Above and below: Water flushing out rather than into the Ankerre Ankerre wooded wetland – which isn’t wet.
STORY and PHOTOS by JUDE PRICHARD
Ankerre Ankerre (Coolabah Swamp ). We have tried so hard. 450 hours work a year on average, over ten years on just a small section, about five acres. Chipping out the buffel grass, pushing back the saltbush monoculture introduced as a dust suppressant in the ‘70s.
But here we are, watching the flow of water right through, in a period of drought, dust, and the occasional sprinkle that gives us hope, that the deeper rains will return.
Why, in a time of increased environmental scrutiny, does a town, a desert town, still discharge its water? Like a nuisance, a pest, a blow in. This swamp, botanically termed a ‘wooded wetland’, used to hold clay pans and host ducks according to custodian departed.
Mr B Stuart, a man of great generosity and spirit. He said, “You live here, you got to take care”, and we try. The road construction in god knows what era, Stott Terrace, on a route that custodians agreed to as the one of least destruction to their sacred site, did not compensate the trees.
Mike Gillam took a photo for the cover of ‘The Coolibah Swamp Plan of Management’ around the mid 1980s. We went back to that place to compare images, 20 years later. Just one branch seemed to have thickened, extended and foliated.
That gave us the sense of this place in antiquity, in culture, in Dreaming, an ancestor site of the great caterpillars entering. Those trees are at least 400 years old, and now in senescence. Holding, waiting for awareness, appreciation, value and care.
‘Senescence’ is the right term used to describe this state of being. A holding and waiting, for inevitable death. But the water is there. There is just no regional commitment to this small justice for our town.
Here we have a site, just 600 metres from the centre of Alice Springs. A site to which intelligent engineering and commitment could return some (natural) water flow.
Water flow and sequestration was achieved opposite the YMCA. There you can find shield shrimps and ducks (at certain times of the seasons) in an artificially constructed bed that sheds runoff water from the road into the roadside pan. Occasional fires take their toll. Couch grass weed persists, but saltbush and buffel don’t like soggy feet, so on the whole it is a healthy little ecosystem to be commended.
Water flow experts have visited and cast their eyes over this site. “Remove the road rubble and the asbestos, the drain edges, get sheet flow”, “harvest from the road”, “scrape the sodic salt-bush soils away – that’s where your clay pans should lie”.
But we are volunteers, chipping away, flies, sweat and mattocks, and it just takes more than a mattock. The effort of coordination, of sitting at a table of so many departments, without budget, vision or will. And you’re just a one-issue player, bypassed.
Can you imagine? The anticipation and excitement of rain. Your kids walking the edges of a clay pan in town, an area devoid of vehicles, the dogs can run, bicycles through the mud, and quiet evenings watching the maybe ducks roll in. Maybe black swans, certainly kingfishers and galahs, brown kites, and rainbow bee-eaters, martins, and crows. Shield shrimps to catch and marvel.
Something local people would remember and visitors would love.
Note: The next working bee at the swamp is on Sunday, March 29, 7.30- 10.30 am. Meet mid way along Stott Terrace , at the yellow Landcare sign. Covered footwear, gloves and mattocks if possible; rubbish raiding for little kids.
Below: The potential of clay pans is evident.