Pastoralism and conservation are working hand-in-glove on a national park in the New South Wales Riverina.

Story By Margrit Beemster

The edge of a massive dust cloud – apricot pink against the blue-grey sky of a late afternoon summer thunderstorm – is driven across the sparse Riverina plains by a blustering wind. Out of the protection of the four-wheel-drive, the atmosphere, as the humidity and heat of the day is broken by the change in the weather, is eerie but exciting.
Oolambeyan National Park ranger Michelle Ballestrin says the storm is coming from the east. “I haven’t seen this happen before – normally the wind here comes from the west,” she says. An exploration of the former merino-stud property 81 kilometres south-east of Hay, NSW, is cut short and it comes time to seek refuge in its rambling old homestead built in the 1920s.
The 21,980-hectare Oolambeyan property was purchased by NSW National Parks and Wildlife and the Federal Government in 2001 because of its importance as habitat for the plains-wanderer – a small quail-like bird – and was gazetted as a national park in October 2002. It is one of just a handful of grassland national parks in New South Wales and one of only two where sheep grazing is used as a management tool. Michelle says grazing is only used when the plains-wanderer habitat becomes too dense and for the past 12 months, because of drought, there haven’t been sheep on the property.
The storm has cancelled plans to go out spotlighting later that evening with Charles Sturt University PhD student Kylie Eklom to look for the plains-wanderer, listed as a vulnerable species nationally and endangered in NSW.
Kylie, a wildlife ecologist with the university’s Institute for Land, Water and Society, describes the plains-wanderer as “a shy bird, active during the day, which uses camouflage to hide from its predators [foxes and raptors]. It makes a low-pitched sound similar to a cow mooing, from a distance.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #59

Outback Magazine: June/July 2008