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Sunset as seen from Charles Darwin Reserve, Badimia Country, WA. By Seabird Films Andy McGregor
Sunset as seen from Charles Darwin Reserve, Badimia Country, WA. By Seabird Films Andy McGregor

Nurturing community

Words by: Jill Rischbieth
Location: Badimia Country, Western Australia
Published 11 Jan 2024

In September 2023, on Badimia Country in mid-west Western Australia, a group gathers on Charles Darwin Reserve. They are surrounded by thick acacia shrublands and woodlands of Salmon Gum, York Gum and Gimlet Gum.

The understory is healthy, and the landscape is alive with the sounds and existence of native species. Twenty years ago, this landscape told a different story. It was a dustbowl, overgrazed and overrun with feral goats.

Among the group is Chris Darwin (the great great grandson of Charles Darwin) and his wife Jacqui. Two decades ago, they inspired a determined community – some of whom stand under the gums – to support Bush Heritage’s purchase and ongoing management of the reserve.

Desert Skink and yellow everlastings. Photo by William Hansen.

The gathering is a celebration of the 20-year milestone and a chance to reflect on how far we’ve come. In a relatively short time span, we've made a real difference. But our impact is not just in the landscape, it extends to the ecosystem of people the reserve connects. Chris and Jacqui were shocked when they first visited what was then called White Wells Station.

“The experts said that it would come back, and it has. It’s probably the greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life, to see this property come back from being a degraded sheep station to an incredible conservation area,” shares Chris.

Today, the feral goats have gone, and within an hour the group observes a mosaic of recovered diverse vegetation, the return of ground cover including iconic wildflowers, and many native animals. Reserve Manager Jessica Stingemore lights up describing the joy she gets from working at Charles Darwin Reserve and connecting with the diversity of life. 

“I have the privilege of living out here every day of the year. Driving around, I see so many animals. In summer, I see a Varanus gouldii or a Sand Goanna – about every five minutes – darting across the tracks. I see different dragons hiding under bushes and micro-bats in the evening sky. The birds, they’re endless, I love seeing them as the seasons change and hearing them chirp every morning."

The group is also fortunate to connect with Badimia Traditional Owner Ashley Bell who captivates with his generous stories and knowledge. As they sit and watch the sunset over Barna (Country), Ashley points out a perfectly timed rainbow appearing in the sky – a connection to the rainbow serpent. Ashley’s ancestors have been connected to this Barna and Bimarra (water spirit) for over 60,000 years.

“The Country, to me, it means my beliefs are here, my ancestral spirits are here. I can feel all my uncles, and my aunties. I can feel them all,’’ explains Ashley. 

“It’s fantastic working with Bush Heritage. We’re invited here to talk about and clean the rock holes and look after our Country. We come back, visit and camp,” explains Ashley.

The growing and dedicated collective behind Charles Darwin Reserve, Badimia Country, WA. By Seabird Films Andy McGregor

Bush Heritage and the Badimia Bandi Barna Aboriginal Corporation (BBBAC) work in partnership to manage Country and support the delivery of the BBBAC Healthy Country Plan. What does the future hold? 

There’s always more work to be done, more weeds to be removed and fire management will be a key focus. But Chris hopes, “That this property will be an inspiration for other people to support acquiring more reserves. Australia’s amazing species are being damaged at a terrible rate; this is the greatest cause facing us as a civilisation.”

Our organisation is grounded in science and culture, and it’s fitting to measure our impact in data and graphs. Sometimes, it is also accurately measured in the nurturing of relationships, stories and connections – as is the case at Charles Darwin Reserve.

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