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Letter from the Simpson Desert Expedition 2015: a camel's pace

By: Jo Stewart, Category: Science, Date: 07 Aug 2015

The second missive from journalist Jo Stewart, who is documenting the work of our science team in the Simpson Desert.

Simpson Desert Expedition 2015: horizon

Simpson Desert Expedition 2015: horizon
Photographer: Jo Stewart © Australian Museum

Tired of rushing through your day? Feeling burnt out by the pace of life? After six days of travelling with the Australian Museum team, I believe that a walk through the Simpson Desert with a herd of camels is a cure-all for most maladies.

Camel-trekking is slow travel at its slowest. The pace is steady as we can only walk as fast as our camel caravans can.

The camels have less impact in these fragile environments than other forms of transport, and they dictate the pace of our work in other ways too.

Each morning and afternoon, hours are spent loading and unloading the camels, setting up swags, collecting firewood and cooking over a fire.

If we were travelling by air or 4WD, we would miss all the details you need to observe in order to make a scientific expedition successful.

Walking the desert with Andrew Harper from Australian Desert Expeditions allows us to see the finer details. On foot, a botanist can collect plants; a zoologist can read animal tracks; an anthropologist can identify native wells; and a writer can stumble around getting blisters.

While slow, this type of journey pays other dividends as we pause to admire wriggles in a sand dune, a happy flock of tweeting zebra finch and severe landscapes studded with spinifex and bare trees.

Each day reveals new data. Feral cat skulls, large rabbit warrens and the bones and hoofs of brumbies indicate that feral animals are indeed living in the Simpson Desert, preying on or competing with our native species for food or destroying their habitat.

With this part of the desert being largely unexplored by scientists, there is much work to do here for the Museum team. But even though we’re taking the slow road, we have little time to rest. The nightly tradition of a small cup of port after dinner is a treat we all look forward to after a long day in the field.

We haven’t showered since we left Birdsville six days ago, and while we might be on the nose, we rest well, knowing we are collecting specimens for current and future researchers, as well as Museum visitors, to learn from and admire.

 

Follow the journey with regular postings here on the Museum’s blog page, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook channels using the #AMexpedition hashtag.

The Australian Museum Simpson Desert Expedition is funded by a grant from the Australian Museum Foundation.