Caretakers of the desert

Published 21 Dec 2014 

Keen to travel and experience more of Australia, recent retirees Mick Moylan and his wife Kerry jumped at the chance to volunteer as caretakers at one of our remote reserves.

Sunset on dunes at EthabukaSunset on dunes at Ethabuka. Photo by Al Dermer

After a month‑long stint at Ethabuka, on the edge of the Simpson Desert, we left with a better appreciation for the self‑sufficiency of locals.

Our assignment began at Bedourie, a small town in western Queensland, itself remote and isolated. After phoning ahead with our departure time we set off for Ethabuka.

On arrival we were given a comprehensive induction by Bush Heritage Field Officer Matt Warr, who lives at Craven’s Peak Reserve 120km away. It was a relief to finally store our meat and groceries after shopping for a month ahead in Mt Isa.

After a three‑day handover, we said farewell to the previous caretakers, Wybe and Isobel, and were truly alone.

Mick Moylan painting an Ethabuka homestead bedroomMick Moylan painting a bedroom at the Ethabuka Homestead.

Each night before bed we’d walk out to the shed and shut down the diesel generator. When it rattled to a halt the silence was stunning. It was also suddenly pitch black so the stars on display were sensational and the feeling of isolation complete.

We soon grew accustomed to the routine and kept very busy. Our main tasks were painting three rooms in the homestead and compiling an asset register.

Matt, our Bush Heritage supervisor, made a weekly visit along with his wife Amanda and baby Isabella. He took us around some of the sights on reserve and we discovered spectacular scenery and learnt some fascinating history: Aboriginal as well as early settler.

We explored places such as Dribbler Bore, Ethabuka Springs and the Field River.

The finished roomThe finished room. Nice job Mick!

Dribbler bore runs naturally as the name suggests and the artesian water runs into a pond that was crystal clear with aquatic plants and incredibly, dozens of small rainbow fish.

We identified flowering pituri plants (a narcotic traded in the area by early Aboriginals) on another of our trips and it was exciting to see stone implements, evidence of ancient and regular Aboriginal occupation.

It feels like we learnt and achieved a lot in a short stay. The asset register was completed, with over 400 items listed, tools etched with asset numbers and appliances labelled. Three rooms were freshly painted and the two showers look like new.

Making it all worthwhile, we learnt that Matt and his young family will be moving in next March now that the homestead is looking liveable, which will enable him to do more on the reserve. (Thanks, as well, to the work of previous volunteers Wybe and Isobel Reyenga as well as Ralph and Jill Farnbach.)

We’d certainly recommend the Volunteer Caretaker Program – we’d do it all again in an instant!

Find out more about volunteering with Bush Heritage.

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