And then the waters came
Look what happens when Banrock Station wetlands pulls the plug
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