Five minutes into Call Me By Your Birdsong – the first episode of season two of Bush Heritage Australia’s podcast Big Sky Country – a loud eruption of squawks, wing beats and sonic energy bursts from the speaker, cacophonous and spectacular.
It’s an arresting sound: the kind that stops you in your tracks. If you weren’t listening to the sounds of the planet, you are now. This riotous audio captures fledging: the moment a baby glossy black cockatoo leaves the nest. For Dr Daniella Teixeira, a senior ecologist with Bush Heritage Australia and a researcher at Queensland University of Technology, it also represents a significant moment in which humans can witness something rare and powerful.
Teixeira recorded the rarely heard occurrence in vivid detail while working on her PhD on a remote tract of wilderness in South Australia. And with only 400 or 500 of this species of bird left in the world, she says the magic is in the almost impossibility of hearing it.
“They’re in a really, really bad way,” she says. “But the fact that I got to be there when you can see more birds joining the next generation was just amazing. These birds nest for four months. And to be there the very moment that it leaves a nest is pretty unlikely.”
As an acoustic ecologist, Teixeira uses audio technologies to detect biodiversity loss and protect creatures such as the glossy and red-tailed black cockatoos from extinction. “I think sound is really overlooked still,” she says. “There’s just so much information in soundscapes.”
By recording soundscapes and tracking changes – “the more complex the soundscape is, the healthier the ecosystem”, she says – Teixeira and her collaborator, Dr Courtney Melton, also featured in the episode, are adding to a growing body of data that’s informing increasingly urgent conservation efforts.
“If there’s no habitat, there’s no species,” Teixeira says. “We’re coming into potentially the strongest El Niño ever on record [so] there’s really, really big concerns about the fire season coming up in the next summer.”
It’s this sense of urgency that underpins every audio recording in this new season of the groundbreaking Bush Heritage podcast. Experts working in conservation, culture and Country share their stories and sounds across six episodes, bringing listeners into the remote reserves and vast landscapes that make up this big sky country of ours.
From assessing the biodiversity of pastoral lands to protecting slimy critters in the “Galapagos of the Kimberley”, each episode introduces not only the western scientific research being undertaken but also how the cultural knowledge and ancient wisdom of Australia’s First Peoples informs conservation.
Yuin Wiradjuri woman Vikki Parsley says: “Aboriginal lore and knowledge reflects a deep understanding of weather and climate change as spoken of in oral histories, and can also provide insights for managing a number of Australia’s varied landscapes.”
As Bush Heritage’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partnership manager in New South Wales, Parsley was instrumental in the culturally significant process recounted in episode five of season two, The Return of the Right-Way Burn.
The audio takes listeners to the threatened grassy woodlands of Wiradjuri Country, where, for the first time since colonisation, traditional owners were able to implement cultural practices on ancestral lands.
“My involvement at Tarcutta Hills commenced with supporting Wiradjuri people in their cultural surveys and identifying the potential outcomes they wished to see on their lands,” Parsley says.
Led by Uncle James Ingram, the survey found modified trees and stone material “indicating the presence of Aboriginal people and practice from generations before”. The findings led to calls for (and the eventual implementation of) a right-way burn, a First Nations fire management tool that fights fire with fire. With the “potential to increase and protect biodiversity”, Parsley says the right-way burn is an important cultural practice that also reduces wildfire risk, using “slow, controlled, cool burns”.
Conducted under the watchful eye of a custodian, the burns are guided by both lore and environmental conditions such as soil moisture and plant and animal indicators. “This is an example of the deep knowledge held by Aboriginal people to undertake these practices … passed down from generation to generation,” Parsley says.
With 25 years in conservation, and having worked on the successful Wunambal Gaambera Country Plan in North Kimberley (also featured in episode five of season two of Big Sky Country), Parsley is committed to her work blending knowledge systems and supporting culturally led conservation. Still, she says, the opportunity to share these stories differently is exciting.
“These podcasts share another side of the work we do, as most of our reserves are out of the way or sometimes difficult to access,” Parsley says. “So bringing these stories to light in this way allows people to sit in the comfort of their homes and experience the great Australian bush, and be a part of some of the conservation efforts out there.”
Teixeira says: “It’s not just about the ecosystems and trouble or climate change or threatened species. It’s the people on the ground doing the work to change things.
“I think that’s what gives me hope … there are really a lot of good people really trying to do the right thing and really making positive differences.”