Australian Pastoral Scenes

Spring is, to me, a time of idillic pastoral scenes played out in real life. One of the many fun things about rural Australia is the abundance of kangaroos where you would expect deer or domestic ungulates. Sometimes, driving around in Australia, I notice a scene that reminds me of an Alvan Fisher painting of rural nineteenth century America, except with kangaroos.

Of course, Australia is full of domestic ungulates, in addition to the roos.

More Mammals

I thought I'd put up some more pictures of non-native mammals instead of finally getting to the dragons themselves. I think about dragons all day. Why not spend a little time with something much bigger, smellier, dirtier, and more generally offputting?  Not to mention more dangerous.

My first day in the field last year, we arrived at Henbury Station and, as part of our orientation, we got a lecture on safety. As we always do. I was expecting the usual: heat, water, snakes, getting lost, heat. Instead, the first thing I was told: "watch out for camels."  What? Camels? They're big, ugly and have a reputation for spitting on you (that guy totally deserved it), but aren't they also supposed to be man's friend, carrying our water through the desert? 

A herd of feral Australian camels. Mulga Park Station, Northern Territory, 2012. Photo by Angus Kennedy.

Apparently not. Camels can be pretty dangerous (here's one trying, with adorable results) and have quite the reputation in central Australia. In the spring, the time of year when we were in the field, male camels gather together a group of female camels. They guard their harem not only from other camels, but also from other large, intrusive creatures like humans. A male camel is a huge, powerful animal and getting stomped on by one would not be a pleasant experience.

The male camel is the really big one to the left. Mulga Park Station, Northern Territory, 2012. Photo by Angus Kennedy.

I only encountered a herd of camels once while I was on foot. They were quite impressive. Perspective can be misleading. Looking at those animals while standing on the ground I realized they were a lot bigger, and I a lot smaller, than I thought when watching them from the safety (and elevation) of the Landcruiser. Also, they must only use smaller females for camels rides, because that male was HUGE. Or maybe feral camels in Australia are like feral cats. Fortunately these camels weren't too interested in me. Not that I gave them much of a chance. I headed away from the flat ground and vegetation into the rocky hills. I don't think camels like hills.

IT'S LOOKING RIGHT AT YOU. Tempe Downs Aboriginal Land, Northern Territory, 2012. 

Camels are also a massive nuisance to cattle ranchers. They compete with the cattle for scarce resources and harass the cattle during the breeding season. Though they're worth money, they're apparently very difficult to muster. One eight-year-old daughter of a station owner matter-of-factly explained "it's the dumbest thing my dad ever decided to do." So most ranchers choose to have camels on their lands end up like this: 

One of my field sites turned out to be a creepy camel graveyard. We counted seven skeletons. Note the bullet hole at the back of the skull. Mulga Park Station, Northern Territory, 2012. Photo by Angus Kennedy.

Both brumbies and feral camels are pretty rare on our field trips. We didn't encounter any in 2011 and only a handful in 2012. Ironically, I have only one single lonesome picture of the most commonly seen mammal on our trips. Probably because we don't think to take pictures of commonplace things, even when they are photogenic. Here is that poor, lonely picture:

Cattle, the most abundant outback mammal. Mulga Park Station, Northern Territory, 2012. Photo by Angus Kennedy.

I do have a few pretty good pictures from Angus of our second most commonly sighted mammal, courtesy of a sunrise drive through a large herd:

Sheep! Yardea Station, South Australia, 2012. Photo by Angus Kennedy

Sunrise through the sheep. Yardea Station, South Australia, 2012. Photo by Angus Kennedy.


I don't have much of a soft spot in my heart for introduced species. Particularly in Australia, they're destructive and have been a factor in more than a few extinctions. Nonetheless, I have to admit that sometimes they are damn pretty. We've only come across Brumbies, as Australians call their introduced horses, twice during fieldwork. That's not nearly as often as we come across other introduced species such as foxes, cats and dingoes. When we do see some, I just have to stop and stare. Boy are they beautiful!

Photographing Uluru

Uluru is one of Australia's most famous landmarks, and as a consequence it is also one of Australia's most photographed landmarks. I see pictures of Uluru all the time on postcards, calendars, and chatchkas-for-tourists no matter where in Australia I happen to be. I didn't think it was possible to take a new, unique or interesting picture of Uluru. Then I saw Angus's pictures of the place. I thought I'd put a small selection of them up, because they're just so good, and so different.

*Click to enlarge the photos in a lightbox.* 

Angus also took some pretty amazing photos of Kata-Tjuta, Uluru's under-appreciated step-sister. Although I didn't get to participate in most of these adventures, I did get to do the short Walpa Gorge Walk when I went to pick up Mitch and Gus after getting our tyre fixed.

I may have to print some of these out and frame them. 

Volunteers, when left to their own devices

Addendum: Since the photo captions (where the photo credits usually go) aren't showing up unless you click on the picture, I thought I would add here that all these pictures were taken by Angus Kennedy. Most were also edited by Angus, but the three without Angus's ASK watermark were kindly guest-edited by Rebecca Sullivan.

One of my fieldsites was pretty close to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which is a spectacular and very famous Australian tourist destination. My two volunteers, Mitch and Angus, had never seen Uluru before so we decided to take a day off and go check it out.

"Pretty close" is, of course, a relative term. My fieldsite closest to Uluru was probably about 80 km away as the crow flies, but there aren't many roads around there so the driving distance ended up being over 250 km. That's pretty close if you consider that the closest pub was 100 km away and the closest grocery store over 400 km away.

It was worth the trek, not only to see a world-famous landmark, but also because our trailer needed repairs. And just to drive home the point, once at Uluru we got a flat tyre that then also needed to be repaired. So I spent the day being a Responsible Adult, hanging out at the mechanic's shop waiting. But first I dropped Angus and Mitch at the base of Uluru so they could spend the day checking it out. They spent the day doing cool, interesting stuff. This is what I found later, when I was looking through Angus's pictures:

*Click the images to enlarge them in a lightbox and see the captions.*