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Scientific trek into Nor'-west
. Apart from still scratching my spinifex-studded feet until they bled, shaking my shoes every morning for centipedes, gaping at the vegetables and fruit in green- grocers' shops, and a tendency to grab across the table at all the food in sight, I might never have been away.
MUSEUM PARTY at work by lamplight at Tambrey homestead examin- ing specimens. From left: Mr. Ken Buller, Miss Kaye Vollprecht, Mr. Tony Watson, Mr. Harry Butler, Dr. W. D. L. Ride, Mr. Athol Douglas.
WATERULY POOL at Millstream, a 640,000-acre station in the Hamer- sley Ranges, W.A., where the expedition made its first camp and collected thousands of specimens-from snakes, birds, and fish to tiny insects.
LEFT: Hills like this one on
the road to Roebourne change color as you approach them - first they are mauve, then pur- ple, finally rich variations of red.
- By-« JOAN JACOBY,
BUT I had-for three
wonderful weeks with the Western Australian Museum Expedition to the Hamersley Ranges.
It was one of the biggest and most fruitful expeditions ever undertaken by an Australian
There were eight men and two women in the party:
. Dr. W .D. L. Ride, Director of the W.A. Museum, at 32 the youngest museum director in Australia. Born in England, Dr. Ride is the son of a Vic- torian Rhodes Scholar and was educated at Scotch Col-
lege, Melbourne, and Hong- kong and Oxford Universities.
His high military boots served him faithfully in the British Army (Gordon High- landers) in China, through tropical jungles, over English
moors and Yorkshire moun- tains, but turned up their toes when -faced with the Hamers- ley Ranges.
. Dr. Gerlof Mees, the new Curator, formal, typically Continental, pitched from the flat countryside of his native Holland and European civili- sation into the primitive, rug- ged north-west after only three
weeks in Australia.
. John Mitchell, Curator of Reptiles at the Museum of South Australia, and a keen spear-fisherman.
. Peter McMillan, research entomologist at the W.A. Museum, one-time sheep-and wheat farmer, who studied for his science degree when he was demobilised from the R.A.A.F. after World War II. Peter, who is now doing research for a master's degree, was the ex- pedition cook.
. Athol Douglas, museum ex- perimental officer, who col
lected all kinds of specimens, but whose main interest was mammals, especially bats (one of which bit him).
. Ken Buller, taxidermist, who broke his own record when he skinned and stuffed
34 birds in one day, who 17 years ago made a three-year collecting trip along the Can- ning Stock Route with 14 men
and 34 camels.
. Miss Kaye Vollprecht, 20, Museum zoologist, who learnt to skin birds and kangaroos, to salt kangaroo hides; who meas- ured a live 12ft. lOin. python with a piece of string while
two men tried to stretch it
straight along the floor; and who is now working for a master's degree.
. Harry Butler, Education De- partment naturalist attached to the Museum in an honorary capacity, vice-President of the Naturalists' Club, Organising
Officer for the W.A. Gould
League, who runs the annual
wild-life show in Perth and
the summer camp schools for
north-west children at Point Peron.
. Tony Watson, research stu- dent in the University Zoology Department, an honors grad- uate, who leaves this month to study for a Ph.D. at Cam- bridge University on a Hac- kett Studentship. . And me.
It was a successful ex- pedition.
In three weeks its members ; collected more than 10,000 in-
sects, more than 500 reptiles i
(52 species), more than 300 ll birds (75 species), several hun- dred fish (about eight species)
and about 50 specimens of mammals (13 species).
The collection ranged from a 12ft. lOin. python and 7ft kangaroos to insects so small they were barely visible to the naked eye.
In addition, we brought back hundreds of varieties of plant life, including dozens of wildflowers, which were blos- soming everywhere - Sturt peas, beautiful wild hibiscus, cassias, amaranthus, grevillea and many others.
The weight we lost through
long, rugged sorties over * rough spinifex, gibber coun- try, and rocky hills was made up on our return air-trip to
Perth by aboriginal stone tools ' and implements we picked up in dozens, and pretty lumps of rock we brought home as
John Mitchell and Harry Butler, the reptile boys, also
found a previously unknown I group of aboriginal rock carv- I ings on the walls of the gorge
at Black Hill, near Mt. Her- 1
"In Western Australia there
are two major areas of ani- mal life," Dr. Ride told me.
"They are the south-west south of the Murchison, just above Geraldton, where the animal life is very' different from anywhere else in Aus- tralia-and the Kimberleys.
"Dividing them is the desert area of the Canning Basin.
"We wanted information on animals south of the Canning Basin, between the north-east- ern desert and the south-west.
ABOVE: John Mitchell watcha for reptiles to run out oj burn
ing spinifex. In right back- j ground are caves where exped''
lion found small black bat»- j
ABOVE: Scene in the Mount Her- bert area, thouing some of the district's many lovely wildflowers.
j "In the Hamersley Range
region, you might expect a mixture of south-west and
\ "Instead we found Kimber-
ley animals mixed with desert ' animals. Some of the vege
itation is also Kimberley, sud I ai the cadjiputs and palms.
"This surprising resul seems to indicate that th desert areas were not alway jtkere, but came later, curtin lie Kimberleys into two."
U The expedition started whf jwe all met at Coolawanya I» sheep station more th! »U00 miles north of Perth 1 |iad, 909 by air.
j I Athol Douglas, Gerlof Me
»nd Peter McMillan wi north from Perth by La Rover, with camping gear i bedding. The rest of us 1 ?wed ll days later by pla I From the aircraft the ' td land, boldly patter with lime-colored spinifex, creeks, minute trees, and ( Pins, looked like some
«Stic piece of aboriginal }4one by a giant hand,
"nly moving thing was a ^shadow plane following (»cross the plain.
I Over the Hamersley R fte peaks were violent »uh Mt. Bruce, the h Mountain in Western talia (4024ft.), croi
*ith humped back abov<
Far below on the s »»teau appeared a hu<
vehicles beside a red landing strip.
A few minutes later we were
smoothly down, and Roy Par- sons, joint owner of Coola- wanyah with Sir Edward Lefroy, was there to meet us.
In the three weeks that fol- lowed we saw no newspapers, needed no money, rarely knew the date or even the day, and time simply became day and
In those three wee'ks I dis- covered that scientists in the field work very hard indeed. Their day begins shortly after sunrise and ends at midnight
The pace started when we left Coolawanyah in the Land Rover for our first camp at Millstream, a 640,000 - acre station 60 miles towards Roe- bourne.
On the way we saw a "por- cupine" (to be correct, echidna or spiny anteater) slowly crossing the road like a little mobile spinifex bush, and stopped to pick it up.
As we neared the home stead, Athol Douglas told u: to watch for a surprise. Ever with his warning, I was no prepared for what I saw.
My first impression was tha we were in the Florida ever glades. The road entered ; thick forest of white-trunkei radjiputs and went under
water with little fish swimming
around the Land Rover's wheels.
At the homestead we were
welcomed by Stuart Gordon (who owns the station with his brother and mother), his wife, Pixie, and their three small children, Roger, Jenny, and Ian Richard ("Benjie").
Awaiting us were the collect- ing gear and provisions which
had been sent ahead.
We stayed ten days at Mill-
Although each scientist had his particular interest, they
worked as a team.
Dr. Ride and Athol Douglas were looking mainly for mammals; Dr. Mees and Kaye for fish; John Mitchell and Harry Butler for reptiles; Peter McMillan and Tony
Watson for insects.
Ken Buller's work was col-
lecting, skinning, and stuffing
At night, when they'd fin- ished recording and preparing their own specimens, the others helped, under Ken's guidance, with the skinning and stuffing.
By day, looking for his own specimens, each also gathered anything that might be of use
to one of the others.
Harry, John, and I, hunting for reptiles, keeping our eyes open for a kangaroo for meat, brought back alive four black
Continued on page 18
RIGHT: Fishing at Tambrey pool. From left, Dr. Gerlof Mees, Kaye Vollprecht, and Joan Jacoby.
|P> ilion in butterfly net
From page 17
bats we found in a cave for Athol; a thick-bodied, 8in. centipede I found under a rock for Peter; a tiny, rare marsupial mouse for Dr. Ride.
Peter McMillan, with noth- ing more than a butterfly net, brought home a live 10ft. 4in. python for Harry and John.
Gerlof, Kaye, and I, fish- ing in the deep, round, per- manent pools at Black Hill and Big Hill, and in the long pools of the otherwise dry Fortescue and George Rivers, caught dragonflies and picked up dragonfly larvae from the mud for Tony.
I got into the habit of turn- ing over every flat rock I saw, every piece of tin near the homestead, and found little frogs and plenty of centipedes.
We set fire to spinifex at all hours of the day and night, and watched for reptiles run- ning out of the burning
In knocking down anthills there was always an element of surprise, like a lucky-dip.
The men used long crow- bars, picks, and shovels. I had a 3ft. piece of rusty iron pipe.
It was hard work. The ant- hills, of hard red clay, were up to 5 or 6ft. in diameter, up to 8 or 9ft. high.
Inside we found a strange array of "squatters" - small pythons (up to 2ft. long) and other small snakes, beetles, spiders, centipedes, and a variety of lizards.
Some of the snakes and lizards were new to the W.A. Museum collections.
Many of the specimens col- lected by the expedition were rare-such as Carter's Spini- fex Bird, last collected for the Museum in 1909.
Another prize was the rare Ghost Bat, beautiful in flight, and so silent that miners don't know one has passed them in an underground shaft unless they see it.
Flying, the Ghost Bat looks white-pure, unrelieved white. Close up, you see that its body is covered with soft silver-grey fur on the back, white under- neath, that its "wings" are
I joined one expedition to Round Hill to look for a Ghost Bat Dr. Ride and Athol had seen the day before, flying like a big, beautiful, white bird.
Kaye Vollprecht, Harry Butler, John Mitchell, and I were told to hold the big net across the mouth of the cave, while Athol Douglas crawled in and fired pistol shots into the darkness to frighten the
bat. Dr. Ride stood outside with his gun.
A bat flew out of the dark-
ness. I pounced on it with the
net and both hands. It wasn't
the prized Ghost, but a free tailed bat, smaller, and black, which the expedition took home alive.
At Millstream Kaye Voll- precht and I shared a bedroom inside the homestead, with electric light, a dressing-table, washstand, comer wardrobe, and well-filled bookshelves, which we never had time to
Dr. Ride, Athol Douglas, Ken Buller, and John Mitchell slept on camp-stretchers in the spinifex cool-house (also used as the skinning-room and
PYTHONS caught by the Western Australian Museum Expedition and taken bath alive to Perth by jeep - a five-day journey. Harry Butler (left) is holding the Wt lOin. one he caught and John Mitchell the 10ft. 4in. one caught by Peter MeMillm.
laboratory), and Dr. Gerlof Mees, Peter McMillan, Harry Butler, and Tony Watson in rooms in another building.
Kaye and I used the house bathroom with a white bath and a kerosene heater.
The men used the spinifex bath-house built over the run- ning stream about 50 yards
from the house.
They had to sit in the water with little fish swimming about them, keeping a tight hold on the soap so it wouldn't drift away downstream.
One of the scientists was
not pleased when he found a kangaroo's head anchored in the "'bath" one day.
"This is a bit beyond a joke," he said, marching into
Harry Butler said indig- nantly: "It wasn't meant to be a joke. I put it there for the fish to pick clean. Any- way, it's all right-I'll put it
Our meals consisted mainiy of kangaroo stew or tinned meat, tinned vegetables, tinned fruit, and tinned butter, with tinned milk in our tea.
Peter McMillan, our cook, shared the huge kitchen range (with two ovens, each big enough to roast a whole lamb) with Pixie Gordon, who kindly made our bread.
The kitchen, like all nor'- west station kitchens, was built apart from the house for cool- ness. In summer the tempera- ture, with the big range going, rises to about 130 degrees.
With no telephone and a fortnightly mail service (the letter-box 10 miles from the front door on the main road), the only means of communi- cation is the pedal wireless.
While we were at Mill- stream visitors included the Rev. Tom Blackwell, travel- ling padre from Port Hedland, and Mr. and Mrs. Ron Fraser.
Mr. Fraser is a regional Vermin Control Officer of the Department of Agriculture.
He was covering, with his four doggers, a vast and lonely area embracing Nulla- gine, Marble Bar, Port Hed- land, Roebourne, Wittenoom, and part of the Onslow district
(194,765 square-miles) setting traps and baits for dingoes.
He spends nine or ten months every year in this area, and his wife joins him in win-
Mrs. Fraser already had travelled about 4000 miles with her husband, and by the time she goes south will have
done about 7000.
Picnic at pool
Mr. Blackwell planned to hold a service at 11 a.m. on Sunday, but the Kanjianji Gordons phoned, on the pri- vate line linking the two home- steads, to say they couldn't arrive in time, so it was post- poned until evening.
Kanjianji homestead is part of Millstream, 17 miles away, and is thc home of Stuart
Gordon's brother Doug, his wife, Mildred, and their three small children, Susan, Don- ald, and Colin.
When they arrived we all went for a picnic at Crossing Pool, on the Fortescue River.
The Gordons provided a big bucket of steaks, a basin of box butter, and two bottles of goats' milk for the tea. Pixie
and Mildred had made bread
rolls and several kinds of jam
After lunch the scientists who never wasted a moment, went collecting; the Frasers and I went fishing.
We caught a number of big cat-fish with poison spines on their fins, but good to eat.
Or so 1 was told. My own beautiful four-pounder was
wrested from me.
"It's a specimen," said
It was useless arguing with nine scientists, so the fish went into formalin instead of the frying-pan.
The next Sunday we left Millstream for our next camp at Tambrey, the station ad- joining Cqplawanyah.
Tambrey was like the Gar-
den of Eden.
We even had a serpent (a 12 ft. lOin. python Harry Butler caught, which lived with us in the house in a hessian sugar-bag), and "for-
bidden fruit" - a case ol apples we could not touch because the fruit was bail for mammal traps.
At Tambrey, we shared the deserted homestead (the house is no longer used, because the station now belongs to Coola, wanyah) with a Chinese ghost.
The Chinaman, said Topsy, our native woman help, had been murdered years before ia the spinifex meat-bouse out to the kitchen.
The homestead was a long, adobe house built of red ant- hill clay mixed with spinifex
and wool. Its walls were Hin.
thick, and it had lovely arched doors and windows.
We ate our meals sitting on the floor, on the side veranda, with a table made of an old door laid across some gun shell containers the scientists used for specimens.
Our tablecloth was my white plastic ground-sheet, de- corated with a jam-tin of Sturt Peas from the masses growing in the dry creek-bed a lew yards fr m the house.
MacDuff, the four-year-old son of Topsy, called the flowers "doola widdingbid ding."
With us, MacDuff was for- mal, saying "hullo" and
"good, thank you."
With his mother (he caM her "Bibby") he chatted m their own language, and sang little songs he made up as M went along, "about kangan* and things," Topsy said.
At Tambrey we had m days' continuous rain
The scientists worked » 7 usual, but our food supp** suffered. The stores we Mj>
ordered couldn't be dd«**
We were .out of butter^ most out of coffee. A **j or two eating thick fhces\»
damper spread with j"" ^
kangaroo stew and ' .
about two inches round *
When our time was up Jj all hated leaving, not y
Tambrey, which we grown to love, but the
FOOTNOTE: Final *J
tifie results of the exp«"v
won't be known for «n0D,^A, years. As soon as the ?
Museum staff has maue^
preliminary sorting, ^ K ( specimens will he ^ . specialists all over the
to be identified and cia»