And then the waters came

Look what hap­pens when Banrock Sta­tion wet­lands pulls the plug

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - HE­LEN McKEN­ZIE

CHRISTOPHE Tourenq is talk­ing about a rare Ara­bian moun­tain leop­ard and a colony of en­dan­gered ‘‘unny biz’’. Po­litely I ask him to re­peat what he’s just said and then I get it — honey bees.

Tourenq, the man­ager of Banrock Sta­tion wet­lands at Kingston on Mur­ray, three hours’ drive north­east of Ade­laide, is French and his de­light­ful ac­cent has me hang­ing on ev­ery word. Af­ter a decade work­ing in the Mid­dle East, Tourenq is en­joy­ing a new, al­most God-like chal­lenge.

He over­sees the cre­ation of wet and dry sea­sons for 700ha of land de­graded by a cen­tury or more of sheep graz­ing. The low-ly­ing land is flanked on one side by the Mur­ray River, with its rugged lime­stone cliffs, and the or­derly Banrock Sta­tion vine­yards on the ad­ja­cent rolling hills.

The j ob at hand is to re­store the habi­tat for 200 an­i­mal and plant species, in­clud­ing eight kinds of frogs and the threat­ened Re­gent Par­rot. Part of the process is to re-es­tab­lish the in­dige­nous river red gu­mand black box eu­ca­lypts. More than 6600 seedlings have been planted in an at­tempt to mimic the River­land veg­e­ta­tion prior to 1925 when the Mur­ray was tamed by locks and la­goons to al­low pad­dlesteamer trans­port be­tween Ade­laide and Echuca. To­day, Tourenq pulls out a plug and floods the land — well, ac­tu­ally he turns a large tap that opens flood­gates. The higher river wa­ter level al­lows the wet­land to be flooded by grav­ity, no pump re­quired.

Ex­cite­ment mounts and bets are taken on how far the wa­ter will reach in 24 hours. Brothers Harry and Heath Camp­bell (eight and 10, re­spec­tively) have wagged the last pe­riod of school to wit­ness the event and are prac­tis­ing their frog calls. Heath’s spe­cialty is the bo­ing noise made by an east­ern banjo. Harry says he prefers bugs.

Since buy­ing the prop­erty in 1994, BLR Hardy’s Wines (now Ac­co­lade Wines) has ap­plied a sus­tain­abil­ity ap­proach to many as­pects of wine­mak­ing. They turn the abun­dant ‘‘rab­bit of the wa­ter­ways’’ (Euro­pean carp) into fer­tiliser, make mulch from vine waste, have adopted Mediter­ranean grape va­ri­eties that need less wa­ter and are de­vel­op­ing be­low soil sur­face ir­ri­ga­tion to re­duce evap­o­ra­tion.

Con­structed from rammed earth, the ochre-coloured Wine and Wet­lands Cen­tre has a broad wooden deck, per­fectly po­si­tioned for gaz­ing over the vine­yard, to the wet­lands and river be­yond. Banrock has a swath of tourism awards but man­age­ment is most chuffed about the wet­lands re­ceiv­ing the stamp ‘‘in­ter­na­tion­ally sig­nif­i­cant’’ from the pres­ti­gious Ram­sar Con­ven­tion.

When I visit the cen­tre, a coach tour group from Can­berra is lis­ten­ing to ed­u­ca­tional in­for­ma­tion on the wet­land, fol­lowed by lunch fea­tur­ing lo­cal yab­bies and Mur­ray cod. Tim­ber walk­ing tracks ex­tend from the cen­tre over the re­ju­ve­nated area al­low­ing easy im­mer­sion into na­ture and there are bird hides where twitch­ers may, with luck, spy a re­gent par­rot.

While the land floods, we take a sun- set river cruise at nearby Berri on a grand river­boat. At Banrock the next morn­ing we see the ex­tent of the flood­wa­ter and Tourenq looks happy.

He is un­sure if his bet is safe with Ranger Tim on the dis­tance cov­ered by the wa­ter but the cre­ation of an almighty flood when you need one, ap­pears to be ex­tremely sat­is­fy­ing.

We take a stroll on one of the na­ture walks and are al­most deaf­ened by frog and bird noises. Young Heath’s east­ern banjo frog call was right on the money. He­len McKen­zie was a guest of Banrock Sta­tion. ban­rock­sta­tion.com.au house­boatad­ven­ture.com.au

The higher river wa­ter level al­lows the Banrock Sta­tion wet­lands to be flooded by grav­ity

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