Approaching the north end of Moora, the home of Carnaby crusader Wally Kerkhof is easy to spot. If you somehow manage to overlook the nesting logs set high in the sky, or gum trees laden with the imposing large grey-black cockatoo, the sound of bird calls emanating from his backyard and Carnaby hide will soon draw you in.
Wally and the Kerkhof Carnaby Group have had great success in increasing the population of Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus latirostris) in Moora and surrounds, from merely a dozen pairs in the 1980’s to approximately 100 breeding pairs this season. This is thanks to the artificial nesting logs designed and built by Wally to replicate the breeding areas lost to the birds through habitat destruction.
Wally spent twenty-six years single-handedly working to restore the Carnaby population, and cultivating a love of nature with a devotion to all birds that is incredible – foraging in the bush for hours to source appropriate food for different species, and even feeding baby birds by mouth himself to ensure their survival.
“I’ll give you an idea of much Wally loves the birds,” says Wes Porter, Kerkhof Carnaby Group member. “I went to his house one day and he had a tin of dog food open on the table. I said ‘Oh, who do you feed that to?’. Well, he was eating it himself! Going without food and eating dog food because it was cheaper! That’s just how passionate he is about the birds. It didn’t kill him,” Wes laughs.
Maintaining this level of commitment to a cause can take a toll, both emotionally and financially, and this was noted by Wally’s friends. They decided to step up their support, but in a more official capacity with the creation of the Kerkhof Carnaby Group.
“The group was formed in 2011,” explains secretary, Topsy De Vries. “Wally was running short of funds to feed the birds. A few of us around Moora started to organise fundraising events. We became a constituted group within a few years and it’s grown from there. Each year we raise enough money to help with the food and to help with the nests,” said Topsy.
“I needed a group,” admits Wally. “Dr Nathalie Casal from Perth was our first, and only sponsor, for the first three years. She would bring up $1500 worth of seeds every year.”
Altruistic causes that achieve the level of success that Wally and the Kerkhof Carnaby Group have done quite often have the backing of a wealthy philanthropist, people with the means and connections to make a difference. Wally has had none of those. Indeed, his extraordinary start to life could have set him on a very different track.
“I was born in Scotland, my mother was Scottish and my father; well he couldn’t marry my mum – he was a priest!
“There was a little girl that my mother handed me over to and said ‘Can you look after my wee bairn?’. She never returned. The young lady could no longer afford to look after me so I was taken to the police and then an orphanage,” he explains.
Wally was one of thousands of disadvantaged children shipped abroad by the UK government in a resettlement scheme that ran from 1945-1970.
“Luckily,” says Wally, “I landed in WA.”
Wally’s knowledge of the ecology of the land where he lives is immense and full of the intricate detail you can only acquire from thousands of hours of on-the-ground study.
“It all started when I was kid,” says Wally. “You will learn more from observation and being hands-on than you will from all the text books in the world.”
His decades of observation have raised concerns about the decline in all bird species and numbers.
“I remember in the 50’s and 60’s you would see all sorts of birds – and not in ones or twos; large flocks. That’s not the case anymore.
“If I can save one species, without interfering with it, without putting it in captivity, then I have done well,” says Wally.
The Carnaby population in the Moora townsite is now steady, and any new nesting logs will only be established in the surrounding areas. The Kerkhof Carnaby Group do have other big plans for Moora in the future – quite literally!
“We are wanting to build a Big Carnaby statue,” explains Topsy. “We want Moora to be known as a Carnaby town and to do that we need funds, and local artists to come up with ideas.”
If you can help the Kerkhof Carnaby Group either in their quest for a big Carnaby, with donations to help the birds or can help the group acquire a small cherry picker and crane for their nesting log projects you can contact secretary Topsy on 0427 343 968.
In recognition of his services to the Carnaby population, Wally has been nominated for a 2019 WA Landcare Award. The winner of which will be announced at the Landcare Awards Gala Dinner in Mindarie on October 4.
“I’m not interested in accolades as such – unless there’s money attached that can help the birds,” says Wally.
He adds, cheekily, “Accolades are something I have to pick and dust every day, I’m sick of it. I’m too fastidious around the house!”