[ASC-media] Media release: indigenous warriors fight plant invaders

JCA Media jcamedia at starclass.com.au
Thu Nov 17 21:45:16 EST 2005

Cooperative Research Centre for Australian Weed Management 

Media Release 05/44

November 18, 2005


Impenetrable thorns and scorching grass fires are posing new threats to Australia's remote Aboriginal communities, their customs, and the landscape that supports them. 

The notion of 'weeds' is as foreign to indigenous culture as the plants themselves are to Australia, says CRC for Australian Weed Management liaison officer Neville GulayGulay. 

But traditional affinity with the land is spurring remote communities across Australia's Top End to join the battle against invasive plants.

"The people quickly realise the seriousness of the threat when flood plains are covered with invading mimosa, or traditional fire management gets out of control in four-metre-high gamba grass," he says.

Senior Manarrnu man Neville GulayGulay, from Ramingining in Arnhem Land took the position of liaison officer with the Weeds CRC in 2003. His task includes visiting remote Aboriginal communities throughout the Northern Territory, encouraging them to become aware of the threat of invasive plant species.

He speaks five Aboriginal languages as well as English and a local dialect, which gives him a unique ability to communicate with different groups.

"Indigenous people are becoming very receptive to the message," he says. "These invasive plants are threatening the old way of life as well as the new.

"Traditional hunting areas have been choked by mimosa, so that the people can no longer hunt there," he says. "Traditional seasonal burning off, either to clear ground for camping or for ceremonial reasons, isn't possible any more.

"Invading gamba grass burns differently to native grasses - it is much hotter, and it kills native shrubs and trees. This means that the people cannot burn the countryside as they are used to doing."

Mr GulayGulay is particularly concerned about Siam weed (Chromolaena).

"Siam weed is a major pest in our neighbours to the north," he says. "It's one of the world's worst tropical weeds. It would choke our land and it's toxic to stock - and it grows amazingly quickly. So far, we haven't found any outside a few small infestations identified in Queensland - and we want to keep it that way."

Botanist  Andrew Mitchell, who works with Mr GulayGulay, says that the entire ecosystem is at threat and with it the traditional life-style and the pastoral industries as well.

"There's a horrible suite of ferals," he says. "Buffaloes, pigs and horses come into an area and chop up the soil by rooting and trampling; then these feral animals are followed by mimosa, gamba grass and mission grass .

"Many of these invasive plants were introduced with good intention as fodder, or erosion control, or as ornamentals, but in the top end some are a very serious threat," he says.

As well as following feral animals such as buffaloes and pigs, Mr Mitchell says that plants can invade through dirt on boots or machinery, or be carried by birds as seeds, or even be deliberately introduced.

"There were many plants introduced for forestry trials and agricultural trials, before regulations were tightened, and now these have gone feral," he says.

"Neville uses his language skills, plus modern aids such as a laptop computer and a casebook of plant samples, to get the message out to the communities: the invasive plants are coming!

"After that, it's largely a matter of self-help," he says. "We focus our efforts through the community ranger groups, who spread the information into the wider community.

"And it's usually quite straightforward: if you see a small patch of gamba grass, record its location and then pull it out!"

Mr Mitchell says that remote communities living on marginal land are particularly vulnerable to invasive plants.

"It's basically a very hard life already. They don't need feral animals and rampant exotic plants to make their lives harder. Happily, the people in the communities are hearing the message and becoming 'weed aware'", he says.

More information from:

Andrew Mitchell, Weeds CRC, 08 8999 2104 (Fri. 18 Nov.), or 0419 485 376 during the following week.
Neville GulayGulay, Weeds CRC, 08 8999 2356 (Fri. 18 Nov.)		
Dr Rachel McFadyen, CEO, Weeds CRC, 0409 263 817
Peter Martin, Weeds CRC, 08 8303 6693, 0429 830 366


Images available of Andrew Mitchell and Neville GulayGulay working with tropical invasive plants, contact Jackie Watts, 08-8303 6742 or jackie.watts at adelaide.edu.au. 

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