Govt ignores downside of rains: buffel grass



One of the draw-backs of this year’s excellent rains is that they are providing a boon for buffel grass, declared a weed in South Australia but mostly ignored by the NT Government.

People heading out into the West MacDonnells this weekend will note that most of the 135 kilometres to Ormiston, for example, is thick with the destructive introduced plant on either side of the road.

There is no indication that any eradication is under way although the current phase of vigorous growth is ideal for control.

What’s more, there are some 600 inmates in the Alice Springs prison, at least some of whom could be gainfully employed there, saving our prime asset from ongoing damage.

The Aboriginal owners of the national park, and the NT Government which is responsible for its care and maintenance, clearly couldn’t care less.

We raised these matters first on February 2 – and we’ve had lots more good rain since.

After repeated enquiries the only advice we received from the Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security was a snippet from a report which makes clear the damage being done: “Introduced buffel and couch grasses have invaded and dominate large sections of the river banks to the almost complete exclusion of native understory species.

“These grasses accumulate much larger loads than native species causing more intensive and more frequent fires and substantially greater ecological damage.

“Management of both grasses is critical to minimising loss of river red gums and encouraging return of native species.”

Above: The popular walk to the Ormiston look-out after the 2019 fire (at left) and last weekend: The soot and ash have been washed away but the country is far from having recovered. PHOTOS Kieran Finnane.

That, combined with the scandalous mishandling of the 2019 fires which burnt half of the park, would suggest an all-out effort at the moment.

No sign of it.

According to the only information provided, this is what the department is doing:

• “Prioritise” hazard reduction.

• “Develop a fire and vegetation management plan.” We asked for it, still haven’t received it.

• Restore “identified target sections” (unspecified) of the Todd River.

• “Expand support the existing efforts undertaken by Alice Springs Landcare between Gosse Street and Stott Terrace on the eastern bank and by the Olive Pink Botanic Garden between Stott Terrace and Tuncks Road.”

What about the 2,069 square kilometres of the West Macs?

These are the questions we put to the department on February 2: “This time, after good rains, is the best to fight buffel grass.

“Is the department doing that?  Where in Central Australia? How many hectares (total in Central Australia)? For how long? Number of workers involved?”

No answers.

PHOTO at top: Buffel flanking the Glen Helen Road.

Related reading:

Government fails to protect major tourism asset

West MacDonnell park: Life returns after the firestorm

West MacDonnells blaze: sorrow and questions

Plus google the Alice Springs News site for extensive coverage of the buffel grass invasion over decades.

UPDATE 3.15pm

Alex Nelson writes: Attached is a cover image from an old (circa 1970) Department of Interior promotional brochure for the Stuart Highway – except it’s instantly recognisable as Larapinta Drive just west of Alice Springs!
Seems like governments and bureaucracy always fib to the public in the NT … but what’s interesting is the vegetation on either side of the road, before buffel grass took hold.


  1. How sad it is! Just an observation that our almost entirely buffel free two hectare block is covered by an amazing diversity of grasses and ground covers while across one fenceline lies a vast field of buffel grass.
    Buffel can be beaten and I find my early morning feral weed hunt simply exhilarating.

  2. Not looking forward to this years fire managment.
    The prison has multiple work groups who slash and protect many areas in town, including the river and road verges.

  3. At one stage I had almost eliminated buffel from my block by observing that the wind blown seed from the road was being impeded by the shrubbery, and on gemination was not allowing the native shrubs to regenerate.
    I concentrated on the accumulation under the witchetty bushes and Bingo! It was under control until now. So we start again.
    We have a wonderful emergence of native grasses including some native legumes which the cattlemen would drool over knowing the benefits of leguminous pastures, but never investigated here as a better pastoral species than buffel.
    Just another very short sighted and ill considered move considering what the Stylos and Phaseolus leguminous pastures have done in Queensland.
    We have some very good legumes native to here but never recognised or developed (Glycine and others). Instead of demonstrating what is possible here under pasture improvement we got a drain and houses on what should have been a demonstration of what is “endlessly possible”. In the meantime the Queensland rural press still advertises buffel seed for sale!?

  4. Good on you Bruce and Trevor, quite a few landowners in the farms area have done a great job in tackling buffel, Debbie Page at Snake Gully included.
    Plaudits too to Ken Johnson who has done a wonderful job for many years on the old Botanical Gardens site between Sturt Terrace South and the Todd River.
    Hats off also to Landcare and their volunteers keeping some prized areas buffel free.
    And what a great find that old photo is, Erwin.
    It amazes me how many locals post pictures on social media singing buffel’s praises unwittingly / uncaringly: “How wonderful and green the country looks!”
    At times I think too many of us in The Alice are just transplanted townies from down south with no knowledge of our local environment, disheartening.
    Let’s keep chipping away at the buffel and the Government.

  5. Since returning from bush with sore eyes, runny nose and constant sneezing caused by the buffel grass I was surprised that more people hadn’t commented on this page.
    Many individuals and groups around town are doing their bit to combat buffel in “their spot”. Talking to some parks rangers they are also trying to do their bit but all are worried about the impact on the old gum trees when the buffel dries out and we have more fires.
    Of course more has to be done but, no one has mentioned that CSIRO started the problem in the 70s (if I am correct).
    Why aren’t they trying to find a way to get rid of the problem and if they are, let’s hear about it.

  6. @ Amelia Missen: You are incorrect, CSIRO had nothing to do with the widespread planting of buffel grass in the Centre during the 1970s.
    The only project I know of involving the CSIRO was the pasture species evaluation trial during the drought years of the early 1960s on the site of what later became the Horticulture Block at the Arid Zone Research Institute.
    Several pastoralists began trialling buffel grass in the early 1950s but it was the NT Administration that ramped up widespread systematic planting of buffel grass from the late 1960s onwards, subsequently by the NT Government following transfer of control of government departments with self-government.

  7. Good on you Alex what would we do without your amazing knowledge of Central Australia.
    Do you remember the dust storms around Alice during the early 1970s drought?
    Western Bradshaw area with cattle and no vegetation?

  8. An overlooked, damaging consequence of the buffel grass invasion has been the destruction of bush food habits in and around remote Aboriginal communities.
    Before buffel became the dominant grass in remote Aboriginal communities, there was plentiful bush tucker that kids, in particular, would pick and eat.
    The desert raisin was one fruit that was popular and it contains exceptionally high levels of vitamin C.
    Kids would often pick and eat these delicious berries on the way to school. Nowadays, kids are snacking on packets of chips.
    Many Aboriginal youngsters are not even acquiring an early taste for the healthy foods their ancestors thrived on.
    Elderly community members who could no longer travel outside their communities used to harvest bush tucker and take it home to their extended families. These days they would have to walk for an hour to get out of the buffel zone.
    It’s always hard to tease out the causes of generally abysmal health in remote communities but diet is certainly a factor.
    Clearing buffel from communities and re-establishing a habitat for bush foods would probably be more cost effective than endlessly treating the outcomes of a poor diet.


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