Oratunga Cactus Cull – October 2020 – Report 1

By Cecilia L

For many years large teams of volunteers have been working on Gum Creek, Alpana and Oratunga stations eliminating cacti. Even if the very last cactus on each of those stations was eliminated they would still be surrounded by properties carrying cacti.  (A quote from Ralph Abbot’s cactus cull report -2019).

Oratunga sheep station lies on the traditional lands of the Adnyamathanha people.  Since June 2011, a group of largely Overland 4WD Club members spend a week treating wheel cactus in the station on the Glass Gorge Road, west of Blinman.

This year, the Oratunga Cactus Cull has been a logistically difficult one to organise due to the presence of COVID 19 in our lives. Ralph Abbot, our leader extraordinaire, had to change his plans several  times to comply with rules, and at the last minute his crew at Oratunga had to shrink to 10… (although the maximum allowed changed AGAIN, and we had 4 more ‘old hands’ join us at the last minute).

So, on Saturday 29th 0f August, Alan and I drove up from Adelaide, arriving mid-afternoon to set up our camper, and join the others – Trevor and Barbara B and Ralph A, for drinks on the homestead  verandah.  Gini, who is the owner, usually lives part of her life in Melbourne lecturing at the university. She had, of course, ended up in South Australia, unable to return Melbourne, and has been able to live here on her property for the last 6 months.  As we had come to Oratunga last year, we had already met Gini (and Skye, her greyhound) so it was lovely to catch up with her again.

As most of the others were due late Sunday, we were lucky enough to have time during the day for a drive to Second Springs with Ralph, Trevor and Barbara. We visited Gum Creek to collect live cochineal to be used to kill cactus.

We were taken to see 3 stone markers, created by Geographer-at-Large Eames Demetrios, from USA, who had contact with Gini some years ago. Later, Gini led us to a spring where there were many tadpoles, and we were able to hear frog calls. It was wonderful to see this oasis, as there is so little water around, and Gini was more than a little excited!

In the evening we gathered with the others for a briefing on the work for Monday, and learned that our group would be tackling the hills directly behind the property.

On Monday, we collected our poison, drill and spray cans ready for the day’s work, and made sure we were sun screened, hatted, and suitably attired…. We found out QUICKLY that this was NOT going to be an easy walk. We had to scramble over shale and rocks, while acting like mountain goats!!!

When looking for cacti, the team (of 5 in our case), spreads out 50 meters apart, and a member calls for assistance once a cactus is spotted.  It is exciting when you spot your first cactus (ask Maria D and Michele C!!!), but when you think about it, the less cacti you find, the better the result of the past years’ eradication efforts! So….we are happy to say – on Monday – we found only ONE! It was a heavy day’s work, and I MAY  have suggested to Alan that we wait till nightfall, and quietly pack up and leave. The process for our team was

  • Find the cactus
  • Use drill to bore holes down through the pad
  • Use poison injector to fill the hole
  • Mark the cactus with pink spray paint so next year’s crew will know it’s been treated.

That night, THANK GOD, Gini had prepared soup and apple crumble for our dinner, for which we were very grateful.  Ralph assured us that the next day would be less arduous, so after quick drinks in the common room, we retired for the night.

Nights at Oratunga are beautiful –clear skies, and a perfect canopy of stars, and as it turned out an amazing full moon experience, and once the generator shut down absolute silence.

Tuesday was a much cooler start, and our team, as promised, had a much flatter area off Glass Gorge Road to sweep. Unfortunately, the group of Bike Riders had a more difficult task.  (Bruce C will report on this group using cochineal). We once again, only came across one cactus.

Wednesday ended up a rest day, so we went for a drive led by Trevor and Barbara. We had a trip through Moolooloo Station, stopping at the Artimore ruins for a photo experience (we had to – HAVE YOU EVER TRAVELLED WITH MARIA???), and we found a rusted out truck in a creek bed among other interesting things.

Some of the wildlife we spotted were lizards catching a spot of sun, kangaroos in the distance, and a couple of daddy emus leading a multitude of babies out of the way of pesky 4 WDs.

Later we had booked in for dinner at the Blinman Pub which was a pretty decent meal! It was a great time to swap stories of who had spotted the most cacti!

The next  two mornings saw more walking, with some altercations with low lying dead branches on trees, determined to stab us in the eye, and a powerful wind that managed to steal a couple of hats (which we thankfully could retrieve). We are so lucky to be given this opportunity to see this part of the Flinders, as the views from the hill tops were magnificent, and worth the climb. On these days, we ended up finding a few more cacti close to river beds, and Michele with her eagle eye, spotted one up on a ridge – thankfully, she and Jim climbed up to deal with this one. Friday, we knocked off a little earlier, as some of us were leaving early Saturday, and needed pack up time.

Friday night, we headed up to the Blinman Pub again, as it was PIZZA NIGHT, and we had it on good authority (Barbara and Trevor) that their pizzas were delicious. They were right in their evaluation, and everyone had a great feast!

Next morning, most of us packed up and said goodbye to Gini for another year. She was having some more visitors staying in the shearers’ quarters, so had a day of cleaning and preparing. Ralph and Bruce were heading through Peterborough to assess their cactus problems, with which our club is looking to help in coming years.

I know many of the current club members have taken part in the cull in previous years – it’s hard work, but it’s great to see that progress is being made. I encourage anyone who wants to come next year to go for it, as the camaraderie felt with the other volunteers, the invitation to use private 4WD tracks and the scenery are a good payback for the work you do! There was often the chance for many good belly laughs too.

I’d like to thank Ralph A (with one t!) for all the work he puts in, prior to, and during these culls.  He coordinates so much more than the Overland Club’s contribution at Oratunga, working on other properties as well. There are many other members past and present, who have been coming for several years, who have contributed so much. To know that we are helping our beautiful outback in just a little way is a great feeling.