Mornington is a giant reserve in the Kimberley, an untracked wilderness in northwest Australia, just north of the Great Sandy Desert. The station is an old cattle ranch (they call them “stations” here), accessible by mail plane or a six-hour 4×4 drive from the nearest down, Derby.
Now, Mornington is run and owned by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, with the intention of protecting wildlife and promoting research. The project I am working on – studying Purple-crowned Fairy-Wrens – is just one research project happening at Mornington right now. Other people are studying Crimson Finches, Gouldian Finches, spinifex grass, and similar aspects of the natural landscape. I’m here for six months (until August), but other researchers live here more or less permanently. There are currently 17 people at Mornington.
The station is made up of scattered buildings in various states of repair. The relatively plush (or, as Aussies say, “swish”) research lab, is the only air-conditioned space (Aussies shorten it to “air-con”). I’m sitting in the lab right now, since the temperature outside is about 106 F; with couches, counters, and a nice atmosphere, it’s a great place to hang out and get some work done.
The communal, open-air kitchen is the other nice building; it’s decked out with tons of counter space inside and all the amenities of food, including a large walk-in refrigerator. Otherwise, researchers sleep in scattered huts around the premises. I’ve been sleeping in a vacant room in a disused building on the edge of things, but will get kicked out soon as more staff are hired to handle the upcoming tourist season. Then, I’ll set up a tent on the hot grass, and hope it doesn’t boil me alive while I sleep!