The Reilly family are very respectful of the need to maintain a healthy environment.  They believe in the sustainable use of our natural resources for the production of food crops whilst ensuring the diversity of our local environment is maintained and improved where possible.

The Gurra Downs horticultural business has designed a unique farming system which integrates organic food production with the creation of native animal habitat.

In 2001 a joint project was initiated with neighbours John and Toni Schwarz.  3.5 kilometres of predatory proof fence was constructed around 3 sides of the properties. 1.2km of water frontage onto the Gurra Gurra wetland completed the perimeter fencing.

Foxes, feral cats and rabbits were eradicated from this zone.  Native animals which were indigenous to this area but had become regionally extinct, were re-introduced and now enjoy the protection of this sanctuary on a shared basis with cropping lands as well as the Reilly family house and nursery facility.

Cape Barren geese are a unique and rare bird native to southern Australia.  Population levels were as low as a few hundred in the 1960’s.  Farmers wishing to protect their valuable pastures, culled large numbers, until the species was declared endangered and protected.

The flock of approximately 100 Cape Barren geese is jokingly referred to as the ‘weed squadron’.  They provide the valuable service of converting vineyard weeds into manure and thereby greatly reduce labour inputs. 

Their contribution allows the production of healthy food without the use of herbicides/pesticides which assists in attracting a premium price for selling fully certified organic produce.  The Reilly’s are more than happy to provide guardianship to these delightful animals.

John and Toni Schwarz have also introduced to the sanctuary Brush-tailed bettongs, Rufous bettongs and Potaroos – small nocturnal kangaroo and wallaby type marsupials which enjoy the native scrub, hillsides and waterfront habitat.  The Brush-tailed bettong performs an interesting environmental role.  They fill their mouths with seeds collected from native bushes and trees then hop away and bury this food stash for lean times.  Inevitably they do not recover all the seed they bury, thus providing an important forest spreading service.  John has also introduced Plains mice – a medium sized rodent which was widespread prior to the introduction of foxes and cats.


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The sanctuary has assisted in an extensive study on turtle behaviour in conjunction with the University of Canberra.

The sanctuary was selected as a suitable study site because foxes had been eradicated, which would otherwise dig up turtle eggs laid at breeding time on the sandy river banks.  This assisted in the publication “More Turtles” – a River Murray Turtle Protection Manual.

Many other native animals live within the sanctuary including, Possums, large tree monitors (Goannas), many types of reptiles and numerous bird species.  It is a pleasure to be surrounded with such abundance of nature.  It is hoped this example of balancing resource use with healthy food production and environmental enhancement projects can inspire others to apply these principles.

Gratitude is extended to Mick Durant, Ian Baird and Kym Rumbelow from Greening Australia who together with the Greencorp team have invested much time, effort and funding towards implementing the Gurra Gurra River Recovery revegetation project 2006-2007.

After a site assessment and plan was drawn up, thousands of native plants indigenous to the area were raised from seed by Greening Australia.  They were then planted within the confines of the sanctuary.  This program helps habitat recovery and will hopefully fill in large empty spaces which were decimated by wild rabbit populations.

The Reilly and Schwarz families have been proactive in promoting rehabilitation actions over the 3000 hectares of the Gurra Gurra wetlands complex.  They formed a company “Gurra Wet Pty Ltd” and purchased a strategically placed floodplain property which allowed for de-silting and rehabilitation of the supply creek ensuring flow through to the wetlands in times of flood.

Wetland Care Australia administered federal and state government funding to install culverts and fords at road crossings.  This action has increased the ‘flood event’ probability from an average of a 1 in 8 year event to an average of 1 in 3 year event, providing the wetland with vital floodwater on a more regular basis.

Gurra Wet Pty Ltd received funding from the River Murray Catchment Water Management Board and the Natural Heritage Trust to commission a High Salinity Groundwater Investigation of the Gurra Gurra wetland complex.  This report identified major saline groundwater inflow sites.  The objective is to now encourage government agencies to invest in extending the nearby salt interception scheme to intercept and remove this highly saline groundwater (approx 80,000 – 100,000 EC units) from the wetland environment.

Receiving the funding cheque: L to R: Jonte, Anita & Dave Reilly, John & Toni Schwarz, Jeff Parish
(CEO, Central Irrigation Trust), Hon.  Karlene Maywald (Minister for the River Murray), Brian & Ruth Reilly.

Gurra Wet Pty Ltd played a major role in contributing to the Lyrup Forest Reserve environmental project.  In conjunction with the’ Loxton to Bookpurnong’ and the ‘Renmark to the Border’ Local Action Planning committees, a project brief was produced, detailing rehabilitation actions and future management strategies for the Lyrup Forest Reserve which is a significant asset of the greater Gurra Gurra wetland complex.

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Dave was recently appointed Chairman of the’ Loxton to Bookpurnong’ Local Action Planning committee.   The LAP committee which is a volunteer organization, encourages and supports a range of local community based projects that demonstrate positive environmental outcomes. Dave is currently serving a two year term on the South Australian government’s’ South Australia Murray Darling Basin Natural Resource Management Board, Riverland group’.  The role of this inaugural group is to assist in developing a regional plan with a legislative framework for the sustainable management of our state’s natural resources.

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