Business With Purpose
Conserving Country and Culture in the Kimberley.
The Kimberley is one of Australia’s - and the world’s – last true wilderness areas: remote, rugged and much of it all but inaccessible. At its heart, El Questro Wilderness Park encompasses ancient ranges and deep, shady gorges, mighty rivers and arid grassy plains, lush rainforest, hot thermal springs and cool waterfalls.
It’s a dramatic landscape in which the bones of the landscape are laid bare: a timeless land rich in both indigenous and European culture that retains the mystery of appearing wild and largely unexplored.
“Together with the traditional owners of El Questro – the Balanggarra people in the north and the Nyaliga in the south - we see ourselves as custodians of this precious swathe of truly wild country. We want to preserve it for the future and share its wonders with our guests today, creating opportunities for all to discover and learn,” explained Greg Magi, Executive Director for Delaware North Parks & Resorts.
Guests can enjoy a morning learning about bush culture, including traditional remedies, medicines and sustenance used by Aboriginal peoples over millennia; and hearing about Aboriginal and European history in the Kimberley.
El Questro is a member of the Savannah Guides network of professional tour guides and tourism operators. The organisation fosters ecologically interpretive tourism and members must demonstrate a commitment to conservation values and meet strict standards of operation. Savannah Guides are dedicated to passing on their extensive knowledge of the Kimberley to visitors.
El Questro operates on Crown land under a pastoral lease and special tourism leases. Its 700,000 acres are under native title to two regional Aboriginal groups, physically divided by the Gibb River Road. The Balanggarra people obtained native title recognition in 2014 and are the traditional owners of the northern parts of the property. The Nyaliga people of the WANJINA-WUNGGURR Aboriginal Corporation are determined for the southern section of El Questro.
El Questro management has engaged with both native title groups on both heritage and land use.
“Providing opportunities for indigenous youth is part of the El Questro vision, and the property hosts a number of annual camps to support young indigenous people from the region coming together to share culture and learning,” said Greg Magi, Executive Director for Delaware North Parks & Resorts.
“Our joint venture with the ranger groups allows young indigenous people to connect with the land, returning to country to learn traditions specific to their area,” said Mr Magi.
Traditional owners from the East Kimberley are also supported through various social and sponsorship initiatives at El Questro.
- Working with the traditional owner ranger groups to provide opportunities to work on country in the field of land management. This encompasses weed and fire management which is a joint venture each year in order to protect land with shared borders. The ranger groups allow young indigenous people to connect with the country and return to country to learn traditional methods of land care.
- A hosted annual cultural camp for the Nyaliga people which brings more than 200 traditional owners from the Top End together to celebrate and learn about each other’s art and culture traditions.
- Support of the “Revive” recycling business which employs local indigenous people who gain employment and also have the opportunity to create art from recycled materials.
- Support of local schools and youth sporting groups which include indigenous students.
- El Questro sponsors camping events for the Clontarf Foundation which seeks to improve the education, discipline, life skills, self-esteem and employment prospects of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men.
- The Garnduwa leadership workshop for young indigenous women is held each year at El Questro which provides the facilities for the group to camp, cook, conduct meetings and hold workshops on Aboriginal culture with senior traditional owners from the Nyaliga people.
- Career open days for local indigenous students from a number of Kimberley communities where they spend a couple of nights on property and shadow El Questro staff as they work across a variety of hospitality and tourism-related roles.
- Sponsorship of major fundraising prizes for indigenous sporting teams.
Taking Responsibility for Conservation
El Questro Homestead is the luxury base from which guests can explore the property and beyond by four-wheel-drive, helicopter, horseback, boat or on foot, and learn about the region’s abundant wildlife and endemic flora.
El Questro’s rangers customise itineraries for guests that may incorporate a guided private cruise along the three kilometre-long Chamberlain Gorge, watching for wildlife such as Rock wallabies, Johnston crocodiles and archer fish; or an early morning bird-watching excursion spotting some of the hundred bird species on the property, such as the resident pair of dancing Brolgas or the endangered Gouldian finch.
While the guest experience is key, El Questro’s managers recognise that they have a responsibility for the stewardship of the land and the conservation of indigenous heritage.
“We work with the local Fire and Emergency Services, the Kimberley Land Council, traditional owners and neighbouring pastoral properties to develop and implement responsible fire management plans each year. Through planned, green season preventative burning, we can mitigate the frequency and intensity of wildfires and better preserve the habitat and food sources for many species,” explained Greg Magi, Executive Director for Delaware North Parks & Resorts.
“We also take responsibility for weed control on the lease. Our Environment Manager works closely with Department of Primary Industries and Traditional Owner Ranger groups as well as our own staff volunteers on the decade-long quest to remove ‘Gamba Grass’.
Partnering with Science
The sheer size and diversity of El Questro means there is much to be learned from an incredible diversity of flora and fauna on the property, including a number of endemic and endangered species such as the brilliantly-coloured Gouldian Finch – an important indicator species - which is now flourishing on the property, thanks in part to the installation of over 50 nesting boxes to support native bird populations.
“El Questro has supported and provided in-kind sponsorship for researchers and scientists from around the world to study the geology, flora and fauna on the property, and we’ve implemented our own initiatives. Through gaining knowledge from visiting scientists and our other partnerships, we aim to provide holistic care for the property and its wildlife and to create more opportunities for learning,” Mr Magi said.
El Questro provides in kind sponsorship for a number of researchers and scientists from Australian universities as well as independently funded international scientists.
Activities have included:
- A Macquarie University research program on Long-tailed finches resulted in the installation of a permanent bird soak on Saddle Back ridge which is artificially fed in the dry season to prolong the supply of water to native birds.
- Since 2010, scientists and research teams have been studying the effect of cane toads on the local fauna populations of El Questro, most recently in 2019 in order to add data to their pre-cane toad fauna research.
- Snake relocation training takes place in June and July each year for key team members
- Seismic instruments were set up by the Australian National University in April 2019 to measure any seismic activity in the region.
El Questro works closely with local Department of Fire and Emergency Services, the Kimberley Land Council and neighbouring pastoral properties to implement responsible fire management plans each year. Through planned, green season preventative burning, parts of the land are alternately burned each year to provide a strong defence against late, dry season wildfires. By mitigating the frequency and intensity of the more intense wildfires, greater amounts of vegetation are spared which in turn preserves the natural habitats and food sources for a number of species.
El Questro’s Environment Manager works with the East Gibb River Road Fire Brigade and receives ongoing support and training from the local authorities. The team works closely with the Kimberley Land Council who oversees the youth ranger groups that assist with the fire management plans. Regular meetings are held between the relevant indigenous groups of the East Kimberley and local pastoralists including El Questro in order to develop the fire management strategies each season. The ranger groups physically assist with on ground prevention plans.
El Questro is responsible for controlling a number of “weeds of national significance” that are found in various areas of the 700,000-acre leasehold. The Environment Manager works with Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development on the annual “Gamba Grass” removal program. Traditional owner ranger groups and El Questro employees volunteer their time to help with this as well as other weed management initiatives across the property.
Due to its remote location, El Questro Homestead is responsible for its waste management. Sustainable initiatives include:
- Environmentally compliant sewage treatment plants are in operation.
- Potable water is used from the already crystal-clear sources found in abundance at El Questro.
- All solid waste and rubbish are systematically analysed to find solutions for removal or recycling of the large variety of materials that need to be disposed.
- Recyclables such as aluminium cans and plastic bottles are crushed and bundled to send to the “Revive” business which employs local indigenous people.
- General household materials such as textiles, electronics, hard plastics, furniture are also recycled at Revive where they are repurposed and often turned into art/sculpture creations.
- All waste oils are sent offsite for recycling.
- Hazardous goods such as batteries and chemicals are disposed of or recycled at local shire facilities.
- Building materials and white goods are recycled and often repurposed by the talented, onsite trades people. For example, washing machine parts or old fuel drums are turning into fire pits for the campground.
Other sustainable initiatives include;
- Only large format, refillable bottles are used for the amenities in guest rooms.
- Guests are provided their own water bottles on arrival so the use of plastic water bottles is minimal. Refillable glass bottles are used in room and in the restaurant for sparkling water service.
- Reusable “keep cups” are used for coffee rather than take-away cups.
- Plastic straws have been eliminated.
- Bio-digestors are being installed across the resort, providing a sustainable method for food waste disposal. Waste is broken down on-site and the water from this process is recycled into grey water for irrigation.
- Fabrics used for many of the accommodation soft furnishings are made from recycled textiles.
- Fishing tours are conducted incorporating best practice sustainable methods including “catch and release” practice.
- Hiking information is now provided in electronic format for uploading to personal phones to take on the trail.
- Much of the produce used in restaurants is sourced from local, organic farms.
Other Sustainability Initiatives (Our Mandatories):
- Bio-digestors onsite break down food waste and the resultant water is used for irrigation.
- All solid waste is systematically analysed for recycling and repurposing. El Questro works with Revive, a recycling business venture that employs local indigenous people.
- Fishing tours observe best practice sustainable methods. Catch and release is customary even for permitted keep catches.
- Refillable vessels are used for guest bathroom amenities.
- Guests are provided with reusable water bottles and single-use plastic water bottle use is minimal.
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