Farming town pulls off epic backyard blitz!

17th June 2020

This is what hard work and town pride can do.

Key points:

  • Pinnaroo creates its own wetland oasis within SA's arid Murray Mallee
  • Seed funding is used to create a masterplan, grant secured for toilets and shelter
  • Volunteer working bees establish vegetation and control bulrushes

The residents of Pinnaroo have spent the past eight years undertaking their own backyard blitz, bringing an unsightly stormwater dam to life as a tranquil wetland.

It gives motorists a reason to stop at their town, on the border of South Australia in the Murray Mallee, and has become a haven for locals to connect with each other and nature.

They have even had a brush with fame with their wetland appearing in ABC's Gardening Australia magazine this month, showcasing images taken by local photographer Italo Vardaro.

Wetlands Jill Nickolls

Pinnaroo resident Jill Nickolls has been driving the wetland project.(Supplied: Italo Vardaro, Courtesy Of ABC Gardening Australia Magazine)

It was a feather in the cap for Jill Nickolls, a retired teacher who married into the district and has been one of the driving forces behind the makeover as chairperson of the Friends of Pinnaroo Wetland.

Pinnaroo's wetland is the only water attraction in miles — not counting farm dams — and because of this, the town chooses to keep it permanently wet.

"We really don't have any groundwater, all our water is underground, so to have a wetland in the mallee is almost an oxymoron in a way," Ms Nickolls said.

It has become a popular place place to meet up for coffee, bring the kids to explore nature or simply sit and watch the birdlife, which includes crakes and grebes.

"I love watching the young mums with their little ones in the stroller, having a coffee on the lawn," Ms Nickolls said.

Wetlands reeds

The wetland has become a retreat for residents in the township of Pinnaroo and attracted new birdlife including crakes and grebes.(Supplied: Italo Vardaro, Courtesy Of ABC Gardening Australia Magazine)

Grants, goodwill and working bees

The wetland borders the Mallee Highway and was the site of an old railway dam where, from 1906, steam trains refilled before returning to Adelaide.

In 2010 the local council upgraded its stormwater system and the site became a collection dam for the town's water run-off.

At that point the community was offered the chance to step in and decided to create something special.

They started with council seeding money to develop a masterplan, then won a grant to cover the cost of bigger items including a shelter, toilets and signage.

But labour on the footbridges was courtesy a local contractor, the golf club planted the lawns and a small army of volunteers hold regular working bees to design the wetlands.

Even students at the local school are involved, helping with planting and maintenance.

Wetlands school children

Students from Pinnaroo Primary School have helped with gardening and maintenance at the wetland.(Supplied: Italo Vardaro, Courtesy Of ABC Gardening Australia Magazine)

Battle with bulrushes

If weeds are a gardener's worst nightmare, the same can be said of bulrushes at wetlands.

They can completely smother the water and as Pinnaroo locals discovered, are nearly impossible to eradicate.

"The bulrushes were completely through the old railway dam," Ms Nickolls said.

Early on, the residents thought they could wipe them out completely.

"We'd been told if we go down there in Autumn and cut the reeds below the water line, they would drown," Ms Nickolls said.

Wetlands working group

Pinnaroo residents are vigilant in removing bulrushes that would otherwise overtake the wetlands.(Supplied: Italo Vardaro, Courtesy Of ABC Gardening Australia Magazine)

Armed with machetes and secateurs they waded out into the water to take care of the problem for once and for all.

Two days later they returned to a disheartening sight.

"There they all were with their heads above water!" Ms Nickolls said of the troublesome reeds.

"So that was pretty traumatic, but we've now got on top of the reed, one of our fellows, Steve Williams, goes down there every weekend and if there's any bulrush he deals with them."

reeds close up

The wetland has become a place for meeting up as well as quiet reflection.(Supplied: Italo Vardaro, Courtesy Of ABC Gardening Australia Magazine)

The bulrushes may be under control but that doesn't mean there is not more work to be done.

The latest project is to install a meditation seat in honour of a former Pinnaroo boy — surfer, Nick Edwards, who was killed by a shark in Western Australia.