Striking a balance in rugged landscape

Big job taking care of land, running a grazing business

OUR outback property, Navarra, is a place of gently undulating grasslands and rocky escarpments, where the season can change from drought to flood in a matter of days.

Finding the balance between a profitable grazing business and maintaining the natural values of the land has always been important for us.

It’s often a delicate balance that requires careful management and vigilance.

It’s a job I’m proud to take on – for my family and for the continued enjoyment of generations to come.

My partner, Mary Killeen, and I bought this place from Mary’s parents – Michael and Vicky Killeen – in 1997. The first three years were quite good in terms of seasonal conditions, but since then it’s been mainly drought.

Living through the dry is tough and is compounded by geographic isolation. Our nearest service town, Longreach, is 220km away so banking, shopping or even visiting the chemist or doctor is quite a journey.

This is one of the reasons we’ve both been so involved in the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association.

We have utilised Frontier Services’ Outback Links, a program that links volunteers with isolated families in remote Australia who may need some assistance for a short time. Out here it’s important to foster and maintain connections over distance.

Our daughters, Annie and Andi-Claire, both grew up at Navarra and one of the greatest rewards of being here has always been working with them to pass on skills handed down through generations.

Even though they have now moved away to pursue their own dreams and Annie has her own family, it has been a joy to watch them develop.

They grew to appreciate the conservation values of this land and the green corridor we’ve maintained for native species like the yellow-footed rock wallaby.

The country ranges from gidgee, boree, undulating grasslands to rocky escarpments and responds very quickly to small amounts of rain. There is also a limited quantity of mulga and spinifex.

We appreciate the conservation values of this environment and take every possible care not to degrade the land while sustainably grazing our sheep and cattle on local grasses, herbage and forbs.

In 2013, we completed the process of declaring a nature refuge covering 7142 hectares of the property. Under the agreement with the State Government, the area declared is protected as a nature refuge in perpetuity.

We’d had the idea of a nature refuge for a long time.

It allows us to engage directly in enhancing the natural values of this land.

While the program doesn’t explicitly ban grazing, we made the decision (seasons permitting) to exclude cattle and sheep from the area for nine out of every 10 years to protect those values.

This is a fragile country and we want to maintain it.

Our nature refuge is named The 1959 Nature Refuge. That’s a personal name for us because it is the year Mary’s parents Michael and Vicky, married and moved here.

That’s when our true connection with this property began.

We chose that name to reflect the significant role Mary’s parents had in the maintenance and development of Navarra.

Some of the biggest threats we face are overgrazing by too many macropods; feral pests like cats and wild dogs and changed fire regimes. We also face the threat of weeds, although less so than in other areas. We’ve erected a wild dog exclusion fence to keep out wild dogs and foxes.

Effective management of stock has allowed us to let some of the land rest on a rotational basis and we’ve seen the landscape start to regenerate.

Having the time and resources to manage the landscape properly is always a challenge.

Due to the size and nature of our country, it’s hard work to keep on top of management.

There used to be government-funded agricultural extension officers placed in regional and remote areas to provide expertise but, in recent years, most of those positions have been made redundant. To lose the depth of that knowledge bank has been a great loss.

Even with the challenges, I believe it’s landholders like Mary and I who need to be proactive to ensure this country is looked after.

Appropriate support (both financial and legislative) from all levels of government is also essential.

Initiatives like nature refuges should be adopted more widely and should provide landholders with protection from mining and gas exploration, something the program currently doesn’t offer. Not having our property protected from possible mining worries us. In my opinion, managing the land for the sake of future generations is a responsibility vested in all landholders. Further to this, I believe we need to establish more protected areas including nature refuges however, for this to succeed, such areas need to be properly managed and funded.

It would be a tragic shame if these protected area systems didn’t have the integrity required to withstand the threats posed by mining, feral animals, noxious weeds and fire. To tackle these issues, we need the provision of appropriate and targeted resources and dedicated landholders.

Mary and I are proud of what we have achieved on Navarra in the past 23 years.

Navarra Station

20 Mar, 2020 - Rural Weekly - Southern QLD, Toowoomba