Yarning around the campfire? Not here, mate.


Steve Brown comment
I was disturbed to hear on ABC radio this morning, as reported by the Alice Springs News Online last Saturday, a story about Territory Parks and Wildlife demanding that hikers on the Larapinta Trail cease lighting camp fires and carry gas cookers.
My immediate thoughts: here we go again, the same arrogant uncaring ownership taking attitudes that we have seen institutionalised at the Rock where visitors are considered the bad guys by an arrogant elite National Parks who do their best to lock out and constrain visitors, treating them as intruders in their own land with devastating consequences for the Territory’s tourist Industry.
If anyone were looking for a reason for the downturn in Territory tourism over the past couple of decades they need look no further than that attitude at the Rock! It appears Territory Parks have taken on the same disregard for customer satisfaction. The spectacular Larapinta Trail is just starting to gain recognition as one of Australia’s great walking adventures, beginning to attract numbers of tourists on its own merits.
One of the highlights of walking the trail in the winter months have been the nights spent ’round the camp fire yet with complete disregard for that visitor expectation, the sense of adventure, the warmth and comfort our visitors derive from the experience, Territory Parks have removed without a second thought, the right of visitors to enjoy that pleasure, in doing so instantly devaluing the marketed product.
Their argument, there are too many campfires in too many places using too much fire wood! Would this be I wonder the same firewood that Territory Parks destroy in the hundreds of tonnes every single year as they vandalise our parks with so called firestick farming?
Uncaring and insensitive bureaucracy must be brought screaming and kicking if necessary to the realisation of a community expectation that while managing visitor focused “community owned” not “bureaucracy owned” tourism assets such as the Larapinta Trail and surrounding parks. The community demands a very high level of customer service be maintained. Happy visitors equals a healthy tourist Industry, which in one way or another is of benefit to us all.
While of course there are dangers in allowing hikers to light fires wherever they like, there is absolutely no reason at all that we can’t set aside camping places at set intervals along the track and provide those places with both open fire places and the firewood. It can be sourced from the enormous park resources using wood that is normally allowed to go up in smoke anyway!
The provision of these fire places should be seen for what it is, good and essential customer service making our visitors feel wanted and appreciated, broadening or at least maintaining the product!
The Minister for Tourism Matt Conlan should have this decision by parks overturned immediately allow present practices to apply until such time as campsite and fireplaces can be installed. We have to build our product up, constantly adding value! We cannot allow it to degenerate into the sterile almost Hollywood anti visitor experience that the Rock has become!


  1. Another useless article Steve. Again this shows how ignorant you are to the environment. Just like your view on buffel grass!

  2. +1 Interested … sure likes the sound of his typewriter and those exclamation marks!!!!!!!!
    Sense of adventure … spot on Steve, I’m always awestruck whether I survive an outing going into town.

  3. @ Interested, I read comments like yours with great delight, take them as a kind of affirmation that I’m on the right track, they are also the subject of much mirth in our household LOL. It’s one of the main reasons that we love contributing to Alice Springs News Online thank – you for your contribution.
    Should you ever grow bold enough to come out from whatever your hiding under I’ll happily engage you in the buffel grass and environment debate.
    I’ve nothing to fear. I’m not a puffed up blow-in who gained his local knowledge from reading glossy tourist brochures and watching TV. I was born on the land in Central Australia nearly 60 years ago you might say I grew up with the buffel’s development in a family that worked alongside the CSIRO and local Ag branch during and after its introduction.
    We have observed it closely, learned to manage it and derive a living from it in the years since. From a pastoralist’s point of view Buffel, lifts the productivity of the Land by an enormous amount. That means more dollars per acre which in turn translates to more taxes per acre which in turn are used to feed the likes of yourself.
    It would probably be a reasonably intelligent thing to keep that in mind while your trying to eradicate it. Whoops, something tells me I’ve just created an oxymoron.

  4. Some of your yarns are enjoyable Steve. Some questionable. But most importantly, they are engaging. If I can offer one point though. Get over the “I’m born and bred I know best” attitude. Stop referring to “blow ins”. Such references do not strength your view, nor do they make it more credible. On the contrary, it comes across arrogant and at times ignorant.
    I for one am also born and bred, I do not need to go on telling everyone. Usually it’s the “blow ins” that join us, inspire us challenge our ways to new thinking and contribute to what we have.
    It comes down to the life fundamentals, tolerance, sharing and understanding. After all if we ever want growth, new comers are going to be the core contributors, let’s make them feel welcome – not offended.

  5. My friend Steve,
    Unfortunately I am not able to identify myself due to politics, but it would be my pleasure to get into a debate with you.
    The problem with Central Australia is that there are long term residents e.g 60 years who have not experienced the rest of Australia and the effects on the environment.
    You should know that buffel is probably 3rd on the list of cattle’s favourite so more than likely one of there last options.
    You’re right, I have only lived here for five years but it’s people new to this town that help the overall of Alice Springs. People like yourself believe you know everything but really you’re far from it. Go an experience outside of the Alice and you may come back with new ideas.
    You say that you have managed buffel, well I suggest looking around the Ilparpa region and see how it’s going.
    Also remember if fires do occur (eg the Owen Springs fire a couple of years ago which I fought in) buffel is like fuel and does not take long to cover lots of property.
    So, I suggest speaking to pastoralists around that area about buffel and the damage it did to their property and they had the correct fire breaks in. One more point their property is much larger than yours.
    I hope one day you see the light.

  6. When my sons were old enough, I walked sections of the Larapinta Trail with them until they were men.
    I got to talk with them about stuff and that they were stuck with me for the walks. They always went again, either separately or together.
    As grownups they still wax lyrical about me getting lost and not keeping up with them and eating my horrible concoctions and telling me what they really thought of me and that sort of memory thing.
    Take out the fires (bushman’s television) and those times would not have happened.
    For youngsters, is there such a thing as camping without a campfire?

  7. @ Sean I am very much aware that what I say may appear arrogant. However I, like many Alice Springs folk, am sick and tired of arrogant pompous and often extremely ignorant points of view constantly being inflicted on our community from those who have formulated their opinions and beliefs elsewhere under totally different circumstances. It is an unfortunate fact that Alicespringites have for many years been prepared to sit back and let these new chums fill our committees, drive our political agendas. This has been very much to the detriment of this community. As a very transient town the constant blow-in, blow-right-out-again cycle has pretty well destroyed the corporate memory of the town, leaving us constantly reinventing the wheel, going nowhere and wasting inordinate amounts of time explaining what needs to be done over and over again! So for the past dozen years I have been waging a battle to move aside our gushingly over enthusiastic friends from elsewhere and replace them with local people who actually have some knowledge of the issues with which we must deal. My objective is to get Central Australia out of the doldrums and progressing as it should. If in the attempt to achieve this I appear arrogant to some new chums, well frankly Sean, them’s the breaks. You’re an opinionated local Sean, get out there and help! I look forward to seeing your name amongst those running our committees!
    @ Interested and Sean
    If you take on a new job and within the first few days in gushing confidence you take it upon yourself to instruct your new boss on how to run the business he’s been running for a life time, how do you think your advice will be received?
    Interested, the surname of the Pastoralists you met fighting the Owen Springs fire was “Brown” guess what mine is.

  8. I’m pretty sure you are getting mixed up with Hayes and Klein (Wally) Orange Creek. Not once did I hear Brown and not once did I see a Brown out there.
    Unfortunately Steve, you need the so called ringins in YOUR town to take jobs and help the community who have been around the last 60 years.
    As for the job, since I have been doing mine I have gone up the ranks. This was because I came with fresh ideas which have been successful.
    So for you getting this town back on track you need to do a lot more than attend the odd meeting, but to show a lot more community engagement.

  9. Steve. You really do need to research buffel and its impact.
    While it’s true that initially buffel does increase the productivity of range land this positive effect doesn’t last long.
    Buffel robs the soil of nutrition so the productivity of buffel grass declines over time as soil nitrogen is tied up in organic matter.
    A 50 per cent decrease in pasture production and animal nutrition can be expected after 5 years of so, 10 years on more fertile soils. It’s all downhill from there.
    Where stocking rates are kept the same, animal liveweight gain is typically reduced by half due to this degenerative effect.
    By contrast, native grasses are less productive initially but retain their productivity long term, while also supporting a diverse ecology.
    After 10 – 20 years native grasses compete well with buffel and are sustainable.
    In the long term.
    Buffel degrades the entire ecosystem it is introduced to, including the soil that it grows in.
    On the issue of campfires it is the danger of the buffel fuel loads that makes them so risky. But buffel will also solve the dilemma, tourists will not be visiting to see a vast buffel plain.

  10. Yeh Interested Observer, written with all the authority and believability of an expert not brave enough to put their name to the comment.
    buffel, even though it was here long before, began to take a significant hold during the big wet of the seventies and by the mid eighties.
    White Gums, where I live, was waste deep in it. That makes it about thirty years of solid establishment and 40 years for much of it. It is now stronger healthier than ever!
    The various varieties of buffel appear to have hybridised and become a much more vigorous plant. Of course also affecting this outcome has been the enormous improvement in soil brought about by its presence.
    Briefly, buffel opens up the soil and keeps it open. The effect is to keep soil bacteria alive and healthy through even extended hot and dry conditions, because it opens the soil, rain water runoff is reduced remarkably.
    Before the onset of buffel it was necessary to break the soil’s surface by ploughing and use water retention dams to try and hold run off long enough for it to soak in. That is completely unnecessary now.
    During the sixties it was quite common to see a river flow after small afternoon thunderstorms of under 25mm because everything ran off. Today we can see rain periods lasting for days with over a 100mm and still see no river flow. The difference to productivity of the land is enormous.
    However, all that said because buffel holds so much more energy in comparison to the local species its burns much hotter and if burnt subsequently does more damage also effectively sterilizing the soils for a period of time. That is why it is so important to graze it, not to burn it under any circumstances.
    Native species coexist very well with buffel as long as it is grazed and not burnt, as do trees and shrubs. White Gums has a much heavier cover of trees and shrubs today than it did before buffel. However when you go north of the range into national park country you can see the disaster that constant burning brings, the loss of trees, shrubs and the complete dominance of buffel over native species of grass because the buffel, with its deep clumping root systems, survives fire much better than native species, recovering so rapidly that it is away and at height before the native grasses have a chance to re-establish.
    So in short it’s not buffel creating the monoculture its bloody fire bugs in bureaucracy who are vandalising our country and creating mono cultures.
    Buffel is a management issue! It is grass! The rest of Australia seems to be able to manage their grass pretty well.
    The entire MacDonnell ranges survived very well as pastoral properties for over a hundred years in just a short space of time as national parks they have deteriorated badly!
    The sensible solution is to go to a joint usage scenario for our parks combining grazing, tourism and nature conservation in a balance that brings about an achievable level of conservation.

  11. The “Emperor” still doesn’t know he isn’t “wearing any clothes”!
    Keenly waiting his imperial (definitely not empirical) insights into cane toads, also introduced with “good intentions”, and also allowed to get out of hand by the indoctrinated, the faithfully blind, the ignorant, the disinterested, and the weak, and left to someone else to deal with, particularly our descendants. Something to be really proud of.
    In fairness, he’s at last referred to “varieties” (as opposed to species), and referred to hybridization, both absolutely essential concepts to any rational discussion on the issue of buffel in Central Australia.

  12. @cogs. Wow, it was so called specialists who introduced the cane toad. And low and behold the cane toad was on the ground and the beetle it was after was high up off the ground. Just like most of the non witty comments from you. You never want to know the truth, just listen to the fallacies of feral green environmentalist who are totally out of touch with farming and grazing.

  13. Wow, you are consistent – Steve hangs himself and you leap to his rescue by hanging off his leg!
    And the point of your first two sentences? Thanks for supporting my point – the introduction of buffel in Central Australia included equally unforgivable oversights, by the so called professionals.
    As for your last, you are absolutely wrong on on all of the four or so obvious assumptions you made – true to form.

  14. Great to see you writing in this subject, Janet. I missed your intelligent response. Since you have a wealth of experience in this area. As for ferals, if all people were like you Janet, there wouldn’t be an environment. Its amazing how you and Steve are so similar.

  15. Sorry the non environmental supporter tag goes to those who wear the environmentalist badge. Turning away when raw sewage is dumped into the swap area. The murder of 400 + year old coolibah trees near the swap on the roadway.
    The over use of poison in an attempt to remove buffel on road sides by so call environmentalist.
    Clear it on your own land, poison your own land, leave public land alone. Burning public land and destroy trees animals and anything else.
    You want to see true environmental management take a look at White Gums: the trees, the animal habitats and nature nurtured along with gazing cattle.
    Balance by good management. Please give the readers an area that has improved by good environmental management.
    I know of none, any lands under so called environmental control are devoid of trees and in turn remove habitats for birds and other native animals.
    Readers only have to drive past Ilparpa swamp and Ilparpa then after the claypans turn off and Temple Bar who run cattle. Go to White Gums and then turn back on Larapinta Drive and see what the result is for environmental management on the way back to town.
    Say what you want – proof is in the visual.

  16. It’s funny you think your property is full of life. I know there are birds out there but as for fauna, you are dreaming.
    In case you don’t know, controlled burning is a great thing. You go back when Aborigines were running the land they used fire to regenerate the flora and a form of hunting.
    You have no idea what you are talking about. Poison, yes not the best outcome, but overall it does help.
    As you have said recently on the topic of buffel, bring cattle into OUR parks.
    They carry buffel on their coats and hooves and spread it over the place.
    I suggest you and Steve keep to your property and not worry about the rest as I have not seen you volunteer your own time to help control the outcome.
    By the way, the council has planting days – maybe you can join.

  17. @Joel: You should take the time to ask some of the older traditional people how they lived in this country. You will pretty soon learn that so called fire stick farming may have been in use further north in the tropics but in this area it is an imported justification for the continual use of fire on our landscape by those who have an unhealthy fascination with it.
    Up until about 40 years ago and the arrival of buffel the only thing that could be and often was burnt off while hunting in Central Australia was spinifex country, which could mostly be safely burnt without setting fire to the entire country.
    The so called and much vaunted “fire-stick farming” was a secondary and not necessarily intended effect of a hunting burn off. It allowed the short term growth of grazeable grasses in the burnt area until such time as they were overtaken by the slowly regenerating spinifex.
    Hence the fire bug perpetuated myth of “fire-stick farming”. A senior traditional person recently told me with much ironic laughter “if we had burnt Country like these clowns we would have died of starvation”!
    There was nothing in times past to compare with today’s buffel issue, quoting traditional methods is quite simply wrong and very easily proven wrong if you’re interested enough to open your mind.
    Just because something can survive being burnt doesn’t make it a healthy thing to do to it, burning is destructive! It is always destructive!
    Just because once upon a time it was done traditionally, doesn’t make it right! Constant burning turns productive lands into deserts!
    The right reaction to fire is firstly to prevent, failing that put it out!
    The constant burning of our parks is a disgusting vandalism of our country and ironically flies very much in the face of the arguments made by the same zealots relating to CO2/Carbon retention which by the way could see our total commitments to reductions met by the simple means of pasture improvement!

  18. Steve, once again you have no idea. As for traditional owners, I hope you are not making that up. Part of my position is to go out bush and talk about fire management.
    This is a tool used for hunting. It is not just used in the top end, but it is used here in Central Australia. I suggest maybe talk to the elder and explain clearly and not what you want them to hear. Some people think it’s funny to light fires and this is the issue.
    If fire is used correctly e.g. time and wind, there is no harm in this. If you knew about the vegetation you would understand that our plants and trees rely on this. Yes, buffel enjoys it as well, but it also gives our natives a chance to grow.
    You need to get your facts right. Our parks are not constantly being burnt. Only small areas (average every two years) to help control fire bug fires getting out of control.
    Before you comment on something, do some research on this or speak to the right person.

  19. Steve, thanks for your advice re: Talking to older ‘traditional people’ about how they lived on this country. Your insinuation that I do not and have not is laughable – and much like the rest of your senseless babble, does not warrant response.
    More senseless, ignorant, paternalistic, know it all nonsense …

  20. @ Joel: I was not insinuating anything! Your comments make it abundantly clear to anyone whose been here long enough to know what they are talking about, that you have not researched your subject, if you had you wouldn’t be questioning what I am saying.
    So take your own advice Joel and stop embarrassing yourself unquestioningly quoting from truly paternalistic propaganda such as “Fire stick farming”. Go spend a bit of time in the library have a look at the photographic record of this country and see what it was like when we could set fire to things without a worry. It will take you no more than a few minutes to learn that we are dealing with very different circumstances today and that we need different answers to then. Presently we are entrusting the future of our country into the hands of people with all the experience of “Interested”. Are you really OK with that?

  21. Steve, just because you are nearly over the hill and lived hear for 70 years it doesn’t mean you know how to manage our vegetation and our parks.
    It is one thing to manage your station but the size of our parks are completely different.
    I would be very happy to not see you in our parks and enjoy what they provide. People overseas appreciate our environment, so reading your garbage you set a bad example for us Australians protecting what’s important.

  22. “You wouldn’t be questioning what I am saying.” Steve Brown the Omniscient! There you have it in a nutshell. Small wonder you get a column.
    That aside, to more important things. Regardless of what ones perception (whether based on ignorance or prejudice) is of traditional “firestick farming” (a western term to try and describe an indigenous practice), the very important fact I have to make to both Joel Liddle and “Interested”, is that you CANNOT apply the principles of that practice to buffle grass, certainly not the hybridised super weed we have in Central Australia.
    Traditional folk in the APY Lands have long worked that out, and is one of the reasons they refer to buffle as “Devil Grass”. It is also possibly why the “senior traditional person” said what they did. (Another reason to say that is quite obvious to the thinking person – restarting the practice of traditional burning is a very very tricky business, a little knowledge being a very dangerous thing. And certainly not helped by alcohol.)
    But “Interested”, thank you for making the point for me that the damage done by destructive buffle fires in our parks is hardly the fault of park staff, and to label them “bloody fire bugs” is a pretty low act, and clearly shows a high level of ignorance of recent fire events in Central Australia.
    Parks did more than nearly any other land managers to prevent recent fire damage, but as the fire mapping clearly showed, natural and green lightning is a respecter of no man.
    This doesn’t mean there aren’t some uniformed firebugs around – for example, the southern side of Ilparpa Road from Ted Smith’s old quarry to the subdivision, and the northern side from the subdivision halfway back to the “swamp” testifies to that. There a plenty of other examples.
    Steve is only partially right in saying “not to burn buffle under any circumstances”, because there are times when lighting some of it up is the only chance you might have to prevent a much larger threat destroy even more.
    Fire can also be a useful tool as a first step in eradicating the “Devil Grass”, before applying poison or digging out the regrowth. Done at the right time would also do much to reduce the buffle seed bank.
    But to claim that buffle fires “effectively sterilise the soils for a period of time” is a nonsense.
    The heat of buffle fires is on a par with that of spinifex, and I didn’t notice him mentioning that as a problem in spinifex country, and I’ve never observed it in either, and I’ve seen plenty of burnt out country in old growth country of both – thousands of square kilometers in fact, and not not from the comfort of a speeding 4WD with the tinted windows wound up.
    Enough for now.

  23. @ Cogs, thanks for your response. I am yet to state my position on the management of buffel grass – I have simply pointed out that I disagree with Steve’s (and Janet’s) thoughts on management of our national parks and environments (farming, grazing, no control burning – really?).
    My concern in buffel management relates more to its invasive nature and subsequent suppression of ‘traditional’ bush foods and the damage its build up causes to sacred sites (especially through hotter, more intense fires) and the destruction of the habitats that are important to our endangered animals.
    I have seen different methods in buffel management where the hard work of rangers and Traditional Owners have meant that many native grasses have returned to the region and buffel has been well managed and eradicated from some areas on national parks. Traditional bush foods return and habits then exists for native flora and fauna.
    Steve’s and Janet’s ‘hate’ on park ranges, park management, ‘environmentalists’ and ‘greenies’ is what I object to.
    I haven’t the ‘answers’ however I am open to the discussion. I don’t even disagree with Steve’s passion on the topic – however I encourage you to keep an open mind in how best to manage the buffel issue and consider all competing interests.

  24. Cheers Joel, we agree on most things (not all), but my only point to you and “Interested” is that this is one case where it’s dangerous to apply a traditional method to a very much non traditional plant.
    Having said that, I have for example, been in control of very successful burns of fire breaks in mixed woodland and river flats, heavily buffel infested, each over 1.5 kms long, and over 100 meters wide, with modest resources, and not lost a tree. But I wouldn’t pretend that that is “fire stick farming”, even though the outcomes are very similar.

  25. @ Joel: We don’t hate rangers. What we dislike with a passion are the mind sets in park management who close parks to the public and in many cases government has purchased working stations and removed cattle that were managing the grasses on the land.
    I wish to to express my concern with being accused of hating particular persons I honestly do not hate anyone. What I will continue to do is to voice my opinion of behaviours when they obstruct growth progress and good management practices.Balance is my goal and that is the best outcome for all.
    Parks have behaved in a manner that is obstructive to good management practices and followed an environmentalist mentality to stop community enjoyment of national parks.
    The parks belong to the people and that should be the start to all matters related to managing the parks.
    Balance is not a concept most environmentalist believe in and that is clear in all documents related to national parks.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here