Willandra National Park

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Willandra is a national park in New South Wales, Australia, 582 km west of Sydney.

Contents

Location and regional context

Willandra National Park was established in 1972. It is relatively remote, being located about 150 km northeast of Griffith, and 64 km by road from Hillston. It consists of 13.85 km² of flat grassy plain bounded to the north by Willandra Creek, which is a distributary of the Lachlan River. The surrounding district is used primarily for extensive grazing of sheep and cattle. Most roads in the area are unsealed and become slippery and unusable after only moderate rainfall. The climate is semi-arid, with very hot summers and cold winters. The park is situated on the northern edge of the Riverina Plain of the Murray Basin lowlands.

History

Aboriginal occupation of the area is thought to date back at least 15,000 years. Willandra Creek formed a rough boundary between the Wiradjuri people to the south and the Wongaibon people to the north.

Europeans first settled the area in the 1830s. Initially this settlement was low key pastoral activity and allowed the Aboriginal people to largely continue their traditional way of living. However, during the 1870s and early 1880s extensive programs of fencing, buildings and dam construction took place as the first phase of European permanent settlement occurred. In 1894 Willandra passed into the ownership of the London Bank of Melbourne, after the entrepreneurial empire of its previous owners, the Whittington Brothers, collapsed in the 1890s depression. Under the management of Arthur and Frank Laird during the subsequent period, Willandra became a renowned sheep property, winning many prizes for the quality of its Merino flock.

In 1912 Willandra was sold to the Vickery Partnership and reached its peak as a stud property in the 1920s and 1930s. Shearing numbers reached over 90,000 and the property area expanded to 436,000 acres (1,760 km2). A new homestead (still standing and available for accommodation) was added in 1918, along with numerous other buildings over the years. The property boasted a tennis court, a croquet lawn and orchards and was, and remains, a remarkable oasis in a typically dry and dusty landscape.

Despite high wool prices in the 1950s, Willandra had begun its decline as a prominent pastoral property, which had been exacerbated by a prolonged drought after the Second World War. In 1960 the New Zealand and Australian Land Company bought Willandra and its area shrank to 178,055 acres (721 km2). However, prosperity returned for a time and the property had up to 22 staff.

In 1969 Dalgety plc purchased the property, but declined to renew the pastoral leases when they expired in 1971. With the expiration of the leases, the NSW Government resumed the Crown Land grants and gazetted Willandra National Park in 1972. Subsequently the reserve has been managed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (now part of the Department of Environment & Climate Change). A major restoration program in the late 1990s restored the buildings to their former glory and a number of them are available for public accommodation.

Vegetation and wildlife

The park is very flat with few elevated features. For the most part it is grassland, with trees only along the watercourses and around the normally dry lakes and depressions.The low woodland is dominated by black box (Eucalyptus largiflorens) and River Cooba (Acacia stenophylla). Before European settlement saltbush, cotton bush and native grasses are likely to have been the main plant cover on the plains. However, over 100 years of grazing and some pasture improvement have modified this and the plant and animal communities do not represent the environments that existed prior to European settlement. Despite this, Willandra is important habitat for many native species, including the emu, the threatened Plains-wanderer, red and grey kangaroos, echindas and a variety of reptiles, such as Gould's Sand Goanna and the Mulga Brown Snake.

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