Fieldwork is never what you might expect or plan for. On my first day with Lesley Head in Daly River Northern Territory to discuss management of Mimosa pigra as part of our research project on ‘The Social Life of Invasive Plants’ our main informant became seriously ill. In north Australian Aboriginal communities death comes often and in small and remote communities its effects are far reaching.
By all accounts Joye Maddison was a driving force in the Daly River. As the local Landcare coordinator/facilitator she had a hand in everything from spraying weeds to raising insects as bio-control agents. In 2010 Joye was nominated in the National Landcare awards for “her ongoing contribution to the Landcare network and commitment to working with communities to manage the Northern Territory’s natural resources”. Some of the work we had come to see was her work with local Aboriginal women on a project to establish bio-control agents in the heart of Mimosa infestations.
We didn’t meet Joye, but ranger coordinator Rob Lindsay picked up our phone call, and against expectations spent the morning with us, filling us in about weed work in the Daly and Joye’s contribution. Rob also took the time to show us around some of the more accessible parts of Malak Malak country that he and the Aboriginal ranger group have been working on. At the first stop, and after we had disturbed the first buffalo, we saw three weeds of national significance in the one frame; Mimosa, Hymenachne and Salvinia making up most of the vegetation in sight. These are immensely difficult weeds to deal with by all accounts. In the case of Mimosa for example, seed viability extends to decades. At the very least, eradication targets will require consistent long term commitment.
In the face of such overwhelming adversity we asked Rob if he wasn’t discouraged by all this weedy proliferation and the prospect of never ending weed work. He told us that one of the things he had learnt from Joye was to ‘do things one bit at a time, to make a start and then you get a win and you can see some progress’.
Through Rob’s eyes we saw openings in the Mimosa, once a dense impenetrable thicket, now an open clearing – still ripe with emerging Mimosa seedlings, but for Rob full of possibility. ‘We’ve had a win here, now we can see an opening we can treat these as they come up’. Rob’s crew will inevitably miss some but they will treat those when they come back for a second go in a month’s time.
I am sorry to have missed Joye and the chance to have heard her perspectives and experience first hand. Joye died while we were in Daly River. We were privileged to have seen some of the possibility she has helped create.