At the end of August, Aileen and I had one of our best holidays together, at Wooleen Station in the Murchison. The holiday was particularly special as we stayed in the homestead and spent a lot of time over meals talking with owners David and Frances Pollock and other homestay guests. David and Frances are exceptional people who really inspired me to learn about this attractive, tough and interesting part of WA.
I have a good friend who worked as a rangeland adviser in the Gascoyne region, and who did rangeland vegetation monitoring but didn’t really appreciate his work or knowledge (sorry Don), until David explained the extent and ongoing nature of the degradation, the value of the now discontinued monitoring, and his inspiring vision/work.
There is just too much to summarise in an article, so I am listing some of my learning and experiential highlights and urge you to learn more through the Australian Story podcasts, David’s exceptionally well researched and well written book “The Wooleen Way”, and their website .
Wooleen is totally different to Foxes Lair (although I did find some laterite), but I was amazed to similar principles and processes in a landscape where European activity has negatively altered the natural balance.
A few really interesting things
- On the drive up to Wooleen I kept noticing how the bush on one side of the road was prolific and looked like it had been burnt on the other. David explained that this is due to water starvation on the downside from being redirected on the upside by the road. Slopes up there are so low, the area looks flat. I see the same thing on a MUCH smaller scale in Foxes Lair from water running off our soils because of water repellence and almost no soil disturbance due to extinction of burrowing animals.
- Vegetation was once very different with large amounts of perennial grasses, saltbushes, bluebushes and other edible shrubs that have been eaten out to leave unpalatable species, annuals and much more bare ground.
- Many of these shrubs are very long lived. 100-year-old knee high bushes! (I wonder how old the gnarled Kunzea baxteri shrubs in cracks on top of Yilliminning Rock are?). Once these go it takes a very long time for them to re-establish.
- No doubt, the local Wajarri people did controlled burning to freshen up grass growth, but fire is much less important than in agricultural areas for regeneration.
- The major issue there is sustained grazing pressure of perennial plants with drinking water availability and dingo predation being the major factor limiting overgrazing before the advent of the present stations.
- I was amazed to learn that kangaroos and feral goats make up 60% of the grazing pressure in that region and continues even when livestock are removed or greatly reduced. Assisting drought-stricken pastoralists on shrublands to retain livestock by supplying feed increases long term degradation as they and the masses of roos/goats continue to eat stressed shrubs until they die.
- By allowing the dingo (the natural predator) back onto his property, David has cleaned out all foxes and goats and brought roo numbers back to a normal level. As dingos only have a small effect on cattle it is a win win. Redirect money from controlling them into robust and maintained dingo fences to keep them out of agricultural areas. Read his book – this is highly contentious but brilliant. Unfortunately, dingos don’t get all the cats but must be reducing their numbers.
- Station owners have to get the bulk of their income from grazing !!!! (illegal to just have tourism) This is just one of the amazingly destructive edicts by the pastoralist dominated Pastoral Board that has resisted government efforts to reform them. I smell a lot of political clout there that will only go when that generation passes.
Below is a list of special experiences and learnings that made this a special holiday for this geology/soils/nature loving geek and his (relatively) normal wife, and links to Google Photos albums of favourite images.
- There is something special about staying in a station homestead and being able to learn so much over leisurely meals.
- Desert tree frogs in the outside toilet at night.
- Really interesting buildings, museum, miscellaneous artefacts. A great feature of remote dry places is that old building, machinery remains as a testament to the past. All sort so things like the hand bellows in the forge and machine for making corrugated iron for the roof. Of course, I had to visit their dump and do recommend it.
- Wooleen Lake is a unique RAMSAR listed freshwater lake that has water about every 4 years (we were lucky). Amazing bird life and I found an interesting toadstool around a cow pat there. The lake is fresh because it was only formed relatively recently (60,000 years ago) by a fault that diverted the Roderick River from its course to the Murchison River.
- David’s bus tour of the property that culminates with watching a sunset from a large granite outcrop with a glass of wine. A must do to really understand the shrublands, David’s reclamation and local aboriginal culture.
- Beautiful and many quite different wildflowers in the short growing season. Incidentally the masses of everlastings that everyone loves are partially an artefact of land degradation. In pristine country shrubs and grasses would have dominated, with masses of everlasting only emerging after fire or soil disturbance.
- Lots more like the Murchison River, Yewlands Pool etc
Click this link for my pics