Hugh Spencer

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - FEATURE -

I MOVED up to Cape Tribulation from the Uni­ver­sity of Wol­lon­gong in 1988 to set up a re­search sta­tion for James Cook Uni­ver­sity.

JCU then walked away from the project so I set up AUSTROP (the Aus­tralian Trop­i­cal Re­search Foun­da­tion) as a not­for-profit foun­da­tion. I’ve been op­er­at­ing it ever since.

The en­vi­ron­ment here is one area I can do some­thing about, make a dif­fer­ence and have a di­rect im­pact. Part of my job is re­search and ed­u­ca­tion as well.

My first me­mory of Dwyght is of him turn­ing up with one of our US in­terns and a ca­noe. He only ar­rived at the be­gin­ning of this year per­ma­nently but it was about four years ago.

He came back be­cause he loved the place - sim­ple as that. He’d lived in Port Dou­glas for the last seven years and he wanted to get out of the ur­ban life­style.

Dwyght is now the “Kens­ing­ton Palace Gar­dener” of the place and gen­eral sta­tion su­per­vi­sor. He es­pe­cially likes su­per­vis­ing the girls.

We’re both bosses of our do­mains. I’m the sta­tion and sci­ence boss, and Dwyght is the grounds boss.

He takes a few too many risks, but then again, we all do here. It’s his per­son­al­ity; he’s a bit of a risk-taker phys­i­cally. Like a lot of men his age, he hasn’t quite fig­ured out there are lim­its to the hu­man body.

He has a great sense of hu­mour - ex­cept in the morn­ings - and is an in­cred­i­bly hard worker, which I like about him.

When they made Dwyght, they threw away the mould. There aren’t any other Dwyghts around. He’s very un­usual in­di­vid­ual, but you’d have to be to be around here.

I ad­mire that he is hon­est and forth­right and very hard work­ing. And he re­ally cares about the en­vi­ron­ment.

One of the most mem­o­rable mo­ments was dis­cov­er­ing that he had fallen off the roof while he was think­ing about his girl­friend (a true ro­man­tic) and try­ing to be­have as nor­mal with a bro­ken rib.

We ar­gue about ev­ery­thing. It’s not nasty ar­gu­ments but we both have very strong per­son­al­i­ties and of­ten have con­flict­ing ideas about how to do things. We ar­gue it out un­til we come up with a res­o­lu­tion, which is what life’s sup­posed to be about. It’s in the pos­i­tive sense, not in a nasty way.

There is prob­a­bly noth­ing that would change or end the part­ner­ship. We’re both so at­tached to the area be­cause we prob­a­bly need psy­chi­atric help. There’s a whole news­pa­per you could write on that one.

But re­ally, it’s to do pri­mar­ily with the beauty of place, im­por­tance of the en­vi­ron­ment. I’m a very hands-on con­ser­va­tion­ist so part of my role here is try­ing to undo the mess ev­ery­one else is mak­ing of the place, which is con­sid­er­able.

Dwyght, even though he’s not bi­ol­o­gist, is a con­ser­va­tion­ist at heart and he has the same feel­ings about it as I do. it’s main­te­nance or when sci­en­tists are there I help out. The sta­tion’s res­i­dent cat and the bats are the bosses.

Hugh is like my sur­ro­gate fa­ther. He’s just fam­ily, it’s just like way we work. I lost my fa­ther a cou­ple of years ago and Hugh has kind of taken up that space. I’m old enough to not have a male fa­ther­fig­ure in my life but I look up to him.

I like that he is one of the most en­vi­ron­men­tally aware peo­ple in the area and he’s very good hu­moured as well. He’s so unique be­cause he walks the walk that he talks, al­though it doesn’t al­ways make him pop­u­lar. I ad­mire his pa­tience.

The only thing that would end the part­ner­ship would be death. I love trav­el­ling and I’ll still go on my jour­neys but I’ll al­ways come back here from now on.

Scar­ing Hugh when he was try­ing to re­pair some electrics was very mem­o­rable. Boy, he got an­gry. On an­other oc­ca­sion, it was very funny to watch him us­ing the chain­saw in his undies.

But I don’t like that he over­fills the wash­ing ma­chine. We ar­gue about ev­ery­thing but we agree on lots of things, es­pe­cially get­ting rid of co­conut in­fes­ta­tions. Why can’t peo­ple open their eyes to the prob­lem of co­conut trees?

Photo by NEIL WEAVERS

A bit batty: Dwyght Wal­ton and Hugh Spencer

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