Tableland

Tableland

Overview

“Old people been telling me to look after country, look after family. Been looking, waiting, for long time - got no jobs, no way to pay up bills, can’t look after country. Now, get him done.”
- Wallace Midmee, on the AWC-Yulmbu partnership at Tableland

Tableland Wildlife Sanctuary, covering 308,000 hectares of the remote central Kimberley, became an AWC sanctuary in 2012.  Adjacent to Mornington-Marion Downs, the three properties combined represent a contiguous protected area of more than 870,000 hectares (over 2.1 million acres). 

Tableland is managed by AWC in partnership with the Yulmbu Community, which comprises Gija an Andijn families living in the twin communities of Yulmbu (Tableland) and Tirralinjti (Mornington).  The Yulmbu partnership is unique – the only partnership of its kind in Australia between an indigenous community and a non-government conservation organisation.  It provides a new model for integrating conservation and community development on indigenous land.

Under the Yulmbu Agreement, AWC is subleasing the Tableland Pastoral Station from the community for 45 years.  During the time, the property will be managed collaboratively by AWC and the community to meet specific performance targets related to its conservation.  The community receives income (sublease payments), employment, assistance with managing a sustainable cattle herd and improved infrastructure.  The conservation of the property is enhanced through improved management of fire, feral herbivores and weeds (see below).

The landscapes on Tableland are dramatic, with spectacular ranges (such as the Durack Range), major rivers (the Chamberlain, Fitzroy and Durack Rivers), deep sandstone gorges and steep-sided mesas.  Varied habitats – including black soil plains, riparian vegetation and a range of savannah woodlands – support populations of threatened and declining species such as the Gouldian Finch, the Northern Quoll and the Rock Ringtail Possum. 

The Tableland project is supported by the WA Government under its Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy.  

Key vitals

Size/area:
308,302 hectares
Mammals:
40
Bioregion:
Central Kimberley
Birds:
207
Ecosystems:
11
Reptiles:
88
Plants:
Over 700 (est)
Amphibians:
22
Threatened plants:
4
Threatened wildlife:
17

Wildlife

As with Mornington-Marion Downs, Tableland is a stronghold for many species that are in decline elsewhere in northern Australia.  The mammal fauna (40 species) includes threatened species (eg, Northern Quoll, Orange Leaf-nosed Bat) as well as Kimberley endemics (Ningbing Psuedantechinus).  Rock Ringtail Possums, Antilopine Wallaroos, Short-eared Rock-wallabies and Northern Nailtail Wallabies are all present.  Within the deep cracks and crevices of the black soil plains, some of Australia’s smallest marsupials, the tiny yet ferocious Common and Long-tailed Planigale hunt for their invertebrate prey.

The bird fauna is especially diverse (over 200 species) including several finch species (Gouldian Finches, Pictorella Mannikins), a large number of raptors (Red Goshawks have been seen on the adjacent Mornington and are likely to also occur on Tableland), riparian specialists (Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens and Buff-sided Robins) and large populations of the ground-dwelling Australian Bustard and Bush Stone-curlew. 

With over 80 reptile species, including several Kimberley endemics, Tableland is a herpetologist’s paradise.

Click below to view the list of wildlife species at Tableland:

Mammals List | Birds List | Reptiles List | Amphibians List | Threatened List

Measures of success: Ecological Health

Short-eared Rock-wallaby on camera trap
Short-eared Rock-wallaby on camera trap

AWC is the only conservation organisation to measure in a robust scientific manner the ecological health of a network of sanctuaries. At Tableland, we carry out 2,000 trap-nights per year to measure around 20 ecological health indicators including:

  • The diversity and abundance of key faunal groups such as seed-eating birds, ground-dwelling reptiles and riparian species.
  • The significance of threats such as fire, feral herbivore density and weed occupancy.

Our performance against these indicators provides rigorous scientific data which enables us to track  the ecological health of Tableland.

Field programs

The science and land management program at AWC’s Kimberley sanctuaries is a model for conservation in northern Australia:

  • Fire management on Tableland is conducted as part of EcoFire – the largest non-government fire management program in Australia.
  • Extensive feral herbivore control has been undertaken, resulting in a significant reduction in densities of horses and feral cattle. 
  • Our Science program incorporates around 2,000 live trap nights per annum plus a series of camera trap surveys, bird surveys and vegetation surveys.
  • Dingo and cat monitoring are being carried out as part of Australia’s most extensive feral cat research program.

General description

Tullewa Hill with the Little Fitzroy River in the foreground
Tullewa Hill with the Little Fitzroy River in the foreground

The landscapes of Tableland are highly distinctive. The Durack Ranges form the spine of the property: raised longitudinal folds of ancient marine sandstone interleaved with narrow valleys of alluvial and basaltic soils. The Chamberlain Valley is the longest example and a dominating physical feature, running over 120 kilometres in an elegant shallow curve, from its headwaters in the middle part of the property, downstream to the north-eastern boundary. These long and narrow valleys are linked by short and spectacular gorges that cut perpendicularly through the sandstone in deep incisions; notable examples include Crocodile Gorge and Teronis Gorge.

As well as the Chamberlain River, the middle part of Tableland also gives rise to headwaters of two other major Kimberley rivers – the Durack and the Fitzroy – which run off in northerly and westerly directions respectively, past unique topographical features such as Tullewa Hill and the Baulkface Range, a massive sandstone mesa that extends into the western part of Tableland from Mornington. These waterways pulse in seasonal cycles, from massive flooding events in the wet season (December to April), to chains of contracted pools during the dry season.  

Significantly, Tablelands and the adjoining Mornington-Marion Downs, protect a large proportion of the upper catchment of the Fitzroy River – the largest unregulated river in Western Australia. 

Ecosystems and plants

The habitats on Tableland are varied – they include extensive blacksoil plains, raked by the regular expansion and contraction of clay into extremely long, parallel gilgais (the Spirit Tracks).  Narrow ribbons of riparian vegetation fringe parts of the waterways – tall river red gums shade thick patches of Pandanus and Freshwater Mangroves.   The sandstone and quartzite ranges are cloaked in thick spinifex with sparse eucalypts and occasional Livistona palms and Cycads; small patches of fire-sensitive vegetation crowd in the gorges.

The woodlands in the narrow valleys and broader, open plains are highly varied, ranging from Kimberley Yellowjacket woodlands with a thick healthy understory, to open Silver Box woodlands, and a number of bloodwood communities, often peppered with idiosyncratic Boabs.

The flora of Tableland is likely to exceed 700 species including many threatened and endemic plants.  

Staff at Tableland