Protect the Munga-Thirri—Simpson Desert
Spanning three states and an area almost three times the size of Tasmania, this is one of the most undamaged desert ecosystems in Australia and the world, with a host of endemic plants and animals. Sadly, the desert heart of the continent is under threat and needs your help. It’s too precious to mine.
Right now, we have an opportunity to create the biggest protected area in Australia, and one of the biggest in the world, creating a corridor of protection from the Northern Territory, all the way to Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre in South Australia.
The Munga-Thirri—Simpson Desert sits within the Lake Eyre Basin, alongside Queensland Channel Country and Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, which is on the Important Wetlands in Australia list and an Important Bird Area (IBA).
Nowhere else in Australia can you see the range of colours, from brilliant white to dark red, tones of pinks to oranges, than in the desert’s extensive dune fields. Then when the rain does fall the landscape erupts in desert wildflowers, which may include billy buttons, poached egg daisies and cunningham bird flowers.
It’s one of the last great desert wilderness areas left in the world, with temperatures in summer approaching 50 degrees Celsius and large sandstorms common. It sits on top of the Great Artesian Basin, one of the largest inland freshwater drainage areas in the world.
For more than a decade the Wilderness Society has been working to protect this area, getting two fossil fuel companies to withdraw their plans to start damaging exploration work in the fragile desert environment.
"Australia is in a unique position to protect these areas. And we believe we have a global responsibility to do that." Peter Owen, Director, Wilderness Society South Australia
A home for unique species
Despite most parts of the desert receiving 5 inches (125mm) or less rainfall annually, the Munga-Thirri—Simpson Desert is home to over 900 species of flora and fauna, including the water-holding frog and a number of reptiles that inhabit the desert grasses.
Desert mammals that only exist here include the kowari (a brush tailed marsupial rat), while birds endemic to the desert include the grey grasswren and Eyrean grasswren, each evolved solely to survive in this exact spot.
They live alongside iconic thorny devils, budgerigars, dingoes, and wedge-tailed eagles, as well as a wealth of other flora and fauna who have learnt to adapt and thrive in these conditions. The wedge-tail eagles are known to nest near the ground, in large piles of sticks, which is rarely seen in other areas they inhabit.
Stories woven into landscapes
The Munga-Thirri—Simpson Desert is as rich in First Nations history, spanning many thousands of years, as it is in the rainbow colours of its sand dune sunsets.
The South Australian section is the traditional lands of the Wangkangurru/Yarluyandi people, other groups include Aranda and Arrente, who all maintain a strong connection with Country.
Their stories are interconnected with the landscape, such as stories of mikiri (or freshwater soaks) in the claypans, swamps and small salt lakes that enabled them to travel through the country using these for secondary sources of food and water. Rock carvings and places of cultural significance occur throughout the desert region.
In 1886, surveyor and explorer David Lindsay, with the help of Wangkangurru man ‘Paddy‘, used a series of nine of these ‘native wells’ to cross the southern and central parts of the desert. This journey was retraced by Denis Bartell in 1980.
There are limited roads, no buildings on the landscape and no industrial disturbance, making the Munga-Thirri—Simpson Desert a rare intact ecosystem that has been the Country of First Nations people for thousands of years. As one of the last regions where nature hasn’t been disturbed by industrialisation, we need to consider how it will be protected for the future.
Is it a place we will cherish, or will we allow it to be destroyed for fossil fuels?
The Munga-Thirri—Simpson Desert contains the world’s longest parallel sand dunes, held in position by vegetation. They vary in height from 3 metres in the west to around 30 metres on the eastern side. However, the largest dune, Nappanerica or Big Red, is 40 metres in height and a sight to behold. Image: Bill Doyle.
Winter is the time tourists come to popular landmarks, including the ruins and mound springs at Dalhousie Springs, Purnie Bore wetlands, Approdinna Attora Knoll and Poeppel Corner (where Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory meet). Image: A Gidgee (Acacia cambagei); Bill Doyle.
Old Ghan Heritage Track
Follow in ancient footsteps exploring land few people have seen or take the Old Ghan Heritage Track through the desert on its way from Port Augusta in South Australia to Alice Springs, following the route of the original narrow gauge Ghan line.
As well as threat from climate change, the Munga-Thirri—Simpson Desert is at risk from human exploration for fossil fuels, with Texan company Tri-Star currently pushing for approval from the South Australian Government to explore a number of mining leases it holds.Mining poses significant contamination risks to underground water resources, including the Great Artesian Basin—which supply large areas of the continent with water. The roading and industrialisation that even exploration brings impacts the fragile dune landscape, watercourses and the wildlife that relies on it. Plus, we know that the world’s climate doesn’t need new fossil fuel frontiers to open.
Are we going to protect the unique ecosystems of the Simpson or destroy it for more fossil fuel exploration?
How you can help
The South Australian government has recently announced a historic plan to turn the Munga-Thirri—Simpson Desert into Australia's largest national park, covering an area of 3.6 million hectares.
This grand initiative, on a scale the Wilderness Society has been advocating for over a decade, is a significant step toward creating a north-south conservation corridor in the heart of Australia, allowing endangered animals and plants to move and adapt to a rapidly changing climate.
Fossil fuel companies still hold leases to potentially expand the gas industry into the new Munga-Thirri—Simpson Desert National Park. Given the serious impact climate change is already having on Australia’s fragile desert ecosystems and its people, it is critical that fossil fuel industry expansion is stopped.
Please email Minister for Environment and Water David Speirs thanking him for putting the proposal forward for Australia’s largest national park and let him know you support its passage through the SA Parliament in the coming months. And ask him to stop the expansion of the gas industry into the future national park.