What's so special about the Fitzgerald River National Park?
Things are not always as they seem. Or rather, what you see depends a lot on what you are looking for. Centuries ago, the first sea-faring Europeans to look upon the area now known as the Fitzgerald River National Park saw little to attract them. Dutchman Pieter Nuyts, in 1627, Englishman George Vancouver in 1791 and, Frenchman Bruni d’Entrecasteaux in 1792 all noted the barrenness of the land they observed from their passing ships.
Much later, in 1840-41, Edward Eyre would traverse the Great Australian Bight, from Adelaide to Albany.
“Most properly has it been called Mount Barren for a more wretched looking country never existed than that around it” were the words he recorded in his journal about the area.
Although the Barren Ranges (East, West and Middle) still bear the name that reflects those early opinions, the region around Fitzgerald River National Park is now, somewhat ironically, acknowledged as being one of the world's richest in terms of plant diversity.
Recognition of its value came gradually. In 1954 the area now known as the Fitzgerald River National Park was declared a ‘C’ class nature reserve. It was gazetted as a national park in January 1973.
In 1978 the park and surrounding area was gazetted under UNESCO's internationally recognised 'Man and Biosphere' program. It is one of two Biosphere reserves in Western Australia (the other being Prince Regent Nature Reserve in the Kimberley) and 14 in the whole country. The park is designated as the ‘core area’ of the Fitzgerald Biosphere Reserve.
In geological terms most of the soils in the Fitzgerald Biosphere are very old, very poor and infertile. Despite this, they feature high numbers of rare endemic plant species that are often long lived, many of which have developed highly specialised ways of coping with the infertile soils.
The Western Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife reports that there are 1,748 identified plant species in the Fitz, which represents almost 20% of the state's described plant species. Seventy five species are endemic to the park, a further 48 are seldom found anywhere else and 250 species are listed as rare.
The park is home to 22 species of mammal, including the heath rat Pseudomys shortridgei, which was believed to be extinct before its rediscovery in the Ravensthorpe Range in 1987, and the dibbler Parantechinus apicalis, also thought extinct in Western Australia but re-discovered in 1967 at Cheynes Beach to the west of the park. Since 1985, surveys within the park have consistently found dibblers in long unburnt heathland and mallee shrubland.
Until 2012, the Fitzgerald River National Park maintained one of the few remaining populations of the critically endangered Western Ground Parrot Pezoporus wallicus flaviventris. Recent surveys have failed to find evidence that the population still persists.
Of the 200 bird species recorded in the park, other threatened species include the Western Bristlebird Dasyornis longirostris, the Western Whipbird Psophodes nigrogularis nigrogularis, the Malleefowl Leipoa ocellata and the endangered Carnaby's Black Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus latirostris.
The Doubtful Islands Bay, on the western side of the park, is one of only a handful of major calving areas along Australia's coastline for Southern Right Whales. Between July and October each year visitors watch Southern Right Whales and their calves at rest and at play in the shallow waters around Point Anne Lookout. Humpback Whales usually stay further out but are identifiable by their more flamboyant breaching style.
The Fitzgerald River National Park is 329,882 hectares in size, making it one of the largest in Australia. Bordering the Fitz are the seaside towns of Bremer Bay to the west, and Hopetoun to the east. The farming communities of Jerramungup and Ravensthorpe are located inland, on the northern edge of the park, inside the biosphere's zone of cooperation.
The Fitzgerald Biosphere has retained international significance after United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation approved the site as a biosphere reserve this month (May 2017). https://thewest.com.au/news/albany-advertiser/reserve-under-un-spotlight-ng-b88516948z
Fitzgerald River National Park was included in the National Heritage List on 6 May 2016 for its outstanding diversity of native plant species, including many plants which are unique to the local area.
To find out more
For comprehensive information about the park's attractions, track conditions, walks, camping and other facilities please visit the Department of Parks and Wildlife's website at www.parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au Brochures and a podcast are available for download.