Oratunga Cactus Cull – October 2020 – Report 2

By Bruce C

I set off on Sunday, as usual, for the drive to Blinman and Oratunga for the annual Cactus Cull trip. This year the Cactus Cull took on a slightly different format and Ralph was presented with a number of extra challenges organising and running the trip. The group was much smaller than usual due to the COVID-19 restrictions but we still managed to be productive and have a good time in the process. The crew was made up of our club members plus Brian, Katie, Maggie and Tim, all of whom turned up on Monday as late inclusions to the group.

The week started on Monday with a group search of a previously unexplored area. We walked about 1.5km directly North of the homestead and back again, over fairly steep terrain, with a good covering of vegetation. Fortunately, or unfortunately for Maria who was on her very first trip and so hoping to find her first cactus, we found very few cacti and the ones we did find were very small. Not finding Cacti in an area seems disappointing while you are walking but it is a good thing for the environment that they are not there.

Tuesday we split in to two groups with myself, Brian, Katie, Maggie and Tim venturing off to check a previously treated area on the Mount Samuel Track. We treated the cacti we found but pleasingly the numbers were quite low. In the previous years we had found large numbers in this area so the hard work is certainly paying off. It was also very pleasing to see some plants in this area infected with cochineal.

Wednesday our group tackled an area that we had treated last year, not far from the homestead on the South side of the Glass Gorge Road. The top of this particular hill had been covered in cacti last year and about a dozen of us spent a whole day treating them. We treated all but about three big gnarly ones that we attached some cochineal to and, to our surprise, the cochineal had flourished. A few small ones had sprouted over the last twelve months but these all had cochineal on them as well. The decision was made to harvest cochineal from this area the following day and spread it further along the Mount Samuel track later in the week. We walked a few kilometres further South to check previously uncharted territory to find almost no cacti, another pleasing result. A long day of walking was tidied up with a meal and a few coldies at the Blinman Hotel that night.

Thursday was spent gathering cochineal from the top of the hill and treating some cacti spotted along the Glass Gorge Road the previous day. As is often the case we discovered new groups of cacti while looking for other things. Some good specimens were discovered close to the road and very suitable as good breeding sites for cochineal. Not having to carry them too far back to the vehicles when harvesting is much more convenient that climbing to the top of a hill.

On the way back along the Glass Gorge Road, we stopped for lunch at a spot known as First Spring; a lovely oasis with natural spring water filling some pools of rock in a dry creek bed. On the way out Katie spotted a very large cactus growing inside a bush of some sort. The cactus was at least 1.8 metres high and we had walked right past it on the way in without any of us seeing it. The bush was covered in thorns, of course, so it took three of us to carefully attach some cochineal infected pads to the cactus.

Friday we recruited Barb to our group as the logistics and transport officer. She drove her vehicle, fully laden with cochineal infected pads, along the Mount Samuel Track, while the rest of us walked the hillside looking for prime candidates to put them on. We found a number of good cacti to place the cochineal onto and spread the cochineal a long way down the Mount Samuel Track. Having a mobile support vehicle greatly enhanced the process and enabled us to cover a lot more territory than would have otherwise been the case, well done Barb. This should go a long way to helping eradicate the cactus from this area along the Mount Samuel Track. After a long day of walking we headed back to the ranch and just made it in time to head to the Pub for “Pizza night”.

Ralph, Trevor, Barb and I all headed out together on Saturday for the trip home. After a couple of detours to Alpana Station and Gum Creek station to drop off the equipment, we headed for Peterborough. Parnaroo Station is a property about 20km to the East of Peterborough. We inspected a paddock on Parnaroo Station that is heavily infested with cacti and Box Thorn bushes. One area in particular has cacti in every direction, as far as the eye can see. The sheer number of cacti on this property is staggering and the prospect of tackling them seems overwhelming at first. However, the encouraging thing about this property is that the land is flat and the cacti are very close together. This makes it an ideal candidate for cochineal and spreading cochineal is far less labour intensive than drilling and poisoning.

The week at Oratunga was physically demanding but enjoyable and, as always, the company was great. Many good stories were shared while walking up and down the hills as well as after dinner at the Shearer’s quarters. Happy Hour each afternoon, while watching the sun setting behind the hills, was also a highlight and a much anticipated part of the day. Well done to Ralph for his good work, under trying and constantly changing conditions.