We drove many kilometres of dirt track with our windows open to catch the breeze and with a long plume of dust trailing behind us. We opened gates and closed them behind us. This is mallee country, named for a scrawny eucalyptus tree, but which is mostly barren ground, yet, as we were to learn, is remarkably alive with strange creatures and plants. Once we closed the last gate and entered Moorunde, the landscape was frequently like the surface of Mars with craters of warrens dug by the wombats who live underground.
The reserve, which consists of an enormous 6900 hectares but only gets about 13 cm of rain a year, was created in 1968, an amazing achievement, especially since it was done entirely by volunteers, the Natural History Society of South Australia, who continue to maintain the property. Not only have the number of hairy-nosed creatures increased by fencing out sheep, but the scientific understanding of these and other creatures has been advanced.
We stayed overnight in an old caravan without running water or electricity. Essentials consisted of a nearby roof-rain-tank that supplied remarkably tasty water and a long-drop toilet. It was grand, and the stars were better than an IMAX theatre.
Dr. Peter Clements took us for long walks and showed us that the soil consists of a delicate crust full of lichens, spider holes, ant hills and hardy plants. I loved the bird life, so bright and colourful including pink and gray galahs, brilliant green parakeets and, of course, not-so-tiny emus. Wildlife was everywhere consisting of kangaroos, wombats, emus, lizards and echidnas.
The focal points of the reserve are two water stations, where large sheets of horizontal, corrugated iron catch rain water and divert it into tanks. The tanks trickle water to small water holes that attract animals like a magnet. The water hole we visited was easy to find for animal trails led to it like the roads that lead to Rome.
We left, overwhelmed by the incredible adaptability of life and the bizarre yet beautiful forms it can take. Just as impressive is what volunteers can achieve. We all need to pitch in and help preserve the environment.