Bush Heritage Visitation Coordinator Eve Jani describes the visual, educational and culinary delights of a three-day guided tour of Cravens Peak Reserve in western Queensland.
Scats and tracks in Gay’s Dune. Photo Eve Jani.
The engines of our 4WD vehicles roared to life at 8.30am on Saturday 2 August 2009; the convoy snaked away from the reserve’s homestead. Destination: Plum Pudding, our base camp for the next two nights.
Not far beyond the homestead gates, Reserve Managers Mark and Nella Lithgow, stopped to identify a natural revegetation site where a fence had been removed.
Our convoy continued north along the McDonald Track, travelling past Gay’s Dune, named for Gay Bell whose generous bequest allowed Bush Heritage to secure Cravens Peak Reserve in October 2005.
Scats and tracks in Gay’s Dune. Photo Eve Jani.
We had explored scats and tracks in the rippled dune and enjoyed sunset drinks here the night before, when John Deer and I – both Visitation Coordinators based in Melbourne – and Mark and Nella, had introduced ourselves to the 12 guests who'd travelled from as far away as Mt Waverley in Victoria and Beachmere in Queensland.
For the next 30 km we travelled through swales, each with their own unique vegetation type, varying from bloodwood, grevillea, hakea, cassia and coolibah to spinifex and even the rarely seen pituri shrub. We drove over sandy red dunes, some up to 10 m high, which form part of the northern edge of the Simpson Desert.
Once at Plum Pudding campground, we pitched our tents and instructed the group on etiquette for the ‘loo with a view’: take the yellow flag in to denote ‘occupied’ and return it to the post to denote ‘vacant’.
Zebra finches. Photo Eve Jani.
On our drive out to the east from Plum Pudding, we stopped at Ocean Bore. The Reserve Managers explained that this working bore supplied water for fire management and herbicide use; meanwhile, we observed a group of zebra finches taking it in turns to keep watch over their mates who drank from the bore while paying close attention to the group of large strangers looming around their waterhole.
Back at camp we sat around a gidgeewood fire, birdwatching with a sunset drink in hand, as the sky progressed through orange, pink and blue to a stellar night sky. After a camp-oven lamb roast beside the fire, we retired early to bed after our long first day.
On the second morning, the drive to S-bend Gorge took us to the reserve’s north-east boundary. We could see evidence of cattle on the other side of the fence, of the ground cover displaying signs of trampling. In the valley of S-bend Gorge, fruit and billy tea were provided to fuel our ascent to view the panoramic vista from the escarpment, with the Mulligan River meandering through the valley below.
‘Eco’ billy tea with the Lithgows. Photo Eve Jani.
As we scrambled through the rocky gorge, Mark pointed out a dingo den and mentioned the findings of a decade-long study of Cravens Peak and Ethabuka Reserve by Professor Chris Dickman’s University of Sydney research team (aka the ‘rat catchers’).
They found evidence of a correlation between an increase in the populations of dingos and of small animals, indicating that, by preying on foxes and cats, dingos contribute to the survival of small marsupials such as the hairy-footed dunnart and the mulgara.
After a restful couple of hours exploring the gorge individually at our own pace, we headed back to base camp, stopping en route to view an erosion site. In the early 1990s, after a heavy, 24-hour downpour, an entire dune was cut in half by run-off from the gibber plain – a tangible reminder of the extremes of weather that can be experienced in Australia’s arid zone.
Again our day ended around the fire, feasting on camp-oven beef stew with couscous, followed by chocolate baked banana with custard, while guests took it in turn to tell jokes or entertain with some good old Australian bush poetry.
Dune driving. Photo Eve Jani.
The third and final day of the tour began with packing up camp and heading north towards the Toko and Toomba Ranges. The convoy meandered over rough gibber plains and through sandy creek beds before arriving at Salty Bore escarpment.
Guests could either get a lift in the ‘troopy’ (troop carrier) or stretch their legs with a steep 50 m climb. Everyone agreed that the extraordinary view from the top was well worth the effort, highlighting again the diversity of landscape on Cravens Peak Reserve.
Our final night back at the homestead ended with a formal dinner (well, as formal as you get in the outback!) and an art auction of plant and landscape sketches completed during the tour, generously donated by two of the guests, the Safstroms.
We enjoyed bidding for a keepsake of our trip and knowing the profits would go towards camping equipment on the reserve for future tours. Although a diverse group of people, a bond had formed between us over the last four days, established through our shared experiences and an increased knowledge of what we are helping to protect on Cravens Peak Reserve.