Little Desert National Park
Little Desert, Australia
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The Little Desert National Park is in Victoria, Australia), 375 kilometres west of Melbourne. It extends from the Wimmera River in the east to near Naracoorte over the South Australian border in the west.
The park was established in the late 1960s after the Victorian state government announced an intention to subdivide eighty thousand hectares of Crown Land in the region for agriculture. The area in question held a great deal of relatively undisturbed mallee bushland, and was rich in wildflowers and fauna, including a number of threatened species.
The Little Desert receives an annual rainfall of about 480 millimetres (19 inches), though there is a gradient from 400 millimetres (16 inches) in the east to 600 millimetres (23.5 inches) near Naracoorte. This is about the same as the dry farming country surrounding the park, but the Little Desert has very deep sandy soils, which are much lower in essential nutrients than the (only moderately fertile) clay soils used for agriculture. These sandy soils have extraordinarily low contents of available nutrients and hold water very poorly, reducing the availability of water to plants. Thus, farming of the area proved quite impossible until deficiencies of zinc, copper and molybdenum were identified in the 1940s.
Even after fertilizers containing these elements became available, studies made by the Victorian government during the 1950s and 1960s showed that the Little Desert was not capable of becoming productive farmland and would fetch only low prices if cleared for agriculture. Local opposition to selling the land for farming was intense, and quickly gathered support around Victoria. The Bolte Government was initially unmoved by environmental concerns. Public outrage over the proposed subdivision resulted in the responsible minister losing his safe seat in a by-election. The Little Desert debate galvanised Victoria's conservation movement into forming a peak body, the Conservation Council of Victoria and the conservative Victorian government of Henry Bolte to adopt environmental policies, such as establishing the Land Conservation Council to systematically and independently review all future public land use across the state. The architect of the Land Conservation Council was the newly appointed Minister of Lands, Conservation and Soldier Settlement, William Borthwick who supported retaining the area as a nature reserve.
Over time, the Little Desert became a national park, beginning in 1968 with the eastern third. After the region was finally investigated by the Land Conservation Council in 1986 two more blocks to the west were added, thus covering all the sandy areas up to the South Australian border.
The vegetation of the park ranges from pure mallee heathland in the Eastern Block to cypress pine and casuarina woodlands in the moister Western Block. In the Western Block, there are large areas of seasonal swampland formed over claypans. Laterites are scattered throughout the sandy areas of the park and characterised by broombush. The most famous animal in the park is the unusual mallee fowl, the only mound-building bird to live in an arid region, and there is also the solitary insectivorous Southern Scrub-robin. Brush-tailed possums and Grey kangaroos are common throughout the park, and lizards can be observed basking in the sun.
The Little Desert National Park is divided into three sections:
Roads within the park are only accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicles and most tracks in the Central and Western Blocks are closed from 1 June to 31 October or after wet weather because four-wheel-drives can damage the extraordinarily fragile ecosystems under wet conditions. Organised tours are available to the Eastern Block – the oldest and most accessible part of the park – from Melbourne and Dimboola, the nearest town in Victoria.
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