The Land

Fencing grants deliver vital support to Mallee conservation commitment

The Murdoch family, Fiona, Phil, daughter Emily, and Jazz, at work constructing the exclusion fence at Raakajlim.

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For the first time since they bought their land in the semi-arid Mallee region of north-west Victoria in 2004, Fiona and Phil Murdoch can relax ahead of the seasonal arrival of large numbers of hungry kangaroos.

And they can be unconcerned about marauding feral pigs and goats who can also wreak havoc on vegetation with both their intense grazing and soil disturbing habits.

The couple are close to completing their mission of fencing the entire boundary of their 490-hectare conservation property, Raakajlim using the latest in electric fencing technology, and can at last control the devastation caused by the large herbivores.

"It's a dream come true," said Fiona, an ecologist who developed a passion for arid and semi-arid environments in her teens, later completing her PhD on the restoration of semi-arid woodlands.

"[The fence] means we'll actually be able to plant a tree without building a big guard with heavy steel posts around it so the kangaroos didn't eat it."

With the completion of the fence, the Murdochs can ramp up their conservation work on the property that adjoins the Hattah-Kulkyne National Park where Phil previously worked as a ranger.

Kangaroos can now be excluded from the property dedicated to conservation.

Preserving native plants and wildlife

While citrus, grapes and avocadoes are farmed on land surrounding their property, the Murdochs had a different vision when they bought the first of three sections that now make up Raakajlim when the former sheep farm came up for sale.

Their plan was to restore the land to its natural state and create a habitat sanctuary to allow native flora and fauna - particularly rare and vulnerable species - to establish, survive and thrive.

The species found on Raakajlim include threatened plants such as Skeleton Fanflower, Buloke, and Pine woodland communities, and animals like Regent Parrots, Pink Cockatoos, Lace Monitors, and the Mildura Ogyris Butterfly.

"Our property is surrounded by national park so it has really high value, and we discovered early on it was home to some threatened species including the largest population in the world of this special butterfly," said Fiona.

"I work in the conservation space and I've seen how quickly things can go pear-shaped, how we can lose great swathes of habitat, and species like this butterfly would be gone from the world."

Raakajlim is home to world's largest population of the Mildura Ogyris Butterfly.

The couple spent the first ten years controlling the rabbits that had over run the property, as well as weeds. Their focus then turned to managing the grazing pressure, primarily from the over abundant kangaroos, to allow native grasses and other vegetation to establish.

In 2014, they received a grant that allowed them to install five kilometres of electric exclusion fencing, and begin replacing the existing 1920s-era rabbit netting and barbed wire fence.

"We were one of the first adopters in Victoria of the Westonfence and it worked really well; we wanted to keep expanding it but finances didn't allow it," said Fiona.

But in 2021, the Murdochs applied for and miraculously received four funding grants to complete sections of the fence that together meant the entire boundary could be finished. They included support by the Victorian Government through the Community Volunteer Action Grants, the Australian Government through the Murray-Darling Healthy Rivers Program, the Jesse Chaplin-Burch Trust and, most recently, from the Gallagher Landcare Electric Fencing program.

The fencing received as part of the Gallagher Landcare program is allowing the last stretch to be completed. Plus the Gallagher monitoring technology that's part of the grant means the Murdochs can ensure the entire 13 kilometre fence is operating correctly, and be instantly alerted to problems.

"It was amazing to have the funding line up like this - and the Gallagher grant is the final piece of the big puzzle," said Fiona. "We've just got the two kilometres to go and that's in progress now in the really tricky dune section.

"We've used the Gallagher Westonfence for the entire fence - we've got an eight wires with three hotwires that means wanted animals like echidnas, lizards and snakes can pass through but the larger herbivores will be excluded.

"And now in the dune area we're using the Gallagher Mega Anchors - they've got posts you drive into the ground at an angle which can be installed by hand. That's important because the dune country is a fragile environment, so we can't bring in heavy equipment."

Reduced grazing pressure will improve the foraging habitat for the threatened birds that occur on Raakajlim including Pink Cockatoos and Regent Parrots.

Showcasing diverse Mallee environment

With the property almost protected, the Murdochs are excited about their conservation plans ahead - and to the opportunity to invite visitors to Raakajlim to see the diverse vegetation types that exist in the Mallee.

"With the fence I can see our property becoming a rare plant sanctuary where we can propagate and plant things and know they're not going to be eaten," Fiona said.

"Without the fence we couldn't do the work we wanted to do to improve the property. Before, our revegetation program was limited because of the grazing impact of the kangaroos and goats - we couldn't even get the grass cover up to the levels we needed and were stuck. In 2019, which was a really dry year, the very high kangaroo numbers just destroyed the perennial grasses, and our property went backwards.

"But having the fence has opened up a whole new world of restoration. It allows us to rebuild the complete habitat structure, not just throwing a few trees in the ground. It's awesome."

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This is sponsored content for Gallagher.