Ethabuka, in far west Queensland in March? That should be okay, the temperatures will be dropping a little by then. So with 5-plus weeks supply of food, we headed north. But at the end of February that part of Queensland was suffering record high temperatures – 43º in Bedourie, the closest centre to Ethabuka! The welcome from Reserve Staff Matt and Amanda and their girls was equally warm as they introduced us to our new home for the next 5 weeks.
After an introductory drive around part of the Reserve, our first task was to help Matt hang shadecloth on the west side of our cottage, giving much needed relief in the afternoons. The next few days included erecting an exclusion fence, various small tasks around the homestead and a 2-hour trip with Amanda into Bedourie. Here the girls, Bella and Maddy, joined in playgroup and we adults participated in the council-sponsored leather workshop with Willow, a travelling leather-craft tutor. An unexpected and much appreciated treat.
Then Matt and Amanda headed for Longreach for vehicle servicing, shopping and to participate as a Bush Heritage team in a charity event, leaving us in charge of dogs, chooks, pigs and the reserve.
We started on the list of tasks Matt left us for the week. The Buffel Grass survey gave us a chance to really feel the country – amazing red sand-dunes, heat, flies and to our delight, numerous birds and flowers. Our routine was to start early, have a lunchtime siesta (it’s only mad dogs and Englishmen who go out in the midday sun!) then more work as the days cooled.
Then the rain came! That night we were “serenaded” with the wind blowing over the damp wires of the receiver tower – an extraordinary sound. We soon understood the effects of rain in the outback. We weren’t going anywhere!
All around were pools and lagoons of water. The track was impassable just 300m from the homestead – it was now a long channel of water, waterbirds swimming on it and after a couple of days, nardoo plants were thriving.
The nightly swarms of grasshoppers, winged termites and moths, which we’d experienced in the previous week, changed to mozzies. So after dinner we retired to the securely netted bedroom, aircon on, geckos clinging on the outside gobbling up the insects attracted by the light. The upside of this change in weather was the brilliant lightning display, rainbows, spectacular clouds and sunsets, birds, lush green grass and yellow flowers blooming all over the red dunes. How lucky we were to be part of this.
Our planned trip to Bedourie to meet the fortnightly fresh fruit and vegie truck had to be abandoned and the Buffel Grass survey was on hold but work continued. Cleaning up the workshop, attaching insulated panelling on part of the wall, straightening, cleaning and painting reclaimed star pickets kept us busy.
Removing metal piping and wires from the nearby stockyards was one of the most rewarding tasks. What a pleasure it was to work outside in a brilliantly coloured landscape – reds, greens and yellows, blue sky, flocks of different birds, a budgie family carrying on in the tree above us, and lower temperatures. Matt and Amanda kept in regular contact to check that all was well at the homestead.
Finally, 3 weeks later Matt, Amanda and girls were a welcome return, bearing fresh fruit and vegies. Mulligans Creek, which crosses the track to the homestead, had finally dropped to be 4x4 passable, just! Then the visitors started to arrive. Chris Dickman from the Sydney University’s Arid Zone Research group returned for the 27th year to continue survey and research into reptiles and mammals in the area.
Then, independently, a sextet of herpetologists followed, with the aim of updating photos of reptiles for a new edition of a book. Delivering water to the research group, camped under a grove of shady Gidgee Trees, gave us the chance to help briefly with the checking of pit traps, weighing and measuring the reptiles and mammals; a real bonus.
Having so many visitors was all the excuse Matt needed to have a spit roast pig – glad we'd kept them well fed! The spit was going all day, guests, including neighbours arrived at sunset then finally it was declared done. Carvers quickly wielded knives and guests didn’t wait for it to get cold. Cooked to perfection! Delicious salads complemented the roast. A memorable night around the fire.
What did we enjoy and appreciate the most? The landscape with its special flora and fauna, wide open spaces, empathy with those living in outback Australia, the amazing team of Matt and Amanda and their delightful girls, their support and caring for volunteers and the feeling that we've made a small contribution to a very special part of Australia’s environment. What a privilege! We hope to return.