Saving Malleefowl in Australia's South West

Written by Simon Mustoe



"It was a horrible, rainy, disgusting day" says Vicky, when she saw her first Malleefowl, "I was grumpy and I didn't want to go out". What Vicky didn't realise is that this morning would mark the start of a life's obsession.

Raised in Germany, Vicky didn't really have an interest in birds until she came to Australia - she thought birdwatchers were a bit weird - but the sheer abundance, diversity and colour of birds in Australia created an interest that has consumed her life. 

On that dingy day, Vicky recalls "it was just an awesome moment seeing two birds on the mound … I was cursing that I didn't have my camera".

Vicky helps manage the Yongergnow Malleefowl Centre, a conservation initiative established by the local community, to preserve this iconic bird. Her home in Ongerup is several hours from Perth, surrounded by arable country and patches of remnant mallee, where the Malleefowl live. 

As we chat over a cup of coffee we're surrounded by bird song - wild Red-capped Parrots flit in and out of the trees, Red Wattlebirds squabble over mallee flowers. A dozen aviaries contain everything from Regent Parrots to Galahs, road casualties that are being looked after by Vicky in her other role as wildlife carer.     

At a local nature reserve Vicky takes us to a nest mound. Like Australia's Brush Turkeys and Scrubfowl, the Malleefowl lays its eggs in a mound filled with composting vegetation for incubation. Young emerge fighting fit and independent. Part of Vicky's fascination is the fact they have no parental care. They are "uniquely weird and weirdly unique", she says, "it's fascinating to think about how an animal can do this". 

Malleefowl are rare in Western Australia, being victims of widespread land clearance, fragmenting their populations, while foxes and cats prey on the few that remain. Vicky's time is spent liaising with farmers to garner support for conservation of Malleefowl on the land they own. 

There is local pride in the centre - we pass the night with Gail at Curlew Creek, a bed and breakfast farm-stay. We're treated to a roast dinner, comprising locally-grown lamb and vegetables. We drink cider, chat and read each others' fortunes. Curlew Creek support Vicky's work, despite the fact their fortunes have meant her husband John has to work the mines interstate, just to pay the bills. "It's not been a good few years for farmers with drought. Times are tough", says Gail. 

But for Vicky and everyone who lives here they love the mallee country. She says, "anyone can live on the coast but it takes a certain sort of person to live inland, it's magnificent". Vicky describes the sensation of being in the mallee, where you're surrounded for 360 degrees with wilderness, the feelings of isolation. "You could walk for miles and not see anyone, walk for a couple of hundred metres and be lost" she says. 

Vicky has seen people come and leave after a year because they couldn't cope … other people like her, love the landscape and want to stay. If you live in these places, you have to be a land manager to survive. Like the Malleefowl, it represents the community's persistence to keep the environment healthy and giving. 

Wildiaries •