Continuing the war on weeds in the Dry Tropics

Craig Melville needs a lot of room to move. His seven hectare Alligator Creek property is home to bulls, ponies, ducks, goats, chickens, llama, alpaca, a camel, water buffalo, sheep, calves and dogs, just to name a few.

The lush green pastures on the outskirts of Townsville are the headquarters of North Queensland’s renowned travelling children’s amusement show, Melville’s Farm.

But in 2012, alarm bells began to ring when Craig’s animals were being forced to compete for space with a huge weed infestation. 

NQ Dry Tropics provides tools, knowledge and support to landholders like Craig to help them control weeds and improve native habitat on their properties. When Craig sought the help of NQ Dry Tropics, he said the weeds were out of control.

“You couldn’t walk through it. It was that bad you couldn’t stop it. It was just a no go zone,” he said. “We couldn’t put animals in there so it was just wasted.”

It was no wonder Craig was having trouble controlling the infestation with chemicals alone. NQ Dry Tropics found his property was home to a whole list of invading plants, including two of Queensland’s top two worst declared weeds.

The worst of them was an infestation of Sicklepod (Senna obtusifolia), a class 2 weed under State legislation. Sicklepod is an annual weed that dies off during dry weather, leaving an enormous seed bank. Each plant can produce up to 8,000 seeds, which can remain dormant in the soil for years.

In just five months, the Sicklepod plants had grown to two metres and higher, dominating the entire pasture.

But even more concerning was the poison risk the weed posed to Craig’s animals.

After visiting his property to inspect the area and discuss his concerns, NQ Dry Tropics Field Officers helped Craig write a Property Management Plan specifically for his property. Craig was also awarded a Healthy Habitat grant to the value of $2000 to help get the weeds under control.

NQDT - HH Fence Sign Installed

“The first thing we had to do was let it grow,” Craig said, explaining how this allowed him to slash the weeds before seeding, breaking the seed cycle. “Then we burnt it and just kept right on top of the regrowth to help control it.”

The fire breaks the dormancy of the seeds by forcing the seed coat to crack, stimulating germination.

Craig said he then employed a qualified contractor to chemically treat the seedlings with a chemical designed to allow native grasses to grow, increasing the possibility of excluding future Sicklepod seed emergence.

Craig said the results are amazing. “It’s workable and usable land again. There are only small areas now that we just have to spot check and maintain.

“The Healthy Habitat team were really helpful. They came out to the property two or three times and gave direction.”

NQ Dry Tropics Field Officer Kim Sellars said, “Craig had a ridiculously heavy infestation of Sicklepod on his flood plain paddock that had come down from the neighbouring upper catchment property.

“He has put in a huge amount of effort in getting this down to a level where regrowth can be maintained.”