Station Folk – Stewards of the Land

Host: Mel McDonald – Rangeland NRM
Written by Mel McDonald – Kimberley Project Manager, Rangelands NRM.

Our pastoralists deserve praise for how well they care for the land across most of Australia on behalf of the rest of us. All the station people I know have a deep love of the land and indeed many go above and beyond to care for it. Their businesses are based on the natural resources of their lease: the healthier the soil, the healthier the vegetation, the healthier their cattle, and the healthier their businesses. Many pastoralists belong to groups such as the Land Conservation District Committees (LCDCs) or other landcare groups who work together for the betterment of the land.

In my role with Rangelands NRM, I have been working with a number of such groups over the last few years including the West Kimberley LCDC whose members own and/or manage stations in the West Kimberley area from east of Fitzroy Crossing across to Derby and down to Broome and the Eighty Mile Beach. The LCDCs in Western Australia are statutory bodies under the Soil and Land Conservation Act 1945. The LCDCs were first established in 1982 to focus on issues concerning land degradation and soil conservation.

The West Kimberley LCDC has secured funding to make a number of Landcare activities possible. One project in recent years was on Jubilee Downs Station. Funding helped to fence a permanent waterhole on the Cunningham River, an anabranch of the Fitzroy River, to prevent cattle watering. The cattle still needed somewhere to drink so a bore, solar pump, tank, and trough also needed to be installed. This can all prove very costly especially in such an isolated location, but it was one of those win-win projects and worth the investment. The water hole and it’s inhabitants have benefited from cattle no longer stirring up the edges, the river bank has benefited from stopping cattle trampling up and down and other creatures like the endangered purple crowned fairy wren have benefited from thicker scrub and grass around the waterhole. The cattle have also benefited from being able to access clean water from a trough with no risk of bogging. It is projects like this that are often on the Station’s wish list but the budget just hasn’t managed to stretch that far. So a bit of external investment can enable it to happen.

5.1The purple crowned fairy wren: An endangered species whose habitat has been protected by a landcare project on Jubilee Downs (Photo from

Another project gave a boost to work being undertaken at Fossil Downs Station by the Henwoods and Bob MacDonald, from MacDonald Agri-Pastoral Systems. This project aimed to regenerate specific native plant species, through seed harvesting and re-seeding, to increase biodiversity and diet diversity for grazing cattle and to improve total ground cover for rangeland protection.

Two of the plants targeted for regeneration were a native blue bush, which is keenly sought by cattle for its nutritive benefits, and ruby bush, which is similarly sought for its high salt content. It has been found that unrestricted grazing of these plants can eventually destroy the bushes and controlled grazing is required to retain them in the landscape. Mulla Mulla is another plant being regenerated which is of benefit for both the environment and cattle. It can grow well in disturbed soil where its extensive root system can prevent further erosion. It is also great as part of the cattle’s diet as it has a high protein levels and a high percentage of sulphur which is an important element for digestion particularly in the third stomach.

Favourable seasonal conditions are required for good viable seed harvest followed by good rainfall the following wet season for seedlings to establish. Therefore, it may take several seasons before the benefits are proven. The project illustrated how stock grazing control, where the cattle are moved around the landscape, is essential for the survival and seed production of certain desirable species. Set stocking, where cattle always live in the same area and are not moved, will quickly eliminate these species. For many years the Henwoods collected seed trying to re-establish desirable plants in the landscape but it was not until they started moving the cattle that these species were able to survive.

5.2Mulla Mulla can grow well in disturbed soil and its extensive root system can prevent further erosion. It is also great as part of the cattle’s diet as it has a high protein levels and a high percentage of sulphur which is an important element for digestion particularly in the third stomach.

5.3Mulla Mulla seed which has been collected ready to be re-distributed during the next wet season.

5.4West Kimberley LCDC field day at Fossil Downs to learn from what the Henwoods and Bob MacDonald have been able to achieve.

5.5Cattle have grazed this area and been moved to another pasture to protect it.