The Arumpo Station region, then and now.
The Arumpo Station region, then and now.
Interview with Patty Burns from Wamberra Station, NSW.
Jonathan King, interviewer
Michael Dillon, film maker
Not for downloadCopyright
An interview with Patty Burns, the owner of Wamberra Station, NSW.
When the Burke and Wills expedition crossed country from Balranald to the Darling they encountered the beginning of the grazing industry. Patty Burns’ great grandmother, then at Arumpo station fed the expedition.
Patty Burns is now the owner of neighbouring Wamberra Station, and she tells us of her family's encounter with the original expedition and the history of Wamberra Station. This includes changes in practices and her mission to keep 21% of her property as private conservation reserves. In association with other local land owners she has worked to establish a environmental corridor from the Murray to the Darling.
She talks of pest problems, rabbit plagues and the prevention of erosion and dust storms using ground cover and other practices. Notes: The CMA is the Catchment Management Authority. Ripping rabbits means destroying burrows.
In September 1861 Ludwig Becker drew a sketch map of their route to “Orompo”, now called Arumpo. See: Sketch of route from Balranald to Scot’s Station roughly drawn by dead reckoning.
Another Culture Victoria video about rabbits in Australia is: Nox-All Rabbits from the Granya Historical Museum.
-Well, the Burns family, our family, came from the county Wicklow in Ireland in 1958 to Adelaide and then decided to move up to Wentworth along the Darling. And then eventually head of work at Fort Bourke and decided to travel over land with two small children to Bourke to look for work. But they got to Arumpo Station and they were working there as shepherds. And a scout came in one day, or a rider, and it was one of the Burke and Wills expedition members.
So the expedition actually camped at the water hole there in Arumpo for a couple of nights and Ellen Burns cooked a meal for them. So that's pretty amazing to be involved with an expedition 150 years later, the same month as they came through 150 years ago.
-Did your family do anything else, like cart gear for them, or anything?
-They did. They said the party was very overloaded, the Burke and Wills party, because they were heading north themselves as well. They were talked into travelling via the river with the two small children rather than going out through the inland where there was no guarantee of finding water. So they took to the river, went to the river, and carted here through to Menindee for them.
I just think, I know myself coming out in this country, you really have to be careful. It's easy to get lost. There's no permanent water out here apart from the dam what we've got.
Very courageous group of people. And yeah, apparently the season, it was a good season that year so they would have seen the country similar to what we are now. Yeah, I just think it was an amazing feat. A pity they didn't all finish it, but amazing.
-Let's talk about your property a bit more. So what's been your mission out here, environmentally? Have there been environmental changes here in the last 150 years?
-When the Burnses came, Wamberra was traditionally a grazing property up into the '90s. My husband started some cropping to diversify. In 2000 we established the four private conservation reserves which now cover 21% of the property, or 27,000 acres. So they're huge reserves-- we're not talking about a couple house block size reserves.
-Well, speaking from an 11-year-old child who's listening, what's the point of having reserves? What are you trying to do?
-We wanted to permanently preserve the country, to preserve the spaces, plant, and bird, animal, reptiles. We're proud of this property. It's been in the family for a long, long time, and we just think it's unique.
What a workplace could you have? It's just beautiful. And we want to keep it, as I said, the Burnses have always wanted to leave the property in a better condition for the next generation-- same with us.
-Well, that's a great mission. In the old days, people cleared trees, didn't they?
-On these pastoral properties, it was only for clearing to grow some oats because everything was done with horses. Wamberra had up to 100 horses when it was all done with horses, and 25 employees, a permanent blacksmith, a permanent carpenter. You had your cook, your governesses. So it was out of necessity to feed the horses, virtually, the original cultivation permits. And they were mainly attached near the homesteads, which theirs was.
And we're still cropping that area over 100 years later. And it's very productive because we do our soil tests. We check that we're putting everything back into the soil that it needs.
And we're cropping differently. We're not working out the country and letting it blow away. We're using the minimum till or direct drilling where we're sawing into your stubbles from the previous year, so you're keeping that cover there. And as a CMA area, our target is to keep 50% cover there on those cropping paddocks, and in this pastoral country, 40%.
-But you must be unique, your pioneering conservation land management, in some ways, aren't you?
-I am. But there's a group of farmers that are in this area. We've got neighbors this side of us have roughly 30,000 acres of conservation, and neighbors to the south of us have the same. Then that links onto Mallee Cliffs National Park. Out east of us, Arumpo has. It links onto Mungo National Park.
As I said, we got together as a group. And we could see that we needed to diversify from grazing so we wanted to get some cropping country, and for that we offset these huge reserves as an offset. But it was more than that, it was more about preserving this environment as well. And we did receive some funding from Environment Australia to employ two people to select the best parts of the country to reserve, to be able to link it together, to link it to the original national parks. And now we've virtually got a corridor from the Murray to the Darling.
-Well, you people must be visionaries, don't you think?
-I think we are. These properties here don't change hands very often; they stay in the family for years. And so you're looking further ahead, you're looking for your kids, your grandkids, and you don't want to see it damaged.
I guess my farmers would rather than climate change say that we do have a very variable climate, and I have their rainfall records on Wamberra since 1882. And our driest years aren't now. Our driest year on record was 1927. In the 1880s we had some very dry years.
A lot of the dust and degradation in the '30s and '40s was actually from rabbits. Our rainfall wasn't that low. But the country blew and blew and the old people say they had to have the light on at 3 o'clock in the afternoon at Wamberra.
But it was rabbits, rabbit plagues. And rabbits are something that always been ripping rabbits last week, I've been spraying weeds that are brought in on the roadsides and they show our graters spread them. You just got to keep on top of it. But our catchment is in pretty good condition compared to the '40s because of rabbit control, goat control.
-What do you mean, have the light on at 3 o'clock? Explain what that means.
-Because it was dark from the dust. As happened last September in north of the state when Sydney got all of that dust-- I think it was around the 22nd or something in September. That dust they say originated in the center of Australia and on Broken Hill that the street lights came on and Sydney experienced dust for the first time.
I wrote an article recently because I'm a member of the Real Women's network, Real Women's Council, and wrote an article in the country web magazine about drought. And I don't normally talk about it because it's something you don't want to relive. But they wanted me to talk about it, and so I wrote about the dust storm. And in Sydney, they were horrified of the red images of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, the Opera House, dust on their cars, even wondering whether they should let the kids go to school.
But in North of Broken Hill, over 2,000 sheep were buried alive, over 30 head of cattle. It was just, the feed blew away. What do they feed their stock on?
I mean, those people woke up to horrific scenes. And that area was declared a national disaster, yet people only concentrated on the dust in their cars, the Opera House, there's a red image-- probably a photographer's dream. But yeah, those stories do need to be told. We didn't get that dust here because we've got a good ground cover.
-Well, Patty, what caused it? Why was there a dust storm?
-Probably a combination of dry years, lack of ground cover. That's one of our aims in our catchment, to maintain a minimum of 40% ground cover. We've got that here. So vital, but it's also vital for when it does rain-- it just responds.
-So a dust storm could never be generated from your property because of your wonderful regeneration.
-These are some of your ground covers, your little burrs. But look at the crust on the soil.
-How does it get there?
-It's because it's not disturbed. It's trapping--
-Then we get a hard hoofed animal come through there--
-Well, some people say you need that because it acts like a dam and that traps the seeds. So there's conflicting views on that, but we count it as ground cover in our catchment for erosion control because you're not going to get dust here from this.
-So how long is it since grazing stock have been in here?
-Right. So that's nice and crusted.
-Yeah, it's really good. And you've got all this litter. It's very well--
-Crusted over. It's not going to blow dust. If we get a heavy rain, it's going to hold the soil together.
-Why is this ground cover crusted instead of what it used to be like? Explain it. How come it's happened?
-Through careful management. This area was never, ever heavily grazed either in the past, but we've completely removed domestic livestock. But we're controlling the goats in here, we're doing our rabbit control. Because rabbits will come along and they'll just eat all this. Rabbits are just an environmental disaster.
-So this is a model piece of earth?
-Yes, in my opinion.
Application of Robert O’Hara Burke
Crossing an ancient crater
Crossing the Terrick-Terrick Plains
View from Mt. Hope. Pyramid Hill bearing S. 30W. Sep. 1. 60
Near our camp at Spewah, Sep. 12. 60
Sketch of route from Balranald to Scot's Station, roughly drawn by dead reckoning.
Nord. end of the Pass through the Muntanie Ranges
Small cavity in Mutwanji Gorge with native drawings and impressions
What does it mean to be an explorer?
Camp on the edge of the earthy or mud plains
Jack Thompson farewells the Burke and Wills Environmental Expedition
Dr Paul Sinclair farewells the Burke and Wills Environmental Expedition
Re-Crossing Terrick-Terrick Plains
Re-crossing Mount Hope
The Arumpo Station region, then and now.
Menindee Then and Now
Jack Thompson talks about nardoo
Burke's Tree Then and Now
Wills’s map from Coopers Creek to the Gulf of Carpentaria
Crocodiles Then and Now
Story education resources
Education Public Record Office: Burke and Wills Graphic Exercise
A close look at the Burke and Wills monument reveals much about the way that Burke and Wills were remembered. Images and questions are provided to produce a short essay on the Burke and Wills statue in central Melbourne. VELS History Standard – Level 6
Education State Library of Victoria: Dig, The Burke and Wills Research Gateway
This website provides two education packages allowing learners to engage with a major event in a way that crosses many areas of the curriculum.
The first package provides lesson plans across five major curriculum areas: science, history, English, geography and art. The second package provides lesson plans for VELS Level 4 (Years 5 and 6), designed as an integrated unit across the curriculum.
Education State Library of Victoria: Deforestation in Victoria
Activities, worksheets and resources are provided to explore environmental issues such as deforestation and introduced species. Historical and contemporary maps show the changes in Victoria's forest coverage between 1969 and 1987. VELS Level 5