Up here at Yourka Reserve we speak our own language. I’m not talking about the usual Queensland slang where 'taking the foot falcon' means going for a walk, a 'barbie' is a favourite way to cook a steak (not a plastic doll) and the end of every sentence finishes with an 'ay' (although we do actually do that).
I am talking about words that we have quite literally made up in order to describe an activity that no other word does. For example:
To siam (v) means to slog, scramble, hack and crawl through thick creekline vegetation, dense lantana thickets and head-high blady grass, over tangled flood debris and across basalt boulder slopes in search of Siam Weed to chop off, dig out, de-seed or, if none of the above is possible, mark with a GPS as a site for follow up herbicide treatment.
Doesn’t siaming sound like fun?
The brave souls who have volunteered to help us with the task of 'siaming' over the years will tell you that definition still only tells half the story. It doesn’t mention the tools of the trade – a cane knife in one hand and a mini mattock in the other – necessary to complete your mission but sometimes challenging to carry, along with your GPS radio, data sheets, safety equipment, water and food.
It also doesn’t mention the long distances walked to find siam in places far from vehicle access. Siaming is definitely not for the faint hearted and, within our volunteer program it's earned quite a reputation. If volunteers have survived siaming then they’re pretty much up to any task we could ask of them.
Siaming occurs during May-July every year, as the weed starts to show its white flowers making its detection amongst the undergrowth much easier.
During this flowering window we need to cover all the major creeklines and tributaries on the reserve as well as some isolated patches we’ve found in historical logging sites on Yourka.
It adds up to hundreds of kilometres on foot as the search is conducted across multiple channels, instream islands, up creekbanks and out to flood height which can be hundreds of metres from the creek itself.
Anyone that has siamed will tell you it's a task best done as a group. For starters you can cover more country in less time, but more importantly you can keep each other’s spirits up and enjoy the camaraderie of tackling a difficult task together.
This year, for the first time in 11 years, we faced the daunting prospect of siaming solo. With travel restrictions in place to prevent the spread of covid-19, it was impossible to recruit a team of volunteers to help with the annual survey and treatment.
This development coincided with a decision we'd already made to take a slightly different approach in 2020. Over the years, we've found the most effective control of Siam Weed is achieved through a combination of fire management and herbicide treatment. While manual removal is the most feasible approach from a logistical point of view, it just doesn’t quite get the same results, especially not in rocky areas where it's almost impossible to dig out the entire root tuber to prevent resprouting.
This year we decided to strap on the spray packs and have a go at widespread herbicide control. With only three of us – Paul, myself and long-term volunteer turned seasonal field officer, Ian, – we had to do a lot of backtracking to make sure we covered the country. Progress was fairly slow and the time pressure quite intense as we noticed plants turning from flowering to seeding. It was strenuous but incredibly satisfying to see dead plants within 1-2 weeks of being sprayed.
This approach was only possible thanks to extensive slashed access installed by Paul during the lead up, as well as some 'alice pack' (army-style) sub frames that made the spray packs much more comfortable to wear.
Funding for establishing and maintaining access tracks, as well as herbicide, equipment and contractors was made available through the Queensland Government Community Sustainability Action grant program, funding round 2 for environmental conservation.
Our other secret weapon was a local volunteer and 'emu-enchanter', Jet Jensen, who drove a backup vehicle and kept us topped up with herbicide and yummy food supplied by Mrs Jensen, back at the shed.
Jet also recorded data (usually my job) that we radioed in from down on the creeklines, freeing me up to operate spray equipment without having to constantly stop. This volunteer support role was critical to both our success and our sanity in the field. Thankfully Jet has already put his hand up for this duty in 2021.
So we weren’t quite siaming solo in 2020 but it certainly was a year with a difference.
Aside from fire and herbicide treatment, we're also keenly watching the release sites of the galling fly bio control.
We're excited to report that we've found galls at all five of our release sites but are yet to see evidence of the flies moving into other areas.
With multiple approaches to control maybe it’s time we review our definition of siaming at Yourka Reserve? Whatever it’s called, we're extremely grateful for the supporter dollars, the grant funds, the volunteer support and the contractors who help us keep a lid on this priority weed in the Upper Herbert Catchment.