Friends of Eyre is open to anyone who wishes to stay in touch with the Observatory and contribute to its future. By making a donation, you become a Friend of Eyre for 12 months, and receive free copies of our newsletter Eyre Waves.
Donations from our Friends are used to purchase extra items that make the job of the caretakers a little easier, and visits to the Observatory that little bit more enjoyable.
Bank details for donations
ANZ bank, Willetton WA
Account number: 2891 51749
Eyre Waves is produced quarterly and contains reports from the current caretakers, news of new and interesting bird sightings, and notices of courses and workshops. Here are some highlights from a report of some previous caretakers.
There is so much more to Eyre than birds. It really is a treasure trove of Nature in general. This ranges from the primal mallee and acacia forest, hardly touched by human hands, to the abundance of birds and animals. You can look out as the sun sets, in one direction at the greens and golds of the vegetation, and in the other at the oranges and reds of the clouds. And then there is the pink sheen on the Joseph dune…
The birds and animals also seem to pick up on the tranquillity of the place. They learn how those noisy two-legged animals behave, and just live with us. This may be the Silvereyes and Singing Honeyeaters drinking while we’re talking to day visitors 2 metres away. Or it may be the kangaroos which come to drink at the bird baths at all times of the day or night. They don’t seem to mind us, and even come up when Rob is playing guitar!
We spent lots of time here watching the ‘television’ – the three windows which look out over the birdbaths. There was almost always something good on – and no adverts! While we’re not expert birdwatchers, we had some experience before we came out here, and we’re certainly better at it now! Once you get to know a bird, and its calls, habits and distinguishing features, it’s relatively easy to identify them from a glimpse. If you don’t know them, you sit for ages waiting for one to sit still long enough to get a good view or a photograph, for later identification. The good thing at Eyre, is that the birds often come to you!
Recent caretaker reports can be downloaded below
My time at Eyre - the briefest of snap shots
It was with some trepidation that I walked up the narrow dingy stairway at Dryburgh Street in North Melbourne, the RAOU headquarters.
The date was September 1977 and things were decidedly less than they could have been. The honeyeater chromosomes refused to show themselves at LaTrobe Uni, my parents had separated and the young girl in my life had run off with another. I was 23 years old and the lure of new birds in the west was now too great to ignore.
I was on my way to a job interview for Australia's first Warden at the Eyre Bird Observatory. At the top of the stairs, my emotions were quickly settled by a tall and kindly fellow named Dr. S.J.J.F. Davies. I enjoyed talking with Stephen and before long found myself heading west not knowing quite what to expect but so excited about my boys own adventure.
According to that indispensable Atlas book, the Readers Digest Maps of Australia, Eyre was somewhere on the Bight west of Eucla. Stephen had assured me it was easy to find and access would be no problem for my trusty old Land Rover (such optimism)...and so I arrived at the top of the scarp, on my own in the middle of the night in mid December 1977. It didn't look good so I camped out until daylight.
Next morning I was woken by another vehicle. It turned out to be Pete and Barb Brown with kids Damien, Simon and baby Georgie from Arubiddy station. They were on their down to the beach for a spot of fishing and also to knock off a few old telegraph poles for fence posts. They took me in hand (and many times thereafter) and together we bounced our way down the track to the building. I remember vividly my first impression of it. Remote and dilapidated but I knew it had history it wanted to show and tell. I must have had 30 new ticks by days end but the Brown's had left and I thought I was to be alone on my first night...next thing Syd Baker arrived back from Cocklebiddy with supplies. We had a good night in front of a mallee root fire.
Syd, a retired Corporal from the Australian Army Transport Corps (?) was really the first Warden in my view. Earlier, putting his army experience to good use, he had managed to fire up literally the old Studebaker truck from Cocklebiddy and with no brakes drove it down the scarp with material for a work party that Stephen had organised. These two men and other in the initial work party had the place looking good and comfortable for me and I will always be grateful to them. I was very sad to hear of Syd's demise from Cyclone George in the Pilbara last summer.
And so, Syd and I settled into the Bird Observatory routine. There was no phone; only twice daily RFDS radio schedules to VK8 - Kalgoorlie. I still remember Eyre's callsign being 8-Whisky Sierra Delta and John Flower and Lorraine at the RFDS base. I loved the radio especially the School of the Air talks but it was a two edged sword. Sometimes good news, occasionally bad but either way, Eyre and Sid were provided constant companionship and solace. The Major Mitchells used to swing on the copper wire aerial and cut it constantly until we replaced it with fencing wire.
We built the first toilet, the "Tin Sheet House" but before long Syd had fossicked around, as he did, and discovered (fell in through rotten timbers) the original stone lined dunny pit that we then plumbed into the outhouse. Shortly after, the first of several Dugites moved in to be later immortalised in poem by F.N Robinson.
It wasn't long before we had the bird list up to around 150 species and visitor nights upping 500 in our first year. Stephen was terribly busy running courses ably assisted by Perry and Alma de Rebeira and others. I see the census techniques course continues to run today. From the latest bird lists and Eyre Waves it seems to me anecdotally that the abundance of certain species appears to be altering...That Black-capped Silver Whistler sighting is a sure sign that the climate is warming!! Eyre is well placed to monitor this most serious of threats to our planet and the long term studies now in place may prove invaluable. I worry about those Southern Scrub Robins....they used to be quite common. In contrast, I never saw or banded a New Holland Honeyeater but now they are dominant.
Time passed quickly, stalwarts such as Joan Seabrooke did much in the early days through the RAOU WA Group. I remember Joan telling me to go to the Kanandah gymkana (only 120 miles away to the north on the railway line) for a day off. I still have the banner for the fastest man on the Nullarbor in 1978 but I reckon Pete Brown let me win. Peter later became a very popular Mayor of Esperance but not before dealing pugistically with a rival in the Cocklebiddy Manager. He was a good Aussie Rules player with Port Augusta.
It wasn't long before university students and long time supporters Doug Watkins and Shapelle Mc Nee were introduced to the magic of the place. Doug, Shapelle and Allan Burbidge, subsequent Wardens, worked hard to broaden the scientific base to include mammals, reptiles and plants. Eyre offers much more than a Bird Observatory and I found a common bond among all the scientists who stayed there, from spelios (cave huggers) to astronomers (Skylab searchers)....a concern and love for the place. Eyre and the Nullarbor have an irresistible attraction....the wide open spaces.
Another person who influenced me was a local called Johnny Carlisle. He built the hut at Twilight Cove. Johnny was raised in part by the local Aborigines on the Nullarbor and knew a lot about their folklore. I bumped into him descending the track down onto the beach near Israelite Bay, the next telegraph Station after Eyre heading west. He showed me the wreck of the Twilight, a sailing vessel used to deliver the poles for the first telegraph line along the coast. That wreck is now over 50 metres inland illustrating the dynamic coastal processes at work along the Bight. Johnny said there was a fortune in ballast still lying in that ship.
I mentioned a decomposed carcass of a crested type penguin (Fiordland??) that a visitor had found and he casually mentioned that the Aborigines knew of two kinds of penguin egg along the Nullarbor cliffs. I have always felt that the Fairy Penguins there may have had company in some not too distant past.
In any case it was a good excuse to go looking. Sid and I latched up with a local fisherman called Barry Rigby, better known as "rigor mortis" because of his fondness for port shandies. We poked off along the cliffs from the hut at Nine Mile (that Barry built incidentally - now removed) in a small tinnie using holden door handles from Cocklebiddy car yard as spinners. No penguins but plenty of snook found their way to various homesteads. Now I am older with a family, I doubt I would risk that journey again but then it was an adventure for me.
It was about that time in mid winter that a subsequent Eyre benefactor and photographer named Hal (sorry I cannot recall his surname) visited and filmed the Southern Right Whales calving in Twilight Cove. Back then it was unusual to see these magnificent animals but they are undoubtedly recovering now that whaling has ceased. I swam with these beasts but it wasn't until later that I was told to do so was tempting fate because of the white pointers (of the cetacean variety).
However, it didn't defer Stephen from putting up mist nets one night up to his chest in water off the observatory beach entrance as the Observatory took part in its continuing wading bird studies. It never ceases to amaze me just what birds fly along that coastline. Where else in the arid zone would Coots land on your roof, mistaking the moonlight reflection off the corrugated iron as a pond or Banded Landrails walk up to your front door?
The first year out of five of the RAOU Atlas was under way with great excitement. Perry as Regional Coordinator rejected my Square-tailed Kite on the Observatory chimmey stack. We got to travel around the Nullarbor visiting all the ten minute blocks and venturing as far north as the Great Victoria Desert. I remember Stephen leading one trip after the Kalgoolie Congress where three birdos got lost for two days at a place called "Dead Dingo's Donga". That 10 minute block was really well sampled for birds as we conducted a spiral search pattern in vehicles. I often wondered just what went on at that donga as romance was never far away in those times for the young bloods of the day. Stephen continued to write texts (over 500) for the Atlas in every spare moment he could muster. I couldn't believe the effort.
There was always something going on and many times it had nothing to do with birds but just male mischief in a remote area. All kinds of people dropped in. One night, Ross Dunkerton, the WA car rally champion, knocked on the door. He had bogged his Holden ute about 3 km out. We towed it into Eyre. I'll bet it is the only Holden ever to navigate that track. Another time a Dept of Main Roads driver lost his job after trying to grade the track and then getting the grader bogged on the beach. The round Australia Redex car trial was on. A jackeroo and I in a pique of drunken mischief turned the signs around on the Nullarbor thereby delivering them to places other than Rawlinna. Syd found a bottle on the beach with a message in it relating to a whisky promotion. It had come all the way from South Africa. He received a complimentary bottle for his efforts.
Bill Graham and the WA Post Office Historical Society collated historical material and deposited it in two time capsules buried under the Observatory building. It must almost be time to dig up and open the first of these. Bill was a direct descendent of the original postmaster who operated the station from 1877 to 1927. Bill spent countless hours taming those sandhills under which I feel there is more Eyre history to be discovered. In my time alone the chicken coop and a horse drawn dray to the south east went under. There are also the remains of an older access track to Eyre to the north-north-west of the existing track along the telegraph link line. I meant to explore this track but never got around it. I did climb the Wurrengoodyea dune to the north-east, hoping to make a first ascent and experience the most magnificent view. Of all things, I found an old tin fuel can half way up it. Not so isolated after all. I guess Bill's descendants would have combed the locality in their days off for something to do. There must be more rubbish dumps around. Not nearly enough bottles in the museum for 30 years of continuous habitation yet. Syd loved the dumps we found.
Before I knew it, nearly two years had elapsed. I had started writing up my Masters and the east of the continent was beckoning me back I welcomed the Congreves. Peter, Di and Di's mother Irene. They taught me how to make a real Indian curry using local Nullarbor lamb. Peter walked from Rawlinna to Arubiddy after the Observatory Susuki gave up on the bumps. Di was promptly bitten by a scorpion whilst Irene complimented me on the smoothness of the ride in from Burnabbie. By the way there are two old Ford Model T's in the bush above the scarp near the old homestead that really deserve restoration.
In March 1979 I retraced my steps to Melbourne. Eyre had given me adventure and new romance. Over the two years, the Nullarbor locals had cared for me and introduced me to a new way of life. The chromosomes were working and generally life was looking up. There is never a week, even now at 53 and 30 years later, where I don't think about the good times at Eyre. My Mother once said I grew up at Eyre and I think she was right....funny how birds and places can profoundly affect your life. Thank you Eyre for the privilege.