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Summer storm at Pilungah. Photo: Dr Aaron Greenville
Summer storm at Pilungah. Photo: Dr Aaron Greenville

Pilungah

Established:

2005

Area:

233,000 ha

Location:

470km south of Mt Isa

Traditional Owners:

Wangkamadla people

In July 2021 the Wangkamadla people’s rights to over 2.9 million hectares of their country were formally recognised in a native title determination. To celebrate, we renamed Cravens Peak Reserve as Pilungah Reserve. This was agreed on through close consultation with the Wangkamadla community. 

The original proposal for a Munga-Thirri – Simpson Desert National Park included Pilungah. It protects gibber plains, red sandy dune fields, semi-permanent waterholes, Coolabah woodlands, and one of the richest reptile assemblages on earth.

While marginal and unpredictable for production, the relatively moist and fertile dune swales and temporary waterbodies are an important oasis for many desert animals that retreat in the dry times from the desert proper.

Our protection of Ethabuka and Pilungah gives the desert back its fringe and a refuge for wildlife against the harshest conditions.

The stunning colour and texture of Gay's Dune at sunset. Photo Paul Evans.

The northern summer rains brush the northern edge of the Simpson Desert, the southern winter rains just brush the south. Erratically, huge systems douse the lot.

A large number of regional and international migrant waterbirds follow the rains to make the most of the sudden burst of productivity.

The plants are patient. The spinifex waits decades and the seeds of hundreds of short-lived wildflowers rest under the sand.

Grasslands and creek lines spread out from the rocky Toko Range where foxtails emerge between the rocks. Photo Wayne Lawler / EcoPix.

The Gidgea and Ironwood will wait a century or two to successfully set a new generation.

The soft edges of dunes run into large sandy plains and the low, rugged Toko and Tooma ranges, which are rich with fossils 500 million years old. The Mulligan River snakes along the north-eastern boundary of the reserve.

All this has been protected thanks to the generosity of our supporters.

What Pilungah Reserve protects

Pilungah is a hot bed for reptiles, including the Woma, a rare desert python that has become extinct across a third of its former range. It also protects:

Animals: Mulgara (nationally vulnerable), Grey Falcon, Painted Finch, Ridge-tailed Monitor, Inland Ningaui, Australian Bustard, Spinifex Pigeon, Ariadna's Ctenotus (a rare skink).

Plants: Pituri, Mulga, Coolabah, Red-bud Mallee.

Vegetation communities: Hummock (spinifex) grassland, Mallee, Mitchell-grass plains, Gidgee woodland.

What we’re doing

Pilungah has buildings, bores and hundreds of kilometres of fences and tracks to maintain. Surrounded by farmland, its boundaries have to be maintained and stock incursions responsibly managed.

We’re also working with The University of Sydney’s Desert Ecology Research Group who are researching control techniques for feral predators such as cats and foxes. Feral camels from the desert to the south must also be controlled.

Checking a camera trap during a University of Sydney camp. Photo Krystle Wright.

While the weed list is small, there’s some weed control work and we’re vigilant on new intruders.

Fire-stick farming

Large-scale and intense wildfires have become an unfortunate characteristic of Australia’s arid zones since the removal of traditional Aboriginal fire-stick farming.

They’re particularly problematic after big wet seasons, which massively increase plant growth – especially highly flammable grasses such as Spinifex.

S-bend gorge in Mitchell River. Photo Max Tischler.

In the past such growth was kept under control by the Wangkamadla people, who regularly burnt the area as part of their land management.

Our staff use similar patterns of ‘fire-stick’ farming in specific areas to create a ‘mosaic of burns’ designed to encourage new growth and act as fire breaks. Wildfires can seriously affect populations of small native mammals, so fire management is critical.

Our results

With cattle removed and damage from feral camels and horses reduced, we’re seeing rapid improvement in the Mitchell grass plains and wetland areas.

Pilungah Reserve Managers Corinna Clark and Ingo Schomacker. Photo Peter Wallis.

We’re also seeing regeneration of the Gidgee and Mulga woodland vegetation between the dunes. This has led to increases in the numbers of small mammals.

Satellite images have shown plant cover and productivity in the swales between dunes and on the slopes of the ranges is higher than surrounding properties and measurably improved.

Learn more about our Conservation Management Process and how we measure our impact or download a full ecological scorecard for the reserve below.

History and cultural values

The Wangkamadla people have a long-standing connection to this land, with rock paintings and significant sites scattered across the reserve. It once lay on a trade route stretching from Queensland's Gulf of Carpentaria all the way to South Australia. The local narcotic plant Pituri was traded for stone knives, seashells and even dugong-tusk daggers.

We're working closely with the Wangkamadla people to identify and learn about important cultural values.


The purchase of Pilungah Reserve was made possible with funds from the Commonwealth’s National Reserve System Program, as well as our generous supporters.

Stories from Pilungah

Prescribed burn at Pilunga Reserve, Wangkamadla Country. By Bee Stephens

BUSHTRACKS 27/10/2023

Land, bird, smoke and man

Prescribed burns on Pilungah and Ethabuka reserves, Wangkamadla Country, prepare the landscape for bushfire season and enhance biodiversity.

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A flooded claypan at Pilungah Reserve. By Ingo Schomacker

BUSHTRACKS 13/06/2023

A dry flood

In summer vast tracts of Central West Queensland’s channel country were covered in water. Our Pilungah and Ethabuka reserves are now preparing for the other side of the ‘boom-bust’ cycle.

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BLOG 11/03/2022

My Dingo buddy

While volunteering at Pilungah Reserve, north of the Simpson Desert in far western Queensland, Paul Graham had a profound experience connecting with a young dingo.

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BLOG 21/02/2022

What has all this rain meant for our fire team?

The 2021/22 La Nina has brought significant rainfall to the eastern seaboard of Australia, while the west has seen below average conditions. Here are some weather highlights from the first few months.

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BUSHTRACKS 14/01/2022

Corinna Clark's happy place

When the sun sets down beyond the sand dunes at Pilungah Reserve in far western Queensland, we like to go and sit on a sand dune near the homestead dubbed Little Red.

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BLOG 14/10/2021

Introducing Pilungah Reserve

Our decision to rename Cravens Peak Reserve in far western Queensland acknowledges the enduring connection of Wangkamadla people to their country. We spoke to Wangkamadla woman Avelina Tarrago about what the change means to her.

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Gidgee on Ethabuka Reserve.

BUSHTRACKS 07/10/2021

Our disappearing desert havens

When bushfires burn through the spinifex plains on Ethabuka and Pilungah reserves, arid species find refuge in Gidgee woodlands that are as vital to their survival as they are threatened.

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BLOG 26/03/2021

A healthy desert is crucial for my culture’s survival

A new report published last week highlights 19 ecosystems on land and sea country that are unravelling due to pressures from climate change and human impacts. The Georgina Gidgee woodlands of central Australia is one of them.

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BLOG 26/03/2020

Frog highways on Cravens

With 81mm in the first half of March, the ephemeral swamps and claypans in the sandhill country of Cravens Peak have filled. Halfway Swamp, 5km west of the Homestead, is bursting with life.

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BLOG 10/02/2020

Examining owl vomit

While the idea of trawling through owl vomit might be nausea-inducing for some (picture skeletal remains, fur and feathers), for our senior ecologist Dr Alex Kutt it’s a clever way to find out more about the secrets of the land.

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BLOG 15/05/2019

A boom year at Cravens Peak

Cravens Peak Reserve has received 225 mm of rain this year in two extraordinary rain events, and the desert's plants and animals are loving it.

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BUSHTRACKS 11/12/2018

My Happy Place (Jane Blackwood)

I have lots of favourite spots on Cravens Peak and they’re all places that make me feel strong and happy, and connected to the country that I live on. One of those places is S-Bend Gorge; I never fail to feel completely embraced when I’m at S-Bend.

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BUSHTRACKS 11/12/2018

Outback extremes

A more sophisticated understanding of how climate change will impact Cravens Peak and Ethabuka reserves is focusing our conservation efforts when and where they will do the greatest good.

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BLOG 18/09/2018

Behind the scenes at Cravens Peak

An inside look into what it takes to capture a feature story about a Bush Heritage reserve. Mount Isa's low peaks are still visible behind us as we turn our 4WD south and head down the single lane highway towards Boulia. We're on our way to Cravens Peak Reserve in far western Queensland for a feature story on reserve manager Jane Blackwood to be published in the Courier Mail's Saturday magazine Qweekend.

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BLOG 27/08/2018

No 3 – is 5 star now

With many hours of planning and hard work, Number 3 Ringers' Hut on Cravens Peak Reserve has been restored to its former glory.

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BLOG 07/08/2018

Revisiting Cravens Peak after 33 years

Recently Dr John Winter and his wife, Helen Myles, who are long-term donors to Bush Heritage Australia, visited Cravens Peak as volunteers. John, Helen and their wider family make an annual Christmas donation to Ethabuka Reserve, which John first visited in August 1985 - 33 years ago! He was a member of a Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services Diamantina Fauna Survey team.

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BLOG 20/07/2018

Holy owl vomit. To the Bat Cave!

With Bush Heritage ecologist Pippa Kern I travelled to a cave known as Bat Hole in the far west of Cravens Peak Reserve to collect owl pellets.

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BLOG 11/12/2017

An unforgettable volunteer experience

Back in September, Victorian-based volunteer Nathan Manders answered the call for reserve support to one of our most remote properties - Cravens Peak on the edge of the Simpson Desert. Here Nathan shares his reflections and some of his stunning images from that trip - one that he'll never forget.

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BLOG 27/11/2017

Desert butterflies

Deb Bisa, currently volunteering at Cravens Peak, has noted a few butterfly sightings during her stay since early November. One of these was a male Clearwing Swallowtail (Cressida cressida) that was 'netted' after a long period of windy days. This species has predominantly a coastal distribution where its food plants occur, and occasional vagrants reach inlands areas.

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BUSHTRACKS 11/04/2016

Happy 10th birthday Cravens Peak

In 2006, Bush Heritage purchased 233,000 hectares of remarkable desert country. In 2016, Cravens Peak celebrates its tenth birthday, and the remarkable people that have brought it this far.

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BLOG 30/11/2015

Happy birthday Cravens Peak

Ecologist Murray Haseler looks back at 10 years of conservation management on Cravens Peak and the gradual improvements in condition that have been hard fought and won.

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