Category Archives: Arid dry-zone (Simpson Desert)

Running with the rat catchers

On July 1 the University of Sydney’s Desert Ecology Research Group and Bush Heritage Australia held a community information evening in Bedourie to explain what it is they have been doing out the in the Simpson Desert for 20 years. 

Community and council members, as well as managers and owners of the stations bordering Bush Heritage’s Cravens Peak and Ethabuka properties, were in attendance. 

ABC rural reported, Amy Phillips, from Longreach, was at the event.

Click here to listen to the ‘Country Hour’ radio piece from 2 July.


The Simpson Desert is home to 15 small mammals, more than 150 bird species, six types of frogs and more than 54 reptile species, making in one of the most prosperous reptile communities of any arid zone in the world.

But it’s not all plain sailing with introduced predators; foxes and cats really make their mark on the environment.

In the far western Queensland town of Bedourie scientists have taken a break from their work which looks into the predators’ impacts.

The group from the University of Sydney includes volunteers who along with the scientists have been coming out for around 21 years.

Professor Chris Dickman says there are 15 people braving the cool desert air and are part of a team they like to call the rat catchers.

He says there are some awesome little critters way out west.

“Well I think some of the favourites for me personally are the Mulgara, a small carnivorous marsupial with real attitude.”

“It’s smaller relative, a thing called a hairy-footed Dunart – it’s really kind of a Hobbit-looking marsupial with huge hairy hind feet.”

Professor Dickman talks about a predator crunch where the native mammal populations are coming down and the foxes and cats are increasing.

“From our work over the last 20 years we’ve seen three species disappear from the sand dunes, not to say they’re extinct, they do occur elsewhere in Australia.”

He sounds a warning that the hopping mouse might be next to be pushed out of this habitat.

“All it takes is a very long period of very low numbers and they’re gone.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Arid dry-zone (Simpson Desert), Interviews, People and the environment, Relevant articles

Simpson Desert’s ancient rivers revealed

If we rewind a couple of months we will find a number of interesting articles in the press and science literature about the discovery of a network of ancient rivers and streams that flowed beneath the Simpson Desert up to 50 million years ago. A New Scientist article speaks of these rivers being 35 metres below the red sand and the possibility of them leading the way to valuable minerals and water resources. 

Once a land of rivers and streams?

Leave a comment

Filed under Arid dry-zone (Simpson Desert), Putting it in context, Relevant articles

Upcoming JULY 1 community consultation evening in BEDOURIE

The Iconic Landscapes’ project timeline is marching on.

The upcoming July 1 information evening in Bedourie, hosted by the Desert Ecology Research Group, Bush Heritage and the Diamantina Shire, will mark the culmination of the Simpson Desert case study research looking at how scientific research can be effectively connected with and communicated to relevant local communities. 

Even though 2010 marks Chris Dickman’s, and subsequently, the Desert Ecology Research Group’s, 20th year in the desert, this knowledge sharing event will be the first of its kind.

As well as learning about the University’s current research and what Bush Heritage’s present and future plans for Cravens Peak and Ethabuka are, the event will be a good chance for land holders, managers and the local community to ask questions and raise issues and concerns.

Everyone is warmly welcome to attend and we look forward to a great evening.

Event poster



Leave a comment

Filed under Arid dry-zone (Simpson Desert), Bringing the project to life, Presentation methods, Putting it in context

‘Desert Channels’ book due out in September

A new book on the desert co-edited by Libby Robin, Mandy Martin and Iconic Landscape’s very own Chris Dickman is set for release in September this year.

The book combines visual appreciation of the region with accessible text about its intriguing natural history, its people and their histories and the various ways that people are working to conserve the land, the rivers and the creatures. It is a celebration of what people in the region value about their place, and what visitors might find when they visit.


Mandy Martin artworks


See below for further information about the book and contributors and how to register your interest.

Desert Channels information

You can also visit the website.

Leave a comment

Filed under Arid dry-zone (Simpson Desert), Australian landscape's 'character', People and the environment, Putting it in context

The arid-zone from above

A selection of photographs documenting the land’s fluid lines, colours and textures from a plane leavng Bedourie bound for Brisbane.







Lone track



Leave a comment

Filed under Arid dry-zone (Simpson Desert), Visuals

Ecology of the Simpson Desert on The Science Show

Two ABC National referrals in two days. Here is another interesting piece, from February this year, that focuses directly on the University of Sydney’s Desert Ecology Research Group’s research in the Simpson desert – one of the Iconic Landscape Study’s case study environments. 

In this piece of audio you will hear from the University of Sydney’s Chris Dickman, Glenda Wardle and Bobby Tamayo as well as about Karon Snowdon’s experience on a Simpson Desert research trip.

Leave a comment

Filed under Arid dry-zone (Simpson Desert), Bringing the project to life, Interviews, Putting it in context, Relevant articles


The following pictures come from Mark Lithgow, Bush Heritage’s Cravens Peak Reserve Manager. They show us the aftermath of the recent rain on the property… Greenery!

A green desert


An abundant swale

Leave a comment

Filed under Arid dry-zone (Simpson Desert), Putting it in context, Visuals

Bedourie voices



Road to Bedourie from Windorah


2010 marks the 20 year anniversary of the University of Sydney’s Desert Ecology Research group’s first visit to the Simpson Desert. On every trip, Bedourie, the administrative centre of the Diamantina Shire in far Western Queensland, acts as the ‘gateway’ to and from the red dunes, big blue skies and research sites. 

When the locals see the University Hiluxes roll into Bedourie at least three times a year they know the ‘rat catchers’ are back. But when it comes to what the students, volunteers and professors (who pass through town with binoculars around their shoulders and swags piled on the roof racks) actually do out there, most locals are not entirely sure.

This July, the Desert Ecology Research Group, in conjunction with Iconic Landscapes, will be holding a community consultation evening in Bedourie with the intention to shed

Digging out the Hilux at the top of a dune


 some light on what the ‘rat catchers’ occupy themselves with for all those weeks spent on the other side of the dunes! It will be a chance for the scientists, locals and Bush Heritage representatives to bridge communication gaps create a dialogue around existing issues.  

When I was in Bedourie last December I had the opportunity to speak to some great local characters and this is brief snippet of what Gary, a carpenter had to say…

Are Bedourie locals interested in what’s happening in the desert, research wise?

We’re always curious when we first go out there to find out what they’re looking at and what they’re doing but after five minutes of talking to each of them it gets a bit much.

They [the researchers] traipse around the desert looking at animals. I can understand making reserves that these animals can all survive in but to stand there and watch them is beyond me.

Everybody’s been out there studying all those things for a long time. There must have been 1000s of people going through there. Surely they can work out what’s going on by now.

Bedourie town centre


 The thing I like most about being here [in Bedourie] is the people. It’s about community. It’s not about what’s running around on the ground. It’s a whole different way of life. You know everybody and everybody knows you. When people wave from their cars you know who they are.

Do you recognise a conflict of interests between graziers and organisations like Bush Heritage who have two properties in the area?

Most of the graziers these days are very concerned about their cattle numbers. They are very aware of the treatment to their land. You can’t overgraze or do all that sort of stuff. Here we’re a drought prone area and we rely on good land to survive. They’re very conscious of the amount of animals they’ve got on their land. They want to conserve the land without destroying it. They know what you can and can’t do.

You have to remember that without cattle, we wouldn’t have a town.

There would be no reason for us to be here without cattle. We’ve only got about 12 properties but if you talk about the people that ar

Gary (in the dark blue t-shirt in the middle) at the Simpson Desert Oasis pub


e connected to those properties… Properties need to roads, graders to maintain them, council, store to buy supplies and builders – like me. Without the industry, none of these services would be required.

Without grazing we’ve got nothing. What else are we going to do? We can’t manufacture. All we can do is graze. What are we going to do, make the whole lot National Park and all become rangers?!

A Desert Ecology Research Group volunteer at work in the desert

Leave a comment

Filed under Arid dry-zone (Simpson Desert), Interviews, People and the environment, Visuals

Agricultural research – the growth of industry ‘knowledge sharing’

A recent article in The Land underlines the growing importance of private consultants and farmer groups in positions abandoned by the traditional extension or ‘educative’ roles of government agriculture departments. These groups are now taking on the responsibility of communicating important scientific based information to farmers. 

Chairman of the Birchip Cropping Group (BCG) in northern Victoria, Ian McClelland, says, “the benefits are the researchers get recognition and feedback on the key issues, the consultants have a laboratory in the field, industry sees their products being demonstrated and farmers get interaction between these people.”

Click here to read the March 18 article.

This issue also flashes back to a conversation I had with Nicole Payne, Assistant Director and North West Manager of NSW’s Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water’s Kangaroo Management Program. 

You have found the communication of scientific knowledge to be lacking. Why is this so?

Scientists are very good at going along to conferences and workshops frequented by the scientific community. They all talk together and all understand each other and that’s very nice but those are not he people making policy decisions with respect to natural resource management and they’re also not the people who own and run the properties and who need to better manage those properties, whether it’s cropping, livestock production or natural resource management. So there’s this big yawning gap about what the scientists know, and talk to each other about, and what filters down to the level of the people who are making on ground decisions and actually getting things done that effect environmental management. 

I think part of the reason for that has been the way funding arrangements are made. It forces scientists to publish in peer reviewed scientific journals which is not accessible to managers and people who really need to know what has been discovered.

So we’re missing an ‘information bridge’?

Yes, I think the government has also made a mistake from moving away from extension services in Departments like the Department of Agriculture and even our own because extension people bridged the gap a bit. They had sufficient scientific knowledge to understand the journals and track down research that was being done and then to translate it into something that could be usable for workshops where the more progressive and innovative landholders can come along and learn about what’s happening in the research world and how that might be applicable on their own farms. For many years now the government has moved away from those services because they’re very expensive. They used to be on a user pay basis, which makes them less accessible. Extension staffs are expensive to run.

They’re kind of like schoolteachers. Go out to help verbalise. The only ones that still remain are district agronomers. That may be because the intensive cropping industry is such high value. I don’t know who funds those positions anymore. The point of them was to let people on the ground know what research had found and how that might be applied in their own circumstances. 15 years ago I worked for the Department of Agriculture and there were livestock officers and they did some group work at workshops but once upon a time they literally went out to individual land holders properties to talk to them about the production systems they were employing and how the research might help them get better value of produce a better product. All of that’s gone now. The staff don’t have the resources to visit individual landholders. The best that is still achieved, where it’s still achieved at all, is group workshops. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Arid dry-zone (Simpson Desert), Interviews, People and the environment, Rangelands (Fowlers Gap), Relevant articles

Western Queensland flood footage… and the predicted onset of a ‘boom’ in the desert

Ecologists Adam Kerezsy and Max Tischler survey Bush Heritage’s Cravens Peak and Ethabuka properties, both inundated by the recent floods, from the air.

They envisage the Simpson Desert ‘becoming a land of plenty’.

Leave a comment

Filed under Arid dry-zone (Simpson Desert), Putting it in context, Visuals