Campfires & Crows

Campfires and Crows
Industrial Hemp
A Radical Solution
Riverland Gold
Waikerie to Wilcannia
The Angry Imbiber
Hopping High
O.H. & S. Or Common Sense

I lived on Kangaroo Island with my family for ten years from 1977. We had a farm which incorporated the headwaters of the Ravine des Casoars, and backed on to the second highest cliffs in Australia, near Cape Torrens. We ran sheep, but also camels and for a period, water buffalo.
During the summer months I would operate one day camel treks on our property and along the cliffs, and also five day treks into Flinders Chase. George Lonzar and Chris Baxter, the then Rangers gave me great help and co-operation in this venture.
During these five day treks, particularly in late summer, I would sometimes come across platypus in the string of waterholes that the Rocky River would become at that time of year. Once I found a dead one, kilometres from water, on a track north of there. When I talked to George Lonzar about this, he told me that he had been trying unsuccessfully to convince the National Park hierarchy in Adelaide to let him relocate some platypus to the north, in the Breakneck River and the Ravine Creek (which flowed the whole year). He argued that many young platypus perished trying to find new habitat when ‘kicked out of home’ by their parents. It was frustrating to George, that this common sense idea couldn’t be implemented, because he too had found a number of dead platypus north of the Rocky River system.
I thought about this, and decided to give nature a helping hand. I didn’t mention this to George or Chris. A couple of weeks previously, I had seen several platypus in waterholes on the top end of the Rocky River, when camped nearby with the camels.
One Saturday night I informed Patti that I would be going birdwatching (which I often did) very early Sunday morning. I climbed out of bed an hour before daylight, hopped in my Peugeot, and drove down the ‘shackle’ road to the Rocky River. Leaving the car I walked into a spot less than half a kilometre, between two waterholes. I had with me, my binoculars, and an old jute wool pack. I made myself comfortable on top of a three metre bank located between two drying up waterholes. The birds were good, but not a sign of a platypus.
The sun was well and truly up, and with a new regime at the chase I wasn’t keen to get caught with a wool pack on my person. Not sure how I would have explained that away.
I was about to leave, when, to my astonishment and delight, I observed a small brown animal making its way from the lower waterhole to the top one. You could describe my emotions as a mix between exhilaration and guilt! When the platypus was below me in the sandy creek bed, I launched myself off the bank, holding the wool pack out in front – I felt a bit like batman. I landed next to the animal and covered it with the woolpack. I couldn’t believe it. Making sure it was secure I made my way back to the car, putting the ‘bundle’ on the rear seat. I drove back up the track to the ‘shackle gate’. I opened my door, got out, opened the gate and drove through. I got out again and closed the gate. I took only seconds each time. I drove the ten minutes to our place, and told Patti and the kids to follow me down to a bush dam in the Ravine Creek below our house. I then took the wool pack out and opened it up. Nothing! How could this be?  I searched the car thoroughly, and still nothing. Then, I noticed a small piece of dark hair protruding from the facia near the glove box. It must have got out of the woolpack, while I was inside telling the girls to come down to the creek. I undid the whole facia of the Peugeot, and there was our animal.It was about half grown and a female. I carefully took it and placed it near the edge of the waterhole, where it straightaway scuttled in and disappeared. Ten minutes later it broke the surface with a yabby in its bill. How good was that! Many a morning and evening after this, we would sit in the scrub above the hole, and enjoy a wonderful floorshow. Before I could find a mate for it, there was a big rain and the creek flooded. I never saw the platypus after that and presumed it went further down nearer the coast, where there were larger pools. Hopefully by now there are others there, but I’m not holding my breath.


I don’t make my living as a farmer, but I grew up on one [dairy, fat lambs and almonds] and I owned a grazing property on Kangaroo Island, S.A. for ten years. I was a jackeroo and overseer on sheep stations for six years also. This seemingly irrelevent information is to establish a bit of credibility with farmers.
Most of my occupation involves traveling around Australia by various forms of transport. I know and meet a lot of people involved in agriculture, and understand that the average farming operations only return 4% on their investment. There is plenty of exceptions – those that are sustainable and doing extremely well [the minority] and those that are unsustainable and heading downhill from slow decent to out of control.
Most of the small to medium sized country towns you pass through have increasing numbers of shut down shops and businesses.
In a country like Australia, this should not be the case.
Some of the readers would be aware of Theodore Roosevelt’s ‘Hemp act’ of 1937 which was the catalyst for what is arguably the greatest environmental scandal in modern times. Most people seem to be unaware of this. I suggest that if you are interested [and you should be] , that you google ‘Industrial Hemp’, This will open up an extraordinary pandorahs box of the continuing scandal and suppression of the facts by powerful lobbies, in particular the cotton industry, major agribusiness corporations and chemical conglomerates, to name of few.
Recently some Victorian farmers and engineers invented  a Hemp decorticator that can separate the fibre, the hurd, and the seed in the one operation. This is an extraordinary developement. It means that 95% of the hurd and fibre can be recovered, compared to just 15% previously. Industrial Hemp has over two thousand uses and can be grown with little water[the more the better for greater yield] and NO herbicides. Up to three crops a year can be grown on the best land with more water. The ground is greatly enriched by the waste material after each harvest, and because of the minimal input the returns are exceptional. Imagine the thousands of hectares of land in the Riverland and other places lying idle or supporting unsustainable or unprofitable crops.
Uses of industrial Hemp include textiles, clothing, building material[fibre board, insulation, hempcrete]. Industrial products such as animal bedding, mulch,  boiler fuel, chemical absorbent. Paper [printing, newsprint, packaging, cardboard, netting, canvas, carpeting etc..
Foods derived from Hemp seed is what is holding up the ‘Hemp revolution’. In all other western and developed nations you can buy food made from hemp seed in supermarkets. Yet you cannot legally do so in Australia and New Zealand despite the fact that food standards of Australia and New Zealand[FSANZ] have recommended COAG meetings that it should be legalized immediately. That is another scandal.
Until Hemp food is legalized, the industry is crippled. We have two legs of a three legged stool. There is the fibre, the hurd but the third leg has been denied – the FOOD.
A good Hemp crop produces three tonnes of fibre per hectare, seven tonnes of hurd and one tonne of grain. The world market is wide open. A growing number of farmers are becoming aware of the potential of Industrial Hemp , the ripple needs to become a tidal wave. This has the potential to revitalize agriculture in Australia, as well as opening a multitude of manufacturing opportunities. See website:
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Over the years I have had a dual relationship with this ultimate Aussie survivor. On various sheep stations in the 1960s it was part of my job to destroy dogs, and I have shot and trapped a number of them.
In the last couple of years they have become a very real problem in the Flinders Ranges and adjacent pastoral country, due partly to sections of the dog fence being washed away with floods. Running my camel treks through the Flinders, I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot them if the opportunity presented itself, as they threaten the very existence of station owners, and indeed the entire sheep industry. At least one station has changed to cattle, after over a hundred years of running sheep. All across Australia from north of Kalgoorlie in W.A. to the Great Dividing Range, dingoes and wild dogs are threatening graziers.
However, I also have a very positive relationship with dingoes, due to over forty years travelling with 4WD vehicles, camels and boats in Australia’s remotest areas. When pure bred dingoes have had no negative contact (ie. being shot at or chased by vehicles) with humans, they will very often approach within metres of a person or party. I have many examples of these ‘close encounters’. One ‘classic’ involved a mate of mine working for a mining company, and camped out on the Officer Creek in NW South Australia. He had his swag on a stretcher (a ‘softie’) with the foot end of the stretcher just a couple of metres from his campfire. It was late winter, but a Front was passing over causing humid conditions. Through the night he pushed a blanket off his swag, half on to the ground at the bottom of his stretcher. In the early hours, it became colder, so he half sat up and went to pull the blanket back over his swag. It wouldn’t come, so he gave it a ‘yank’. There was a startled yelp, and a dingo jumped up and headed for the bush. It had been asleep on his blanket as well as being warmed by the coals of the campfire!
In 2000, or 2001, I was travelling in boats down the Warburton River to Lake Eyre. My current Jack Russell, at the time, (Stubbie) was sitting on the front of my boat. We rounded a bend and there were three dingo pups on a little mud island several metres from the bank. They jumped into the river and swam to the bank disappearing into the lignum. Stubbie straightaway jumped into the river heading for the spot where the pups disappeared. I quickly ran the boat into the bank, worrying about the parents of those pups who could easily make mince meat out of a Jack Russell.
I pushed my way through a few metres of thick lignum, before breaking out into a clearing the size of a couple of tennis courts. An amusing sight met my eyes. Stubbie was pursuing one of the dingo pups around the outside of the clearing, with the other two in line chasing him! No sign of the parents. The pups on seeing me disappeared into the lignum, and I grabbed Stubbie and headed back to my boat.
On a number of occasions, dingoes swim across the river in front of our boats, giving excellent photographic opportunities, and exciting close encounters if you can get up alongside before they get to the bank. A couple of months ago on the Warburton we came across two dogs swimming across, one about six metres behind the other. I sped up, and could have cut off the second dog, but it was older and having trouble keeping up with the lead dog, so I took pity on it and slackened off. A few days later a lady in front of one of the other boats, actually touched the back of a swimming dog. A bit ‘naughty’ because she could have lost a hand. Dingoes have a massive ‘bite’, as well as very large feet for their size, and are excellent swimmers.
In 2009 on a desert river I saw a dingo running parallel with the river, carrying a weeks’ old pup in its mouth. It plunged into a small creek running into the river, swam across holding its head high with the pup just out of the water, before scrambling out the other side and into lignum. A highlight for anyone’s day.
On other occasions when crossing deserts in vehicles we have seen them trailing behind slow moving 4WDs climbing steep sand dunes, sniffing the exhausts, maybe getting hooked on carbon monoxide! Or walking up to a stationary vehicle and urinating on a wheel. Takes your mind off anything else at the time.
A couple of weeks ago, we were returning up Cooper Creek from Lake Eyre, a day after our involvement with the tragic ABC helicopter crash. That afternoon after we had set up camp, a helicopter arrived with two CIB officers. They were camping with us overnight to take statements.
The men hopped out of the chopper with their swags and gear, and I walked up to them as the helicopter took off for Marree. The first thing I said to them was “Have you blokes brought your dog with you?” Because, about five metres behind them, a dingo appeared out of the low bush, and walked casually around us, before stopping and watching. The look on the blokes faces was a real bright spot in what had been a bleak twenty four hours.
While we can’t afford to relax our vigilance where the dingo is concerned, I hope these few accounts give an insight into a fascinating and successful predator for its own sake. No matter what your outlook, there will be no such thing, in years to come, as a pure bred dingo, as they will inevitably be interbred with ‘wild dogs’.
Rex Ellis
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A Radical Solution

In the late 1960’s I was operating a two week 4WD safari along the Transcontinental railway, heading for the Nullarbor Plains. We were in a Land Rover station wagon, and I was carrying two blokes and two ladies. The ladies were sisters, and regular clients of mine.
Soon after the trip began I realized I had a problem with the blokes. They didn’t get on, and it was very obvious from the start. I thought they might improve, but they became worse. We would pull up for the night, set up camp, boil the billy, and break out the grog. After a couple, one of the blokes would pick on a subject, and the other would take a totally opposite view. They would argue in a heated manner. The ladies were embarrassed, and I was at my wits end.
Next day as I negotiated the wheel tracks through sandhills along the line west of Tarcoola, I wrestled with the problem. It couldn’t go on for another eleven days. About mid afternoon I had a plan, albeit a desperate one. Later, I pulled up and made camp. This time I gave them a big full bodied McLaren Vale red wine, before I lit the fire. Tonight’s fire was different. I built a solid platform of small pieces of Mulga wood like boy scouts do. I then sat the billy on top, nearly a foot off the ground, and lit the fire. The ladies noticed my elaborate preparations, but I’m sure the blokes didn’t – They were already arguing. I went around to the back of the Land Rover, and started preparing the evening meal, and could hear the argument getting even more heated. I had a quick pannican of red wine myself to give me a few ‘revs’! Then, letting out a roar, I flew out from behind the vehicle and headed for the boiling billy. In my peripheral vision I could see I had everyone’s attention. Lining up the billy like an old fashioned place kick, I gave it an almighty boot. The billy became airborn, flying into the bush. I then stopped, glared at the men, who by this time were sitting bolt upright with their mouths wide open, and eyes protruding. At the top of my voice I screamed ‘bastards!’, before turning around and stalking off into the bush. When I was out of sight, I sat down on a stump, and contemplated what I had done. As I made my way back, I observed the scene through the twisted branches of the Mallee trees. It was a classic. Every member of the party appearing INDUSTRIOUS , but doing bugger all, the ladies were resetting the table, probably for the fourth time. They reckoned I had lost it. I just put the billy back on the fire, and served up the meal, and did nearly all the talking. Later that evening , one of the blokes took me aside and apologized- said he had never been affected by anyone like that before. So, for the rest of the trip I made sure one of the girls was  sitting between the two men – a rose between the thorns!

On a trip in northern Australia some years later with a party of ten, we had a similar problem, with another two blokes at loggerheads. I said to my mate ‘Don’t worry, I know how to sort these blokes out’. Well, I did exactly what I had done on the previous occasion, setting the billy up on a platform of timber before lighting the fire. After my tot of ‘dutch courage’, I rushed out behind the vehicle giving the best roar I could dredge up. I lined up the billy for the kick of a life time, enthusiastically swinging my right boot forward. Unfortunately I missed my target and for a second I thought my right ankle was broken! I had connected with the ground just under the billy, which tipped over putting out the fire! The whole camp errupted in laughter and when they’d settled down, I told them the whole story about my previous experience. This, fortunately had the desired effect anyway, but a hard way of going about it.
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Riverland Gold

The Riverland has many iconic features that the general population is aware of, but there is one that we share with only a couple of other regions in Australia, that most of the population is unaware of. That is, the beautiful large yellow [lime green] bird – the Regent Parrot! This bird is on the list of Australian endangered birds, and being monitored by a group of very dedicated Riverlander birders. Observations have shown that bird numbers have declined from around four hundred breeding pairs in 2003-4 to three hundred and sixty breeding pairs in 2010-11. In addition there would be an unknown number of juvenile birds, which spend the first two years of their lives in the mallee, before they come back to the river to breed on the flats in the River Red Gums and Black Box.
There is quite a bit of anecdotal evidence of birds being shot by fruit and almond growers, but it is difficult to prove this. Unlike Mallee Ringneck  and Yellow Rosella Parrots, the Regent Parrots do far less damage in the orchards. Like so much in the western way of life, greed is alive and well, and to me, shooting these magnificent endangered birds falls into that category!
Recent studies involving the almond industry have shown that the Australian Raven[Crow] is the main culprit, with large flocks decending on orchards. Parrots generally feeding around the periphery, but a very interesting fact has come to light. Parrots, in particular Regent Parrots, had been observed regularly cleaning up almonds on the ground, and single almonds left on the trees after harvest, thus reducing the risk of disease considerably.
An almond grower mate of mine from Renmark Tom Martin, told me they haven’t shot Regent Parrots for over twenty years, nor  Mallee Ringnecks and Yellow Rosellas in the last five years. He knows of others who also have that outlook, which is really encouraging to hear. 
Last year the Victorian authorities ran an operation that resulted in proof of the Regent Parrot’s destruction, and prosecutions resulted involving many thousands of dollars. You would like to think that wouldn’t be necessary here, but that’s probably wishful thinking.
If there is anyone out there who shoots Regent Parrots [in particular] , just put your personal greed on hold for a bit, and consider your kids and grandchildren that may grow up in a world with no Regent Parrots!
My wife and I regularly walk down a nearby ‘no thru road’, and are often being [swooped] by small flocks of these magnificant birds. It makes your day!
I have just returned from a 4 Day Ornithological Charter with two English ornithologists.One of the birds on their ‘hit list’ was the Regent Parrot, which I could normally guarantee. However, this time we found just three birds at Hogwash Bend hours before they were to board the coach to Adelaide.
Currently, there is a mystery surrounding our local Regent Parrots. Virtually no birds have been recorded in the Riverland by local birders in the past month or so. Where have they gone? Not out north in the Mallee. If anyone has seen any small or large flocks in this period, I would appreciate hearing about it or contact Kevin Smith on phone: 08 85835430
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Waikerie to Wilcannia

On April 26th, we left the Menindee weir on the next leg of this trip, heading for Nelia Gaari Station. This station is ninety river kilometres and was to be the base for  further operations on the Darling River – deeper water all the way as Nelia Gaari is on the top end of the Lake Weatherall ‘weir pool’. No matter how much water is in the Menindee Lakes, there is always around a hundred kilometres of navigatible water, [the 14 tonne’ P.W. Dromedary’only draws fifteen inches ] backed up against the weir.
There were four of us on board, including Peter [‘Pyro’] Jones from Waikerie. Peter Young from Adelaide[ Alltrac 4WD], [members of my experienced crews who I call ‘deckheads’] and a keen bird watching mate and vinyeron from Langhorne Creek called Bill Scutchings. My Jack Russell, Billycan, was doing ‘home duty’ this trip,much to his disgust.
Following Anzac Day, there were a few campers in the vicinity of the weir.As we poke along with mininmal revs and noise, an utterance of amazement was heard from the bush “ What the F……[foxtrot, uniform, charlie, kilo] is that!  Two blokes camped in there and all they saw was the top superstructure of the ‘Dromedary’ going through the scrub! Probably  put the fish off the bite as well.
Lake Weatherall is really an elongated swamp about twenty kilometres long. We travel in a well defined thirty metre wide channel lined with dead Red River gums and Black Box – these died after the Menindee Lakes were established in the 1940’s. Either side of the channel , there is Lignum swamps with a metre or so of water both sides, with plenty of ornithological activity.  There is a seat located on the top of the wheelhouse which is ideal for serious birdwatching, or any other viewing for that matter. Very peaceful too, as the boat glides through the bush, the noises of the stern paddlewheel reducing the diesel engine sound to a low rumble. We passed  Lake Panamaroo and later , managed to get through a small opening into Lake Tandura, almost running over a swimming fox, as we did so. Made our way carefully out toward the centre of this lake, which was a sort of surreal experience, before returning to the river.
Later that morning we came across a pair of magnificent White Bellied Sea Eagles. One was observed carrying  nesting materieal to probably the smallest ‘Sea Eagle’ nest I have ever seen. This time of the year they are preparing their nests for the winter breeding season. Then near the end of the swamp, another pair at their nest. These birds are by no means common in the Murray Darling system.  As big in the body as a Wedge Tailed eagle, but on average , about a foot shorter in the wingspan. Arguably the most entertaining wildlife event on this river is the frequency of kangaroos, emus, and wild pigs swimming the river in front of the boat.  It’s not easy to get your head around, how a ‘roo’ can swim, and you certainly don’t see any action in the muddy waters of the ‘Darling’. Just the head and neck out of the water, moving faster than I can swim.
Emus, well they are something else – a bit like a vertical drain pipes [wearing small peaked hats], crossing the river. The most we have seen was ten, an old man emu with his half grown youngsters. They make you laugh, so that has  to be good. Wild pigs swim like dark arrows, and surprisingly fast for a cloven hooved animal. Feral and domestic goats are seen on and off, all day long, but I have never seen them swimming the rivers.
Only a handful of station homesteads right on the river between the weir and Nelia Gaari Station, but we pulled up where we encountered people. One was Viewmont Station owned by ex Waikerie couple, Graham and Helen Collins. Viewmont is an impressive station, and Graham a very amusing man.They had lunch on board , then Graham took us for a ‘Toyota  tour’. Among other things of interest, were the ruins of the old Tintinterology township, where Burke & Wills spent a lot of time while waiting at Menindee for the rest of their expedition to catch up from Melbourne.  This river is full of history, natural, Aboriginal and European, and we were only skimming the top of it.
After five very leisurely days, we approached Nelia Gaari Station homestead, which has an extensive and very well organized camping area set amongst large gums, complete with barbeques, and  toilet/shower block. It was from this toilet block we flushed a very excited lady, who ran with surprising speed toward the river.She was probably[well she was, because we talked to her later], yelling at her husband in the caravan to get the camera, which he did, and took shots of the boat as went  past . They reckoned it made their trip worthwhile anyway. We moored near the Nelia Gaari homestead. Greg and Lilly Martin[Riverland family ex Calperum Station with a rich paddlewheeler history] made us very welcome. Like a lot of others these days, Greg and Lilly run the station on their own, a big job in anyone’s book. They came on board that night, along with the ‘flushed’ camper lady and her husband.Next day, us blokes returned ro our repective homes, and on May 12th, Peter Young and I returned to Nelia Gaari. Before we left for Wilcannia a pair of worn drive sprockets had to be replaced , and this was carried out very efficiently by Peter. That evening we were the guests of Greg and Lilly, under their huge roofed in back verandah area, and no one puts on a better barbecue than these two. And I have been to a few. We left Nelia Gaari[aboriginal name partly derived from their name for the umbrella wattle [Acacia Ligulata] on May 13th. Three mates from  the eastern states had flown
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If you mentioned  the word ‘Cassowary’ to the average Australian, they probably wouldn’t know what you were talking about. They would be surprised that there is a flightless bird , not quite the size of an Emu, but heavier, to be found in the rainforests of North Queensland. 
Since I was a kid I have had a fascination with these birds, although it wasn’t until I began running four wheel drive vehicle safaris to Cape york peninsula in 1969, that I saw my first one in the wild. Just a fleeting moment as it ran across the track in front of the vehicle, but it more than made my day. My next sighting wasn’t until the late 1980’s. A mate of mine, the late Bill Oliver and I had dropped a party off at Bamaga near Cape york, and were driving back home in two vehicles. A cyclone had recently flattened large areas of rainforest in the Mission beach region. Local Cassowaries, denied much of their main food source of native tropical fruits, were starving, and coming into the township where locals were feeding them with fruit. It undoubtably saved many, but at the expense of the odd pet Labrador etc.These birds have a deadly kick, and are potentially dangerous to humans in certain situations. A lot more than usual became victims to vehicles and packs of large domestic dogs. I knew of an Ornithologist studying them in the area, and she suggested an area where we might get a sighting, so we camped there late one afternoon. I was sitting on the roofrack having a beer, and Bill was scratching around in the back of my vehicle after veggies for the evening meal. Then, to my delight, I saw an adult male Cassowary emerge from the forest, and begin stalking purposefully towards our camp.Probably with food on it’s mind.I tried ‘whispering loudly’ to Bill, but he didn’t hear.I became speechless as the bird walked right up to the back of the troopie, and darted it’s head in right next to Bill’s… who said @!1> Rex, what will I do ? Scientific answers deserted me, so I yelled, ‘ Give it an onion’ He did, and our bird headed back to the forest with a less than ideal ‘human handout’making its way down its long neck. We were pretty excited, especially Bill, who reckoned he’d had a ‘near death’ experience. More so next morning, when a pair of them visited us, but no more onions were offered.
A couple of weeks ago , Patti and I were spending a couple of days near Malanda on the Atherton tableland. We were staying with friends, one of the old Crocodile hunters, and his artist wife, who live in a secluded rainforest location. After another more recent cyclone, he had saved  a young near dead male Cassowary, and restored it to health. It had returned to the bush, mated, and began visiting  Richard and Helen with its new chick [Like Emus, male Cassowaries bring up the chicks] As soon as we pulled up at their house, we were ‘confronted’ with the bird[s]. Richard came out and held a rolled up umbrella above the adult birds head, which very successfully ‘diluted’ its attitude. To me, that moment would have been worth the drive up there, but then I’m a ‘Cassowary devotee’. That night we camped in a rainforest clearing about a kilometre from the house. Next morning I was standing near our vehicle, and Patti was sitting in a chair having some cereal. About ten metres behind her the same Cassowary and chick suddenly stepped out of the forest, and headed her way. I said something like “we’ve got company, but don’t panic !”, as I hastily chucked our Jack Russell back into the vehicle.Patti froze over her muslei  while I took some photographs. We didn’t feed the birds, and they just wandered back into the bush. A good moment. Later that morning we were sitting out on the deck at the house having a coffee, when a young female cassowary appeared. Richard suggested to Patti that she give it a banana. She did, and still had all her fingers left after the event. We left later that day, all ‘cassowaried up’
Unfortuneately, Cassowaries are on the endangered list, with only an estimated four thousand birds in the wild,and are one of the eight birds a mate and I are walking the saltlakes for [See my website ‘ walking saltlakes for endangered bird recovery projects] to raise desperately needed dollars. A dedicated group[Rainforest rescue],based in Cairns raise money to buy back specific rainforest ‘realestate ’,creating corridors between large tracts of suitable habitat,and other projects. They only have another years Government funding before it is withdrawn, so feel free to donate to them direct, or via my website to Birdlife Australia. To imagine Australia without these magnificent birds is too horrible to contemplate.
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The Angry Imbiber
For 24 years I had a camel trek operation running one day treks in the summer in the McLaren Vale area.
I had a large party of ten people, out one day on a winery trek, with ten camels and me to run the operation. At this stage, I was operating from some land that I still owned, adjacent to my old property, Douglas Scrub. Most parties are very well behaved, even though some become a little exuberant after a few wineries, but this mob was an exception; I really had my work cut out, keeping them in some semblance of order. I have since banned the practice, but this mob had an interesting habit of passing a bottle of port from camel to camel, as they travelled between wineries.
We used to visit six different wineries, Amery, Seaview, Coriole, D’arenberg, Merrivale and Chalk Hill. One particular bloke, who stood about six feet tall and was a bit overweight, stood out from the others, and was my main concern. The temperature that day was around forty degrees, and the party was drinking plenty, such that, rather than a wine tasting exercise, this was taking on the appearance of a wine guzzling trek. Partway through the journey, the bloke in question had fallen off a few times, much to the delight of his companions, both male and female. Now I’m not too bothered about people falling off a hump, well into a winery trek, as they are normally quite relaxed and not likely to do any physical damage. Well, not much.
On this day, after our visit to the final winery, D’arenberg, we still had a bit over an hour’s walk back to the camel depot, travelling through creeks, bush and vineyards, with a kilometre or so of road to finish off. No sooner had we got under way, than this bloke hit the deck again. It was like trying to carry a jellyfish, as I loaded him back onto his hump; he was fast approaching the paralytic stage. To make matters worse, none of his mates could care less about him, as they were also well under the weather. Ten minutes later, off he slipped again, sprawling in a Yakka bush. This effort of loading him back on board, on my own, was starting to wear me out, and I was fast becoming desperate. Hadn’t heard of it at the time, but there’s a thing these days called “Duty of Care” that may have applied here. It went through my mind that I could perhaps emulate the western movie practice of hanging him over the saddle, with his wrists tied to his ankles, but I was afraid that he might crack his head on something, or, if the camel ‘hooshed down’, it wouldn’t bear thinking about!
Soon after, as we headed through some half-cleared land, with many introduced olive trees, a dull thud signalled to me that I had one down again. This time I decided that enough was enough, and that dramatic problems demand dramatic actions. I grasped him by the ankles, and dragged him into the deep shade of a large olive tree, action that only invited a few giggles from the rest of the party. I then tied him by the ankles to two different trunks of the tree, some distance apart, and one wrist to another branch. This ensured his relative comfort, and enabled him to reach the water bottle that I had left for him. He was out to it.
I finished the trek, and then fronted the group, who were set to go home without him. (Who needs enemies with friends like that?) I approached the most sober looking member of the group, and made him accompany me back to the scene of the crime in my four-wheel drive, where things had changed dramatically. Our drunk was revved up like a turbo charged bull-ant who wanted to kill me. He might have had a go at it too, if I had untied him. Instead, I told him to grow up, and departed with my passenger, returning a while later with two vehicles, including his. I also had a bit of old rope with which I retied him, a difficult task, as the jellyfish had turned into a scorpion. I retrieved my valuable length of camel halter rope, and then departed, leaving his mate to sort him out.
As I drove home, the thought uppermost in my mind was, ‘This bloke was actually paying me for this day out.’ Takes all kinds.
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Hopping High

There are sixteen species of Rock Wallaby in Australia. Some are quite common, while others are rare , with a number of species on the verge of extinction.
I have been most familiar with the exquisite Yellow footed Rock Wallaby, found in the Flinders Ranges, Olary ridges [Bimbowrie region] ,and several colonies in the Barrier Ranges around Broken Hill. From being seriously endangered they have ‘bounced’ back remarkably, due mainly to consistant rabbit fox and feral goat control.
Since the late 1960’s ,I have also had involvement with the Black Footed Rock Wallaby. This is the desert species which is sadly in a state of decline. Its stronghold[ of sorts] is the Macdonnell Ranges around Alice Springs. It has disappeared from many isolated desert Ranges where I used to encounter it regularly. A real feature of their presence was the highly polished ‘runways’ to be found near permanent rockholes, where their ancestors have travelled for thousands of years. Cats, foxes,rabbits, and the introduced Buffel grass [blocking out their natural feed] have been the main causes of their reduced numbers.  So, when travelling in North Queensland recently, I pricked up my ears when a mate told me about a local species of Rock Wallaby that could be observed very much at home in the trees. I had a hard look at him, and reckoned he was fair dinkum. I thought he may have been getting mixed up with Tree Kangaroos that were in the area, buthe insisted that these wew definitely Rock Wallabies. He duly took us to a private location, where a friend of his fed these animals. We arrived at his homestead just on dark, and were taken around to the back of the house, there was a large unidentified tree [ non native] about ten metres high, with wide spreading branches.In it, he had several feeding tins. Behind the back yard was a rocky hill covered in bush.Our host rattled a couple of tins, calling out as you would do to ‘bring in the cows’, Within minutes the area was ‘hopping’ with [around twenty] what turned out to be Mareeba Rock Wallabies [Petrogale Mareeba], a species common within its North East Queensland distribution. They hopped up on to a table taking grain out of containers, and some could be touched. Many had Joeys in their pouches. Then, the ‘Wallaby man’ put grain in some of the feed tins in the tree, and an extraordinary sight occurred. At least a dozen of the wallabies hopped with great agility, up into the tree, moving around like monkeys.Not only along the more horizontal branches, but often hopping vertically to higher branches nearly two metres apart… and then down again. After about half an hour, they gradually headed off up the rocky hill amongst what you would call their ‘natural habitat’.It was a ‘wildlife floor [tree] show to remember.
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O.H. & S. Or Common Sense

Everywhere I travel in regional Australia, people, particularly in small business are complaining bitterly about the excesses of Occupational Health & Safety. It has gone from a good responsible idea to a bureaucratic monster that is undermining and in many cases, destroying small business. Assisted, of course, by that other bureaucratic nightmare called Public Liability Insurance – which decrees that the average citizen is no longer encouraged to be responsible for their own actions.
‘Common sense’ has always been alive and well with the average Australian. Now its 2 I C to O.H. & S.
I know of an earth moving contractor in the mid north of S.A.  who no longer does any work below Goyders Line – simply because of the bureaucratic mine field of O.H. & S. A few years ago he had a thriving business, now he is just hanging on, putting unnecessary stress and hardship on his family, because he is away for weeks on end.
You could fill pages [books!] with individual cases but no room here. I can only generalize.
The shiny arsed department [O.H.&S.] continues to dream up impositions to weigh down hard working businesses, many of which are already in four wheel drive/ low range, trying to make it across the flat.
There are so many examples. Take high viz. clothing. Certainly a good idea for some occupations, where individual’s safety is on the line, but it has got out of control, like foot and mouth disease. I know of many people who bemoan the fact  that they are no longer able to wear their favourite work shirt, but every morning have to put on some ‘technicolour’ garment to comply with O.H. & S. regulations imposed on their employers. Or what about the fact that many council and vineyard workers are not allowed to wear shorts or short sleeved shirts to work in the summer! Because they MIGHT get skin cancer and sue their employer for negligence! Give us a break! Then of course,there are piles of paper work that overworked business owners have to wade through to support all this – not just O.H.& S., but all the other unnecessary and demeaning bureauracy that is now part of every day life. I think it can safely be said that bureaucracy is a bigger threat to Australia than terrorism will ever be. As you read this modest effort, there  is an army of ‘shiny bums’ working away like termites, dreaming up more pathetic schemes to make life unnecessarily difficult.I know the Government is trying to cut down on public servants, but I reckon there is a great need to create a brand new department in place of O.H.& S. – and that is a  department of Common sense!
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Australian aboriginals [and the South African bushman] are acknowledged as the best ‘trackers’ in the world. Their skills still exist in our remote aboriginal settlements. So ask yourself, why aren’t they being utilized throughout the country – both in solving crime and tracking and finding lost people.
In the 1950’s and ‘60’s, the Renmark police had one of the best crime solving records in the country with the  team of Sergeant Max Jones and the famous aboriginal tracker, Jimmy James. As well as others, including Albert Anunga, the tracker involved in the capture of the Pine Valley Station murderer. There were very few unsolved crimes in the Riverland during that period, compared to now, when the public are encouraged to phone a bank!
I have spoken to a number of serving and retired policeman from constables to senior officers, about this matter. Some of them give reasons why they think aboriginal trackers are not generally part of the system. However, others , particularly country born members, privately agree that the S.A. Police [in particular], are worse off for  not utilizing this world’s best resource. It seems that like so many other areas of society, it is the ‘bureaucracy’ who cannot see the commonsense of these situations. And everyone suffers accordingly. If trackers had been used in the Lindy Chamberlain case, perhaps that whole drama could have been averted without lives spoilt, and if a tracker had been used on the job first thing, the ‘Falconio’ case may  have been quickly wrapped up. The same goes for the numerous other cases and particularly those concerning missing people.
Then there’s the other side of the coin. If aboriginal trackers were attached to various of our regional police stations, there would be a number of positives. Like footballers and other aboriginal sportspeople, they would be excellent roll models for their people. It could also assist police in day to day dealings with aboriginal people.
You only have to see a good tracker in action to be convinced of this. I have seen them on a number of occasions, as have various outback policemen, including Danny Mc Gurgan who is attached to the Waikerie police. He spent many years stationed in South Australia’s Pitjandjara lands, and has many stories relating to the tracking abilities of these people. If anyone needs convincing, they should read ‘Tracks’ by Max Jones
But having said all this, it will probably never happen. Not because the expertise doesn’t still exist, and can’t be passed on to the next generation, despite the competing activities and distractions of this Hi tech age. The main obstacle will be the ever increasing rules and regulations imposed on our long suffering society, with the excesses of occupational health and safety leading the charge.The only way these unique and remarkable skills could be utilized today, would be for them [the trackers] to operate outside the ‘system’… in conjunction with sympathetic police officers with suitable aboriginal and bush experience. Then it might work. But don’t hold your breath.     Australia is supposed to be the ‘smart country’, and if we truly were,  this wonderful  expertise would be ongoing, instead of disappearing into the mirage, as part of our history.