Travelling Australia - Journal 2012
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15-16 May 2012 - Little Desert
We spent a total of three nights at the Little Desert Lodge on the edge of the Little Desert National Park about 15 kilometres south of Nhill. The Lodge is, in practice, a privately owned national park rigorously fenced to keep out vermin (cats, foxes, dogs, etc). The fence is two metres high dug into the ground with an upper overhang; there are ground level, small diameter (100 mm) one way trap doors allowing desirable native animals to enter the lodge grounds. The entry gate is also two metres high and electrically controlled so it opens when a vehicle stops in front of it then closes behind the vehicle so undesirables cannot enter through a gate accidentally left open.

A mob of Western Grey Kangaroos lives inside the lodge in kangaroo heaven with plentiful grass and water and no threats; they breed so well that the flock has to be regularly culled and some animals are moved to other national parks. There is also a single emu which paces around the camping/caravan area with no fear of people and inspects everything looking for food.

The enclosure is primarily to protect mallee fowl bred in the aviary. Chicks are released into other national parks in an attempt to preserve this ground dwelling bird which is far too susceptible to attack by foxes, wild dogs and feral cats for its own good.

Under the original management the Lodge also took on the role of educating visitors about Little Desert plants and established walking tracks through different habitats. Numbers beside individual plants could be compared with a list of plant species to identify the plant and to learn something about it. On two previous visits to the lodge the long-lasting severe drought had killed many plants and we had returned on this visit to see how the Lodge had recovered after the drought.

Unfortunately new management was in the process of replacing the informal sandy walking tracks with a formal crushed bluestone track more than a metre wide providing a hard surface which was uncomfortable to walk on (too hard) and not in character with the vegetation. More importantly, numbers identifying plants had mostly been removed and not installed on the new track so the educational value of lodge tracks had been destroyed.

Fortunately, the Little Desert National Park adjacent to the lodge has sandy walking tracks retaining the plant numbering scheme. Three linked tracks (Stringybark tracks) have been established with the majority of plant species numbered and listed on a readily available sheet of paper. Several plant species not included on the Parks Victoria list have very neat metal name plates installed by the 'Friends of the Little Desert'.
Little Desert Vegetation
Typical Little Desert vegetation dominated by Brown Stringybark (Eucalyptus baxteri). Depending on soil characteristics other parts of the Little Desert around the Lodge and Stringybark walks are dominated by Yellow Gum, Cypress or Mallee Eucalyptus. A healthy shrub understory including she-oak, banksia and hakea adds variety.
Both Lodge and National Park are recovering from the long drought. Shrubs seem to have been particularly badly affected by the recent drought and piles of rotting branches mark places once occupied by flourishing shrubs. But replacements appear to be flourishing.

Including the word 'desert' in the title may give the impression of a sandy Sahara-like place. Not so. The Little Desert is covered in vegetation, much of it trees several metres high, with a well-developed layer of one to two metre tall shrubs as well as ground cover underneath the trees. But most Little Desert vegetation is growing in sand and plants tend to be specialised to grow and thrive in sand; widespread sand may have led to the word 'desert' in the title.
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