ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
October 22, 1997
MEXICAN POPPY, A NOXIOUS WEED, THREATENS THE
CENTRE'S DRY RIVERS
Report by ERWIN CHLANDA
Authorities failed to act on a report to the Parks and Wildlife Service
eight years ago about an infestation of the Todd by Mexican Poppy, a
weed now choking up the Todd and several other river systems in Central
The report to the service - then called the Conservation Commission -
was made by a former noxious weed inspector, Des Nelson, after
discovering an outbreak on November 11, 1988.
Mr Nelson says he was told no action could be taken because Mexican
Poppy had not been declared a noxious weed in the Territory.
Meanwhile Murray Fuller, the weeds officer with the Department of
Primary Industries and Fisheries in Alice Springs, says he expects the
poisonous thistle will infest all the sandy creek beds of Central
Australia within five years, if the present rate of expansion isn't
He estimates it would take an additional expenditure of $500,000 a
year, over the whole of Central Australia, to deploy spray teams when
the weed begins to germinate in spring, unless the climate favourable
to the weed changes.
Mr Fuller, who says there are official records of the weed in the Todd
going back to 1982, and south of the town in 1972 and 1974, describes
the resources available at present as inadequate.
The Federal Government has made grants totalling $16,000 to the
Tjuwanpa Resource Centre at Hermannsburg to fight the weed.
However, Tjuwanpa CDEP coordinator Warren Kellett says while some work
is being carried out in the Finke River near the community, with the
aid of local volunteers, Parks and Wildlife rangers and Mr Murray,
there is not enough expertise to tackle the problem comprehensively.
Mr Fuller says the department's weed control staff in The Centre
consists of just him and a second officer, although casual assistance
is available from rangers, members of the public and some Aboriginal
Mr Fuller says very little is known about the weed, thought to have
come to Central Australia in contaminated stock fodder.
Although authorities have now been aware of the local presence of
Mexican Poppy for at least eight years, research into it has started
only about two years ago, and information crucial to fighting the pest
is far from adequate.
Mr Fuller says until the ecology of the plant is fully known, methods
of fighting it can't be determined with certainty.
He says he's scoured international literature - but with little
Mr Nelson says he found specimens of the thistly, inedible weed in the
Finke near Glen Helen in January, 1990, and again in the Todd, at the
site of the earlier outbreak discovered by him, in November, 1991.
Mr Nelson made the following entries in his comprehensive work
diaries:- I collected Mexican Poppy at end of Heffernan Road.
Noted scattered in sandy creek bed as far as can be seen'.
"I spoke to people at the Conservation Commission, impressing that
there would be trouble if the plant was not removed.
He described the outbreak as "scattered".
Mr Nelson says: "It could have been dealt with but I was told nothing
could be done as the species was not on the Noxious Weeds List.
Mr Fuller took up his position in 1991 - three years after Mr Nelson's
Mr Fuller says the authorities cannot force landholders to control
weeds unless they are declared noxious.
However, as the outbreak was largely on Crown land, action could have
been taken at the time of the discovery.
When Mr Nelson returned to the site of his first discovery in 1991, the
weed was no longer scattered, but "far more extensive and very common
in the dry, sandy river bed, according to his work diary.
Again, Mr Nelson reported this to the Conservation Commission.
Mr Fuller says creeks already affected include the Finke, Roe Creek and
the water way south of Jesse Gap.
Greening Australia and other volunteers last week cleared Mexican
Poppies from the Todd River between the John Blakeman bridge and
Heavitree Gap, in a bid to keep it out of the section of the river
flowing through the town area.
"We have worked on it since 1991 in cooperation with the Alice Town
Council, from the John Blakeman bridge north, through the township.
"That area is relatively free of the weed, says Mr Fuller.
However, the weed has also invaded parks and gardens in the town where
commercially available - or illegally obtained - creek sand has been
Mr Fuller says control work has also been done in Ormiston Gorge, Finke
Gorge, Jesse and Emily Gaps, at Arltunga and the Ross River resort.
"This year we have had a massive explosion of the weed, due to seasonal
conditions, says Mr Fuller.
"The size of the expansion this year took us very much by surprise.
"We will be endeavouring to get more people and more resources.
"We're also appealing to the public to destroy the weed if they see it
in the bush. This will stop the spread."
Mr Fuller says creeks on pastoral leases are not Crown land unless they
form a boundary.
He says Mexican Poppy is now a declared noxious weed, and landholders
are responsible for controlling weeds.
"This includes pastoralists, government bodies, as well as tourism,
mining and Aboriginal landholders."
Meanwhile Greening Australia's Michelle Rodrigo says the organisation
is concerned about the spread of Mexican poppy and other problem weeds
such as Athel pine, Rosy Dock and giant reed in our river systems.
"Weeds have the potential to displace native vegetation by vigorously
competing for space, nutrients and water," she says "Effective and
cooperative management of weeds is critical to protecting native
"The means by which weeds enter the natural environment are diverse, as
are the methods by which seeds are dispersed.
"This means the whole community is responsible for weed management.
Weed control and eradication programs require cooperation between
government agencies, land managers and home gardeners," says Ms
"Control of the weed will be a long term exercise requiring repeat
visits to the same site.
"Whilst a seed source still exits, weeds can quickly reinfest
previously cleared areas."
Ken Johnson, the regional director of the Parks and Wildlife Commission
in Alice Springs, says the history of Mexican Poppy in The Centre is a
clear example of a weed becoming widely established from just a few
"We need to be aware of any new plants that may become weeds," says Dr
He says he has no knowledge of any response that may have been given to
Mr Nelson following his report to the Conservation Commission in 1988.
"Noxious weeds are not under our jurisdiction," Dr Johnson says.
LIVING NEXT DOOR TO THE PINE GAP SPY BASE
KIERAN FINNANE speaks to local inditity Bert Cramer
The frustrations of hundreds of demonstrators over the years, trying to
invade top-secret Pine Gap, climbing fences and getting chased by
security men and women, aren't shared by Bert Cramer.
When he turns up, in his own interpretation of Territory Formal, to the
annual "thank you, Alice" party at the Space Base, a security detail is
dispatched to the back gate in the man proof fence to - with due
ceremony - admit the local character.
So while the prominent citizenry of Alice Springs rocks up at the
normally hermetically sealed front gate, and is admitted with
surprising lack of fuss, Bert gets it even easier.
The Joint Defence Facility clearly spares no effort to welcome its next
door neighbour, the irrepressible pastoralist of Temple Bar Station.
When Bert receives his invitation, he puts a call through to Pine Gap's
security: "I'm not driving all that way. You can bloody well meet me at
The Alice News asked Bert what it's like, apart from getting a lift
once a year, to be living next-door not only to Alice, but also to Pine
Bert received his first visit from Pine Gap representatives a few days
after moving in, some 10 and a half years ago.
"It was Anzac Day," he remembers, launching into a characteristic
circumnavigation of the topic.
"It was the same day as we got a message
from Queensland from our daughter that they'd had their first baby. A
father remembers some of them dates ... "They came over [from Pine Gap]
for a cup of tea and introduced themselves and a few of the big boys
came over from time to time. "We see very little of them now but there
was times, demonstration seasons if you could call it that, that they
used to have access, they've got four or five "back doors" to keep
[Alice News editor Erwin Chlanda, covering a story about a particularly
hostile determined at the FRONT gate, intent on stopping the usual
convoy of busses, wondered aloud to then base chief Don Kingsley how
the transports had obviously gotten inside, unnoticed by the
demonstrators. "That was easy." said Don. "We used our stealth
Back to Bert: "The part what [the demonstrators] were worried about was
attracting an atomic attack.
I thought they were crazy.
"Fancy sending one of them things over here, except for a practice run,
when a hippy can take in a milk tin full of plutonium in his guitar.
"You don't need a fancy piece of technology to blow it up atomically,
if you must use atoms - there's that much plutonium gone bush on the
planet long before then!
"We've got to realise that it's a defence thing, it's military, and if
it wasn't as secret as what it is, well it wouldn't be worth their salt
working there, why have it?
"I saw it as a big joke.
"When we moved here, we found out that at long last we had better
neighbours than we ever had before.
"At the other place we had a total of five caravan parks around us and
we couldn't keep our cows in order with people walking their dogs and
letting them run loose and couldn't control them - it ended up killing
"Our neighbours over there did not respect our boundary, the boundary
was an inconvenience where you had to get under the barbed wire and
Bob's your uncle!
"We're on talking terms, me and the big boss [of the JDF], we're
working together on getting the Mexican Poppy out of our creek system
here, and things like that, I've got no reason to complain apart from
their freelance flamin' boundary jumpin' sometimes!
"A couple of times there's a few stunts which you reckon they're
stepping over the bounds, what the hell they doing around that end of
the place putting the fence down, going over with the cars!
up with a hair-brained weak little excuse saying, 'Oh, we found
someone on your place and chased them.' Like bloody hell they did!
"Both cars came out of Pine Gap, pulled our fence out, lifted the posts
out, lay it on the ground.
"They were doing one of their Blues versus Reds exercises. They fixed
it up again, but like I say, they're not telling you true.
happened more than twice, but not hundreds or dozens of times, maybe
three or four times.
"We went around afterwards and tracked them up, I'm not bloody stupid,
you know where they've been and where they've come from.
"We [wouldn't] mind if they told us they were going to have war games
here for an afternoon and will it be all right and we could say yes but
don't go in such and such a paddock.
"The humbug afterwards is, 'Who the hell's been here?'
"It's Joint Defence - it is military, run by a lot of civilians. "As a
country we've got our guard down very badly.
"Pine Gap will play a role in [our defence], from what they've told us
on a television program, they're picking up everything that's
radio-oriented, taping it, pallet loads of flamin' tapes go away to
America for analysis, they've got it all taped, they're probably
listening to this by some tunnel-visioned voice picker upperer, you
better believe it!
"When they play it back to you you might be amazed,
this is what gives Big Brother the edge on anybody they want to
There you have it.
THE RICH HISTORY OF MUSLIMS IN CENTRAL AUSTRALIA
Part One of a report by GRETTA SCADDING
Muslims are today a barely noticed minority in Alice Springs, the town
they helped to build.
Before wheeled transport arrived in 1929, countless Afghans sweated and
toiled to carry supplies by camel across the desert.
today have a deep respect for their ancestors.
They are proud of their
culture and some still practise their religion of Islam.
Much, however, has changed over the years.
There were originally about
50 Afghan families living in Alice Springs, but many left to go to
Marree, Broken Hill and Port Augusta.
There are now 35 Afghan families
remaining, though the Islam community as a whole numbers about 65
families, including those from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the
All members of the community are still "given Azan" - the
equivalent to the Christian baptism.
But many do not strictly adhere to all the five pillars of Islam:
prayer, fasting, charity, haj (the journey to Mecca, at least once),
and to believe in Allah - God.
Praying five times a day has become a
trial for many, and there are rarely more than 10 to 15 people at the
mosque for Friday prayer.
Others indulge in the infidels' habits of drinking alcohol, smoking and
There are now rarely arranged marriages to fellow Muslims.
Meride Satour, an Afghan descendant says: "Our grandparents' marriages
were arranged, but my husband is a Catholic European: "I drink alcohol,
just like my father did.
He told Abdul Khan [a respected leader at the
local mosque] never to disturb him on a Saturday.
"This was his betting day. We have a tradition of respecting your
elders so Mr Khan couldn't really say anything!"
Rachel Warner, whose grandfather was an Afghan camel driver, says: "The
Imam, [teacher] from Adelaide, told us 'What you do in moderation
is your business'."
For the Muslims here, the mosque, in the new Larapinta area, is
supposed to be the hub of community activity, but not for Rachel.
have never been to the mosque because I believe, like any religion, if
you do the right thing, why do you have to go to church?
"I believe in God and that is enough."
Getting to Mecca on the haj doesn't draw many people either.
Abdul Khan, who has tried to retain Islamic values in the community
since the death of the legendary Sallay Mahomet, says: "We have one or
two people at the moment who are hoping to go to undertake the haj.
"Even my wife and myself haven't been yet. You shouldn't forfeit your
responsibilities to go."
However, some principles of the Quoran are so
deeply respected they remain embedded in the local culture.
Many still do not eat pork, and animals are slaughtered so as to
produce 'halal' [certified] meat.
Says Rachel: "The problem had been that many of us really didn't know
how to kill it."
Mr Khan has sorted this out: "We have recently negotiated with the
Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, that we can supply halal
meat at the Bond Beef abattoirs."
Abdullah Ali, the community's camel slaughterer, says: "It is very
important that we give thanks to Allah and release the spirit of the
camel before we kill it.
"You cut the throat with two strokes of the knife vertically, making
sure the blood oozes out, and say. 'Bis millh Allah akbar,' which
means 'In the name of God, God is great.'
"It's just like saying grace, as the Christians do."
This locally killed meat is also supplied to Muslims in Melbourne,
Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide.
Children are still encouraged to learn
about Islam in Alice.
"We still have 20 kids here who learn about Islam on the weekends,"
says Mr Khan. "I'm going to register this as a weekend school with the
NT Department of Education.
"Everybody is welcome: "Some of the Afghan
kids already bring their neighbours. We talk about good manners, good
behaviour, Islamic morals and values.
"We still wear traditional dress for festivities, and to pray at the
mosque," says Mr Khan.
Rachel says: "Funerals are traditionally Muslim in all cases.
"They involve the whole family helping to fill the hole in with dirt at
the end of the ceremony, which starts at the dead person's house."
There are many reasons why the Muslim community here has found it hard
to sustain its faith.
Says Mr Khan, a lecturer in mathematics at Centralian College:
"Although we experience many freedoms in Alice Springs, work patterns
prohibit some of us from attending Friday prayer, which is a great
Muslims have assimilated into a multi-racial community, with many
Afghans marrying Aborigines and European Australians Many teachings
have been lost because they haven't been taught at home.
Says Rachel: "I'm more conscious of being an Australian than a Muslim."
Meride says: "My father spoke Arabic, but not to us. The rules are more
relaxed here because of the influence of other local cultures."
Rachel remembers: "My brother came back with some ham and tomato
sandwiches one afternoon.
They went out the door.
"My brother didn't get punished. We were only made aware of the rules
by trial and error, but they weren't really forced on us.
"These are modern times and even in the Eastern countries things are
The transient nature of Alice Springs' population has its impact on the
believers in Islam.
Says Abdullah: "Many Muslim families come and go,
some don't like it that much because there aren't many Muslims here.
Also, there is no resident Imam, or teacher, which makes it difficult
to hold it all together."
Says Mr Khan: "I have recently made an arrangement with the Australian
Federation of Islamic Councils to give us a regular Imam.
"He will come up from Adelaide every two months to stay for two weeks
in the mosque.
"I plan to build a house adjoining the mosque as the
Imam's residence, but we haven't got the funding at the moment."
The Muslim faith has also attracted people from outside the Afghan
It has particularly enriched Abdullah Ali's life, he says,
helping him overcome a history of alcohol abuse and gang warfare.
always had an interest in eastern religions," he says.
"The only strong one here in Alice is Islam.
"I just went to the mosque and that's how it all started.
"The great thing about this religion is that it welcomes everyone.
There is respect for all cultures and tolerance of all religions."
Says Meride: "If a couple gets divorced, the man must take care of the
woman until she gets married again."
Abdullah believes that the Islamic community today contributes
positively to life in Alice Springs:
"Their work and family ethics are inspiring.
"They strongly dislike being on the dole, and are far more forward
thinking in terms of business than are other people I have worked with
"There is more responsibility to the family, an emphasis on building
strong marriages, and of course, we have the Camel Cup!"
Yet hardly any of the Islamic community has anything to do with camels
Many of Meride's immediate family work in broadcasting - in
the town's Aboriginal radio station, 8KIN FM run by CAAMA. "Camels are
not financially viable. We gave up on them a long time ago. I wouldn't
even know how to ride one."
The Islamic community here is fed up with outsiders who think of them
as fanatical brain-washers.
Says Abdullah: "People who are ignorant
mock me. It's the same with anything different.
"They think you're a terrorist and you're going to pull an AK47 on
them, or something."
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK.
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