Tourism sights set on reserve

Article image - Tourism sights set on reserve Environment consultant Megan Daniels, CHRC Cr Paul Bell, Freddy Conway, and CHRC CEO Scott Mason learning the indigenous significance of the Rifle Range Reserve in Emerald. Image by Andrea Ferris.

Central Highlands Regional Council has plans to encourage eco-tourism to the historic Rifle Range Reserve.

The sky is an unblemished blue; it’s already sweat-prickly warm at 9.00 am; the landscape is parched—dusty and derelict from months without rain. Towering eucalypts provide welcome shade for a small mob of kangaroos looking for a mid-morning nap. Tiny footprints and tail slides tell the story of other creatures criss-crossing tracks amongst the bush going about their business of survival.

This could be anywhere in the millions of acres of wild country on the edge of the outback, except it is, in fact, just a handful of kilometres from the post office in the Central Queensland town of Emerald.

Rifle Range Nature Refuge, known as the Rifle Range Reserve, is an area of 80 hectares conserved and managed by the Central Highlands Regional Council under agreement with the Queensland Government. What makes this place unique is that it’s the only remnant bushland area of any significant size within the Emerald Irrigation Area.

While the Central Highlands region covers an area roughly the size of Tasmania, it’s a rich landscape of mineral resources and agriculture where, over the years, the majority of bush gave way to business.

A little more than twenty years ago the then Emerald Shire Council recognised the historical and environmental value of the block and set about formalising its conservation protection. Now, no longer on the outskirts of the town, which has grown up around it, the reserve is drawing some attention for its eco-tourism potential.

Back then a survey revealed more than 140 plant and 113 fauna species within the reserve. While the urban footprint has certainly stepped closer now, it’s been well managed and the biodiversity remains intact.

Wandering the tracks with Freddy Conway, a local Aboriginal man with familial connections to the district, Rifle Range Reserve becomes much more than a dry bush block. Stopping at a tree here and a bush there, the land transforms into an ancient pharmacy and supermarket.

This information, being garnered from Freddy and other Indigenous people, will form the basis of a signed interpretive trail and possibly an accompanying smartphone app.

The reserve, which includes a natural wetlands area, also lends itself to mountain biking, dog walking, bush walking, trail running and many less active pursuits such as bird watching, photography and geocaching.

Visitors to the Central Highlands are coming for the Sandstone Wilderness experience of Carnarvon Gorge and other neighbouring national parks. They’re travellers that love the great outdoors, appreciate nature and indigenous culture and will certainly love a meander through Rifle Range Reserve.