Ministers mum on threat to West MacDonnells, tourism promotion fiasco


p2142-Ormiston-buffel-1PHOTOS (from top): Trekker thigh-deep in the non-native grass buffel, displacing native species on a massive scale, on the Larapinta Trail some three kilometers west of Ormiston Gorgelast week. • Report card of under-achievement by NT Government tourist promoter. Source of graph: Tourism NT. • The magnificent Ormiston Gorge.
Two ministers with key roles in The Centre’s troubled tourism industry have declined to be interviewed about their failure to get visitor numbers up, and to arrest a major threat to the MacDonnell Ranges national park.
Tourism Minister Matt Conlan relied on a written statement, short on specifics, from a minder to respond to questions from the Alice Springs News Online.
Parks Minister Bess Price – the custodian of the tourism industry’s greatest asset, the West Macs – has made it clear she will do nothing about the avalanche of the invasive non-native buffel grass that is spreading through the best areas of the park.
Mr Conlan’s office, unsurprisingly, says there is no case for a government review of the chronically under-achieving yet highly funded Tourism NT, similar to the probe into Desert Knowledge, and Chief Minister Adam Giles would not comment.
The written statement on behalf of Mr Conlan blames “years of neglect” for the decline in tourism and asserts “it is not going to improve overnight”. No explanation was given for the failure of the CLP Government to make a significant difference in the nearly two years it has been in power.
Neither is the statement specific about the benefits of the AFL football matches in Alice Springs this year, staged at a cost to the government of $880,000.
The statement says, without giving details, that the matches “garnered significant media coverage across broadcast, print and digital mediums from all national outlets which cover AFL”.
No specifics were given to our question “what is shown or told about Alice Springs and its attractions in the media reports”. (The News sent this and other questions to Mr Giles as notes for an interview which he declined. The full text can be found here.)
Ms Price initially did not reply to an email seeking comment on buffel. This publication and many others have dealt with the threat posed by buffel, a declared weed in South Australia, and plant introduced by the CSIRO some 40 years ago to suppress dust.
Buffel is notorious for densely colonising the most fertile areas, burning very hot, with the result that native grasses, shrubs and ultimately, trees are destroyed, inexorably leading to a monoculture of buffel bereft of any interest to local and visiting nature lovers.
Buffel can be controlled best by spraying.
We emailed Ms Price with questions about buffel on May 20. When we received no reply we raised the issues with Mr Giles, following which we received a reply from Ms Price’s minder.
This response was highly inadequate and we sent follow-up questions. These were ignored by Ms Price. Late last week we asked for a 20 minute interview with her. It was not granted. (The full text of our email exchange can be found here.)
Minister Price is more occupied, judging by recent media releases issued on her behalf, with weighty matters such as these:-
• New shade structures at Howard Springs Nature Park meaning Territorians can now make the most of the rock pools while being sun smart.
• Warning of pesky pecking pee wees patrolling Darwin streets; and
• Encouraging everyone to make the most of the beautiful desert winter weather, joining a ranger on a guided family bike ride to Simpsons Gap this Sunday.
That’s today – and any participants will be riding between a phalanx of buffel on both sides of much of the track.
Meanwhile the Parks and Wildlife Commission, which claims the “223km Larapinta Trail has fast become one of the most popular long distance remote walks in Australia”, tells trekkers they will be fined $432 if they light small fires.
This is contrary to the exemption of “fires used for cooking or boiling water, provided the nearest flammable matter to the fire is more than four metres away” even on total fire ban days.
p2142-Ormiston-GorgeSo while the town is desperate to boost its visitor numbers, the parks service is busy announcing not what you can, but what you cannot do, while doing nothing to combat the spread of buffel.
Ms Price’s minder emailed us that “buffel grass is not a declared weed in the Northern Territory” (which of course is something her government can change at the stroke of a pen) and that buffel “is seen as a valuable introduced species by many the pastoral industry”.
We would have liked to put to Mr Price that it is equally within her government’s powers to give pastoralists exemptions, provided, for example, they keep the invasive grass within their leases.
The minder also asserts that “without an entirely cooperative approach by all landholders in the control of this weed [the parks service] would not be putting their resources to the best use”.
This is clearly nonsense because there are several rural area landholders (including highly regarded botanist Peter Latz and the writer of this report) who have managed to rid their acreages of buffel while it is prolific on their immediate neighbours’ blocks. It requires a planned and persistent effort of spraying after rain over three seasons and then monitoring for any new growth.


  1. How about introducing camels into the area, be a tourist attraction, allow camel rides and give rise to a new tourist venture that assists financially and also keeps buffel under control.
    Build environmental tourist accommodation and graze cattle.
    Give a real Central Australian adventure and maybe some wild horses. A great opportunity for CSIRO. To work with tourism and research.
    All this close to town and there for locals to participate in. And we have functional parks that offer adventure and business opportunities and income. A win win for all. Just an idea.

  2. I’m with Janet (see Janet Brown, Posted June 15, 2014 at 9:48 am). Her vision for our conservation parks has an inexorable logic, and a certain kind of magic about it too. We need tourists in the millions, and diversity amongst our endangered local tycoons, and, most of all, we need more feral excitement, and nasty vermin that can provide a frisson of danger in our lives. We shouldn’t just stop at welcoming camels, brumbies, bullocks and buffel into our nature reserves, though. Why limit our imagining about what we can provide to assist commerce and growth and achieve sheer hysterical joy?
    Elephants, giant rats, anacondas and rhinos would trample the buffel and provide a touch of the exotic. Dragons would excite the kiddies, and lead a major expansion of family-oriented trekking in the West Macs. Likewise lions, tigers, hyenas and leopards, with the added benefit that they would keep the weak and sickly members of the grey nomad herds from becoming a burden on the parks and Medicare.
    How about getting some of those raptosauri too, that the yanks developed at Jurassic Park, and put them on an island in a beautiful lake with a Best Western motel based on the Great Pyramid, a Parthenon-styled kangaroo abattoir, and a back packers modelled on the Taj Mahal? And wabbits, lots of wabbits. They’re just gorgeous. The Chinese will love ’em.
    Build it and they will come.

  3. Hmm a rather questionable array of astounding assumptions in this article Ed!
    How would a tourist know that what they were looking at wasn’t the norm if someone wasn’t there piddling in their ear down talking our product?
    As for comparing the downturn in tourist numbers with the growth of buffel! You are joking aren’t you?
    What about comparing the drop in tourism with the drop in price of international air fares or the increasing value of the Aussie dollar or the increasing numbers of tourists we were bashing before the CLP came to power?
    I think you might find a more justifiable and supportable thesis for the declining tourist numbers!
    Talk about not being able to see the forest for the trees constantly promoting private enterprise employment opportunities through the development of new industries bemoaning our reliance on welfare all while standing waste deep in opportunity presented by buffel! In fact bemoaning its presence, because?
    Oh a couple tax payer dependent park rangers and a few lefty environmentalists find the stuff difficult to work with, or could it be work full stop they find difficult! Buffel grass, Ed is not “Fuel” its life giving wealth generating “food”!
    We don’t need to get rid of it! We need to manage it properly! That in the very first instance means “Stop Burning IT”! Get the bloody fire bugs out of our parks and put wealth generating grazing herds in!
    In the interests of good journalism Editor I challenge you to take a look at the buffel and improved pasture story in the Centre and the rest of Australia publish photos of this country over the preceding 100 years before buffel. Let the readers get a true picture of the circumstances with which we were dealing before its arrival and the CSIRO’s subsequent enormously successful work to improve the species.
    It might also be a good idea to let the readers know that from the moment of arrival of the first fleet it was recognised that Australia’s native pastures were not good enough to support intensive industry and work began on improved pastures, the wealth and success of this nation has been and continues to be built upon that work!
    Your article suggests is that we rid ourselves of the very thing that produced that wealth! The very thing that puts the food in hungry mouths both here and across the Globe, “Grass”! Great concept doesn’t think it will leave us with many tourists; broke and hungry people don’t tend to travel a lot.
    Nonetheless I guess the complainants are volunteering to go without and I’m sure the Rangers are willing to give up their “Tax Payer” funded jobs when we manage to get rid of it.
    The issues generated by the success of buffel, there are many species of it by the way, not just one, are very complex and cannot be addressed by simplistic means. While contemplating management issues in our parks and in particular the ones in question in this article along the Larapinta Trail it should be born in mind that the entire stretch of the trail has been used on a constant basis since the arrival of European settlement for grazing horses and cattle.
    It is only since grazing ceased that there have been issues because we have replaced grazing with very destructive “Burning”! Which only succeeds in exacerbating the issues. In the long term interests of better conservation and the growth of our tourist industry we need to look at operating our parks on a sustainable wealth generating joint usage basis.
    Grazing, tourism and conservation can and should work together in balance to create that outcome! Locking up parks to be the more or less exclusive playground of a few lefty malcontents is a road that leads to disaster especially for conservation.
    One more salient point: Since the successful introduction of buffel grass to our family property at White Gums its ability to graze cattle has increased enormously we are trucking in and fattening cattle while at the other end of the ranges they are near to losing them! Buffel ED! Buffel is bloody fantastic!

  4. Re: the lions. I can’t leave such potentially life-threatening trivia without qualification. A month ago, while out bush, an indigenous woman told me that the staff at Tilmouth Roadhouse had locked themselves in because a lion was prowling around.
    She said that three lions had escaped from Katherine and followed the gas pipeline south, no doubt checking to see if a major source of northern development was hunky dory. We both had a nervous laugh as we looked about the scrub and continued on our way.

  5. Steve and Janet, once again, have no idea. Steve, maybe your cattle are enjoying it – who really cares. Buffel grass was not brought in for your cattle but to control soil erosion. I know that environment impacts are hard for you understand.
    As for Janet’s stupid idea of bringing camels into our parks, do you know the impact this would have on our native grass and trees which provide habitats and are important to biodiversity? It would be detrimental. I think, Janet, we should bring elephants in from Africa and run safaris.
    As for your wasted tax payers money on rangers, Steve, you don’t have a clue on what they do.
    Maintain roads, tracks, campsites, fire control etc.
    If fires got out of hand they might blow your way and do a great deal of damage and a lot of others.
    I really can’t understand how you got into council.

  6. I like the wabbits. Lots and lots of gorgeous wabbits.
    And if that doesn’t work, how about introducing a drought-resistant lantana? It might choke out the buffel, and the bush-weed gardeners over on the coast reckon there’s nothing like lantana mulch for growing good ganja.
    You want tourists? Grow it and they will come!

  7. Steve Brown. Your comments betray an appalling lack of knowledge and interest in the natural environment of central Australia.
    Sadly, quite a few local residents probably share your view that a buffel monoculture is “normal” because these days they see little else.
    You have to get well out of town and into areas like Kings Canyon or Uluru to witness the magic of our ecological diversity.
    The pictures we get after a good winter rain, of wild flowers bursting out of red desert sand, is just one example of the wonderland that has evolved over thousands of years.
    Buffel is quite capable of destroying our heritage on a huge scale, literally to create a buffel sea devoid of just about any other life form and that includes trees, flowers, native grasses, birds (buffel seeds are too small for them to eat), native animals, lizards and even native ants.
    There is a complex web of desert life that collapses under the impact of invasive buffel and it is almost impossible to bring it back to life.
    Buffel desperately needs to be contained and controlled in our most important areas, many of which also have high tourist value.
    It is also appalling that Bess Price who has surely seen buffel destroy the environment around her community of Yuendumu, has not spoken out.


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