action-story | 5th Apr, 2005

Tim Burnard: Hopes one day the platypus will return

When he bought his 100 acre property on the banks of the Glenelg River near Casterton, Tim Burnard couldn’t get down to the river for all the overgrown weeds.

After several years of battling the African Feather Grass which had taken over much of the area, the banks are now restored to the extent that you can get down to the river for a paddle on a hot day, or to seek out the elusive platypus.

Tim says he looks forward to seeing a platypus in this section of the river.

“The platypus is a good indicator of a healthy river”.

I saw one upstream a few weeks ago, but I’m yet to see one down here. Hopefully one day platypus will return to this stretch of the river.”

Tim has set aside about 45% of his property for remnant vegetation. The remainder is used to farm red deer. Deer antlers are exported to Asia for medicinal use, while the meat can be sold within Australia as venison.

A self-taught builder, Tim and his partner, Donna spent seven years constructing their house, which runs on solar power and utilizes natural light and ventilation. The result is a bush retreat overlooking the Glenelg River. “You can see the river from nearly every room.”

With Gang Gang Cockatoos screeching overhead, we make our way down to the river. The once gushing flow of the 1991, 1992 and 1996 floods has been reduced to a slow trickle, caused by a combination of low rainfall and the diversion of two-thirds of the river’s flow at Rocklands dam.

In 1996, Tim was canoeing across the paddocks surrounding the river. Today, the water is barely deep enough for a paddle. Sand now builds up on the river bends, resulting in sand ‘slugs’ that further restrict the Glenelg’s already low flow. In November 2004, low rainfall had reduced capacity at Rocklands to just 13%.

Tim has been working with local farmers through the Bahgallah/Killara Landcare Group, encouraging them to fence off their properties from the river to prevent stock from destroying its fragile banks and polluting the water. The Group is also tackling other weeds, such as Bridal Creeper and Blackberry, which threaten to take over much of the banks on this stretch of the Glenelg. He says that farmers need to work together to protect the river from weed invasion.

Tim gestures toward the large fallen River Red Gums in the middle of the stream “All of these snags are under forty years old, since the rest were removed in 1961.” In the early 1960’s, the Glenelg was cleared of snags, to prevent floodwaters causing damage to houses in Casterton.

The River Improvement Trust intended to increase the rate of flow along the river and direct the water away from the town. This changed the shape of the river, contributing to erosion of the rivers banks and loss of river habitat. Over the past forty years, the river has gradually replaced the removed snags with dead River Red Gums, providing important habitat for fish and macro-organisms.

Tim is working with the Casterton community to engage people in recreational activities on the Glenelg River. “I’d like to invest in some canoes, to encourage people to explore and appreciate their river.”

Tim is also currently working on establishing a local community group to tackle the broader threats to the Glenelg.

He plans to organize an event later in the year to bring people together to celebrate their river.

Written and edited by Anna Boustead, April 2005.