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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Eyre Bird Observatory, Western Australia

In 1841 Edward John Eyre, age 26, with his companion John Baxter and three Aborigine guides, was on his way to becoming the first white person to walk across Australia, linking the colonial settlements in the east with the Swan River (Perth) colony on the west coast. After nearly 2000 km of arid hostile terrain and near death on the Nullabor Plain, they found life-saving water at a place later to become known as Eyre’s Sand Patch, later shortened to just Eyre. The party recuperated at this spot for four weeks before continuing westward, although Baxter’s trip, and life, were cut short two days later when he was murdered by two deserting Aborigines (whom I’m guessing he treated very poorly).

The Eyre Bird Observatory

Due to the presence of water and proximity to the coast (for provisioning by ship), in 1877 a repeater station for the Inter-Colonial Telegraph Line was established at Eyre, linking western Australia to the world (from the east, the telegraph line went north to Darwin, then to Indonesia, then on to Great Britain, the epicenter of the 19th century western world). William Morris was no doubt simultaneously sketching, writing, blocking, weaving, and painting back in the old country. Twenty years later, in 1897, a new station building, now home to the Eyre Bird Observatory, was constructed.

The Eyre Telegraph Station operated for fifty years, until 1927, when it was superceded by an inland line along the new Trans Australian Railway. In 1977 the ruined telegraph station was restored as a bird sanctuary and museum. Since that time, 245 species of birds have been observed at the EBO including rare Malleefowl, honeyeaters, penguins, silvereyes, and albatrosses.

 William Graham, first telegraph station master, 1877-1901, raised ten children in the bush.  Morris's lost antipodal twin?

We tried to visit the EBO last July (winter) but rain had made the track impassable. This year we were in luck (not withstanding a minor collision with a tree)---as we drove in at 9:30 in the morning, we were greeted by the volunteer caretaker, Roger McCallum. Within ten minutes of talking to Roger it was clear he was a naturalist and observer of the first-order. We described kind of rocks we were looking for and he gave us stellar bush directions to places miles away from the observatory.

Roger and Cheryl McCallum, caretakers

About five hours later we returned to the station and met Cheryl, his wife and co-caretaker. After a guided tour of the museum, we all sat down on the veranda for afternoon tea (including delicious home-made cookies and fresh fruit). While we were the only visitors that day, the EBO does offer rustic accommodations for $AU90 (~$US80) per night which includes all three meals as well as morning and afternoon tea. I reckon that’s a pretty amazing price for this slice of paradise. EBO is definitely on my “must-return-to” list (did I mention the glorious beach nearby?) and a great place to send a tax-deductible contribution.

 What a great Aga has nothing on this beauty!


Drawn on the wall above the kitchen door.....there are water tanks in the ceiling that obviously have floats, one for the shower(s) and one for the taps.  The weights on string tell you when to turn on the pump to fill the tanks.

Major Mitchell cockatoos