My very first portable activation for our trip away was the Billiatt Conservation Park, VKFF-0821, which is located about 200 km east of Adelaide, 18 km south of Alawoona and about 37km north of Lameroo.
Although I had previously activated Billiatt in 2013, this was prior to the park qualifying for the World Wide Flora Fauna (WWFF) program. So this was going to be a unique park for me for WWFF/VKFF.
Above:- Map showing the location of Billiatt. Image courtesy of Property Location Browser.
We made a relatively early start from home and were on the road by 6.30 a.m. South Australian local time with the Toyota hi Lux packed to the brim for our 2 week trip.
We headed out along the South Eastern Freeway, passing Murray Bridge and over the Swanport Bridge and the mighty Murray River. We continued on to Tailem Bend and then travelled north east out along the Kulde Road (Karoonda Road), passing through the little town of Naturi. We then took the Karoonda Highway and travelled through Wynarka, Wingamin, Karoonda, Borrika, Sandalwood, Halidon, Mindarie, Wanbi, and then Alawoona.
We stopped briefly at Wynarka as there is a little commemorative plaque for Methodist Minister, Rev John Blacket who conducted the first service in the area back in 1911.
Sadly, Wynarka has been in the national news of recent times, with the discovery of a young girls remains on the side of the road in a suitcase.
We continued on to Karoonda (aboriginal word meaning ‘winter camp’), the major town in the area, and then made a brief stop at another historical marker, this time at the little rural locality of Lowaldie on the north eastern side of Karoonda. Lowaldie once contained a number of buildings, including a school, but this closed in 1940. Today there is very little in the area.
We then briefly stopped a bit further up the road to view the historical marker for Goyders Line. What is Goyders Line? It is a boundary line which runs across South Australia and is corresponding to a rainfall boundary believed to indicate the edge of the area suitable for agriculture. Basically, anything north of Goyders Line, the rainfall is not reliable enough and the land is only suitable for grazing and not cropping.
We then reached Alawoona, a little town with a population of around 250 people. Don’t blink. There isn’t much here.
We then drove south on Billiatt Road and soon encountered a sign for the vulnerable Malleefowl, which is a stocky ground-dwelling bird, which is about the size of a domestic chicken. Malleefowl are shy, wary and solitary birds. I have seen these birds, but only once. This was in the Mount Boothby Conservation Park. Unlike other birds, Mallefowl do not spend weeks sitting on eggs in a nest. Rather, theMallefowl eggs are buried in a sand and compost mound that produces enough heat to incubate the eggs. The mound is normally around one metre high and about three metres wide.
For more information on the Malleefowl, have a look at the National Malleefowl Recovery Team website at…..
Above: Mallefowl. Image courtesy of wikipedia.
After travelling about 18 km south of Alawoona, we reached the park. There are no visitor facilities available in the park, which is quite remote and very vast. There is no vehicular access to the park.
Above:- Map of the park. Image courtesy of Property Location Browser.
Billiatt conserves some of the largest remnant stands of pristine mallee heath and shrubland habitat in South Australia. It is characterised by sand dunes with a mosiac of open mallee scrub. Ridge-fruited and red tipped slender leaf mallees add colour to the dunes with broombush growing in the mottled shade. A total of 208 native flora species have been recorded in Billiatt.
The significant ecological value of this area was first formally recognised back in 1940, when the Billiatt and Peebinga Flora and Fauna Reserves were dedicated. In 1979, following the acquisition of additional land, the Billiatt Conservation Park was formally proclaimed. In more recent times the majority of Billiatt Conservation Park was recommended for protection under the Wilderness Protection Act 1992, and the Billiatt Wilderness Protection Area was proclaimed on 24th July 2008, with a small area remaining as Billiatt Conservation Park.
This is a very big park. The Conservation Park area is about 802 hectares in size (1,980 acres), whilst the Wilderness Protection Area is about 59,125 hectares (146,101 acres) in size.
A total of 93 fauna species have been recorded with Billiatt. Native mammals recorded in Billiatt include the Common Dunnart, Mitchell’s Hopping Mouse, and the Western Grey Kangaroo. A large variety of birds are also found here including the Striated Grass-wren, Purple-gaped honeyeater, Western whipbird, Red-lored whistler, Regent Parrot and Mallee Emu-wren, all of whose numbers are in decline. About 18 species of reptile inhabit the park.
There were some attempts to farm the land in this are between the 1870’s and the 1930’s. However the land remained largely uncleared. Some old signs of early pastoral activity still exist, including old wells, bores and ruins. The Pankina Well and ruins in the Billiatt Wilderness Protection Area are remnants of Pankina Station, which was a pastoral lease which existed over the land right up until 1979.
In early 2014, South Australia and Victoria experienced devastating bushfires. Billiatt felt the full force of one such fire. Just after 6.00 p.m. on the 14th January, fires ignited in the Margaret Dowling campsite in the park. The park was completely engulfed and the fire wiped out entire populations of threatened native birds. Over 67,000 hectares were burnt. It wasn’t until 9 days later, on 23rd January, that the fire was declared safe.
For more information on the Billiatt fire, please see my previous post….
The change in the vegetation was very noticeable to Marija and I. The park was certainly still in recovery mode.
I was set up and ready to go by 2320 UTC (7.50 a.m. South Australian local time). I headed to my nominated operating frequency of 7.144 and asked if the frequency was in use and this was answered by a couple of stations who were already there waiting for me. First up was Mick VK3PMG in Stawell in western Victoria with a strong 5/9 signal. This was followed by Adrian VK5FANA on the Yorke Peninsula, who was also 5/9, and then Dennis VK2HHA, again 5/9. Dennis has become a regular park hunter.
The 40m band was in very good condition and I did not have to call CQ after the first caller, with a constant flow of callers from VK1, VK2, VK3, VK4, VK5, and VK7. I had 20 contacts in the log in the first 20 minutes of the activation. A number of the regular park hunters were in there, but it was very pleasing to see a number of new call signs also appear in my log.
Some of the South East guys called in whilst performing duties at the car racing event, the Legend of the Lakes Hillclimb. This included Greg VK5ZGY and Tom VK5EE, both of whom had fine signals from their mobile/portable set ups.
I also worked a number of other mobile stations including Ken VK3ALA (5/8 both ways), Mike VK5FVSV mobile at Second Valley (5/7 sent and 5/9 received), and Rex VK3OF (5/4 sent and 5/6 received).
Local propagation around VK5 was very good, as was propagation to Victoria and New South Wales and Tasmania. Signals to and from Queensland on 40m were not as strong. Despite it being early in the morning, I had no VK6 callers.
After an hour and twenty minutes I had a total of 44 contacts in the log. Contact number 44 was Jim VK1AT.
I went on to work a total of 54 stations on 40m. My last caller being Stuart VK5STU who was out portable as well, activating the Hale Conservation Park, VKFF-0889, in the Adelaide Hills (5/9 both ways).
I then went up to 20m and called CQ on 14.310. This was almost immediately answered by Gary VK8BN in Darwin, some 3,000 km to my north. Gary had a good strong 5/8 signal to Billiatt and I was 5/5 in the Northern Territory. This was followed by a contact with park die hard, Rick VK4HF, who also signed as VK4HA (5/9 both ways).
It was time to pack up and head off to Renmark. I was very pleased as I had a new VKFF park under my belt with a total of 57 contacts in the log.
The following stations were worked on 40m SSB:-
- VK5STU/p (Hale Conservation Park VKFF-0889)
The following stations were worked on 20m SSB:-
After activating the park we headed for Renmark, travelling north on the Karoonda Highway and into Loxton. It was here that we stopped for some lunch.
After lunch we travelled to Renmark and booked into our accomodation, the Comfort Inn, which we can highly recommend. We then headed to the Renmark Hospital and caught up with our good friends Larry VK5LY and his wife Di. Sadly Larry is gravely ill. Ivan VK5HS also made a visit. Although it was not ideal circumstances, it was fantastic to catch up with Larry.
That night, Marija and I went out for tea with Di, and Ivan and his wife Sheryl, to Ashley’s Restaurant at our Motel. A great night and excellent food.
CFS, 2015, <http://www.cfs.sa.gov.au/site/about/history/bushfire_history.jsp>, viwed 21st November 2015.
Department of Environment and Natural Resources, October 2011, Reserves of the Billiatt District Supplementary Document to Management Plan 2011.
Wikipedia, 2015, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goyder%27s_Line>, viewed 21st November 2015
Wikipedia, 2015, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malleefowl>, viewed 21st November 2015.