with a line of dark green trees at their base. 

To the west are gentle-giant hills casting purple shadows in their folds, this is the edge of the Olary Ranges and the western boundary of the property. As you get closer to the treeline ahead, you'll be welcomed by a forest of Red Gums that stretch to your left and right for as far as you can see. 

Some of these trees are more than 600 years old, and a sight for sore eyes after extensive plains and open sky. Here you'll find shade from the sun, and bird song filling the air.

After winding your way through scrubby thickets of Acacia and Eucalypts in the flood-out you'll see glinting light through the foliage, this is reflecting from the rooves and tanks up ahead. 

Hey, you’ve made it! There’s the hangar and the airstrip, just keep heading straight toward the Shearers' Quarters. I hope your car is all in one piece and your back isn’t too shaken up – the track is begging for grading! Now you're at the Boolcoomatta homestead complex, roughly at the central point of the property. This is where most of the volunteer work takes place. 

There’s no doubt about it, Boolcoomatta is an extraordinary property. The subtle natural beauty of the place, and it’s close proximity to big towns and an airport make it a fabulous place for Bush Heritage to share with supporters and visitors. For more than three quarters of the year, Boolcoomatta (covid aside) has a stream of visitors and visitation events. 

Working bees and visiting research projects, staff meetings, donor trips and community events are all hosted on Boolcoomatta during the cooler months between April and November. Thanks to the impressive efforts from previous managers and volunteers, the old Shearers' Quarters, Overseers Cottage and Singleman's Quarters have been lovingly restored to provide really beautiful accommodation and experiences for visitors and guests.

This is maintained mostly by the efforts of volunteers, so how about you settle into your room, then grab your water bottle and flynet, buckle a UHF onto your belt and I’ll show you some of the jobs!

First and most importantly, let’s talk about plumbing. It’s not at the top of the glamour list, but without it we’d all be pretty unhappy. On Boolcoomatta there are numerous buildings, you can see them all from up here on this hill; we call this Tank Hill. All-up (excluding the house that I live in) there are five bathrooms with seven toilets and seven showers, three kitchens and nine fridges and freezers. There's also a bathroom and composting loo at the campground. 

Let's face-it, dunnies need to be cleaned, bins emptied, rubbish sorted, vermin dispatched, showers scrubbed and fridges de-fluffed! This is where I spend a lot of my time before and after visitors arrive. It’s actually not a bad job, just very undervalued and often goes unnoticed. 

In South Australia we're super lucky to have the Container Deposit Scheme, which can be pretty lucrative for kids and gives them an incentive to help sort rubbish on dump-days after guests have been.

All rubbish is sorted on property and what can’t be recycled in Broken Hill or burnt in the incinerator is buried in the dump. As well as all the cleaning, there are always plumbing jobs to stay on top of – leaky taps, hot water systems and pipelines, gas bottle change-overs and maintaining and monitoring water levels in tanks. 

Around the homestead we have a series of amenity plantings and gardens. These provide shade and help stop dust when it’s really hot and windy. They also help the place to look nice. 

See those droopy trees over there? They’re some of my favourites, they’re Plumbushes and they fruit just before Christmas time. Those dark green shrubs near the homestead were germinated from an emu poo experiment and planted on our daughter's 11th birthday. The gardens and plantings take a lot of care, and there is an extensive dripper system keeping gardens and trees around the complex alive with dam water. 

As we’ve had some pretty tough drought years recently, it’s been a battle to keep things happy and we’ve lost a lot of trees. In the nursery at home, we're nurturing cuttings and seedlings to replace the dead trees once the drought breaks. We’ve also been collecting native seeds from local plants and making seed bombs to plant in rehabilitated areas to help restore previously eroded floodways and plains.

Now that we’ve walked around the homestead area, let's head back to the Shearers' Quarters for a cuppa and plan what’s next. Looking at the calendar that Kurt has shown us, it looks like all planned visitation events for the next few months have been postponed to keep everyone safe and to follow social distancing recommendations to prevent covid-19. Now that the cleaning is done and the bins have all been emptied, let’s get into the fun stuff! 

What would you like to do first? Change over batteries in the camera traps or collect the SD cards for Graeme (the South Australian Ecologist). How about going out to check the song meters on the Eastern Plains – I wonder if they’ve recorded any Plains Wanderer calls this month? This afternoon we’ll check the fly traps that were set-up to monitor the presence of Calici-Virus.

I know the southern fenceline hasn’t been checked for a few months, would you like to do that tomorrow? We’ll take the fencing gear as there are a few week points on the south-west boundary – the neighbour's cow likes to rub her bum on the strainer post just the other side of the Oonatra Bore.  

Thursday we’ll finish checking the Purplewood sites on the eastern side of Mundianna Dam for rabbit warrens – lets take the crowbar and shovel in case we find new holes. Friday I’d really like to finish fencing off the old cemetery, we’ll ask Kurt to cut us some more round poles from the tree that fell over at the dam. Do you have your chainsaw ticket?

Remind me to turn on the timers to water the garden at the Overseer's Cottage on the weekend – I want the little garden to look its best for the birds and the volunteers if we manage to get the June working bee happening. Well, I think we have the week sorted. Do you need anything? After you’ve settled in, why don’t you come and join us at the campfire for dinner tonight. You bring the wine and I’ll sort the dinner. 

Cheerio, we hope you have a great week.

Brush Packing Seed Bombs Brush Packing Seed Bombs
Campout Creek Campout Creek
Morning dust storm Morning dust storm
Andrea doing some fencing Andrea doing some fencing
A female Plains Wanderer A female Plains Wanderer
A morning view of the quarters A morning view of the quarters
The Singlemen's Quarters The Singlemen's Quarters
Mapping out in the field Mapping out in the field

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