Following a decade of drought, the Fisher family hopes recent rain can restore the internationally significant wetland on their north-western New South Wales cattle property.

Story By Jenet Stewart

The rain-drenched New South Wales countryside is swathed in flourishing pastures while rapidly flowing creeks pass over roads. On “Wilgara”, a cattle-grazing property to the west of Quambone, in north-western New South Wales, dormant water covers the paddocks, waiting to be soaked up by the productive soil.
Wilgara is not only known for its productive soils and grazing – it has one of Australia’s most picturesque inland wetlands, which is home to a prolific amount of birdlife, native animals and plants. It was recognised in 2000 when it was listed under the international Ramsar convention.
Wilgara Wetland is about 100 kilometres downstream of Warren and is one of the largest privately owned inland Ramsar wetlands in Australia, thanks to owners Eric and Carollyn Fisher. “In the late 1990s Carollyn and I were wondering what we could do to protect the natural environment and our wetland that we have here on Wilgara,” Eric says. “We came up with the idea of listing our property as a Ramsar site, as this had already been achieved at the nearby Macquarie Marshes.”
Wilgara has been in the hands of the Fisher family for 100 years; Eric and Carollyn have lived on the property since they got married in 1969. Their daughter Leonie and son-in-law Adam Coleman now manage Wilgara with their two young children.
The wetland, which covers 583 hectares of Wilgara’s total 1921ha, is home to many species of threatened birds and plants. There are more than 200 species of birds in and around the wetland and the Macquarie Marshes Nature Reserve, as well as many native mammals, frogs, reptiles and fish. Vegetation includes river red gum and coolabah woodlands, water-couch meadows and lignum shrublands, all of which provide a home to wildlife whose health is determined by the flow of water into the wetland.
The Macquarie Valley in this area is regulated by Burrendong Dam, which was built on the junction of the Cudgegong and Macquarie rivers near Wellington, NSW, in the 1960s. Despite this, and the fact that the Fisher family has always managed Wilgara conservatively, a 10-year drought has seen the wetland and marshes suffer substantially. In areas where water couch was normally in abundance it has slowly diminished, and birds such as the straw-necked ibis and intermediate egret have been absent for many years.

This story excerpt is from Issue #73

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2010