Written by: Tamara R. Andersen, Razib Ahmed & Kirsten L. Langmaid
From Coodardie Station, the CDU Ecosystem Function: Field Studies in North Australia group went to Katherine’s Low Level Crossing for a talk with the Jawoyn Association Indigenous Rangers, Stevo and Liam. They spoke about the highlights of being a ranger, the opportunities to see all the spectacular remote locations and the difficulties of working in a remote community with a low budget. To supplement their funding, they off-set greenhouse gas emissions through better savanna burning management and sell the credits under the Emissions Reduction Fund. With smiles they both said they are proud to be rangers looking after their country. Particularly Stevo said he felt proud to be protecting ancestral heritage, such as the rock art found across in the savanna.
We eventually arrived at Douglas Daly Research Farm and met station manager Cameron who has been managing the station for about 4 months. We came at a busy time of year with about 40 other people currently residing on the station for work. Later in the evening over dinner, we met a few of the other researchers, farm hands and road crew workers.
Day 5 started off with a more in depth talk from Cameron Heeb and Peter (assistant manager) about the workings of an agricultural research farm; “We are firstly a research station but with smart agriculture practices on the side”
Around the station they have various research projects such as grass growth and cattle breeding trials. According to Cameron ‘Crops and agricultural programs where run predominantly for research but the station also aimed to run at a profit to help improve infrastructure and increase limited funding’
From there, we headed to site 3; Douglas Daly site with deep red soil. A noticeable difference between the study sites around Mataranka and Douglas Daly is the increase in annual rainfall (1150 mm per annum) compared to Mataranka sites we visited. The canopy at site 3 was particularly taller than previously observed and the species composition lent more towards Sand palm and Woolybutt than Bloodwoods.
Figure 1: Site 3, Douglas Daly red soil. Source; K. Langmaid.
After a long, hot, sweaty day we headed back to the research station for a quick shower and to get stuck into data entry. Before the day was out, an excursion to Oolloo crossing on the Daly River occurred. It was interesting to see the river flow that is mostly groundwater that sustains the river. Many land uses in the area such as plantations of African Mahogany and Sandalwood as well as pastoral land rely on this water. But a significant lack of crocodiles were seen sadly(!).
Figure 2: Group photo at Daly River. Source; H. Clarke.
Day 6 started with Professor Hutley giving us some background information on the African mahogany plantations that now add to the land uses across the Daly basin. Competition for water is a hot topic in the region.
Site 4, Douglas Daly limestone soil site was significantly different from all the previous sites. As well as the native species the understory of this savanna had a dense and tall cover of weedy species such as Gamba Grass and Hyptis, and an overall shorter upper tree canopy. In fact many of the students suffered from Hyptis related ailments during the day (including a Hyptis thistle to the eye).
Figure 3: Site 4, Douglas Daly limestone. Source; M. Hauser.
We all pushed through the uncomfortable environment, after all, field work isn’t always pleasant, and we got the job done. We were rewarded for our hard work with a crash course in ‘how to present a paper in half an hour’ then a swim in the beautiful Douglas Daly hot springs. After a swim, everyone headed down to the closest pub for dinner which was followed by an eventful game of pool and the underdogs won. Overall it was a pleasant social evening for staff and students alike.
Figure 4: Next stop, Litchfield National Park which can be seen in the distance! Source; M. Gray and S. Perkins