by Simon Mustoe

A Gifted Wildlife Guide

Gary Muir is a gifted wildlife guide.  

He lives, guides and helps manage the lands and waterways of the Walpole Wilderness, the heart of Western Australia's Great South West Edge and home to of one of most biodiverse places on earth.

This week he received a silver medal of excellence for his major contribution to managing our natural resources.

On awarding this well-deserved gong, Gary was deemed to be "arguably the most inspired and innovative defender, advocate, researcher, historian and educator in natural resource management in the Great Southern Region, if not the State of Western Australia.

With a unique brand of humour, science and history, he has been raising awareness, inspiring the community and developing innovative solutions to common environmental threats for over thirty years."

Gary, who guides Wildiaries' 'Chocka Bloka Fulla of Quokka Tour', describes here some of his favourite moments in his favourite place on earth. 

WD: Could you describe spring 'sprung' in the Great South West Edge? 

GM: There is so much to experience and enjoy in this splendid protected province. There is such a variety of spring landscapes, many breathtaking, which always instils awe among visitors - especially the secluded white beaches looking south over remote islands incessantly pummelled by magnificent Southern Ocean waves. These waves are known lovingly to surfers as the “Thunder From Down Under”.

The sandy paradises are guarded by rugged limestone cliffs, smooth ancient granite rocks and patrolled by occasional Humpback or Southern Right Whales.  There are picturesque inlets fed by misty rivers meandering past primeval igneous mounts, through magnificent Tingle and Karri forest interspersed with extensive heathlands abounding with colour.

Following the winter rains, these rivers run red with tannins contrasted with flowing white foam floating freely like icebergs formed from myrtal saponins exuded from tea-trees, eucalypts and paperbarks during heavy winter rains and then journeying into the rivers from many creeks and tributaries.  

Somewhere, you will find plants flowering throughout the year, however, the main event peaks on the South West Edge in mid to late spring.  Areas with a recent fire history put on an extra special show - White Clematis, climbing the bases of magnificent 80 metre high Karri trees, purple peas flowers on Hovea shrubs and Hardenbergia creeper, iconic gold and green acacias mixed with a splattering of red is a photographers dream!

More magic can be discovered if you really get into the bush, woodlands and heathlands where those who get their eye in can find the iconic, yet cryptic, spring orchids.  Many are hidden away, only to be stumbled upon; they are small, endemic and bizarrely shaped.These plants have built the most peculiar symbiotic relationships with insects and fungi.  

Many of the mammals are nocturnal though their tracks and scats are evidence of an active world at night.You may witness the first of the migratory birds venturing to their limits on our southern coastline joining the local pelicans, oystercatchers and Crested Terns though wary of the raptors – Ospreys, sea eagles and Swamp Harriers.  

The richly coloured Ring-necked and Western Rosella parrots and the flocks of black cockatoos add to the southern avian skies.  

Visitors, if they are prepared to discover this part of the world, will meet with a few local characters who can help their appreciation, especially by revealing some local secrets. Most will remember and enjoy their Aussie experience of finding and understanding the spring secrets of the South West Edge.

WD: What are some of your best moments in your career and your earlier life in Walpole? 

Our family, the Muirs, are pioneers for over eight generations throughout the South West Edge and their diaries always enthusiastically express their affection for the area, especially the values of the Walpole Wilderness.

These generational values were passed on from their special relationship with the traditional Nuyngar people of the south west - the Murrum, Bibbulmun, Mingang, Wills and White Cockatoo.  My best moments are still meeting and sharing stories with these people, especially the opportunity to meet the elders who represent a people who have belonged to this area for over 2500 generations.  

I also had the opportunity to study, research and manage this natural environment and my best moments are when I explore the wilderness blending a cultural and scientific background to keep discovering a whole new way to understand and appreciate this part of the world.

WD: What are your biggest challenges, what challenges does your region face?

GM: The biggest challenges in this area are to ensure the long term future protection and conservation of the South West Edge’s natural and cultural values.  Indeed, it is through the vision of people in the past that we have the South West Edge protected today.  

Look at a satellite image, say in Google Earth, to really grasp this: The protected edge made up of many national parks and reserves from Margaret River in the west through to Esperance in the east with the Walpole Wilderness in its heart, is obvious. Every where else to the north has had much of its lands cleared for agriculture and natural resources exploited.

Competing management practices (agriculture, clearing, tourism, fishing, fire management, coastal development) will continue to challenge the boundaries of the South West Edge.  Within the protected areas though there are two major challenges the natural resources will face – climate change, impacting on biodiversity and natural cycles and invasive species especially the botanical Grim Reaper – the introduced water mould Phytophthora dieback that threatens nearly half of our plant species.

WD: What is your vision for your area and its people?

GM:The South West Edge is treasured by all who have gone before and will continue to be protected for those who visit in the future. It is important for people in their own lifetime to experience this place for themselves, to understand why it is so protected and to recognise back home what is special to protect there so they can to appreciate what has been lost, changed or at risk.  

For the South West Edge is not just protected for future generations but for its own intrinsic values which have worked their spell inspiring visitors, managers, governments, community and academia to have a continuing stewardship for this area's nature, culture and future.

WD: What gives you hope for that vision?

GM:Change and challenges are inevitable in all areas yet solvable by allowing innovative, creative ideas and investment to build capacity to solve the problems of the future - many we don’t even know yet. Only we, an amazing species, has that ability to change and shape this area’s future destiny and the adjoining world around it.  

My life was destined as an eco-guide to interpret our natural and cultural landscape to my community and visitors to help raise their consciousness and stewardship of our home.  It is this, really as a storyteller, just like the original indigenous Nuyngar people did, like my pioneer ancestors around the camp fire , like my science teachers in the classroom, my favorite reference books and especially the internet – communication is our greatest tool, that allow our stories to pass on.  

This sustains my hope: For people to enjoy places like the awe inspiring Great South West Edge, enthusiastically enhanced with passionate, knowledgeable communication, that builds a genuine understanding and sincere appreciation of our world and helps recognise everyone’s role with in it.