Welcome to “Narma Kullarck” Boardwalk & Bird Hide

Narma Kullarck Boardwalk at twilight

The first thing everyone experiences as they enter the floating boardwalk after the winter rain is that sensation of walking on water – feeling the gentle swell and sway of the wetlands lapping around the boardwalk. And they carry this feeling in their spirit as they connect with nature and feed their souls on its beauty.

The floating pontoons afford a surreal view – tucked away in a thicket and emerging with the bird hide on Bibra Lake. Together, the boardwalk and bird hide, are shaped like the long neck and oblong shell (respectively) of our endearing oblong turtle. And the aerial view shows off the turtle’s form spectacularly. As a symbol, this is apt. Oblong turtles are native inhabitants here.

The boardwalk and bird hide have been named – “Narma Kullarck” – an Aboriginal Nyoongar phrase that means “family place”. And it is truly that. A place for people from all walks of life and all corners of community to intermingle and connect.

A place of meditation and exploration, where you can delve into the thriving environment and ecosystem, as well as find your roots, develop and strengthen your bond with nature. A celebration of our culture of inclusivity and openness. And an ode to the rich and vibrant Aboriginal heritage, the people on whose land the structure stands.

A satelite view of Narma Kullarck Boardwalk
An aerial view of the boardwalk, showing it’s distinct “Oblong turtle”-inspired shape.

 

Staying True to Aboriginal Values

The North Lake “Coolbellup” and Bibra Lake “Walliabup” sites within the Beeliar Regional Park have longstanding cultural and historical ties to the Aboriginal people.

Evidence collected from these sites has included more than 2000 artefacts made of clay, glass, quartz and fossilised sedimentary rock called “chert”. Of these fossiliferous chert dates back to the last ice age, more than 6000 years ago, when it could have been found on land that has since become the seabed. This evidence suggests that the sites are at least 5000 years old! To put this in context, the sites are older than the great pyramids.

The Narma Kullarck Boardwalk and Bird Hide have been constructed on Aboriginal heritage land. In order to maintain the sanctity of the ancient connection, in the initial planning phases, support was sought from the Aboriginal Community and the Department of Indigenous Affairs (DIA).

The City of Cockburn initiated a consultation process that included inviting native title applicants and other senior members of the Aboriginal Community to share their views on the design, location and construction of the boardwalk and bird hide. Anthropological and archaeological reports were also commissioned in order to establish constraints.

 

Developing the Initial Plans

In 2008, the City of Cockburn engaged consultants to develop a plan for the development and management of recreational and conservation facilities at Bibra Lake. The council adopted the plan in early 2010. The plan was also subjected to full community consultation including consultation with the Wetlands Centre Cockburn, prior to adoption.

Very early on in the process, plans were altered to avoid sinking piles into the lakebed as this was considered unacceptable to Aboriginal beliefs and values. However, DIA gave permission to construct a floating boardwalk and a design for floating pontoon structures using prefabricated systems was approved.

A side view of the boardwalk's pontoons
A side view of the boardwalk pontoons showing passages enabling fauna movement

It was critical that the pontoons did not restrict fauna movement in any way. To meet this special requirement, a central access channel was designed to run underneath the entire length of the boardwalk. Numerous access points have also been incorporated for wildlife to move under the boards seamlessly.

The native paperbark wetland environment posed further challenges to the design, with poor site accessibility due to thick vegetation and its propensity for seasonal inundation. This meant that the contractors working on the project would need to be specialised with intimate knowledge of the wetland environment and an ability to work under varying conditions.

 

Project Specifics, Facts and Figures

Jarrah timber has been used for the decking. The timber decking is better (compared to GRP open grating) because it is more in keeping with the aesthetic surroundings of Bibra Lake. And the bird hide has been created out of recycled timber.

Image of kids dip netting for macroinvertebrates

The 70-metre-long floating boardwalk has been built as close to the ground as possible and is designed to lift with the water when the area floods. There aren’t any visually intrusive handrails, and at the same time, the boardwalk is wide and stable. At 2 metres wide it allows for easy access for wheelchairs and prams.

The bird hide includes viewing slots at both heights for children and adults on each of the three walls and there is ample bench seating everywhere – inside as well as outside.

There are wooden steps at a few places along the way that make working in the surrounding wetland possible for volunteers and staff during planting season. And there are metal steps at the bird hide that lead to the water’s edge for school children who come to visit the Centre during the school holidays and need to collect samples for their study.

The whole project cost a little under $650,000 to complete.

 

Opening Ceremony

The Narma Kullarck boardwalk and bird hide were officially opened on the 13th of October 2012, at a short mid-morning ceremony. The beautiful structure is a labour of love and hard work, staying true to every expectation.

Picture collage of Aboriginal Elder Revd. Sealin Garlett & City of Cockburn Mayor, Mr. Logan Howlett inaugurating the boardwalk
Aboriginal Elder Revd. Sealin Garlett & City of Cockburn Mayor, Mr. Logan Howlett inaugurating the boardwalk

As a family place, it reflects the hopes and dreams of Aboriginal Elder and Chairperson of the City of Cockburn’s Aboriginal Reference Group, Revd. Sealin Garlett. Traditionally, the site has served as a place for Aboriginal families to meet, gather and exchange knowledge. And it was his hope that the new boardwalk and bird hide would continue to serve the community in similar ways.

Together with Revd. Sealin Garlett, the City of Cockburn Mayor, Mr. Logan Howlett cut the ribbon. In our case (and appropriately so), it was a braid of red, yellow and black threads woven with gum leaves in place of the ribbon.

 

Narma Kullarck Today

Volunteers after a planting event
In high spirits: Volunteers form a “pot snake” after a huge revegetating event around the boardwalk

The boardwalk and bird hide are incredibly popular with the public who come here to appreciate nature, contemplate and rejuvenate.  The vegetation is thriving. And it isn’t hard to spot some wildlife – turtles, frogs, birds and bandicoots, casually enjoying Narma Kullarck too.

 

Link to Boardwalk Inaugural Picture Gallery: Courtesy, City of Cockburn.

References

Cockburn.wa.gov.au. (2012). Summary of Minutes of Ordinary Council Meeting Held On Thursday, 9 February 2012 At 7:00 pm. [online] Available at: https://www.cockburn.wa.gov.au/getattachment/4b883dd7-e570-44f2-990d-59660740a2ea/ecm_4205509_v1_minutes-ordinary-council-meeting-09-february-2012-pdf [Accessed 13 Jun. 2019].

NARMA KULLARCK (FAMILY PLACE) BIBRA LAKE RESERVE BOARDWALK & BIRD HIDE Project in Bibra Lake, WA – Cordell Connect. (2019). Cordellconnect.com.au. Retrieved 13 June 2019, from https://www.cordellconnect.com.au/public/project/ProjectDetails.aspx?uid=1295319

Shaw, M. (2013). The Urban Bush Telegraph. [online] Bushlandperth.org.au. Available at: https://www.bushlandperth.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/UBTMay2013.pdf [Accessed 14 Jun. 2019].

Wahlquist, C. (2015). Indigenous site ‘older than pyramids’ in Perth freeway’s path taken off heritage register. the Guardian. Retrieved 14 June 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/sep/23/indigenous-site-older-than-pyramids-in-perth-freeways-path-taken-off-heritage-register

A Wetland Habitat For Our Amazing Turtles

A close-up shot of an oblong turtle with an inset of one swimming in the wetlands

Turtles are remarkable and resilient creatures that inhabit our wonderous wetland worlds. They are widely celebrated in both popular culture and folklore as totems of balance, beauty and prosperity. In Aboriginal culture too, turtles are seen as symbols of longevity, endurance, and the continuation of life (especially in the face of great hardship and struggle).

We have much to learn from our endearing turtles. However, the avenues are limited as turtles are also inherently shy creatures. They seldom venture out, staying confined to the comfort of their wetland habitat and sanctuary for long stretches of time. And their rituals of mating, nesting, feeding and living, remain largely undocumented and mysterious.

Hidden in the grassy underbrush and marshy swamps, they thrive. Feeding on bugs, snails, worms, fish, crustaceans, plants and animals, scavenging and flourishing, they play a crucial role in the wetland ecosystem. They are vital indicators of wetland health. This is why their ever-dwindling numbers, impacted habitats and disrupted food-webs demand our most serious consideration.

 

Come, Meet Our Oblong Turtle

The oblong turtle or, the long-necked turtle, is a native species that is only found in this part of the world – in a small pocket at the southwestern tip of the state of Western Australia. And we are fortunate for their presence here!

The oblong turtles owe their name to the oblong shape of their carapace (upper shell) and snake-like long neck. Dark brown or muddy black in colour, these turtles are found in waterways across Perth and throughout the south-west. They occur in permanent and seasonal freshwater habitats, including rivers, swamps, lakes, damp lands, and natural as well as artificial wetlands.

Adult turtles can grow large and measure about 30-50cms from the tip of their tails to the end of their beaks. The young hatchlings are tiny as they begin their journey though, with a carapace merely the size of a 20-cent coin!

A long neck turtle walking through the wetlands
Image by Sharon Mcarthur

The Turtle Nesting Period is On!

September to January is a special season indeed. At this time of year, you can witness turtles leaving their watery homes in search of suitable nesting sites. They are known to travel up to a kilometre in search of the perfect site with soft sandy soils where they can lay their leathery eggs.

Unfortunately, a turtle out of water is a turtle at risk! Turtles get run-over by cars as they cross busy roads and pavements, oftentimes distracted by loud sounds and noise from moving traffic. Turtles are also exposed to birds and other predators that prey on them as they find their way. Dehydration and tiredness from the long journey and the added confusion of a changed or disturbed site can cause the turtle to feel lost and ultimately perish from fatigue.

If you are lucky to site a turtle that is on its way, help it cross the road by halting incoming traffic till it crosses. If this is too risky, you could lift it across the road (make sure that you take it in the direction it is headed and not back!) and ensure that there are no other threats around. If you have the time, you could also follow the turtle (at a safe distance) to and from the nesting site. Protecting our exposed and vulnerable turtles can go a long way in ensuring the survival of the species.

 

Threats to The Oblong Turtle

We lose a number of turtles to road accidents each year. In fact, in the period leading from September to January when turtles nest, and from June to July when hatchlings make their way back home to the wetlands, our turtles are at their most vulnerable.

A baby oblong turtle peeks above the water surface to breathe.Feral animals including birds of prey, cats, dogs and foxes are a significant threat to our oblong turtles. Feral animals are known to attack the turtles as well as their nests, feeding on eggs. Poaching and removing turtles from their wild habitat to keep as domestic pets is also a major threat. Although catching and keeping turtles as pets is illegal and punishable by law, it still happens.

And finally, it is the increasing urban sprawl, especially in the vicinity of the wetlands, that is leading to fewer and more disjointed habitats for our turtles. The compromised water quality and enhanced pollution levels are impacting their numbers, even as safe and suitable habitats become threateningly scarce.

 

Turtles on Your Property?

If your home happens to be popular with the turtles and you see a great number on your property, chances are that you are on a nesting site! Turtles are known to follow the same pattern year-on-year and are likely to end up in the same favourite spot for nesting. If you are a turtle buff, this can be an incredible opportunity for you to witness something magical!

Allow the turtle to nest and observe at a safe distance. Ensure that your pets are on a leash and away from the turtle. Make sure that there are no other threats that could harm the turtle. The female turtle will take anywhere between 15-30 mins to lay her leathery eggs, using her plastron (lower shell) and legs to dig and later cover-up the hole.

The turtle will be tired from her strenuous journey and vigorous nesting activity. If you find her at risk, you could help her get back to the wetlands safely, but not unless you are sure that’s the direction she is headed in. Keep the nest undisturbed while the mum is away. Turtle hatchlings will emerge after a period of incubation, and you can help them get back to the water too.

Here are some handy instructions if you are required to move a nesting site or handle a turtle anytime. Please remember that our turtles are wild creatures, and it is not encouraged to interfere with their movement unless they are at risk. That is please do not pick up hatchlings or adults unless absolutely necessary!

An illustration showing the right way to hold a long neck turtle.

Handling a Turtle: When handling a turtle prepare for them to resist and squirm strongly. They do not bite; however, they are known to scratch and struggle. Take care to keep a strong hold and not to drop them when this happens. Wrapping a small damp towel around the turtle can help you get a good grip. Always use both your hands and keep the turtle away from your own body.

Moving a Nest: If you are required to move a nest for any reason, or if you come across a compromised nest and want to help relocate it, here is what you do: Make sure you dig around with gentle hands and get all the eggs in the nest. Mark the position the eggs were in exactly and ensure you put them into the relocated site as they were found. The fresh hole you dig should be at the same depth and with similar conditions of dampness or dryness. Remember turtle eggs that are rotated will not hatch! If the temperatures are too cold too, the eggs won’t hatch!

 

Facts You May Not Know About Our Turtles

Here are some quick oblong turtle facts that may surprise and wow you!

  1. Freshwater turtles, such as our oblong turtles, can drop their body temperature, slow their pulse rate and use their stored body fat in place of fresh food to survive severe hot and dry conditions. This ability, known as aestivation, is the reason our hardy turtles can cope with the roughest Western Australian weather.
  2. Turtles are the only creatures with an exterior shell that is all bone and attached to their spine. The turtle shell is living material, much like our own fingernails. And they can sense pain, touch and temperature through it!
  3. It is a common misconception that our oblong turtles can protect themselves by retracting into their shells. Oblong turtles cannot retract into their shell!
  4. Our oblong turtles can live a long life of over 60 years when the conditions are right. They need to live long because they have very low recruitment rates (few surviving offsprings). In fact, on average only 1% of turtle eggs go on to hatch and survive until adulthood.
  5. Turtles are known to feed on the dead and decaying organic matter and debris. Turtles help keep the waterways clean and aid in wetland function.

 

Help Us Turtle Watch!

Sighting a turtle is a beautiful and moving experience! Be sure to share your lucky sighting at climatewatch.org.au. You can log your sighting using their app. Or call us at The Wetlands Centre Cockburn at our Turtle Watch Helpline.

Keeping a lookout on the migration patterns and movements of our native turtles helps us identify important habitats and nesting grounds. It also helps us create safer homes for these amazing wetland creatures!