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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 Simpson Desert National Park included Pilungah. This reserve 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 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, 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 farming, 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.
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.
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.
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.

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.