#3 Meeting with Gary, Alistair & Mitch
Outback Park Rangers for QPWS
Away for one week in Central West Queensland, commonly called the Outback, we are escorted by Gary Jorgensen, senior ranger.
Gary has been a ranger for 41 years and been working in the Outback region since 2011. He supervises 15 people, distributed in 14 National Parks (NP) and Conservation Parks, spread over 3.5 million of hectares!! Enough land Gary? “Yeah it’s alright” he says!
Our itinerary leads us first into Bladensburg NP, where we meet Alistair Hartley, Ranger in Charge.
We stay at the rangers’ base for the night. Alistair lives here with his wife and young daughter. He works with 3 other rangers. Their first neighbors are about 80 km away… This is an example of an isolated life style, it doesn’t suit to everyone but for sure, it does suit to Alistair, who loves it out here.
Born in the bush, he tried to live in the city but no, not for him. His place is here, being in charge of this amazing NP, being waking up by the roos and the birds. An important part of his job is to work on Pest Management. Bladensburg NP is home of about 20 different ecosystems, because its biodiversity is so rich, it is worth restoring and maintaining for future generations.
What is it about?
This program is designed to put pressure on pest species and safeguard native animals and vegetation. Pest animals threaten indeed native wildlife through predation and competition.
Alistair and his colleagues control feral animals. In Bladensburg NP, wild pigs, cats and dogs are the worst enemies because they wipe out Australian native species.
The country is harsh, life is made of challenges and hard decisions have to be taken. That’s why feral cats and others are controlled and often eliminated.
How does it work?
Rangers set traps, hoping to catch some pest animals. If they do, then the animal is shot and its stomach is analyzed to know what it ate and be able to track its route. Its DNA is controlled too.
Depending on the park, the season, the priorities vary. Intensive programs are lead sometime to eradicate a pest.
It’s time for us to leave Alistair and his little family to drive to another NP, Diamantina NP. Even more remote and massive (500,000 ha). After 3 hour-drive on gravel roads, crossing sand plains, mesas, waterholes and only 2 cars we reach the rangers’ headquarters.
The ranger in charge, Chris Mitchell, called “Mitch”, welcomes us. Gathered around a “barbie” (Aussie slang for barbecue), he shares his experience of working in such a vast, remote and arid area. Here no cloud in the sky, last rains? He doesn’t even remember it… This land is harsh, hot and dusty… very dusty!
Here, nobody leaves... Just Mitch, his wife and Flint, other ranger. The closest fuel and food supplies are at Boulia (183 km)… First airport? Longreach, about 6 hour-drive… and this is not exactly what we can call an international hub!
And what about communication with the rest of the world? Not such a long time ago, the telegram was the only way to communicate. Nowadays, satellite phone, internet and radio are working, however not the mobile phone yet. As regarding the mail, it’s delivered twice week by a mail-truck.
Because this park is a flooded area and the gravel sandy road becomes easily impassable then, people living in Diamantina NP need to be self-sufficient, means well supplied with foods to be able to stay for weeks and even months without moving from here.
Electricity is provided 24 hours thanks to solar panels.
Well this is remote, isn’t it? Better be independent, organized and love the great outdoors! Mitch is like a fish in water (if I can use this expression), he loves this country and doesn’t imagine being in charge of a smaller NP! It is like when you are used to driving a nice and big car, it’s difficult to get back to a small and cheap one J!
This land hasn’t been a NP forever. Indeed, cattle used to run around and Diamantina Lakes Station (established in 1875) was even one the biggest cattle station in the country, with more than 500,000 hectares and 12,000 head running in good times! But then in 1992, the Queensland government purchased it and the property became a NP. Stock routes still pass through and are used regularly but the objective is to exclude cattle from the NP. Their impacts on the fauna and flora are numerous: soil compaction, competition for food with bilbies (cf #3 my new mates) and other native species, they cause habitat modification, increased erosion, reduced water quality and transport weeds… As a consequence, more than 800 km of fences had been built and as you can imagine, taking care of them keeps Mitch and Flint busy for a while!
Mitch will soon lead another program, a dust monitoring. It may sound weird but this is a very serious action. Funds have been raised for and scientific surveys will be done in the middle of this desert. You may ask, what’s the point? Because it seems that the dust blowing out of here feeds the Great Barrier Reef!!! Yes this crazy dust contents loads of rich nutrients…finally, this is a small world!!
To conclude, I ask to the 3 rangers what they like most in this country and their answer was unanimous: the quiet! After a week there, I can admit that at the first sight, it’s easy to feel lost in this flat and bare country. But once you start to explore it, you see the land in a completely different way: you feel honored to be part of it, you are not lost, you are in awe.