Grass Matters (or Words from Whistling Jack)

Articles on reestablishing native grass in the semi-arid Murraylands, by John “Whistling Jack” Endersby.

John Endersby is first and foremost a practical conservationist, also an avid bird watcher, a farmer by training, and has a strong desire to share his knowledge and experience with those interested to learn. John and Barb Endersby have owned a property near Cambrai since the late 1980s. When they purchased the property, it featured bare, rock-strewn and compacted-soil fields. They promptly set about repairing the soil and John developed his own cheap home-made equipment to sow native grass seeds including the notoriously difficult to sow Speargrass (Austrostipa). Click the link below to see the changes that they have made on their property:

“Before and After” Photos from the Endersby Farm at Cambrai – July 2014 (PDF)
A collection of photos showing the revegetation that John & Barb have achieved in a low rainfall area.

John has had a long association with the Natural History Society of South Australia and Moorunde Wildlife Reserve  for almost 25 years. Besides many hours of volunteer effort on the reserve, John has conducted various trials and demonstrations for reestablishing native grasses on a broad area and written numerous articles on his observations and concerns about the health of wombats and vegetation communities on the reserve. John’s aim has been to influence the management of the Natural History Society to take a more proactive approach to managing the reserve, including kangaroo population control, removal of woody weeds (native shrubs) invading traditional grassland areas and the re-establishment of native grass pastures – essential food for the wombats. John often puts pen to paper writing articles to share his pragmatic advice and knowledge based on many years of practical experience with land care and rehabilitation.

Would you like to discuss any of these articles with John?
Contact him by post at PO Box 66, CAMBRAI, SA, 5353, telephone (08) 8564 5051 or email

Native Grass Seed Harvesting Enclosure, Twelve Mile Plain


Who is John Endersby?

A brief biography by Graham Nye, 2015

John Endersby is, in the broadest of contexts, the quintessential man of the land.  Born into a dairy-farming family in the Finniss River area of the Fleurieu Peninsula, south of Adelaide, John began his farming apprenticeship early, as most youngsters do on the land. His childhood home was idyllically set alongside the Finniss River with lagoons, swamps and bushland on his door-step. In between the call of farm duties, John was drawn into this enticing environment, exploring by boat and by foot, absorbing details of flora, animals and birds. This keen interest in the environment only increased as John enthusiastically pursued a career as a farmer and grazier. Indeed these two passions complimented each other, enabling John to bring a farmer’s perspective to his natural history activities and vice-versa!

John attended Roseworthy Agricultural College, then spent time gaining as much experience as he could gather in a variety of positions in South Australia and Queensland – jackaroo, stockman, farmhand, share-farmer, eventually owning his own grazing property in the South-East of South Australia. Hit by the financial vicissitudes of the early 1980’s and the drought of 1982, John sold the farm and returned to Adelaide, taking what he always describes, with tongue firmly in cheek as a “safe” government job as a prison officer! This period of employment permitted John to have an insight into a world few of us have seen, and gained a perspective on human behaviour and psychology that is deeply embedded. His experiences are movingly described in his book “Monsters in the Dark”.

In order not to be separated from the land, John purchased an 80 acre hobby farm at Cambrai whilst continuing his employment as a prison officer. In 1993, John became a member of the Natural History Society of South Australia and spent as much time as he could at the Society’s property near Blanchetown, Moorunde Wildlife Reserve, home to a significant population of Southern Hairy-nosed Wombats. Thus John was able to continue with both of his passions whilst helping to bring-up a family and working! A keen bird watcher, John has acquired the nick-name Whistling Jack, on account of his ability to whistle up Southern Scrub-robins at Moorunde!

John retired in 1997, still lives at Cambrai, and is still advocating for broad-acre restoration of native grasslands at Moorunde, a vital project if Moorunde’s Southern Hairy-nosed Wombats are to survive.