Water truck driver Daryl Bell was bitten on the hand by a crocodile burnt in a cane fire early this month ... Andrew Mazgay has had a crocodile lunge at him while working near his farm dam.
LOCAL FARMERS SAY HELICOPTER PILOTS REPORT SEEING LARGE ( 4M) CROCODILES AND NESTS IN THE QUAID DAM HARVESTING CONTRACTOR BRUCE CRAVEN’S WATER TRUCK DRIVER DARYL BELL WAS BITTEN ON THE HAND BY A CROCODILE BURNT IN A CANE FIRE
EACH year thousands of people from Townsville travel to the Atherton Tableland to swim in its safe waters. Well, they were safe until about two years ago when farmers started seeing quite large crocodiles in irrigation channels and farm dams. Their sudden appearance was a mystery.
Estuarine ( saltwater) crocodiles are not native to this geographic area.
They do not belong here, but suddenly here they were, threatening to invade the upper Mitchell River water system above the Gamboola Falls west of Chillagoe on Wrotham Park Station.
The crocs are on the loose and there is no shortage of water for them to spread their wings, so to speak.
No one is saying for sure how they got here. It could have been escapees from a Mareeba croc farm during a cyclone in which fencing was damaged.
And some could have been caught by locals on fishing trips to the Gulf of Carpentaria, brought home as pets, and turned loose in the wild when they started eyeing off the family dog and cat. Farmers talk of seeing hatchlings.
If this is so it can only mean there are crocodiles of breeding age, at least 17 years or more, out there. Apart from the rivers, creeks and lakes there is a 365km network of main and subsidiary irrigation channels fed from Lake Tinaroo on the Atherton Tableland.
These channels and their subsidiary creeks feed into the Barron River, Tinaroo Dam and many other water courses.
It sounds far- fetched, but some locals are asking what is stopping them eventually finding their way into the North Johnstone River, Lake Barrine and Lake Eacham.
Consider all farm dams as being likely habitats.
It’s a lay down misere they are already in the Mareeba Wetland, Granite Creek and the Quaid Dam at the top of the Mitchell River. Local farmers say helicopter pilots report seeing large ( 4m) crocodiles and nests in the Quaid Dam. Tableland tourism chief Michael Trout doesn’t want any pussyfooting around. His view is that estuarine crocodiles are not native to the Tableland and should be shot.
Farmers who irrigate from irrigation channels and creeks like Two Mile Creek feel like they are taking their life in their hands every time they check foot valves.
It is a dry year on the Tableland and out on the waterhungry cane farms this is a task that is undertaken every day by farmers wanting to ensure their foot valves are not blocked and that the water is flowing through the pumps.
They know that by making these regular visits to the pump that they are establishing a pattern of behaviour that could draw the attention of crocodiles.
Harvesting contractor Bruce Craven’s water truck driver Daryl Bell was bitten on the hand by a crocodile burnt in a cane fire early this month.
One night this week a harvesting crew encountered another crocodile out on the headland of a cane farm.
Andrew Mazgay, the farmer who owns the farm, has had a crocodile lunge at him while working near his farm dam.
Both Mr Craven and Mr
Mazgay said the low Tableland temperatures were driving the crocodiles into the cane for some warmth.
Mr Mazgay is appreciative that Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection is taking measures to remove what crocodiles can be found.
But he is uncertain of the outcome. The department plans to do aerial spotting surveys.
He also has reservations about the overall effectiveness of the aerial surveys.
“There so much hymenachne and para grass, you can’t see anything,” he said.
“I’m frightened to go into my cane and you can’t go in the water. They have to cut the head off the snake,” he said.
Mr Craven is pleased that the department is acting and is urging farmers and the public in general to report crocodile sightings.
“People have been worried about reporting. They are worried about being fined,” he said.
Mr Craven met with the Townsville Bulletin at the Two Mile Creek bridge on Pickford Rd, a side- road near Biboohra between Mareeba and Mount Molloy.
It was only 60m from here that a 2.3m estuarine crocodile was removed from a farm dam on Wednesday. There is waterhole here near the bridge where local Aboriginal children come to fish and catch yabbies.
It is so overgrown with hymenachne and para it is a wonder anyone ventures near it.
“A sign was put up here at Two Mile Creek about four months ago. It’s the only croc sign on the Tableland,” Mr Craven said.
He said that people on the Tableland were not croc- wise.
They have not been brought up in the sort of crocodile culture that breeds an inherent awareness around water.
“This is a creek, but it also serves as an irrigation channel. Crocs can go just about anywhere. The only way to fix this problem is to make sure every one of them is gone,” he said.
Mareeba Shire Council councillor Lenore Wyatt is thankful for the efforts the Government is making, but believes that the exotic water grasses which camouflage so much habitat makes the animals hard to find.
“There are risks involved for everyone, but it is a huge workplace safety issue for farmers who have to spend so much time around water,” she said.
One of the reasons visitors from Townsville and from all along the northern coast come to the Tableland is because its waters are safe.
Now, the Tableland’s reputation as a croc- free zone is in ruins. But, it is not a case of Paradise Lost.
People like Bruce Craven, Cr Lenore Wyatt and Michael Trout are leaving no stone unturned in ensuring the Tableland’s “safe” reputation is restored.