As we drove out to meet the chopper, the famous Kimberley Cockburn Ranges loomed in front of us like something out of a tourism brochure. My companions, a journalist and photographer from The Australian newspaper, looked impressed.
“Wow!” They said. “Are we going there?”
The pilot answered in his calm professional manner, “No, we’re going that way.” And pointed toward a large expanse of flat plain stretching to the horizon. They seemed a little disappointed – but I knew it wouldn’t last long.
As we flew over the great expanse of the Durack River property we would survey on our 21st Bush Blitz, disappointment grew into wonder. Our pilot flew us low over rocky outcrops, craggy gorges and deep billabongs full of lazy freshwater crocks – and the gems of this property revealed themselves like a string of pearls. The jewel in the crown was our landing site, Oomaloo Falls, an area of particular interest to the traditional owners of this land and one of our main survey sites.
Oomaloo Falls is a semi-circle of rugged cliffs, plunging down to a cool, deep pool fringed with reeds and palms. It is typical of this amazing Kimberley landscape, where desert meets oasis. The falls themselves may be dry here at the beginning of the wet season, but they were far from empty. A cascade of scientists were running all over them.
We landed on the top of the falls and my companions were immediately absorbed into the energy and excitement. Dr Mark Harvey from the WA Museum showed us a beautiful black and white spotted water spider he hadn’t seen before. Dr Kevin Theile from the WA Herbarium drew us down the cliffs to an impressive overhang, where water dripped gently over a cluster of fragile little ferns. Dr Nic Tatanaric from the WA Museum was not to be outdone – he hovered at the front of a small cave mimicking the creatures he was trying to capture, the elusive dragonflies. He lunged forward with his butterfly net and was surrounded by the largest swarm of dragonflies I’ve ever seen. Finally, striding down the dry creek bed, came Dr Michael Hammer of the NT Museum and Dr Glenn Moore of the WA Museum with their able assistant Kate Cusworth (teacher from La Salle College Perth) – the fish team. With waders over their shoulders and electrofishers under their arms they looked more like a ghost-busting team than fishermen.
They were just a few of our Bush Blitz expedition. In the middle of nowhere they were in their element, finding the hidden gems of the landscape – the plants and animals that live there. I think my companions from The Australian would agree that the amazing site and the inspiring scientists in action was anything but disappointing.
Jo Harding, Bush Blitz manager
Bush Blitz is a partnership between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton Sustainable Communities and Earthwatch Australia. The innovative program sends scientists out into the field to record the fascinating plants and animals in conservation areas across Australia.