NSW government buys remote Comeroo Station for land conservation: ABC

By Penny Timms – 30 Aug 2023

Read the original story here on ABC

The purchase will help meet Australia’s commitment to protect land, freshwater, and ocean ecosystems. 

There’s a sense of optimism on the banks of the Maranoa waterhole; a meandering body of water, snaking its way through Comeroo Station in remote north-west New South Wales.

Keen twitcher and acting coordinator general of the NSW Environment and Heritage Group Atticus Fleming, peers through binoculars pressed to his eyes.

“Yep, they’re spoonbills,” he informs the group gathered nearby — who will play an important role in rehabilitating the site.

The ABC was given access to Comeroo following the state government’s recent purchase — prior to the conversion of the property into a national park.

Rob Smith, executive director of park operations inland with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, nods in agreement and points to a heron resting near a tree.

His love of the area is obvious.

“From the first time we saw the property, we realised it had a lot of special values,” he said.

A pair of Major Mitchell's Pink Cockatoos

A pair of Major Mitchell’s Pink Cockatoos, one of many bird species attracted to the property –

Comeroo station

More than 100,000 hectares have been purchased recently for conservation in NSW, including Comeroo Station. 

Comeroo features alluvial flood plains and swamps with permanent waterholes, ephemeral wetlands, grasslands, woodlands, and shrublands.

The diversity of its bioregions is unique.

From the air, you can even see the transition from the rich red sand, so symbolic of the west, to the black soil flood plains.

It’s the type of place that responds remarkably to the seasons.

“I was lucky to see it a little while back when it did have a lot of water. It really does transform the landscape,” Mr Smith said.

“Everything just really flourishes and you can really feel the vibrancy.”

Two trees and shadows on a desert landscape from above

The property will be gradually converted from a mixed grazing property into a new national park.

A flowering tree with green leaves and yellow flowers

The NSW government says the landscape at Comeroo is under-represented within the national parks estate. 

Many more Australians will soon be able to witness that same vibrancy after the NSW government purchased the 37,000 hectare pastoral property.

Over the next year and a half, parks staff will gradually convert it from a mixed grazing property and transform it into a new national park.

Traditional owners play vital role

Four traditional owner groups will also be consulted to help with cultural heritage surveys.

“They’re very passionate about wanting to have more land back, so they can be back out on-country and teach the younger generation,” Melissa Hams, area manager for Bourke National Parks said.

“We definitely need the traditional owners here on the land to teach us.”

Comeroo station 10_Credit - Joshua J Smith Photography
Part of the river feeds into the Murray Darling Basin. (Supplied: Joshua J Smith Photography)
A stripe-faced Dunnart

The Stripe-faced Dunnart is considered vulnerable in NSW. Supplied: James Val

The site is in the Mulga Lands bioregion, an area NSW Environment Minister Penny Sharpe conceded had very little protection.

“It’s an incredibly important purchase that really shows the under-representation of this kind of landscape within the national parks estate,” Ms Sharpe said.

“There are over 28 plant types that are considered threatened. There are 13 threatened (animal) species, but there’s also a wealth of Aboriginal cultural heritage here.”

Part of the property also takes in the Yantabulla Swamp — one of Australia’s most important wetlands.

“It’s connected to an unregulated river system that’s in very good condition. It’s one of those very special places that we need to protect into the future,” Ms Sharpe said.

Comeroo station
The station was purchased for just under $13 million by the NSW government and The Nature Conservancy. Supplied: Joshua J Smith Photography
Brolga dancing in irrigation paddock next to wetland habitat

A brolga dancing in an irrigation paddock next to wetland habitat at Comeroo. Supplied: Warren Chad

Director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science at the University of NSW Richard Kingsford, said the significance of the purchase cannot be downplayed.

Professor Kingsford has been studying the swamp since the 1980s.

“We can get up to 40,000, maybe even up to 70,000 waterbirds here and of those, up to 3,000 will be these migratory shorebirds that make their way right up from Russia and China to spend the summer here,” he said.

The wetland feeds into the Murray Darling Basin — while a large part of the basin is under pressure, this section remains healthy.

“It’s still got the same river system, so it’s still got the same flooding patterns but there’s very little development that’s occurred on this river and so it’s a real ‘prevention is better than a cure’ case study,” he said.

Lack of development would also prove invaluable as the impacts of climate change intensified, Professor Kingsford said.

Ringed brown snake
The site features 28 plant types that are considered threatened as well as 13 threatened animal species. Supplied:  Lochman Transparencies
Comeroo station river view

The undeveloped nature of the river at Comeroo Station makes it attractive to many species of waterbirds. Supplied: Joshua J Smith Photography

Extreme temperatures raise the threat of evaporation, especially in areas without a permanent flow of water.

It makes protecting inland water systems important for both nature and people, especially in areas that are still healthy like the area around Comeroo.

“We hear such a lot of tragic news about climate change and the environment,” he said.

“We really do need some of these success stories to give us hope and also for us to sort of think about future generations.”

Comeroo was purchased for just under $13 million, funded by the NSW government with support from The Nature Conservancy — which has brokered funding from the charitable Wyss Foundation.

A landscape with the horizon in view
Comeroo features alluvial flood plains and swamps as well as permanent waterholes. Supplied: Joshua J Smith Photography
Hall's babbler

Reducing habitation clearing will benefit the Hall’s babbler. Supplied: Dean Ingwersen DPE

Ms Sharpe reckons taxpayers will see it as money well spent.

“People will think this was a very, very good deal that really protected a very special landscape that provides open public access for the future, that recognises the traditional owners and the Aboriginal cultural heritage,” she said.

The purchase follows the footsteps of the previous Coalition government which began a property acquisition blitz in 2019 in an effort to improve the state’s record on conservation.

“These types of partnerships will be critical to achieving large-scale protection outcomes and meeting Australia’s commitment to protecting 30 per cent of land, freshwaters, and ocean ecosystems by 2030,” said James Fitzsimmons, senior advisor with The Nature Conservancy.

When combined with other recent purchases, this latest acquisition secures more than 100,000 hectares for conservation in NSW.