Eddy and Donna Wajon: Chingarrup Sanctuary

Narrator:  Welcome to Heartland Journeys, and to Chingarrup Sanctuary, this is the first private property purchased for conservation as part of the Gondwana Link program in south-western Australia. Chingarrup Sanctuary, near Boxwood Hill, was purchased by Eddy and Donna Wajon in late 2002. It consolidates an important north-south habitat link down to the Pallinup River and coastal vegetation.

Because it is a private property, it is not possible to visit independently. But the story of Eddy and Donna is definitely worth telling. And if this story is inspiring to you, it might be possible to join one of the many citizen science programs that take place here at Chingarrup.

So meet Eddy and Donna Wajon, long-time orchid and wildflower enthusiasts and committed environmentalists. 

Eddy Wajon: You know I almost wish I was here back in 1803 or 1829, when this was like a wonderland. Yes, you didn’t know where you were, but we had this fantastic biodiversity and in the last 40 years I have just seen it disappearing right under my eyes.

Donna Wajon: We belong to the Orchid Society and the Wildflower Society and we go on field trips, and we happened to be at a property near Bunbury and they had 1oo acres, and we thought, gee, this bush is nice, secluded, we could do something like this ourselves.

Eddy: So we were very interested in properties that were threatened, that were biologically diverse, but that could be cleared at any time, or had been cleared before, and could be again. We wanted rare species, both of flora and fauna.

So, the most important was this land was under threat or it was part of some program, it was connected to other bush so that it had a linkage, it was part of a corridor. At the time we had heard about Gondwana Link, and I thought, ‘pipe dream, this is bloody stupid, it could never happen, how could you have a 1000 km patch of bush from Margaret River to Kalgoorlie? That would never happen. Too ambitious, it was never going to happen. But you know it was a very ambitious and worthwhile target. And then we got in contact with Keith at Gondwana Link, through the Wilderness Society, asking for what criteria they used to buy their land, and then we drafted up our own. 

Donna: This property was shown to us by Keith Bradby and he walked us, and walked us all over the place. We probably saw more of the property on his walk than we have since we’ve been here. And that sold us, it was such a magnificent biodiverse property with lots of different soil types. So it was one of the two and Ed fell in love with it because of that diversity.

Narrator: When Donna and Eddy bought this 570 hectare property, there was about 470 hectares of intact bush and 100 hectares of cleared land. Now virtually all the degraded farmland has been restored.

So, you’ve got to actually intervene. And that’s something that a lot of people I think didn’t realise. The landscape does not regenerate itself very easily unless the propagules are there. And when it has been farmed, even for a year or two, they’re often lost, so you’ve got to physically intervene. And we’ve intervened, and that’s what we feel so good about, we’ve been part of the process of restoration and revitalisation of the land…

Narrator:  When Eddy and Donna arrived at Chingarrup there was one very badly eroded gully that they filled in and revegetated.

Eddy: After putting the topsoil over, we mixed seed in with sand so that we could get the seed evenly distributed and not too densely spread, and we walked over the area of this erosion gully that had been top-soiled. And just walked over. We actually had to do it twice to get any substantial revegetation. we’ve now got this result – very dense, not in rows, quite diverse. Melaleucas, eucalypts, hakeas and dryandras.

But this has now grown up very well. There is still a bit of a channel for water to come down, but it certainly is not erodible anymore. So this has been very, very successful.

Narrator:  Eddy and Donna began working with Greening Australia in 2004 and started restoration plantings over most of the cleared land, which is now full of wildlife.  This renaissance of natural values has been studied extensively, as Chingarrup is now the site of a long-term monitoring and survey effort, based on some impressive citizen science and other scientific projects.

Donna: We offer our property to a number of different scientists and in doing that, they stay on the property, and they have become our extended family, because they love coming here, and doing their work.

And that shared knowledge and talk and their appreciation of the land makes us feel so proud… And so we’ve had bird mist netting done, pit fall traps to collect animals, we’ve had the cat project, moth light trapping. More recently, with Bush Heritage, the flora surveys, the bird surveys, yeah, the river surveys with Geraldine and Steve Jannicke. 

Eddy: What’s so important, particularly to me is sharing this place with people. So we’ve probably had a thousand visitors come to this place. People just come and experience nature and what you can do with nature, what we have done on this property.

So here they can participate with Nic in the bird banding. Even if they are not doing bird banding themselves, they can actually see a bird in the hand, and in fact hold a bird in their hand prior to release. Or they can help us with the pit-trapping, and hold a lizard in their hand. Or a honey possum, we catch honey possums all the time in our pit traps.

Narrator:  All of this scientific investigation is helping to uncover an incredibly rich diversity of wildlife on this property.

Eddy: We have 650 fauna species on the property, of which there are only six mammals. 115 birds, probably 25 reptiles, including six snakes. But then we have 250 moth species, which we’ve caught through light trapping.

We did have Steve and Geraldine Jannicke come here to do some water quality surveys, both Chingarrup and Corackerup Creek, and they found a native grass growing in the creek here, rupia, which I hadn’t heard of before, but it’s a native aquatic grass. But they were focused more on the fauna, so they did mist netting, mist netting – drift netting and looked at copopods, and larvae of other animals, small fish. They found two fish, one native and one not native, and a whole range of creatures, which we didn’t know about before.

Narrator: Meanwhile, Eddy and Donna are delving deeper into discovering the full range of plant life on Chingarrup.

Eddy: Well in fact, your know, we have identified 459 species on the property so far, but that’s just cherry picking all the stuff that looks pretty, but what we haven’t photographed is many of the grasses, many of the sedges, and very many of the small things, and that is probably going to be at least another 50 species of plants on the property.

And this is part of such a biodiversity hotspot as well. I mean We have more than 460 species of individual plants of this property, but you just have to go 5km away and 25% of the plants are different, and then another 5 km away and another 25% are different, and so you’ve got already a 50% different suite of plants.

And even on our property we have some plants that only grow in a certain area, there might only be twelve plants there and that’s the only place on the property we find them. They each have their little niche.

Narrator: For anyone involved in ecological restoration, it is seeing wildlife coming back that tells you everything is working.

Eddy: So, we have two malleefowl mounds in this remnant or this reveg. And they were built almost at the same time, they were worked simultaneously.

Donna: A malleefowl likes the corridor, likes the alley between the rows because it has room for its mound and it has all the leaf litter it can bring in from the sides, so it’s perfect for the bird. Of course, we have to educate the one who chose the track, the car track, for its home!

It’s a southern scrub robin. Brown with a black line through its eye. And it calls ‘peewee’… There you go… and it loves to go in between the rows of the reveg, its hidden. And most of the time all you hear is the voice, its call.

Eddy: People who don’t see southern scrub robins anywhere else, often the first time they see one is here, at this property. Because they run more than fly, but they can fly.

Narrator: Eddy and Donna have a profound connection and commitment to Chingarrup. This has generated much local and scientific knowledge, while also bringing great joy to them and to the many other people who have been part of the Chingarrup experience.

Eddy: It’s the sense of discovery. Each step you take. Each time you take a step, there is something new to be seen in front of you that is unpredictable.

It might be a rock that’s of a certain shape, or a malleeroot, or you might see a grub or an insect, a bee, a wasp. And that sense of magic and wonder is what I get out of the bush as well as just, you know, photographing. But just being in there, seeing what’s there to be seen.

Donna: It would have been interesting to see this land before the farming community came in. It would have been a completely different landscape. It would have been nice to have been that bird flying over the land and see what it was like.

Eddy: So this is an attempt from us to hold the bulwark at least at our property and to set an example for other people that in fact it can be done, you can do something, but you have to want to do it, and it isn’t difficult. I mean we’re just ordinary people, we’re not multi-millionaires. 

Narrator:  This has been a Gondwana Link production with story development by Nicole Hodgson, Margaret Robertson and Keith Bradby. Narration by Nicole Hodgson, music by Rod Vervest. Original audio recording by Frank Rijavec and Margaret Robertson. Our warm thanks to Eddy and Donna Wajon and to audio editor and producer Kim Lofts of Blue Manna Studio.