Meet Marie and Murray – a volunteering duet with names that would do well in a picture book, and a childlike wonder for the natural world to match. They began their volunteering journey at Bowra Wildlife Sanctuary in 2013, with a fauna survey. Then, in 2014 they took up the reins on Ngalia-Warlpiri and Luritja Country at Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary while staff headed to Alice Springs to have a baby. Now, Smokey is nine years old, and Marie and Murray have kept up the tradition, returning to in Central Australia for a month a year to help the team.
For a couple who love the phrase ‘pretty neat’, these two aren’t afraid to get messy. From re-cladding buildings to fixing fences to demolishing cattle yards and cleaning rubble from the soil, the pair bring effort and optimism in spades, expressing joy to be “playing in the dirt.”
Each year the couple like to take on a different project. In their inaugural month on sanctuary, the pair spent five hours a day – weekends included—tackling weeds. Another month, they paved over the bare dirt around Newhaven’s living quarters, saving staff from the muck of wet season. 300 stones later, Murray says, “I was much stronger… seriously!”
Though the work can be taxing, the pair say the variety and unique opportunities it offers far outweigh the challenges.
Recalling a Black-footed rock wallaby scat survey undertaken collaboratively with Newhaven’s Traditional Owners and the Central Land Council, Marie acknowledges the fitness and focus navigating the scree escarpments required, where “with every step you’d have to concentrate on where you put your feet.” But to be granted special permission by Traditional Owners to work with Indigenous rangers on tracking this endangered species, she says, was very special.
“We were very privileged to go into this country that few white people get to see,” Murray adds, “And you think, wow this is neat.”
As they delve into the unexpected marvels of the landscape, their eyes light up. “All these pools of water, you didn’t expect to see in that country… the red rock, purple rock was, yeah, it was unique. It was so…” – Murray draws out the diphthong, letting it linger as though bridging a vast expanse – “isolated, you know?”
Both Marie and Murray love Newhaven’s remoteness. Whether they’re looking down on the sprawling red desert from a fire management helicopter or looking up at the endless sky from an ephemeral pool, they appreciate the way seclusion lets them commune with nature.
Reflecting on a memorable four-hour truck journey to Alice Springs for building materials, Murray says: “To drive through that arid country by yourself watching the sun come up in the middle of nowhere, I thought, ‘Wow. How different is this? How unique is this!’ I’ll always have that memory.”
And Marie is still thrilled about a moment when “all the stars lined up” during a feral predator proof fence check. Chancing upon a horde of tiny thorny devils, she shared the discovery with an AWC ecologist’s daughter, and together they marvelled at their numbers and colours.
“We counted 22 thorny devils in this 5km section of the 42km fence spot. And they’re so gentle,” she says, and her voice softens as she searches for words. “I’ll never forget that, it was just mind-blowing.”
It’s not only getting out into nature that Marie and Murray love about the AWC volunteer program. “We’ve met some great people,” Murray says. “You never know who’s going to come through that place. Like, it’s 350 kilometres from Alice Springs, and one day, we had a visit from some Jehovah’s Witness people coming through, like how did that happen?
“But always a great bunch of people, and there’s always someone dropping in or, or something happening, that’s a bit different.”
And they would know, having been at Newhaven across more years than most of the team. Asked what keeps them coming back, they said:
“Going to the same place for so long, it’s amazing to see the amount of change. We can roll up there each year and now we can look back on different tasks that we’ve done and think, ‘Oh, I remember doing that. Repaired that, built that, maintained that. That was, that was one of our jobs. I love seeing concrete results for effort.”
“We sort of feel part of the place, because we’ve been involved for such a period of time now.”
Choosing to volunteer here, they say, “It was one of the best things we’ve ever done.”
Newhaven wouldn’t be the same without Marie and Murray. Over their many years devoted to its development, they’ve bolstered the sanctuary both physically and intangibly, shaping its spirit with their ongoing commitment and enthusiasm. From the bottom of our hearts, AWC thanks Marie, Murray, and all our volunteers across Australia for being invaluable members of our team and tireless contributors to Australian conservation.
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