Baboons on the Bluff?
Baboons may have roamed Redhead had a bizarre proposal been taken seriously back in 1973.
On 15 February of that year, the Newcastle Herald featured a story in which a local environmentalist relayed some rather curious advice received in response to a query on how to control the spread of the noxious bitou bush.
This perennial evergreen shrub, scientific name 'Chrysanthemoides monilifera', is an introduced species. The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage notes that the first record of it in Australia was at Stockton in 1908.
Further plantings took place in the middle of the twentieth century during attempts to rehabilitate mined sand dunes around the state.
This plant with the jagged leaves can grow as high as three metres and thrived in Australian conditions. Soon proving troublesome, it rapidly outgrew intended sites, choking native flora and destroying the habitats of some fauna in the process.
In the year 2000, the Federal Government went as far as to declare it a ‘weed of national significance’. By this time, bitou bush was present along 80% of the state’s coastline, often becoming the dominant species.
In recent decades, agencies have adopted a combination of abatement strategies to try to contain the spread of the plant, including the use of biological agents, fire, and physical removal.
However, one individual was thinking far more laterally in the early seventies. Aware that the plant originated from South Africa, George Baxter of Redhead wrote to the curator of the Capetown Botanical Gardens seeking natural remedies.
Expecting to learn about the existence of a suitable predatory insect, he was shocked instead, when the curator wrote back suggesting the use of baboons as apparently these old world monkeys consider bitou bush a 'delicacy' !
Given the potentially volatile nature of baboons, and not to mention the inherent difficulty in sourcing them locally, this suggestion would never have been plausible in this situation.
Indeed, Mr Baxter responded to it with a mix of incredulity and good humour, quoted saying: "Good Lord! Just imagine having a herd of baboons running around on Redhead Bluff. What would the locals think ?"
Ironically, the curator did also mention in his correspondence that South Africa was facing a similar problem with an introduced plant, an Australian species of tea-tree !
For those who may be interested, a collection of baboons is technically not a ‘herd’. Some sources state that the collective noun is actually a "congress of baboons" although others dispute this, referring to them instead as a "troop".
NSW Environment & Heritage. (2018). Bitou bush threat abatement plan. [online] Available at: http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/bitouTAP/BitoubushAndboneseed.htm [Accessed 27 Aug. 2018].
Environment.gov.au. (2018). [online] Available at: https://environment.gov.au/biodiversity/invasive/weeds/publications/guidelines/wons/pubs/c-monilifera-rotundata.pdf [Accessed 27 Aug. 2018].
1973 The Newcastle Herald and Miners Advocate, 15 February
This work by Lake Macquarie City Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License