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Little Desert National Park
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The Desert that isn't
The Little Desert National Park — a desert in name only —
is situated 375 km from Melbourne. The northern part of
the park is best approached from Kiata, along the Western
Highway, and the eastern part from Dimboola.
The ﬁrst section of the park to be reserved was the Kiata
Lowan Sanctuary. It was set aside to protect the mallee
fowl — a remarkable mound building bird.
In 1968, when a small parcel of land was added to the
Sanctuary to become a National Park, the Government
announced that 80,000 ha of the Little Desert was to be
subdivided and cleared for agriculture. Conservationists
debated the issue, arguing that the land would be more
valuable, in the long term, in its natural state. The economic
viability of the scheme was also seriously questioned.
Finally in 1969 under pressure from both conservationists
and economists, the Government allocated a much larger
area of land to the Little Desert National Park, bringing
the total area to 35,300 ha.
The rainfall, averaging about 400 mm each year, is higher
than that of true arid regions — so it isn't really desert.
Spring, winter and autumn are all popular seasons for
visitors. The summer heat, though, can be quite harsh.
Where to go, what to see
The Park is best seen on foot. Most tracks are very sandy
and not suitable for a 2WD vehicle.
I3J There are two interesting self-guiding walks in the north-
U*J west part of the park. The Sanctuary Nature Walk south of
Kiata, and Stringybark Walk near the Nhill-Gymbowen road.
If you have time, the trip to Salt Lake is also recommended.
There is a fairly rough track leading to a car park a few
kilometers from the campground. From there you can walk
7 km to the Salt Lake. Allow 3-4 hours for the round trip
to the lake and back to the carpark. It is a good idea to
carry water in hot weather.
At the Dimboola end of the park there is a short nature
walk to Pomponderoo Hill that provides an interesting con
trast with the rest of the park. Along this track you can see
some of the varied ways in which desert plants have become
adapted to ﬁre. Regeneration from seed, trunks and roots
has occurred in the area since the severe bushﬁre in
An area that is quite different from the rest of the park can
be seen by strolling along the banks of the Wimmera River.
Many animals, including kangaroos and waterbirds, can be
seen in the woodlands and along the river itself.
Gy mb o wo n i
2 1 k m V
7////*' Indi cates Crown Land on park boundary
" != = R o a d s
. . . . . . . Wal ki ng t r acks
£ £ C a mp i n g a r e a
H F i r e p l a c e
Q Wa t e r
[ D To i l e t s
1 W i n d m i l l
Department of Conservation Forests & Lands
There are good sealed roads to the park from Kiata and
Nhill, and a reasonable gravel road from Dimboola. No road
goes through the park.
Basic facilities are provided at the picnic area and the camp
ground (both south of Kiata). The water supply is limited
and campers are asked to bring their own water. Fire places,
picnic tables, and pit toilets are supplied. There are camping
Private campgrounds and hotel/motel accommodation are
provided at Nhill and Dimboola. Group accommodation is
available at a hostel south of Winiam.
Nature walk leaﬂets are available from the Rangers and at
the start of the tracks.
Different soils, different plants
The major soils in the park are wind-blown sands that
support mostly mallee and heath plants. The mallees are a
group of eucalypts with many stems arising from a buried
trunk called a lignotuber. These mallee roots were very
popul ar for ﬁrewood.
The heathlands are most spectacular in spring. Splashes of
pink and red provided by brush heath and ﬂame heath are
dispersed among the brilliant yellow of wattles and guinea
ﬂowers. Beard heath and the fringed heath-myrtle both
have masses of white ﬂowers that contribute to this colour
ful sight. The pale lemon ﬂowering spikes of desert banksias
add subtle colour to these plant communities in winter.
As the soils change, so do the plants and animals associated
with them. For example yellow gums, which have smooth,
mottled bark, are usually found where clay occurs near the
surface. They can be seen around the campground south
Scattered throughout sandy areas of the park, and else
where in the Little Desert, are iron-rich sandstones called
laterite forming ridges on which broombrush can be found.
Brown stringybark occurs on a fairly wide range of soils,
often growing with heath plants.
Along the eastern boundary of the park the alluvial soils of
the Wimmera River ﬂoodplain support river red gum and
black box woodlands. These trees are rarely seen elsewhere
in the park because they need ﬂoods before their seeds
No permanent campsites of the local Aborigines have been
recorded in the park. There are remnants of a few 'transit'
camps along the river ﬂoodplains where axeheads, weapons,
mill stones and ochre have been found. Some of the rocks
found in these prehistoric rubbish dumps were carried by
Aborigines from places as far away as the Grampians and
Lanceﬁeld. Studies of the shells and bones in their camp
sites reveal the kinds of food they ate. Fish, kangaroos,
emus and their eggs, and freshwater shellﬁsh were all
important in their diet. The last full-blood Aborigine from
the area died in the 1940s.
Life for the pioneers in the district was difﬁcult. The water
supply was low, the soils infertile and the country harsh.
Apart from some sheep grazing there was little agricultural
Birdwatchers will ﬁnd plenty to do in the Little Desert.
Parrots, wrens and currawongs are common around the
campground and the Sanctuary Nature Walk. When ﬂower
ing, both banksias and yellow gums are a proliﬁc source of
nectar for insects and for birds such as babblers, wattle
birds and other honeyeaters. Perhaps the most fascinating
bird, and certainly one of the most industrious, is the
mallee fowl, a bird about the size of a turkey that lives in
arid areas of Australia. This seed and insect eating bird
works and builds its earthen mound for about ten months
each year. In a single season, a female can lay up to thirty
eggs. Infant mortality, however, is extremely high and only.
2-3 of these chicks will survive to adulthood. If you would
like to ﬁnd out more about this bird, copies of a mallee
fowl brochure can be obtained from the Rangers.
Brush-tailed possums, kangaroos, and bats, as well as emus
and many different kinds of reptiles can also be seen. You
may often ﬁnd the bearded dragon and stumpy tai l ed
lizards along tracks and other exposed areas, basking in the
sun to raise their body temperature.
Fires, both naturally occurring and caused by man, have
long played an important role in the Little Desert. Charcoal
stumps and burnt, bare patches of ground are evident in
many parts of the park for months and in some cases years
after a ﬁre has swept through.
In order to survive, the desert plants and animals must be
adapted to ﬁre. Mallees, for instance, are able to send up
new shoots if their above-ground parts are burnt. Banksias
and She-oaks have hard woody seed containers that open
following ﬁre. Their seeds.are dropped onto the ash bed
and, after rain, quickly develop and grow.
Several ﬁres have burnt different areas of the Little Desert
in the last decade. A large wildﬁre occurred in early 1977
when most of the eastern part of the park was burnt.
Looking after National Parks
The Li t t l e Deser t Nat i onal Par k and Vi ct or i a' s ot her
national parks are special places permanently reserved by
the government of Victoria to protect parts of our natural
envi ronment for the beneﬁt of peopl e now and i n the
There are regulations designed to protect National Parks.
Dogs, cats and ﬁrearms are not permitted and no ﬁres may
be lit except in the ﬁreplaces provided. All plants and
animals are protected and may not be harmed or removed.
By observing these commonsense regulations, you will help
us keep t hese areas unspoi l ed f or your chi l dren and
For more information, contact:
# Ranger-ln-Charge — Little Desert National Park
(Tel.: (053) 89 9218)
A.H. (053) 89 9222
• Horsham Regi onal Off i ce
P.O. Box 487
Telephone: (053) 82 5011
• Head Office, telephone: (03) 651 4011
Revised July 1985
Conservation, Forests & Lands
' i ^ . ' ^ z i ^ ' ^ i ^ r ^ n
The Sanctuary Nature Walk
Join us for a nature walk to see some of the plants and animals of the
Little Desert National Park. The walk starts near the picnic area 10
kilometres south of Kiata. The walk is one kilometre long and takes
about 30 minutes to complete.
Numbered pegs along the way correspond to numbers
i n t he l eaﬂet , but t her e i s l ot s t o see, hear,
and discover between the pegs as well!
< f t >
The walk is named after the former Kiata
Lowan Sanctuary which was the name of this
a r e a b e f o r e i t b e c a me p a r t o f L i t t l e
Desert National Park.
Walk starts here
1 Mallee and echidnas
Near this peg is an old
clump of Yellow Mallee,
a multi-stemmed shrub
x l / 3
wi th l arge ri dged frui ts. Li ke other mal l ees, thi s eucal ypt has a
large rootstock beneath the ground. New shoots grow from the
root st ock af t er ﬁre, severe f rost or drought .
Leaf, bud and fruit of Yellow Mallee
Watch for Echi dnas as you wal k al ong. These pri ckl y
i mal s have l ong cl aws f or burrowi ng i nt o t he soi l .
u wi l l of t en ﬁnd t hei r t r acks and di ggi ngs ar ound
t nest s, where t hey have been f oragi ng f or f ood.
I nst ead of dr i nki ng wat er t hey get moi st ur e
from the body ﬂuids of ants and termites. The
l o n g s t i c k y t o n g u e i s u s e d t o l i c k t h e s e
i nsects from thei r nests.
2 Living brooms
The large bushes growing here are Broom Honey-myrtle, a type of
melaleuca or paperbark. They earned their name from early
European settlers who used the branches and foliage to sweep
out their homes. In more recent times they have been used to
make brush fences. x l / 8 xl / 6
Leaves, ﬂowers and fruits of Broombush
Department of Conservation, Forests & Lan.
Thi s tree i s a Brown Stri ngybark, the onl y type of stri ngybark i n the park. It i s
di sti ngui shed from other l ocal eucal ypts by i ts deep, ﬁbrous bark. Of i nterest, the
term 'eucalypt' means 'well covered'. If you examine the buds of any gums, boxes,
stringybarks or mallees you will ﬁnd that they are all covered by a small cap.
4 Living cycles
A number of young Oyster Bay Pines can be seen growing around here.
These native pines have clumps of woody cones or seed containers
that are an important source of food for many birds. When these
xl cones open, the seeds drop to the ground and become implanted in the
Closed and soil. They develop and grow to form saplings and, later on, adult
open cones of trees.
Oyster Bay Pine
Many of the dead pines along the walk were killed by severe frosts in 1982. Many
other plants had their growing tips killed, or died completely, as a result of the
frost, or the drought conditions over the summer of 1982-83. Some plants send out
new shoots and leaves after such natural disasters. Others have to start again from
5 A different broom
A dense stand of Broom Baeckea once grew here. Many of these shrubs
have died but some living examples can be seen to the left of the
t r a c k . At ﬁ r s t g l a n c e t h e y ma y a p p e a r v e r y s i mi l a r t o t h e
Br oombush but i f you l ook car ef ul l y you wi l l ﬁnd t hat t he Br oom
Baeckea has shorter l eaves and more wi del y-spaced frui ts. Baeckea
ﬂowers are similar to those of the tea-tree which is in the same plant
f ami l y.(Myrtaceae)
Wallowa, the wattle near the peg,
produces copious ﬂowers and seeds.
It is very common in the park and
provides shelter and food for many
animals. It is a favourite food of
t h e Ma l l e e f o wl i n p a r t i c u l a r .
Wallowa is an Aboriginal word meaning
' w a t t l e t r e e ' . \
From June to November orchid lovers
will ﬁnd greenhoods, sun orchids and
spider orchids around here.
Greenhood Orchids xl/2
7 The remarkable thermometer bird
Twenty metres along the side track is an old Malleefowl
mound that is known to have been worked in the
early 1880s. It has not been used for several
Mal l eef owl ar e cal l ed ' t her momet er
bi r ds' because t hey spend about
ten months of the year building and
regul at i ng t he t emperat ure of t he
nest. In the diagram you can see a
cross section of a typical mound.
W y ) y m ^
Na t u r a Ts o i r v W7 ^ >
Fermenting vegetable matter
Diagrammatic cross section of a mound
The birds dig a pit in the soil and ﬁll it with twigs, bark and leaves which
ferment to form a compost heap. This is covered by a layer of sand. The eggs are
laid in a chamber within the mound. Egg laying and brooding last over four months
and during that period the temperature inside the egg chamber must be kept at 33
degrees C. This is checked daily by the male who balances the heat of fermentation,
the suns warmth, and the air temperature by varying the amount of sand covering the
eggs. This ensures that usually the temperature of the eggs does not ﬂuctuate by
more than 1 degree C.
Here you can see what remains of the birds hard work,
matter and sand have gone.
Retrace your steps and continue along the main track.
Most of the overlying plant
Have you noticed the wide variety of small shrubs as you've been
walking along? Some of the more common ones are Flame Heath, a
favouri te food for Emus, Brush Heath, Si l ky Tea-tree and
Fringe-myrtle. Partly undigested Flame Heath ﬂowers can often
be recognised in emus' droppings. The ﬂowers of Fringe-myrtle
range in colour from white to vivid pink.
Flame Heath xl/2
9 Life with spikes
Carefully feel the needle shaped leaves of the Desert Hakea which is just behind the
peg. They have a hard outer layer called a cuticle that protects the plant from the
harsh summer heat - another example of successful adaptation to a dry climate.
More orchids can be found here. Pink Fingers and the Leopard Orchid are most common.
10 Untidy bush ?
Some people think that the bush has an untidy appearance with dead branches and
l eaves st r ewn about . But t hese pl ant r emai ns ar e ver y i mpor t ant . They pr ovi de
homes f or pl ant s, such as l i chens , and a host of i nsect s,
spiders, lizards and other small animals which in turn serve as
food for bi rds, l i zards and mammal s. Eventual l y, too, the dead
pl ant s rot down, f reei ng nut ri ent s f or l i vi ng pl ant s t o use.
11 Different soil - different plants
Have you noticed any changes in the vegetation? You have now
left the sandy soils that favour Brown Stringybark and moved
into clayey soils that support a growth of Yellow Gums. These
trees have light mottled bark and are common around the picnic
a r e a . x *
Leaves and fruits
Anot her di st i nct i ve t ree i s t he Droopi ng She-oak of Yel l ow Gum
w i t h i t s d a r k t r u n k a n d l o n g h a n g i n g b r a n c h l e t s . x l / 3
You need a hand lens to have a good look at the leaves of these
trees. They are reduced to ti ny scal es that form ri ngs around
the branchl ets.
The l ow t uf t ed pl ant wi t h ver y smal l l eaves near t he t r ack i s cal l ed Gol den
Pennant s. I t produces a bri l l ant di spl ay i n spri ng.
The t rack t o t he ri ght i s t he st art of a wal k whi ch does a ci rcui t of t he whol e
sanctuary bl ock. The wal k takes approxi matel y 2 hours and the return i s vi a the
bitumen road from the camp-ground turn off.
12 A rare one
The dark green shrub is a rare plant with a very
l i mi t ed di s t r i but i on. I t i s t he Hai r y - pod Wat t l e
which is found only in a few areas near Dimboola and
Nhill in Victoria and in Burra Gorge of South Australia.
Several other rare pl ants are al so guaranteed protecti on
b y g r o wi n g wi t h i n L i t t l e De s e r t Na t i o n a l Pa r k . T h e
pr ot ect i on i n a nat i onal par k means t hat wi t h t he cor r ect
management they should always be growing here even if they die
Hai ry-pod Wattl e xl /3
We hope you have enjoyed this walk.
If you have any more questions, the rangers will be glad to answer them and to help
you in any way they can.
If you don't want to keep this leaﬂet, please return it to the box for someone else
Il l ustrati ons provi ded by courtesy of J. Ros Garnet, the Goul d League of Vi ctori a,
L.F. Costermans, and F.J.C. Rogers.
SCIENTIFIC NAMES OF PLANTS MENTIONED IN LEAFLET
Oyster Bay Pine
Cal l i t ri s rhomboi dea
Pt erost yl i s spp.
Spi der-orchi ds
Fri nge-myrt l e
Si l ky Tea-t ree
Casuari na stri cta
Gl i schrocaryon behri i
Acaci a cal ami fol i a
Acaci a gl andul i carpa
Cal yt ri x t et ragona
Eucal yptus baxteri
For further i nformati on contact:
Li ttl e Desert Nati onal Park
N h i l l . V i c . 3 4 1 8
Phone (053) 899218
Horsham Regional Ofﬁce
21 McLachlan Street
Ho r s h a m. Vi c . 3 4 0 0
Phone (053) 825011
Revised March 1986
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