Fire can’t keep team down

Daily Mercury - - TALK OF THE NORTH - with John “Ando” An­der­sen­der­[email protected]

IN es­tab­lish­ing their Nat­u­ral Evo­lu­tion Foods, Rob and Krista Watkins have walked the mine­fields of bu­reau­cratic red tape, cyn­i­cism from de­trac­tors and worst of all, the big­gest mon­ster of the lot – self-doubt.

There were times when they asked them­selves what the heck they were do­ing. But, they never thought they’d have to face a bush­fire.

Sum­mer cy­clones are al­ways a threat. They are al­ways on the mind of trop­i­cal coast hor­ti­cul­tur­ists dur­ing sum­mer, but a bush­fire?

You just don’t hear about ba­nana plan­ta­tions be­ing con­sumed by fire. Rob and Krista lost their 5000 la­dyfin­ger trees at Walka­min on the Ather­ton Table­land last week to a bush­fire. These are the trees they rely on for the fruit that makes their highly val­ued flour. The trees they lost were planted in


They might never have thought their trees, which are

90 per cent water, could burn. When the fire hit the plan­ta­tion, the water or sap boiled and the trees ex­ploded.

Rob and Krista over­came the hur­dles and built what is now the amaz­ingly suc­cess­ful Nat­u­ral Evo­lu­tion Foods busi­ness, built ini­tially on green, la­dyfin­ger ba­nanas. It has ex­panded and achieved in­ter­na­tional fame. When I spoke to Krista this week she was philo­soph­i­cal. They are al­ready re­group­ing and re­build­ing. One fire can’t keep a good team down.


DID you read the story this week about Ka­reem Bahlawan, the post-grad­u­ate stu­dent from Le­banon who lived off-grid as a Long Grass stu­dent at James Cook Uni­ver­sity while un­der­tak­ing his stud­ies?

Dar­win has its Long Grass peo­ple, the home­less fringe dwellers who live in the long grass on the edges of the city. Ka­reem was JCU’s own Long Grass per­son.

Ka­reem lived rent-free at JCU, sleep­ing first in a ham­mock and then a swag in the scrub. In the hot sum­mer months he oc­ca­sion­ally bunked down in an air-con­di­tioned lab. How awe­some is this bloke?

He has fin­ished his course work and is now in Dubai fin­ish­ing off a Mas­ter of Science. His days as the Long Grass stu­dent are over. At JCU it was sort of like life on the run. I wanted to know what he ate. How he planned his day. Did he light a fire and cook food? Did he have wire snares set for pos­sums and wal­la­bies? What did he say when peo­ple asked him where he lived? The truth is it all sounds pretty civilised.

He ‘snared’ his food at the lo­cal IGA and did all of his cook­ing on mi­crowaves in stu­dent and staff rooms in uni­ver­sity build­ings. It had to be done by 10pm.

His day started early. “I’d get up at 6am be­cause of the sun. It would be so hot. I’d make break­fast (in the staff or stu­dent room), ex­er­cise and then shower and get ready for class.” And he pre­sented like a clean­cut model. “I had six t-shirts and four pairs of shorts. I didn’t need jack­ets. My clothes were al­ways clean. I washed them in the bath­rooms where I show­ered,” he said.

Why did he do it? Why did he choose to live like Daniel Boone? It was for per­sonal rea­sons. “I just wanted to prove to my­self that I could do it.”

He is Le­banese-Cana­dian and is presently stay­ing with his par­ents, who live in Dubai, while he searches for em­ploy­ment in the science-en­vi­ron­men­tal sec­tor. He broke it to his par­ents on Tues­day that he had been liv­ing rough on cam­pus in Townsville. They didn’t take this rev­e­la­tion well. In fact, from what Ka­reem told me, they took it badly.

They told him they would have sup­ported him to stay in an apart­ment, but as far as Ka­reem was con­cerned that wasn’t what it was about. He just wanted to see if he could do it. And he did.

And now the grand JCU ad­ven­ture is over. The Stu­dent from the Long Grass is in Dubai look­ing for a job.


RAVENSWOOD lar­rikin Woody Pi­gram was hav­ing some tests done at the Townsville Hospi­tal last week. Noth­ing un­usual about that.

Woody, a Viet­nam vet­eran, has a few is­sues that the doc­tors and nurses are help­ing him sort out.

He had most of his right leg re­moved in 2013 due to a blocked artery. He lost a leg, but he’s never lost his sense of hu­mour.

He was in the hospi­tal’s PET scan fa­cil­ity last week when one of the nurses went look­ing for his thongs (note I said “thongs”, not thong). He only needs one, but the nurse wasn’t aware he only had one leg.

She was down on her hands and knees look­ing un­der Woody’s gur­ney for what she thought were two miss­ing thongs. Af­ter a few sec­onds she flung one hand hold­ing a sin­gle thing tri­umphantly in the air and shouted, “I found one, but I can’t see the other one”.

This trig­gered laugh­ter from the PET scan op­er­a­tor who was in on the joke and then Woody chimed in. It wasn’t un­til the nurse looked up and saw that Woody was short of a leg that she re­alised there was no se­cond Chi­nese rid­ing boot. There was laugh­ter all around. Woody, by the way, is a huge fan of ev­ery­one at Townsville Hospi­tal.

Woody is still the caretaker, self-ap­pointed David At­ten­bor­ough and re­la­tion­ship coun­sel­lor at the Ravenswood show ground camp­ing park (all ad­vice is free). Drop in and say “howyagoin­woody­mate­wan­taVB”? Ask him to tell you a joke. You’ll be sorry, but the pain is worth it be­cause no­body in the his­tory of hu­mankind has ever had a worse reper­toire of jokes than Woody. I’m sure he will take that as a com­pli­ment.


IN­DIGE­NOUS-OWNED Morr Pas­toral Com­pany’s Delta Downs Sta­tion north of Karumba runs 45,000 head of cat­tle on more than one mil­lion acres. It’s in the land of big rivers like the Gil­bert and Smith­burne.

The sta­tion’s western bound­ary com­prises creek and river es­tu­ar­ies and the Gulf of Car­pen­taria coast.

This week man­ager Paul Ed­wards, over­seer John Kerr and plant su­per­vi­sor Rowan Bee­z­ley, came to see 753 of the sta­tion’s cat­tle sold at the Char­ters Tow­ers sale. Agent Dar­rol Crouch, along with agents Queens­land Ru­ral, sold the cat­tle to a num­ber of buy­ers in­clud­ing Chris Le Feu­vre from Reid River.

Two hun­dred and fifty-six of the steers grossed $192,202.

Mr Crouch said the cat­tle trav­elled 1000km to the sa­le­yards from Delta where they had a Meet and Greet in the form of a run through the dip and a feed of hay cour­tesy of sa­le­yard con­trac­tor Leanne Philipson.

It’s a great suc­cess story for this re­mote sta­tion.


THAT great in­sti­tu­tion, the Bur­dekin Agri­cul­ture Col­lege, did a fan­tas­tic job train­ing fu­ture cane, beef and hor­ti­cul­tural farm­ers.

It went into de­cline in the mid­dish 90s and by the 2000s was stag­ger­ing along. The State Gov­ern­ment put it out of its mis­ery in 2009. And now the Palaszczuk gov­ern­ment backed by Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Mark Furner has dropped the axe on the Emer­ald and Lon­greach agri­cul­tural col­leges.

The gov­ern­ment claims the col­leges were not meet­ing modern de­mands. This is not what AgForce and other ru­ral lobby groups like Mar­tin Bella’s Green Shirts are say­ing.

The State La­bor gov­ern­ment prob­a­bly sees these col­leges as fer­tile breed­ing grounds for fu­ture LNP vot­ers. La­bor strate­gists take no pris­on­ers. They know they can shut down these farmin­galigned col­leges in the safely held in­land LNP seat of Gre­gory without los­ing a sin­gle vote at the bal­lot box.

The only peo­ple hurt are teenagers want­ing to train for a ca­reer in pri­mary in­dus­tries. They’re the ones left in the lurch.


CHEAP FUEL: This was the price of fuel this week in Mt Gar­net – Gate­way to the Gulf – 466 kilo­me­tres north-west of Townsville. If Gar­net can do it, why can’t ev­ery­one else?


LIV­ING ROUGH: Marine Bi­ol­ogy and En­vi­ron­men­tal Science post-grad­u­ate stu­dent Ka­reem Bahlawan lived un­de­tected in bushes on cam­pus for two years.

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