When Phil and Fiona Murdoch bought land in Colignan, in north-west Victoria, they were not interested in farming citrus, grapes, or avocados like their neighbours.
Instead, they started doing conservation work on the 490-hectare property that adjoins the Hattah-Kulkyne National Park.
Mr Murdoch used to be able to fire off 25 shots and kill 25 rabbits, but these days the pests are much harder to find.
In 2014, the couple installed five kilometres of electric fencing to limit the amount of grazing damage done by kangaroos, pigs and goats.
“It’s really the native perennial grasses that hold the soil together — that’s key in this landscape,” Ms Murdoch said.
“So in this area, we had such good spear grass last year — we also had really good summer growing enneapogon, which just meant that we got little buttonquail nesting in this little patch.”
In the middle of the grass is a post that Ms Murdoch says is where a fleshy groundsel daisy — listed as endangered in Victoria — was found last year.
“We don’t know where it came from, but it just popped up in this grass patch. So we’re expecting to see a lot of those threatened plants just appearing on the landscape,” she said.
Funding to replace more fencing
The Murdochs have secured grant funding to fence off the rest of the boundary.
That means pulling down the old netting fencing that’s on the property, which is a barrier for wildlife.
Instead, an earth return electric fence is being installed with eight wires and, of those, three are hot to stop the larger herbivores.
“Phil did a lot of looking into what fence would suit our purposes, we also wanted animals like echidnas, stumpy-tail lizards and snakes to be able to pass through,” Ms Murdoch said.
She admits it’s a big job and has taken time off work to help her husband build the fence.
“It’s my job to roll up the netting. Phil drives the excavator and pulls out the posts. Today I was rolling the netting and I thought I was going really well and then I looked behind me, I’d only gone five metres and we’ve got 7.6 kilometres to do and I’m exhausted. But we will definitely get there,” Ms Murdoch said.
No spare time to watch the regent parrots
Mr Murdoch retired as the district manager with Forest Fire Management Victoria in 2019 and he was planning to spend time watching the regent parrots fly past the house, but he hasn’t had much spare time to do that yet.
“There’s always something to do on a conservation property and probably a few things have fallen behind since we’ve owned the place,” he said.
“Work has been top priority. So you come home on a weekend and try and cram everything in. So there’s been a little bit of catching up, and now a new project for a bit more fencing, so I’ve still got obligations, I reckon.”
The Murdochs live within five kilometres of an active breeding colony of regent parrots.
This bird is listed as a vulnerable species in Victoria.
It nests in river red gums and finds food in Mallee woodland, but these birds also like to fly along vegetation corridors.
“We have regent parrots that we see every day. They follow pretty much the same flight path, they come down the vegetated road reserve and along Raakajlim Creek back out to the river,” Ms Murdoch said.
“And to be able to fence the entire length of Raakajlim Creek from where it joins up with a dry lake system in the national park all the way through to the Chalka Creek, which is in the Hattah-Kulkyne National Park as well, will provide that amazing habitat that the regent parrots need.”
Home for rare butterfly
The property is also home to Australia’s largest population of the rare arid bronze azure butterfly.
Ms Murdoch says they were discovered about 15 years ago and they have been observing the butterfly ever since.
“So the butterfly lays its eggs at the base of a tree. When the eggs hatch, the ants come up and take the larvae of the butterfly inside their ant nest, and the larvae produce a pheromone, which means that the ants think that it’s a queen ant so they look after this caterpillar underground in the ant nest,” she said.
“But the caterpillar is actually secretly eating the ant babies so it can grow up and then once the caterpillar has grown up, it just comes up out of the ant nest and flies away as a butterfly.
“It’s quite a bizarre relationship and to have such an amazing butterfly on our property is pretty awesome.”
The Murdochs are looking forward to inviting people to visit the property to see all the major vegetation types that exist in the Mallee.
“They can come from the west side of the property where it’s a black box woodland, they can come through and observe semi-arid woodland, then there’s a patch of Mallee woodland, and then further over, there are red gums and also our native grasslands,” she said.
“So to be able to see all of those vegetation communities in really good condition will be a really great thing to be able to show people.”