The amazing place in which we live

Andy Chapman is a zoologist living on the edge of the Fitzgerald River National Park, near Ravensthorpe and Hopetoun.

The following text is a copy of a brief address, one of several, given at the official opening of Julia Bell’s Eremia Camel Treks on 20 April 2008.

I’ve been fascinated by the environment around Ravensthorpe since I first came to Fitzgerald River National

Andy Chapman enjoying the view from a lofty height in the Fitzgerald River National Park

Park as a crass and uncouth trainee biologist in 1970. Now almost 40 years later it is no coincidence that I’ve spent the majority of my working life here. With very few exceptions all the biological projects I have been involved in here for the last 30 years have revealed biological ‘gold’. That is, a really interesting discovery, for example a species of mammal previously believed to be extinct in WA, a reptile found living here previously only known from somewhere else far away. It might have been how spotted minnows manage to live in our rivers or indeed some aspects of how our rivers work.

But why I find the place so fascinating? One reason is the way the world is and the other relates to the way we have changed the world around us. Let me elaborate. A recent international study identified the south west of WA as one of only 34 sites on earth which have the greatest biological richness or biodiversity. As such it is the only one in Australia. Within the south west are three sub-regional centres of biological richness: Fitzgerald River National Park and Ravensthorpe Range, Stirling Range, and the lateritic hills and sandplains in the vicinity of Jurien Bay. Therefore we live in a localized ‘hotspot’ within a regional ‘hotspot’.

  • Consider the national park; it has approximately 1 700 plant species, this is approximately 20% of the entire flora of WA and more than the entire British Isles and many European countries.
  • Consider the Shire of Ravensthorpe; 535 species of birds have been recorded in WA, of these 203 occur in our shire – that’s nearly 40% of the state total which is a pretty good score by any measure.
  • Consider the Ravensthorpe Range; those who know more about this than I do say more species of eucalypt, that is gum trees and mallees, occur here than any other comparably sized area in Australia.

These are examples of the way the world is – and has been since European settlement. Now consider how we have changed the world in particular the effect of settlement on the flora and fauna of the south west. Many of the rare and endangered species once had distributions far greater than they do today. For example, the western ground parrot, now struggling for survival only in both Fitzgerald River and Cape Arid national parks once occurred on the Swan coastal plain north of Perth and between Albany and Augusta. The heath rat now known from Fitzgerald River National Park, Bandalup Hill, Ravensthorpe Range and Lake Magenta and Dragon Rocks nature reserves once occurred from Shark Bay almost to Eucla. These are but two examples, there are others. What do they have in common? They both occur in the Ravensthorpe Shire. Although the Shire Council may legitimately lament the difficulties of administrating an area which is 65% uncleared bushland this is part of the reason that it is such a biological treasure trove.

The message is clear – the Shire of Ravensthorpe is punching well above its weight as an administrative area with responsibilities to future generations of Australians and indeed the world community for rare and endangered flora and fauna and irreplaceable ecosystems. It is critical that as a community we support conservation initiatives such as Phytopthora dieback and feral predator management and establishing appropriate fire management regimes that take into account the maintenance of plant and animal systems together as well as individual species. Not to do this now, or not to do it to the best of our ability, will see us shamed by future generations, as we are collectively custodians of a priceless and diminished heritage.