You are in site section: Online features

Narua

Narua

Max Chamberlain holding a tussock of tall wheat grass, a salt-tolerant pasture species sown on Narua.
Max Chamberlain holding a tussock of tall wheat grass, a salt-tolerant pasture species sown on Narua. In the background are river red gums planted by Max. Photo: George Main.

Narua is a wheat and sheep farm in the Downside district north of Wagga Wagga, run by Max and Helen Chamberlain. Elderly kurrajong trees stand on stony hilltops above rich pastures and heavy crops. In the late 1980s, a series of wet winters caused salty watertables to rise.

Max Chamberlain discovered bare, scalded areas appearing on Narua beside a minor creek. Other farmers in the Downside district found salt affected patches. They formed the Downside Landcare Group to counter the threat to productivity posed by salinisation and to deal with related ecological problems. Widespread erasure of deep-rooted, perennial native plants caused watertables to rise, the Landcare members learned. Shallow-rooted annual crops and pastures are unable to hold and use rainfall as efficiently as most native species. Water trickles down into subsoils, salty watertables rise.

Crystallised salts heavily encrust this piezometer installed by the Downside Landcare Group to measure the watertable level at a demonstration site near Narua.

The Chamberlain family has propagated and planted tens of thousands of trees on Narua. Max discovered through trial and error that Kurrajong, drooping she-oak, yellow box, red gum, and other species local to the Downside district grow best. Sheep graze salt-tolerant pastures of strawberry clover and tall wheat grass sown across paddocks affected by salinity. Watertables remain relatively high beneath these low-lying areas, enabling the growth of valuable pastures throughout dry summers.

Left: Crystallised salts heavily encrust this piezometer installed by the Downside Landcare Group to measure the watertable level at a demonstration site near Narua. Photo: George Main.

Related Pass the Salt stories: Max Chamberlain Hamilton treeplanter