This small town at the heart of NSW sits on the shore of one of the state's largest inland bodies of semi-permanent water.

 Story + Photos Ken Eastwood 

Shearer Sandy Van Dyk and his wife Bec didn’t realise how special their town was until three years ago. They were looking at a weird-looking bird (a grebe) on the lake beside their property and noticed its young were tucked under its wings. “I always loved nature, but I never noticed the birds,” Bec says, who grew up on a mixed farming property near town. “I couldn’t name more than 10 birds. But when we looked into it we nearly fell over because there were 230 birds on the list for the area, 30 of them threatened. And so we decided we were going to photograph every bird in the area and be able to name them all. We’re now up to 205 in three years.”

While running their contract shearing business, the couple set up a Facebook group to help other locals get to know their local birds, and they increasingly discovered that Lake Cargelligo is an Australian hotspot for birdwatchers – the town sewage ponds, alone, are one of the top 10 birdwatching site in the state, and people come from miles around to birdwatch alongside the water skiers and fishers who camp beside the lake for weeks at a time, particularly in summer. “I had no idea – growing up in the area it was all about sport,” Bec says. “I’ve been here all my life and there’s so much more to explore – creeks, rivers, forests and the lakes. I just love it. I get excited when the weekend comes around.”

Sandy says lots of farmers now want to talk to him about the birds on their properties, but when he first started birdwatching he was a bit embarrassed and “snuck around a bit”. “I took a day off and I went into the sewage ponds to have a look for a bird and the shearing team went past and saw me, so they gave me a bit of cheek.”

Surrounded by flat, grain-growing and Merino country with rich red soils that turn slick after rain, Sandy and Bec’s shearing team have enough work within 70km to keep them going almost every month except grain harvest time. “Not many shearers can work 10 months flat out and stay home every night,” Sandy says. 

Located just south of the centre of NSW, the town of 1400 people on the lake’s shore is a hub for the region’s farmers, with the next nearest town being Condobolin, almost an hour away. At almost 7km long, the lake is a maximum of 3m deep, but in area is one of the biggest semi-permanent bodies of inland water in the state.

This story excerpt is from Issue #133

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2020