For Bush Heritage Australia volunteer Nick Barratt, what began as a camping trip with mates turned into a deep affection for South Australia’s Boolcoomatta Station Reserve.
Sitting under the vast Boolcoomatta skies with birds chattering overhead, Nick Barratt feels almost at home. There is no hum from city traffic. Suburban life is a world away. The solitude is welcome.
“Being there is such an extreme difference to city life,” he says. “It’s just the vastness of it. If you like the sounds and the smells of the bush and not worrying about that background hum of living in the city then Boolcoomatta is certainly a wonderful place.”
Three years ago Nick and a group of mates set off on their annual camping trip. In search of new scenery they had contacted Bush Heritage and organised a stay at Boolcoomatta. The 63,000ha property is almost 500km north-east of Adelaide and 100km west of Broken Hill. Its immensity and rugged beauty has inspired travellers and poets alike.
From the moment he set foot on the property, Nick felt an immediate connection and a touch of nostalgia.
“I had a farm upbringing, and have been away from that for quite a few years. Boolcoomatta is a place where I can reconnect with that lifestyle,” he says. “My dad also spent a lot of time up in that country, and he talked about it a lot. I feel a strong connection with him when I go up there, knowing that he had such an affinity for that area.”
Throughout his stay Nick learned about Bush Heritage and its work on the property. He was so inspired by the experience he quickly signed up as a volunteer and regularly takes a week off here and there to help. When he’s volunteering you can find him removing fence lines, working with the feral management program and fencing off old mine sites.
“Volunteering for an organisation that has worthwhile goals and is full of dedicated people made sense to me,” he says. “If I can help them move towards those goals as an organisation then I am happy to help.”
As well as being Bush Heritage’s 25th anniversary, it is also 10 years since we purchased Boolcoomatta. The purchase was a key part of Bush Heritage’s core objective of buying private land of high ecological value for conservation.
The reserve features some of the best regeneration of Mulga woodlands, as well as some of the best remaining Bullock Bush shrubland and saltbush communities in the region. Hiding amongst them is the vulnerable Murray Swainson-pea and the critically endangered Plains-wanderer, a small quail-like bird. And watching over all of this are the dramatic Olary Ranges – some of the oldest rocks in Australia.
Bush Heritage's Healthy Country Manager Glen Norris says the opportunity to purchase the property made strategic sense as Bush Heritage reached adolescence.
“For Bush Heritage, Boolcoomatta really ticked all the boxes,” he says. “This was an opportunity for private conservation to complement the work of the National Reserve System in a way that wasn’t common at the time. Boolcoomatta shares a border with Bimbowrie Conservation Park, so acquiring this property was a major step for Bush Heritage and the private conservation movement generally.”
Great progress has been made on Boolcoomatta over the past decade – but the challenges Bush Heritage still face are equally great. Since purchasing the property more than 7,000 rabbit warrens have been removed, weed management is well advanced, and plant and animal surveys continue.
“The property was a pastoral station for 150 years and there are significant issues that we're still dealing with. It will take decades to recover," Glen says. “For Boolcoomatta, that includes goats. It’s very good goat country in those rocky hills. Goats eat everything.”
“Collaboratively I believe we can, across Boolcoomatta and the neighbouring properties, have a really big impact on goats and correspondingly on the future of native species here. That’s the power of collaboration.”
This type of work is common across many of Bush Heritage’s properties, but Glen believes that Boolcoomatta in particular stands out as a watershed moment in the evolution of the organisation.
“Buying properties is an important part of our strategy, but we’ve realised it doesn’t have to be the only part. We recognise now that we can create so many more benefits beyond our boundary fence by working with our neighbours and indigenous communities, the government, and environmental agencies.”
“Our collaborative and partnership approach has gone from strength to strength.”
As for Boolcoomatta’s future? With help from people like Nick and thousands of dedicated supporters, it’s going to be an exciting one.
“It’s such a large, ongoing project,” Nick says. “And it will be nice to see small native mammals thriving here again and the vegetation returned. That, I suppose, is the ultimate goal in restoring properties like Boolcoomatta.”
Boolcoomatta Reserve was acquired in 2006 with the assistance of the Australian Government under the Natural Heritage Trust's National Reserve System Programme and the Nature Foundation SA.