Go behind the scenes to discover the unique jobs and passionate people that care for South Australia’s environment.
Erik Dahl – Ranger in Charge North East Deserts
How would you describe your job to someone at a BBQ?
I’m a ranger working out of Innamincka on the Cooper Creek looking after Malkumba-Coongie Lakes National Park, and Innamincka and Strzelecki Regional Reserves. Regional reserves work on the biosphere concept of land management so there are varied interests including for cattle, oil and gas. There are also significant Indigenous interests.
Tourism is important for local businesses and the area is recognised internationally as a wetland and bird habitat. I mostly work in land and visitor management.
How did you get into this line of work?
My mother was a keen bushwalker, and an early member of the Adelaide Bushwalkers Club, who loved the western end of Kangaroo Island. My family spent many summer holidays at Flinders Chase, helping to feed a small flock of cape barren geese, catching echidnas with Flinders University, and minding the fort occasionally when our friends went away. I learnt to swim, hunt and fish and have a strong scouting background through the Panorama Sea Scouts. As a kid I had a job collecting paper money and learned to negotiate with people and dogs.
After leaving school I worked at a farm on Kangaroo Island for three months, ploughing, picking stumps, planting turnips, mucking out pigs, loading hay, cleaning silos and looking after stock. While there I heard that National Parks was advertising for trainee rangers and I applied. I was shortlisted out of 300 applicants and started at Belair Golf Course as a Green Keeper. Since then I have worked at a number of parks including Danggali Conservation Park and Wilderness Protection Area, Witjira National Park, Flinders Ranges National Park and Para Wirra Recreation Park.
I have also completed a parks and wildlife Associate Diploma. I always enjoyed the Far North and am glad to be back at Innamincka.
What do you encounter in a ‘normal’ day on the job?
I remember crawling into a wet swag next to my bogged ute in the middle of a huge clay plan in the dark crying, “I want a normal life”. But I don’t.
There is no normal day, I could be controlling weeds, fencing, installing signage, making walking tracks, cleaning toilets, setting up cameras or assisting visitors. Sometimes I’m in front of the computer planning or emailing, and sometimes I’m boating, flying, canoeing, riding motorbikes or driving four wheel drives, tractors and trucks.
I work with a variety of people and groups including the Yandruwandha Yawarrawarrka Parks Advisory Committee, friends of parks, scientists, miners, locals and the pastoral management group. It’s a job of great variety!
What’s the most amazing thing you’ve seen at Innamincka?
It has to be the bird life, sunsets and vistas. I’ve watched a flock of 19 letter-winged kites so buoyant in the air you would think they were full of helium. Sat in a kayak in the middle of Coongie Lake surrounded by 300 swans, freckled ducks, musk ducks, countless pink-eared ducks and pelicans. Swum in waterholes at dusk with pelicans flying low in a crimson sky, turtles bobbing a few feet away and swallows, rainbow birds and honey eaters hawking insects along the bank.
After a hard climb I’ve marvelled at the view from the mesas with the Gidgee and Miniritchie creeks running off into the distance. For me it’s an amazing experience to walk in the footprints of the Aboriginal people and early explorers and to learn from traditional owners, scientists and locals.
- Read up on the history before you visit. Helen Tolcher’s books, especially Seed of the Coolibah, provide a really good history of the Yandruwandha and Yawarrawarrka, and Sarah Murgatroyd’s The Story of Burke and Wills puts a lot of the history into perspective.
- Find a camp early, not directly under a red gum as they drop big limbs, set up and relax.
- Go for a walk with your camera and binoculars.
- Don’t just stay by the creek. Walk the dunes and swales among bloodwoods and whitewoods, the gibber country, Mineritchie creeks and clay pans – they’re all beautiful in their own way.
- Be prepared for flies, dust and sun.
- Stay for a few days, don’t rush through.
- Drive carefully, give trucks plenty of room especially on the rocky sections and slow down over the dune crests.
- Visit in a well prepared vehicle – the tracks are rough.
- If you bring a trailer it needs to be tough, weak ones are regularly abandoned.
- Get a Desert Parks Pass and read it before you arrive.
Have you visited any of these parks? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
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