When asked about where you plan to go, there is something about the words ‘Bagotville Barrage.’ It has a satisfying alliteration, and sounds quirky and obscure enough to raise eyebrows. In the back of your mind, you can see people silently wondering firstly whether it exists, and if it does, why you are drawn to somewhere so odd-sounding.
It was a cloudy day with very light rain. From the Goonellabah-Wardell road, it’s a case of taking the first right turn just past Meerschaum Vale. From here the road seems to go on forever, past a backwater of cane fields and small paddocks with sheds. Eventually you reach a small bridge-like structure over a waterway, the barrage, which is the landmark indicating that you have arrived. Like many places whose name is indicative of the presence of a town, Bagotville is a rural district with a scattering of houses around. Its name derives from Christopher Bagot and his family, who settled this spot around 1882 after migrating from Ben Lomond in New England, and who built a sawmill that was sadly lost in a fire in 1894.
To the left is Tuckean Broadwater, a wide snake-like finger of water that winds its way north-west from the Richmond River, at a spot close to Broadwater, with the town taking its name from the waterway. There are two boats hauled out onto the bank, and a couple of pelicans swimming.
Off to the right is a totally different aspect, with a tree-lined channel running off into the distance.
Below, dimly visible and moving about in the water are a large number of fairly sizeable fish, around seventy centimetres in length and looking like tailor, that flash bright silver when they catch the light at the right angle.
Maria, a local ecological sustainability consultant, is passing and stops to come over for a chat, helpfully filling us in on a lot of useful details. The long straight channel to the north is human-created, and is known as Henderson’s Drain. Much of the land in this direction is Tuckean Swamp, a 5,000-hectare freshwater wetland that makes up part of a 22,000-hectare catchment. Tucki Tucki Creek, originating just upstream of the Birdwing Butterfly Walk in Goonellabah, is the major waterway feeding into the wetland. A small part of the swamp has been set aside as the Tuckean Nature Reserve.
Achieving the best ecological balance for the Tuckean Swamp is fairly complex. As a result of having previously been drained, it has issues with acid sulphate soils that create a build-up of acidity in the soil and water. A plaque close by indicates that the barrage was opened in May 1971 by the Hon. Davis Hughes MLA, NSW Minister for Public Works. It has floodgates that open at low tide and close at high tide, limiting the amount of salt water from Tuckean Broadwater that enters the wetland. According to Maria, after construction it took twelve years for the salt in the swamp to be flushed out.
This area is important to Aboriginals, who apparently avoided visiting at night due to a belief in the existence of a type of yowie-like hairy man.
A koala growls from the opposite wooded bank, an area that Maria identifies as an island, presumably due to the arrangement of drainage channels. As the island has no koala food trees, this is a big surprise to her. She guesses that it probably washed up there in the floods and remained. It will be reported to the relevant koala contacts.
For birdwatchers, the barrage area is a good place to look for birds. Off towards the far bank are waterlilies that are blooming with lilac flowers. Rare Comb-crested Jacanas, wetland birds with oversized feet for walking on the lillies, have been observed at times treading on them. Other birds sometimes encountered include jabiru storks and brolga cranes. Maria mentions 188 bird species identified in the surrounding area, of which 28 are threatened.
A Spangled Drongo in the nearby woods makes its distinctive chattering noise. Swallows are darting around, and a raven is flying with its twig in mouth. Spring has arrived.