Story Wall, buffel and Jacinta


p2278-Jacinta-Price-4LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Sir – Congratulations Alice Springs on reviving Story Wall last Friday night with the Slim Dusty movie.
Locals of all description enjoyed and relaxed on the Flynn Church lawns as the cooling breezes of the night air banished the heat of the day.
At times people spontaneously sang along with Slim’s songs.
Some entertained us with their latest dance moves silhouetted by the huge inflated screen that looked like a jumping castle at first glance.
And the cheap yummy tucker on sale was a tasty bonus!
Thanks #liveAlice, David Nixon and Flynn Church.
Now I have something else to look forward to on Friday nights in Alice Springs.
Chris Hawke
Larapinta, Alice

• • •

2510 buffel world map

Green: Native buffel. Red: Introduced buffel. Source:

Sir – Buffel grass in Central Australia: “Savior To Some And Scourge To Many”, would be a fair summation. And the problem is, like it or not, the stuff is here to stay.
Controlling it is difficult to nigh-on impossible ‒ plus expensive. And as for restricting its spread, well, better you stand on the beach and try holding back the tide.
And yet! For Alice Springs there is light! Buffel, quietly and seemingly unnoticed, has set itself up as a major asset to the town (among several other, less-delightful things).
“Yeah … riiiiiight,” says you. “In your dreams.” But let me explain.
First up, who could forget the brouhaha surrounding Alice Springs’ proposed self-emptying flood mitigation dam, eh? And the Hawke / Keating Labor Government’s Right Honorable Minister For Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Robert Tickner, and the beat-up and the bulldozers etc.
After that, the notion of addressing Alice Springs’ potential flooding issue more or less faded away ‒ not just put on the back burner but swept under the carpet, so to speak. Many continued to worry about the issue, of course, and many were right to do so, because monster storms and downpours descendeth mightily from time to time, on the hills and valleys above us.
But quietly and without fanfare, unbidden, unplanned and pretty much unrecognised, I reckon ‒ correct me if I’m wrong (… again) ‒ Alice Springs now finds itself with the best of all possible flood mitigation solutions imaginable.
Five hundred cubic kilometres of catchment lie upstream of Heavitree Gap ‒ give or take a millimetre or two, with several hundred and forty multi-kazillion tussocks of buffel grass growing on every one of them there kilometres. And, whether dead or alive, each and every leaf and seed stalk and tussock will soak up, hold onto briefly, impede and/or otherwise interfere in some way with the general movement of water, as it migrates past.
And so let me pose you a question, by way of a thought experiment. Contemplate for a moment, if you will, the accumulated effect of all these tiny water-flow interferences and how they might effect the whole Charles Creek / Todd River catchment system’s behavioral dynamics in terms of overall discharge volumes and velocities.
Now compare that to the situation before the arrival of buffel grass (if you were around then) ‒ like when I was a kid, when the Alice Springs hills were bare and stormwater flowed headlong down their rocky slopes like water off a big iron roof.
And the beautiful thing about what has taken place here (should anything about buffel ever be considered beautiful) is that it all came about as a fait accompli. And we got it for free as well: no planning, no works and no installation expenditure ‒ in addition to which the whole turnout has zero maintenance requirements and is totally self sustaining.
Pity about the environmental consequences, of course. But … you know, we can’t have everything. I mean someone with a slightly better qualification than my conditional Grade Six School Exam Pass should write a paper sometime quantifying the whole business.
I’ll even suggest a title: “The Effects of Cenchrus ciliaris On Stormwater Runoff Volumes And Velocities Across The Diverse Landforms, Gradients And Waterway Types Of The Todd River/Charles Creek Catchment Area Upstream of Heavitree Gap” could be the brief version.
In the meantime, though, don’t expect to see a great deal of waist-deep floodwater in the Todd Mall any time soon.
Lindsay Johannsen
Alice Springs

• • •

Sir – Let us all hope that Alice Springs Councillor, Jacinta Price (pictured), can quickly rise through the political ranks to the highest level.
She could be the circuit breaker this nation’s white and black communities’ need to completely nullify the vile attempts of the loony left to destroy any possible chance of a meaningful reconciliation.
She is intelligent, strong, and realistic. She identifies and fixes on the real priorities.
She is a gutsy woman, and I hope she receives the support and following she deserves so she can become a real force in the ongoing drive to achieve the healing needed between Australia’s First People and the rest of the nation.
Richard Burnett
Wollongong NSW


  1. Richard Burnett … call me cynical, but meaningful reconciliation will only progress because of the “loony left”. I wouldn’t trust reconcilation to the right side of politics.

  2. I am sure that Jacinta will receive the support and following she thoroughly deserves from non Aboriginal Australians.

  3. Lindsay Johannsen makes some very interesting observations in his satirical letter about buffel grass. His point about the increased vegetation cover in the Todd and Charles rivers catchments soaking up more runoff is supported elsewhere by scientific observations, as reported for example in here.
    It’s definitely the case that the Todd River flowed readily when there was reduced vegetative ground cover; for example, in April 1961, as the 1960s drought gripped Central Australia, the Todd flowed a banker from storms in the catchment (it’s a memorable occasion for my parents because that was when my father proposed to my mother).
    By contrast the Todd now barely flows at all, and when it does they are no greater than moderate at most.
    The year 2010 was the second wettest on record for Alice Springs, falling just a few millimetres shy of breaking the 1974 record, yet the Todd River never got above a moderate flow despite water being present for almost the whole year.
    The frequency of major flows of the Todd River has dropped sharply since the turn of the century and this reflects a widespread trend observed with rivers in many places.
    Buffel grass almost certainly has played some role in this but, by the same token, it is slowly posing a much more serious risk for Alice Springs.
    As the frequency and quantity of river flows reduce, the vegetation in turn is advancing more and more into the riverbed. Only last year, for example, tractors and dump trucks had to scrape and haul away the grass and vegetation on the Todd Riverbed next to Anzac Oval to allow the Henley-on-Todd to proceed. I’ve never seen that happen before.
    A good example of what this is leading to can be seen with St Mary’s Creek just south of town. When I was a boy living at AZRI and CSIRO the creek had a clear sandy bed, but for many years now it’s been completely overgrown with buffel grass.
    In the past the watercourses of the Centre provided natural firebreaks but the encroachment of feral grasses is increasingly converting them into wildfire conduits – and as the Todd River which runs through the middle of Alice Springs becomes ever more dominated by these exotic grasses, the more discomfited I grow.

  4. Richard. You took the words right out of my mouth about Jacinta. I would love to see her become a Senator for the NT in the Federal Parliament.
    Senator Price – a young Aboriginal woman not afraid to speak up for all of us – would be a very welcome antidote to the Loony Left Hinch types who currently control that particular political asylum.

  5. I hope you’re right, Lindsay. It would be interesting to know how any rainfall in recent years represents against a one in one hundred and one in fifty year flood.

  6. Even though the buffel grass is an introduced species it has fed many animals, not just cattle, and kept the sands and top soil over the land from blowing away.
    Before the buffel grass was introduced, huge sand storms use to sweep the desert areas, including Alice Springs, as you can see in photos by professional photographers at that time.
    The native plants do not grow with no water, so the buffel grass holds the soil and water so other plants, including the wild plants of the desert, can come to life after the rains.
    Maybe not the best for all, but a desert and no growth is also not good for the land and this country.
    People can go anywhere in the world to see deserts, but not Australia’s adjustable and cultured land mass.

  7. @ Kathy (Posted January 31, 2018 at 7:47 am): Unfortunately almost nothing of what you’ve claimed is correct. Here is a brief history – in the summer of 1951/52 the wet season failed completely, and much of northern and Central Australia was caught in the grip of a short but very severe drought. However, Central Australia experienced a wet winter in 1952 which prompted the growth of an enormous variety of native flowers and grasses. There were numerous claims by pastoralists of various species never having been seen before.
    To the founding director of the Animal Industry Branch, Colonel Lionel Rose, this situation compounded his already strong awareness of the critical lack of knowledge of the natural ecology that underpinned the beef cattle industry. For this reason he gave significant material support to the establishment of the CSIRO’s permanent presence in Alice Springs in 1953; and the first permanent CSIRO officer, Bob Winkworth, immediately began to collect and collate specimens of native pasture species.
    In 1954 the AIB itself finally gained its first botanist, George Chippendale, stationed in Alice Springs who immediately commenced work to establish a Herbarium of native plant specimens from across the NT. Bob Winkworth contributed his own collection to assist the establishment of the Herbarium.
    The mid 1950s was generally a run of good seasons. Alice Springs was a cattle town and was actually one of the busiest railheads in Australia, transporting cattle from the southern half of the NT via the Central Australian Railway to markets in South Australia.
    In 1958 the year went dry – it was the beginning of one of the worst droughts on record in the Centre. It was in this year that my father worked for the CSIRO but transferred back to the AIB in early 1959. He became offsider to botanist George Chippendale and was involved in a number of major botanical survey trips in the NT during the 1960s drought.
    Central Australia and Alice Springs were not swept by “huge sand storms”, they were dust storms – and they blew up from overstocked pastoral leases that had denuded the natural vegetation of the region. The dust storms did not come from the true desert regions. My father personally observed and noted these conditions during his botanical survey trips.
    The 1960s drought crippled the beef cattle industry in the Centre; conversely it assisted the rise of the tourism industry as an alternative economic basis for Alice Springs.
    From the late 1940s onwards there had been a range of evaluation trials of buffel grass (amongst other species) for improved pasture. Ironically, at the start of the drought there was a lot of failure experienced with these trials and it looked as if buffel grass wasn’t suitable for introduction. However, a pasture species evaluation trial run by the CSIRO at AZRI during the 1960s drought indicated that, with the right conditions, buffel grass could be successfully established in limited areas.
    However, it was the burgeoning tourism industry that provided the impetus for widespread establishment of buffel grass in the region. The major airlines TAA and Ansett-ANA wanted to introduce jet airliners to service Alice Springs but this would only proceed if the dust storms could be controlled. It was the need to control dust around the Alice Springs Airport that led to extensive sowing of buffel grass in the area from the late 1960s onwards, as a method to achieve soil conservation.
    The 1970s were a reversal of the climatic conditions that dominated the 1960s. From 1973 onwards there commenced six years of well above average rainfall in the Centre. This happened to coincide with the collapse of the beef cattle market, leading to an enormous build-up of herd numbers in the Centre of largely unsaleable cattle. This led to concerns that the large herd numbers significantly exceeded the natural carrying capacity of the country; it was only the exceptional seasonal conditions that prevented an environmental catastrophe from occurring.
    The establishment of buffel grass on many pastoral leases was systematically undertaken during this period, intended to alleviate the grazing pressure on natural pastures. In combination with the exceptional seasons, it was this program of well-intentioned soil conservation measures that triggered the invasion of buffel grass in the environment, still ongoing in many situations where it was never originally envisaged it would take hold.
    In 1980/81 I was involved with a CSIRO project at AZRI to ascertain the grazing preferences of cattle at varying stocking intensities on mixed buffel/native grass pastures. It was discovered that cattle preferentially graze native grasses first before consuming buffel grass so this means that livestock assist buffel grass in outcompeting native species.
    Buffel grass itself outcompetes most native plant species, that is well documented. In situations where buffel grass is removed (such as I helped to achieve at the Olive Pink Botanic Garden) and there is no grazing pressure, there is an immediate response in the return of native plant species. It’s easy to see the obvious differences of plant species diversity between areas dominated with buffel grass compared to those without buffel. It’s not difficult to measure.
    Buffel grass does help stabilise soil and provides useful feed for livestock but so do native pastures when they are well managed and not abused by persistent overstocking of grazing animals.
    There is no doubt, however, that buffel grass alone is the single greatest environmental threat by far across most of inland Australia, far more so than other officially recognised feral weed species, but in this case there remains a studious avoidance by government to do anything substantial about it.


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