Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS - with John An­der­sen john. an­der­sen@ news. com. au

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.


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.

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