Settlement of Australia by Europeans started in January 1788 and even before the newcomers spread out around the country they began farming in the European manner.  These first farmers and graziers brought with them domestic stock including sheep, cattle, poultry, pigs, deer and goats for food, cats and dogs for companions and bullocks, horses, camels and donkeys as carriers.  Rabbits, carp and foxes were to follow to give them sport.

All of these animals were loosed upon the fragile environment at one time or another to cause havoc to the land and its indigenous flora and fauna.  Just like homo sapiens however, not all of the castaways revelled in the arid and less hospitable parts of Australia and only a few of the more intrepid types ventured into the Simpson Desert and stayed.



Cashbook and Claypan
Share in the tribulations of the admin manager as he balances the books from his Office-in-a-Blitz

Birdsville or Bust
Learn how French know-how and Australian muscle carved the French Line through the Simpson

East From Oodna
Marvel at the initiative of the early pathfinders who solved the mysteries of the Red Centre

Alive in the Dead Heart
Recollections from the crew who first burst the road through Australia's One True Desert

B-line for Birdsville
Join the CGG veterans on their return journeys to the French Line. Take their tip and travel with experts





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Four-footed Ferals

Animal Pests Bearing Down on the Simpson Desert

Camels the Most Adaptable of Pests

The livelihood of Afghan cameldrivers and their outback transport industry in Australia came to an end with the advent of the motor truck and left scant room for their beasts of burden in the new scheme of things.    The camels quickly became worthless and were turned out by their hapless owners, yet the camels adapted readily to independent life in desert climes.    Of all the released ferals, the herds of camels were the most visible in the Simpson Desert and those spotted by the Compagnie Generale de Geophysique (CGG) oilmen as they carved the French Line through the desert wastes in 1963 were in excellent physical condition, endorsing a common view of their natural suitability to the region compared to other discards.

"Early Australian settlers simply released unwanted domestic animals into the bush believing that they would die of starvation or be eaten by aborigines.   Most survived and adapted to the country.   Feral cats, dogs, cattle, buffalo, horses, goats, camels, donkeys, pigs and deer are in abundance."
Generally, all but the camels steer clear of the Simpson.   RSPCA Australia President Hugh J Wirth AM, is resolute in encouraging Australians to exercise greater concern for reasons other than cruelty to animals.   In his paper "Animal Welfare in Australia" he warns,
"Hard-hoofed animals do massive damage to the fragile soils of the arid zones.   Feral animals such as pigs are highly dangerous to both humans and other animals."

Donkeys a Menace at Dalhousie Springs

Straying not too far from reliable water and congregating usually on the fringes of the desert donkeys, horses, goats and pigs enter the desert proper only when drawn into it in exceptional seasons.   In a countryside made impassable by one or another of seething temperatures, numbing chill and either constant drought or flash flooding, it is only those animals and plants which have grown rapidly enough in the good times to reach a certain size, that can survive.   All the rest perish.

In particular, donkeys and horses graze heavily on certain plant species favoured by other animals, accentuating the growth of the less-palatable plants left, which in turn affects the balance of the available food remaining and its ability to support significant indigenous animal populations.   Introduced out of the saddlebags of the cameldrivers, noxious weeds such as ruby dock came into the centre of Australia and further provided shelter and comfort for many of the other animal pests that are now out of control.   Illustrative of the frustrations of Australians in going feral on pests is the plaintive cry : "I gave the mouse a hole, and she is become my heir." - anon.

Thommo Cares For His Captive Brumby Foal

Belying his destructive role as a CGG shooter, working with explosives and creating blastholes all over the desert, John Thompson often spent his leisure hours as close as he could to the native flora and fauna and occasionally gave his kind attentions to the small fry belonging to the pests as well.   Here he is pictured washing down a brumby foal he has befriended, by the Eyre Creek, after he had found it separated from a huge herd of brumbies then rampaging throughout Kamaran Downs on the eastern rim of the Simpson Desert.

Station girl Mrs A.M. Duncan-Kemp grew up on Mooraberrie, in her words a "pocket handkerchief" cattle and sheep property in the southwest corner of Queensland and less than 100km due north of Haddon Corner.    Writing in her book "Our Channel Country" (Angus & Robertson 1961) she delights in describing the approach of brumbies thus :

"... a lovely, urgent, barbaric sound.   Louder, louder it came straight for the water ... the drumming of the hooves came towards us from somewhere behind the far slope.   Out of the mist of the urgent drumming there was thrown up a clear, loud neigh, a sound that floated like a silver trumpet-call far over range and flat.    A mob of forty wild horses racing light-footed as if they had never known walking, the rythym of their speed moving in waves across their shining flanks, charged over the crest and made for the waterhole."

Poor Prospects For the Australian Outback

A publication of the Australian Government admits in the two centuries since Europeans arrived in Australia, we have been brutal in our attitude to the land.   We have cleared and burnt three-quarters of our rainforests, removed two-thirds of our original tree cover and degraded more than half of our arid lands.   This loss of habitat has left us with a track record for extinctions of which we cannot be proud.    Since 1788, eighteen species of Australian mammals have become extinct; this is half of all the mammal species that have become extinct worldwide in recent historical times - the worst record of any country in the world.

And it is not only the recent human arrivals wreaking destruction on our wide, brown land.    Australia's native pests have a unenviable record of eating bare the countryside, as attributed to the rats of Birdsville by Mona Henry in her account of life as a Channel Country nursing sister "From the City to the Sandhills of Birdsville" (CopyRight Publishing Brisbane 1994) :

"What havoc they wrought during their stay!   What devastation they left in their wake!   The channels of the Diamantina, once covered with lush, green herbage, were bare, even the roots of the hardy drought-resisting plants being destroyed.   The rat plague was partially responsible for the heavy stock losses during the drought which followed their departure."
The feral cat, which lives off other animals and birds, has drastically decimated native fauna in the Australian bush and a commonplace sight at night in many a tree is the glowing eyes of thirty or forty cats.   The paucity of human resources and the general lack of concern combined with the huge area occupied by feral animals is a virtual guarantee that the current degradation of the land, the environment and human and animal life will continue unchecked in Australia.

Oldtimer's Camel Team on the Finke

Camel teams were once commonplace on both sides of the Simpson.   The 'ships of the desert' were highly adaptive to the harsh and unforgiving country, requiring little foraging and minimal access to water but nevertheless, they needed to be worked gently in the rough country to avoid bruising their soft feet.   Care had to be taken too, in avoiding possible conflicts with feral bulls.   Oldtime drivers were mindful of the dangers presented by roaring wild bull camels attacking domesticated females in small teams and taking them away and criticism is rising of the practices of inexperienced adventurers travelling with small groups of camels, driving the animals dangerously close to their limits of endurance and exposing themselves and any clients they may have in tow to serious injury.

Seasoned commercial expeditioners are scornful of these camel cowboys and are becoming vocal in their demands for a code of ethics that could rein in their activities and are calling for hefty fines for offenders.   Legitimate operators are concerned that recent publicity given to camel racing will attract more fools trying to buy camels and reflect unfairly upon their own responsible and well-prepared enterprises.

Brumbies Prosper on Outback Cattle Stations

"There are not many places in Australia now where there are wild horses, but if any of you that are listening to me has a mob of brumby horses on his place, I would advise him to let them alone and make a tourist attraction out of them.   A mob of wild horses going across country at full speed is a great sight."
So wrote A.B.(Banjo) Paterson, renowned author of "The Man from Snowy River" over a hundred years ago.    Today, he might reflect and change his opinion.    While the "places" may still be few in number, those places that have them have no shortage of brumbies.    Another surviving icon of the Australian outback that attracts the admiration of half the population and yet drives the other half to distraction, is the dingo - vilified on the one hand and deified on the other.  Scientists have recently made the remarkable discovery that dingos keep foxes and cats under control and thus save the native animals that have no trouble subsisting with dingos.    Eric Rolls writes (SMH 25/9/94):
"Davenport Downs on the Diamantina River in western Queensland is the last area in Australia where there are thousands of bilbies.   It is a huge cattle-fattening run.    The owners have never bred cattle there.   So, since there are no calves to be killed by dingos, the company managers have never killed them.   Certainly dingos eat bilbies but they cannot go down burrows after them like foxes and cats.   Dingos keep foxes and cats out, both by eating them and threatening them."

Victorian Paddock Where Rabbits Were First Released

While fire ants and cane toads may come to devastate city and country alike, the rabbit has held sway as the most pernicious of all the rural threats for well over a hundred years.   Many attempts by early Australian settlers to introduce the European rabbit failed and it was not until Thomas Austin (of Melbourne's Austin Hospital fame) released 24 wild rabbits on his property near Geelong in 1859 that the breeding program really took off and the bunnies became Australia's "grey blanket".

A short twenty years later, the Raglass Bros found the blanket had reached Coopers Creek and by 1886 a vermin fence was first constructed between South Australia and Queensland in the hope it might keep the rabbit plague out of Queensland.    The fence became heavily sanded over and was rebuilt again and again until it was finally realised that the costly structure merely maintained an equal number of rabbits on either side of it.

Surprisingly, the dingo was little help in reducing the rabbit numbers for they quickly discovered rabbit pelts were not digestible, indeed many less-prudent dingos perished after satisfying their hunger on vulnerable rabbits.   Although the farming community is generally anti-dingo due to regular stock losses, a great many Australians do not classify the dingo as an introduced pest at all, even though its presence on this continent for 10,000 years has been relatively recent.    If encouraged to do so, the dingo certainly would curtail the population of feral goats, pigs, foxes and cats without affecting too much its fellow-native emu and kangaroo numbers.


Coles Express Picks on a Pensioner .....
Try the  "with Malice a'Forecourt?"  link and read what they did


Cashbook and
or Bust 
East from
Alive in the
Dead Heart 
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Thommo's Desert Report The BeeGees Page
Coles Express Picks On a Pensioner The Kid From Towra Point
Bulldozing a Desert Trans National Causeway
Signwriter for the Simpson The Long Haul
Simpson Desert Birdlife French Line Circa 1979