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Cubba Cubbah forever

Location: Anaiwan Country, New South Wales
Words by: Tim Ashelford
Published 21 Jun 2024

“When you first go through the gates it looks just like a farm,” begins Bernie Shakeshaft, “but there’s a feeling, a sense of place.”

Bernie understood the value of Country before Cubba Cubbah came along. In 2006, the former jackaroo, youth service worker and Armidale local, started BackTrack Youth Works to catch kids falling through the cracks. In 18 years, the program has helped over 1,000 young people by providing the practical and emotional support needed to pursue positive life pathways. Recently, they were gifted a 600-acre block of farmland.

Cubba Cubbah is on Anaiwan Country and sits on the edge of an escarpment. The air is cool and fresh, high up on the New South Wales Northern Tablelands. National parks are nearby, but the property itself was formerly managed for agriculture.

BackTrack is now working on a 100-year vision for the organisation and property. 

“The Country is really important, which is why we started with the survey. We didn’t want to touch anything until we knew what we were dealing with.” 

This is where Bush Heritage comes in, after BackTrack received a grant from the Macdoch Foundation, two of our ecologists were commissioned to survey Cubba Cubbah to confirm the ecological value of the land, look for threatened species and their habitats, and make suggestions for future land management.

Our work with BackTrack at Cubba Cubbah will help create a brighter future for resident Scarlet Robins. Photo Jiri Lochman.

The results were excellent. “There are areas that match the critically endangered White Box, Yellow Box and Blakely’s Red Gum grassy woodland communities,” says Senior Ecologist Dr Matt Appleby. Once plentiful on the inland slopes of Victoria through to south-east Queensland, less than five percent of this habitat remains.

Matt’s excitement is contagious. “You can see good remnants off to the south-east!” He also emphasises the importance of increasing connectivity.

“Woodland birds such as the Scarlet Robin don’t like moving across gaps in vegetation greater than 100 metres, to avoid attack by predators. Targeted planting increases connectivity and eases the pressure on native animals.”

Now, with an informed understanding of the native species who call Cubba Cubbah home, BackTrack can plan land management strategies that effectively use their resources. 

Some of these efforts have already begun, and BackTrack’s young people have helped to remove infestations of invasive blackberry.

Matt and Bernie agree that spotlight surveys, acoustic recorders, and infrared trail cameras will help to deepen their knowledge of the native species living on and visiting the property.

“An echidna might be detected, a quoll, hopefully, and then you can see who you’re managing the land for,” Matt says. “It’s satisfying.”

Clearly, the monitoring is just as important for humans as it is for the native animals. By going beyond our reserve boundaries and helping to connect and strengthen remnant habitat on working farms, like the ones on Cubba Cubbah and through partnerships with large-scale pastoral companies, we are pushing towards our goal of protecting, restoring, and regenerating a total of 30 million hectares by 2030.

“It’s an opportunity to see a bunch of kids caring for Country. The idea is that we set this up for way past my use-by date,” says Bernie.

Young people can be seen walking around the property with binoculars, looking for the threatened Diamond Firetail, or trying to identify the elusive endangered Northern Blue Box Gum. We think they’re on the right track.

Bernie Shakeshaft, the founder of BackTrack.


Our work with agricultural partners is fully funded by their contributions or provided at a fee for service. To learn more about BackTrack’s work, please see – backtrack.org.au

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