Balijup Farm and Fauna Sanctuary

Narrator: Welcome to Heartland Journeys and to Balijup Farm and Fauna Sanctuary. This is a beautiful 921 hectare property near Tenterden, which has been farmed by the Hordacre family since the 1920s.

Alan Hordacre and his siblings grew up here after their father took over the farm from his father in the 1950s.

Alan Hordacre: My Dad’s attitude – he didn’t want to clear from fence to fence. He wanted to enjoy a bit of nature on the place, he liked having trees in the landscape. He didn’t see the need to knock everything down and have big debt. He saw a way that he could bring up a family and have a comfortable life without necessarily wanting to buy all the next door neighbours out and become the rich guy in town. He was pretty content. But he was a keen farmer, especially as a young guy. He was up with the latest technology of the time. And Mum, being a city girl, but from around the Swan River, she always related strongly to nature and probably had a fair bit more influence in the lack of bulldozing than we’re aware.

The farm name is Balijup which is place of many lakes in Noongar language. And it was an old river system, prehistoric river system that because of change in probably the climate, over the centuries or thousands and thousands of years, dried up and so these are totally closed little catchments, each little lake or swamp.

On the original survey documents for this farm, which was done in the 1920s, they made quite detailed reference to the vegetation and the natural environment, and the description on those original survey documents, very much fits what’s here. There were salt lakes, there were fresh lakes, there were in between, brackish lakes. And that’s still the case largely today. But if we cleared the whole lot, the whole lot would be salt. Simple as that. Very little clearing required to affect the salinity of these lakes.

You know it’s protected now, a lot more protected than it was 20 years ago, by vegetation, and plantations, and regrowth from lack of grazing.

Joe Porter: This property is fantastic because it’s really rare in the landscape um in the Wheatbelt to have such a large part of the property…. about 50% of it is virgin bush land and wetland lake systems.

Narrator: Joe Porter is a field ecologist, and he’s a part of the extended Hordacre family. Joe has assisted with some of the citizen science fauna surveys at Balijup.

You get all kinds of migratory birds coming in winter in the wetlands. And you also have resident mammals, reptiles, frogs, and obviously the bird life.

Alan Hordacre: While I like to protect the environment, the reality is, you’ve gotta have some cash to do that. Otherwise you sell the place and then anything can happen, it would be someone else’s. I recognise the salinity problem here, which is somewhat forgotten at the moment in the public arena, but I figured that by planting some trees which you could derive an income from, you’re killing a couple of birds with one stone, so to speak. You’re reducing the water table or the potential for salt in the lowlands around the country, protecting the bush by cutting grazing out of it, and diversifying the income stream and just cropping on on the best country.

Basil Schur: The Hordacre family is third generation on this property and have shown great interest in monitoring birds over many years and keeping the large areas of bushland and wetlands they have.

Narrator: Basil Schur is from the local environmental organisation Green Skills, and he’s worked with Alan Hordacre since 2011 on ecological protection and restoration at Balijup.

It’s great to work with them. They’ve been as keen to learn about the wonderful diversity of both fauna and flora that’s on the property, and also how we can together, care for it.

Alan Hordacre: Basil came up with this bright idea of doing the Sanctuary, and he got some Lotto money for that. I gave him a hand to get the fence lines in place. That’s when the partnership with Green Skills started with citizen science and we started having art groups and all sorts of people coming out here.

Basil Schur: It’s a 4.5 kilometre fence enclosing about 111 hectares of wandoo and jarrah forest, and the fence has been designed to exclude foxes and cats. It’s pretty intact this forest. There’s been some slight selective logging in the past, but the understory is intact. And we deemed it ideal for bringing back some of the animals that were here before. The other interesting thing about the forest around us, the wandoo woodland in particular, is that there are many habitat trees with hollows. These are essential for many of our native fauna, birds and marsupials.

Narrator: The Balijup Fauna Sanctuary is now a thriving place with many people involved in its management and monitoring. And, even more importantly, the Quenda, or bandicoots, that were moved into the Sanctuary are now breeding happily. Other excitement in the Sanctuary includes brush-tailed phascogales being observed for the first time on Balijup. The brushtail possums are breeding so well that 14 individuals have been translocated to other quality bushland habitats elsewhere on Balijup.

Alan Hordacre: I guess the main thing I’ve got out of it is that I understand that we’ve got a valuable natural resource here that we need to look after, and that there’s more to learn about. I’d actually like to see the Sanctuary extended to the full width of the back of our farm, the eastern side of our farm which would be about 500 hectares, which would include some wetlands, which would be great for the breeding of water birds, having them away from foxes and cats.

It’ll be really interesting in a few years’ time just to see the diversity – you just see it sneaking in slowly as time goes on anyway. Because of having that diversity nearby, things can just do their own thing, we don’t have to spend a fortune to let it adapt or regenerate back to a functioning ecosystem.

Narrator: This has been a Gondwana Link production with story development and narration by Nicole Hodgson and music by Rod Vervest. Our warm thanks to Alan Hordacre, Joe Porter and Basil Schur. Thanks also to Frank Rijavec and Margaret Robertson for the original recordings, Teresa Ashton-Graham for editing and Kim Lofts of Blue Manna Studio for audio production.