Natural tranquillity inspires connection

Natural tranquillity inspires connection

Life & Style
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After her husband passed away in 2012, Tracey Heimberger was looking for a way to get herself and her nine-year-old twin boys through the heartache and looked towards natural therapies.

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Bird watching helped Tracey Heimberger to focus on thinking about how to cope with the grief of losing her husband, which allowed her to be the best person for her boys when they needed her the most.

Bird watching helped Tracey Heimberger to focus on thinking about how to cope with the grief of losing her husband, which allowed her to be the best person for her boys when they needed her the most.

FOR Balladong Aboriginal woman Tracey Heimberger, what started as a hobby discovered out of a tragedy turned into a passion and now a viable tourism business.

After her husband passed away in 2012, she was looking for a way to get herself and her nine-year-old twin boys through the heartache and looked towards natural therapies.

"I concentrated my attention on an area I love, which is nature and the natural environment, and that allowed me to stop focusing on difficult thoughts such as how I would handle being a widow to two young boys," Ms Heimberger said.

"I didn't want my boys growing up having pain and sorrow in their hearts and carrying that around as I knew it would inevitably turn them into destructive teenagers.

"Bird watching really helped me to focus on thinking about how to cope with the grief and loss which allowed me to be the best person for my boys when they needed me the most."

Ms Heimberger started off by going on solo nature walks and heading to local watering holes in the west Pilbara to try and find some tranquillity, but quickly became fascinated with birds and their behaviour.

"I had this tiny little lens, I couldn't even say what it was, but I kid you not, the photos of the birds used to look like pinheads," she said.

"With the help of my family, I upgraded my photography equipment and over the years I've just kept upgrading because I wanted to get closer to the birds to get more detail in."

> Since finding her passion for bird watching, Ms Heimberger discovered just how little people, including the local Aboriginal elders in the Pilbara, know about the species in their area.

> Since finding her passion for bird watching, Ms Heimberger discovered just how little people, including the local Aboriginal elders in the Pilbara, know about the species in their area.

Prior to getting into bird watching, she had spent many years learning about the Pilbara country from the traditional land custodians and elders in Roebourne and, after starting the new hobby, quickly discovered that there was a really strong connection between birds and Aboriginal culture.

For example, with the Balladong people of the South West - which is Ms Heimberger's mob - a large flock of budgerigars flying in a particular direction generally meant there would be water in that direction.

"You have to be quiet when you go out birding, so for me it's all about tranquillity and connecting to nature," she said.

"Fortunately for us here in the west Pilbara, you don't have to go very far out of town to lose mobile connection, so not having phones or computers beeping at me was part and parcel of that tranquillity of nature.

"I get so grounded and connected with the earth when I get out on country, even if I just sit there and watch without a camera, it is so relaxing."

Since finding her passion for bird watching, Ms Heimberger discovered just how little people, including the local Aboriginal elders in the Pilbara, know about the species in their area.

She made it her mission to start to educate people and whenever she went to new towns she would ask the local community where to go for walks, then show the photos she'd captured, especially to the elders.

"A lot of the communities are amazed at what I find," she said.

"I remember one time when I went to Jigalong and there were people over the age of 50 who were born and raised there, but they had never seen the birds I showed them photos of and didn't even know that they existed."

"If you're not a bird nerd, you just don't look for them and since I started doing this it's really opened my eyes up to what's around and the importance of them to our culture."

To the Balladong people of the South West which is Ms Heimberger's mob a large flock of budgerigars flying in a particular direction generally meant there would be water in that direction.

To the Balladong people of the South West which is Ms Heimberger's mob a large flock of budgerigars flying in a particular direction generally meant there would be water in that direction.

The desire to share that importance with others and educate them on bird behaviour and conservation was what led Ms Heimberger to start Pilbara Bird Tours.

Through a Tourism WA grant, she opened the business in July last year and offers tours in Roebourne and Cossack, which are both about 30 minutes from Karratha.

"I love Roebourne, it's where I got all of my cultural teaching from, it has so much historical significance and a lot of tourists travel through there, it has so much to offer and I really wanted to showcase it," she said.

"The bird life is just amazing, we have local budgerigars that breed around the town which is something not many towns can brag about.

"When I post photos of large flock birds on Instagram, I have comments from people from down south, interstate and overseas about how lucky we are to have them close to town."

The number of species which could be spotted on the tours is extensive.

On the tour, Ms Heimberger wants people to see the birds in their most natural way.

On the tour, Ms Heimberger wants people to see the birds in their most natural way.

In Roebourne people could expect to see budgerigars, cockatiels, brown song larks, rufous song larks, horsfield's bushlark, painted finches, zebra finches, star finches, red-browed pardalotes, galahs, spotted harriers, whistling kites and spinifex pigeons.

While in Cossack, guests could spot white-bellied sea-eagles, mangrove grey fantails, mangrove golden whistlers, white-breasted whistlers, zebra finches, painted finches, white-breasted woodswallows, eastern great egrets, eastern reef egrets and bar-shouldered doves.

Along with showcasing the beauty of Roebourne, Ms Heimberger also wants to educate people about the local species.

"All birds have their own specific types of behaviour - in Roebourne and Cossack we have a lot of nesting birds around town and there are ethical rules that BirdLife Australia has put together," she said.

"If you see a bird nesting somewhere, it's important to keep a good distance from them and people should never feed wild birds bread or anything else that is not natural for them as it is really terrible for them.

"On the tour I want people to see the birds in their most natural way - for example, finches drink a lot of water, so I take people to sit right in the middle of where they go to drink, but I tell them to be quiet as that will allow the birds to continue their normal behaviour."

Balladong aboriginal woman Tracey Heimberger started Pilbara Bird Tours in July last year.

Balladong aboriginal woman Tracey Heimberger started Pilbara Bird Tours in July last year.

Originally Ms Heimberger started by offering free tours to people in the west Pilbara community, asking them to leave her a review and suggest any improvements that could be made.

Since she started there has only been one problem reported - a booking that didn't come through from the electronic system.

That problem was easily solved - she gave the couple a full refund and offered them a free tour for the next time they were in town.

"I've had some really glowing reviews since I started, so it's really nice to hear that people are enjoying the experience," Ms Heimberger.

"Ultimately I just want to showcase the beauty of Roebourne and the Pilbara, but I also hope to expand the business and employ more local people."

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