Water Chestnuts

I had heard about the Wongaloo wetlands from the Birdlife Townsville people. I also found
out, to my chagrin, you can only go there on a tour. How serendipitous that the celebration of
National Landcare Week in September included a bus tour to just this spot.
The Wongaloo trip was bracketed by an informative walk through the Bush Garden in
Mundingburra, showcasing nursery manager Christine Dalliston’s encyclopaedic knowledge
of the plants there. People found it difficult to tear themselves away for a bus which didn’t
show up, then did. The day ended at Morratt’s Pit, a site revegetated by Lower Burdekin
Landcare Association.

 

You’d be amazed at how many people have never visited Wongaloo wetlands, even people
who live nearby. The bus driver couldn’t talk enough about his first-time visit.
Seeing thousands of birds on water in a region where it rarely rains was a great treat. As the
bus driver said, it made the Town Common look like an airport.
The Wongaloo Regional Park sits adjacent to the Bowling Green Bay Ramsar site and is
managed jointly by the non-profit Wetlands and Grasslands Foundation, a public company
and registered charity, and Queensland’s Parks and Wildlife Service. The Foundation
received a grant to remove weeds lantana, pink bauhinia and candle bush from the 50
hectare site. Several kilometres of fencing were erected to help manage stock and control
weeds.

 

Wongaloo wetlands support the largest concentration of brolga recorded in Australia: around
12,000. It is a breeding site for both brolga and magpie geese. The main reason is the
bulkurru, botanical name Eleocharis dulcis, common name Chinese water chestnut. Bulkurru
forms dense beds during the wet season then dies back to tubers as waters recede during
the dry. Birds breed during the wet then dig into the mud to harvest the tubers in the dry.
Wongaloo is also an important habitat for waterbirds and seasonal
fish. Freshwater fish move onto the site from streams during the wet season to spawn.
Water at the site originates from three sources. First, runoff from the Mt Elliott Range.
Second, a massive sand ridge deposited over thousands of years by the Burdekin River
collects and stores rainwater, releasing it gradually into the swamps. And third, occasional
flooding of the Haughton River.

 

Weeds are kept in check by grazing cattle, carefully monitored. Lakes were fenced in such a
way that cattle could not just wander up to them and damage shorelines. Feral pigs are a
problem. In the past Conservation Volunteers have helped with weeding.

 

According to Christine: “The other really important thing in managing Wongaloo to me was
finding the salt intrusions and managing them to bring back the freshwater wetland.”
At Morratt’s Pit in Ayr a forest of green tree guards showed the huge amount of work being
done to restore the area. Lower Burdekin Landcare Association has planted more than 2,500
trees there in the first half of 2017.

 

The day ended with a sausage sizzle. Vegetarian sausages always look like they might taste
OK but actually taste like dirt with sage added. Next time I’ll go with the birds and try water
chestnuts.

 

By Carolyn Osterhaus

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