Water chestnuts at Wongaloo

 • Guest post by Carolyn Osterhaus •

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.