Author Archives: keith

The Road to Residency @ Kalamurina

Filed under Residency 3: Kalamurina SA

Today I begin the long trip to Kalamurina, North of Lake Eyre in the Simpson Desert – the distances are typically Australian in nature

Kalamurina Sanctuary is situated within the Lake Eyre Basin. The Lake Eyre Basin is a vast tract of land covering approximately 1,170,000 square kilometres of arid and semi-arid Australia; representing 17% of the continent (DEH 2004). Lake Eyre is the world’s fifth largest terminal lake and, unlike many other large river systems in the world, water flows in the Lake Eyre Basin are unpredictable and highly variable (DEH 2004). Lake Eyre is also one of the largest unregulated inland basins in the world.

I fly BNE-ADL – (carbon credits aside it a guzzler) ..
Pickup from in Adelaide in the AWC ute – Keith bellchambers
Drive to Clare – shop for 4 weeks food
Drive to Buckaringa Sanctuary in the Flinders – overnight stay – a day off – leant a 4WD to explore:)
Drive via Port Augusta through the Flinders up to Marree – enter the Birdsville Track – eight hours from Buckaringa and two flat tyres we are there ..

ϖ Kalamurina is situated approx. 260 km up the Birdsville Track, north of Marree, South Australia. It is 330km South of Birdsville QLD.
ϖ It is 60 km inland from the Mungerannie Hotel.
ϖ You will need to check road conditions before departing.
ϖ You traverse through two properties on the track from Mungerannie, keeping to the ‘old gate rule’ of leaving the gates as you find them.
ϖ 21 km along this track from the ‘3 5’ gate is the Cowarie homestead – Kalamurina’s immediate neighbor. Please drive slowly through here to avoid raising dust, and to avoid people and pets. Also keep to the left to avoid unexpected vehicle movements.

ϖ 10km from Cowarie is Kalamurina’s front gate, which is locked at all times unless arrivals are expected. Ring from Mungerannie to sort out arrival times otherwise you could have a wait at the gate until we are available. Mungerannie’s phone box only takes phone cards.
ϖ Mungerannie to Kalamurina is a public road and can be closed by S.A. Roads. The sign is at Mungerannie (check your car insurance to determine if you are covered for driving on ‘closed’ roads. AWC vehicles are not covered if driving on closed roads. Hire vehicles are not usually covered at all in this part of the country. There are some companies that hire vehicles out check with hire company.
ϖ The nearest towing service to recover vehicles and repairs is Copley Motors (RAA; 08 86752618) based approx. 420km from Kalamurina, his closest pick up point is Mungerannie. Kalamurina does not have a vehicle recovery trailer.

Some history of the residency

Filed under Reflections on Process

I was looking through the emails – remembering how this came about – the development and the experiences ..

The residency had been first mooted in 2009 on a visit to Scotia Sanctuary – as an interested donor – Scotia manager Joe encouraged and advocated – and through working as a volunteer I was able to show my willingness to both research my project and engage deeply in the work and working life of the filed ecology teams with whom I chose to spend my 16 weeks. Strongly Supported by Shauna in central office and senior ecologist Matt Hayward who I had serednipitously been able to introduce to my work in Midura – the project unfurled .. In this letter to Shauna I unfurled the ideas – somewhat idealistically – but in essence the project remains tre to these first ideas..

Hi Shauna

It was good to speak to you the other day about the proposed project that I have spoken about with Joe at Scotia.  I look forward to the information you were collecting up for me and also results of converstaions that you were planning with some of the people in your organisation.

Ive been spending a bit of time looking through the supporters magazine to look again at some of the great work that you are doing – clearly there are so many important projects in train and of course the network of reserves is stunning – as an artist Im always drawn back to that idea of mobilising culture/hearts and minds alongside and in step with the mobilisation of science (again clearly your strength) is my realistic contribution.

The question that preoccupies me as both an artist and a passionate environmentalist is how to make the cultural leap from ‘knowing’ (the facts tell us there is a massive problem)  to ‘learning’ from that information (In general we dont act in a way that in anyway acknowledges the weight of the facts we are given).

 I think these are the challenges that cultural practitioners face and where we can co partner with scientists who have the data but may in some (I stress not all 🙂 ) cases have less experience in creative ways to get the core concepts they are finding across to the general populace.

It may be that more data on its own is not enough – broadly we seem not to be getting through to them (ie the general populace) to a point where they either feel empowered to act or even, more profoundly, to emotionally and intellectually connect that which is being achieved at places like Scotia with their own sense of’ well being’.

So for me any future project would probably have a number of general aims

1: Raising awareness that the issues AWC face – and are tackling intelligently and methodically – are universal – what we lose now is both an ‘experience deficit’ for future generations  (something we need to make the the GP acknowledge and care about)  – and ultimately something that will profoundly affect our health and wellbeing (mental and biophysical factors we typically care about more than things that clearly seem abstract to some, esp in cities, – eg  mammal biodiversity). 

2: Theming some kind of experiential work around the extraordinary experience of being in a biodiverse location such as Scotia – its often not enough to sit down with someone and tell them the facts – they need to experience something for themselves (either directly as I have albeit briefly there, or more realistically through other artistic approaches) –  and use  that as the springboard.

3: Thinking about how such work can ‘live through time’ so that its impact can contribute  to the longterm efforts of the kind of work AWC excels at. 

This underlines the importance that with everything we do we must better think ‘in and through’ time – just as you factor time/future planning into your conservation management decisions at the AWC – so must we all too in our daily lives – so that we can conserve/give back to our collective futures – rather than continually taking away from them. The ecological connections between remote sanctuaries such as yours and the concerns of urban and regional Australians needs to be somehow made clear!

So ..

What that means initially is two fold – As Joe knows –  Id like to come out this year again to Scotia soon – Im already working on an existing interactive installation project called Finitude (Mallee:Time) (I typically work in new media forms)  themed as you might expect from the title by the mallee – and Id like to spend some time at Scotia collecting sound and image and idea for that (That work will be shown in Mildura in September)

At that stage Id both of course pay any costs and also Id like to volunteer some labour too (maybe the mammal survey in May) – and through working with the scientists and people on the ground talk through some possibilities – in short Id like to do some of my own research which I will of course self fund –  but also be useful to the ground crew there – the more I experience the more I can understand how I might contribute.  Anyone else I could speak to about this in the AWC would also be helpful.

Once a clearer idea emerges – I can at my end then apply both for art-science style funding from Federal arts bodies – or through my part time role as a senior research fellow at QUT Creative Industries I could also apply feasibly for an ARC Linkage – which we cultural pratitioners (Working as artist-researchers) are now eligible for.  In these cases – working in partnership with a respected organisation like your own would I think really attract the funders – they like to see arts money being applied into ‘real world’ situations.

Ok – well let me know if this makes sense .. I hope to hear from you shortly 🙂



Residency Stage 2, Yookamurra, South Australia

Filed under Residency 2: Yookamurra SA

The second phase of the residency coincided with the annual mammal trapping survey at Yookamura – The property is 5,000 ha (12,350 acres) and gives protection to 20 mammals, 96 birds, 24 reptiles and 1 amphibians at last count. Its classic Mallee scrub (I hesitate to use that term because of its historic connotations) and set in the Murray Darling Depression bioregion it is in the Barossa Valley around 2.5 hours from Adelaide.

Like some of the other properties it has a feral free enclosure – in this case relatively small at 1,000 ha. This keeps out the two small and medium sized mammal killers – feral cats and foxes. It also hosts a school educational program for local seniors. Our warm and welcoming hosts Noel and Mel are relatively new to the property having come down from the Northern Territory from Parks and Wildlife (crocodile wrangling being but one skill) and Darwin Zoo.   Remote in one way but within striking distance of good coffee, wine and food nearby in South Australian Style – its quite a location.


Checking the recaptures, listed by PIT tags of animals from the 'night before' (Image Keith Armstrong, Courtesy AWC)

Consistent with the first residency I arrived with similar intentions – to become a team member in the mammal survey (The ‘Rat KAngaroos’ – ground dwelling and burrowing – Woylies and Boodies, as they have groups of at Scotia) – as a means for learning aspects of the grounding ecological science, and then engaging and working and talking with the range of scientists, volunteers and team members over the two week stint. There was also ample chance to chat with the station managers Noel and Mel to find out about the process, motivations and practices, and also chat with AWC’s official photographer Wayne Lawler who had a vast knowledge of all of the astounding sanctuaries AWC manage Australia wide. I also conducted interviews, shot numerous images and accessed the great little library at the info centre and unwound a little! Consistent with the open aims of the residency and the need in a lean organisation for everyone to become involved the time was full and passed quickly. As we were on night shift things also passed in a blur at times although the four night of trapping were not too demanding – albeit a little cold at that time of year.

Closing up a pouch, avoiding risk of a mother ejecting her pouch young.

Closing up a pouch, avoiding risk of a mother ejecting her pouch young. (Image Wayne Lawler, Courtesy AWC)

‘Lost World’

Filed under Reflections on Process

As part of this  residency – I one day hope to get over to work with the scientists to some of the properties they hold in the Kimberlies – if you want to see something inspirational, stunning and also the heart wrenching story of Australia’s shattered mammal ecology – watch this TV program excerpt:

What can we do? Support the AWC and other such organisations .. but more importantly – integrate ecological thinking and action into the very fabric of every decision we make as a nation – nothing less is going to work. Think past the paucity of our politicians and the thin news media. Direct creative energy and thinking.

The AWC Artesian Range Proprerty, Kimberley, Australia (Image courtesy AWC)

AWC North Heads Video: Reflections on Arts-Science

Filed under Reflections on Process, Residency 1: North Heads Sydney

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Certificated :)

Filed under Residency 1: North Heads Sydney

Fieldwork certification, ANAT-Synapse Residency 1, North Heads, Sydney.

Two science papers – North Heads Residency

Filed under Residency 1: North Heads Sydney

These two papers shed some light on the challenges faced at North Heads.

From the abstracts ..

The use of Population Viability Indices in making long-sighted urban conservation decisions.

banks2004_AustZool Pop viability analysis

Although remarkably adaptable in its reproductive and dietary strategies, this population of long-nosed bandicoots is likely to follow other urban bandicoot populations toward extinction unless there is active management to reduce the high rate of mortality from motor vehicles and introduced predators.

Scott et al 99 Ecology and pop biology of P.nasuta at nth head

A peanut butter sandwich - Long Nosed Bandicoot Bait, North Heads, Sydney, (Photo Keith Armstrong, Courtesy of AWC)

On Time and Contraction: Some Recent AWC Media

Filed under Reflections on Process

These relevant links and quotes come from the web/newspapers- and quote in the journalists words .. 

‘AWC founder and philanthropist Copley says the task (of mammal conservation) is beyond the capacity of government and politicians, whose timelines are very different from those of threatened animals’.

“It is blindingly obvious that the government effort is failing by inaction. There are a lot of fine people and words, but programs are contracting all over the country. There is a huge vacuum.”

Martin Copley, 2011 in Chasing the green | The Australian

Strikingly, it seems that governmental custodians agree that the long-standing system of piecemeal management has failed. In the same time-frame as its assumption of control over Tableland station, AWC is cementing a most unusual deal with the West Australian government to extend its newly acquired sanctuary on pastoral land in the Artesian Range, west of Mornington, where some of the north’s mammalian rarities endure.

From Grand plan for an ancient landscape | The Australian

Se also

Pastoralists give ground for conservation | The Australian

Bringing beasties back from the brink | The Australian

The wide green land | The Australian

Atticus Fleming, chief executive of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, at Mount Brennan in Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary. Picture: Colin Murty Source: The Australian

Thinking out loud ..

Filed under Reflections on Process

“Hospitality to/for the animal other means letting slip particular human values, i.e. characteristics valued as and for humans. Such work becomes not simply an art that tells us stories about ourselves but something which opens onto an earth larger than our own (human) world. Most particularly and strikingly there is a suspension of reason, domination, and control. Art that suspends human values risks instability, unreason, rejection and collapse. Such art does not properly ‘serve’ culture and so fits awkwardly as an object within the art and gallery world. Indeed, such art speaks to culture by turning from culture, gesturing to an Outside; such art hopes to turn culture with its turn from culture”.


Signage at North Heads, The Re-introduction Project, ANAT-Synapse Residency (Photo Keith Armstrong, Courtesy of AWC)

Residency1: Working at North Heads With the Ecologist Team, May 2012

Filed under Reflections on Process, Residency 1: North Heads Sydney

The first residency, 2.5 weeks, was at North Heads Sydney – a combined AWC/North Heads/NSW Parks and Wildlife arrangement – an extraordinary piece of remnant Eastern Suburbs Sydney banksia scrrb on the very edge of Manly – a brisk cycle ride up the hill, past the hospital and into the old military facility that had, as is ironically the case, been the great local conservationist.


Long Nosed Bandicoot, The Re-introduction Project, ANAT-Synapse Residency (Photo Keith Armstrong, Courtesy of AWC)

Sandwiched in, a remnant piece of vegetation, the long resident population of  Long nosed Bandicoots are highly vulnerable and therefore closely protected through a range of conservation, protection and scientific monitoring schemes – spearheaded by the AWC in collaboration with NSW P&W.


Cameron Radford was the extremely genial ecologist in charge and my role in part during the two weeks was to assist in the bi-yearly bandicoot survey. In line with the potent water cooler affect of being on site, working with a team when things were running  hot there were ample opportunities to share conversations with the groups of ecologists, trainees, wildlife workers and others gathered to help at that peak time.  The photos below tell much of the story – as does the Flickr photo stream in more detail.


Caeron Radford & Long Nosed Bandicoot, The Re-introduction Project, ANAT-Synapse Residency (Photo Keith Armstrong, Courtesy of AWC)

Suffice to say, following my prior experiences at AWC Scotia, I was able to help set traps, bait, clear and process animals with at least some degree of usefulness, enter paperwork and also for the first time personally participate in radio tracking of animals.


Artist Weighing Long Nosed Bandicoot, The Re-introduction Project, ANAT-Synapse Residency (Photo Keith Armstrong, Courtesy of AWC)

The process was spread over two weeks and required some early morning runs (up at 4.15am anyone?) to start before dawn – reason being ‘coots in traps arent keen on hanging around in them long long after dawn – so our job was to get them cleared as fast as possible in line with the project’s ethics clearances – along with the bycatch of several possums, some birds and a fair number of rats – some reintroduced natives, many the common black.

Keith Armstrong, Radio Tracking Bandicoots, North Heads, Sydney, May 2012, (Photo Cameron Radford, Courtesy of AWC)