Saturday, 22 September 2007


ONE of the great things about CVA is the characters you get to meet. None more varied and fascinating are the CVA staff, a passionate bunch who have such wonderful idiosyncracies I could write many blog entries on them alone. Alas, I shall tell you all about screamy lady when I return, but for now I would like to tell you about Steve.

Steve is the man who met us upon arrival at the CVA house. It was he who gave us our safety talk, all about heat stroke, dehydration, hypothermia and all of the wildlife that likes to eat you. He told us about box jellyfish, about how the best remedies for these are (in order): vinegar, Coca-Cola or urine; he instructed us to stomp as we walk to scare off snakes, for they are just as scared of us as we are of them and will slither away if we make many vibrations on the ground; he told us how to deal with ticks and leeches; told us that the worst spiders don't live in this part of Australia; ordered us to never turn our backs on a cassowary and instructed us to never ever zigzag when chased by a crocodile. He began all of this with "We haven't had any snake bites. For a while."

The great thing about Steve is that he's a really interesting bloke who has quite a remarkable curriculum vitae, but he delivers his achievements in such a straight way that everything he says seems hilariously unreal. This is a man who spent years working with indigenous Aboriginal tribes in Arnhem land near Darwin; who had rivalling tribes arguing about who would get to host him; who is fluent in an Aboriginal language spoken by only 30 people in the world. He has studied ethno-botany (the traditional use of plants in medecine) and is an enthusiastic paleontologist. Indeed, he has discovered his very own dinosaur, a mosoasaur - an icthyosaur often labelled the 'Tyrannosaurus rex of the sea". He found this skeleton at Darwin, which has a tide that rises and falls by 8 metres, exposing the sea bed at the lowest tide. It is here the skeleton was found, giving his team only a four hour window to excavate every low tide.

It was he who also told us of the extinct megafauna of Australia, of which some I had already heard. He told of giant flat-faced kangaroos (jokily labelled maneaters), hooved crocodiles, giant wombats and carnivorous giant geese, 9-metre long snakes and marsupial lions. Dave at Cloudland Refuge also mentioned the marsupial lion, referring to a complete skeleton found along the Nullabor Plain.

Steve's advice regarding crocodiles was particularly interesting. Having himself found a saltwater crocodile (the one that has a taste for human) 14km from water and having seen them while on holiday on a house boat at Darwin, surrounded by millions of geese and fishing for barramundi over the side, he has seen his fair share. Obviously we should steer clear of the water's edge in infested areas, but if chased we should run in a straight line fast for over 100 metres, whereupon the beast will run out of energy or willpower. However, these 6 metre, one tonne creatures are not be underestimated.

On Monday we begin working in a swamp in crocodile-infested territory.


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