Letter from the Simpson Desert Expedition 2015: back in Birdsville
The fifth missive from journalist Jo Stewart, who is documenting the work of our science team in the Simpson Desert.
Over the past 18 days, I’ve lived, slept, eaten, sweated, laughed and swatted flies with 13 other humans and 17 camels. We’ve explored a remote part of the Simpson Desert by foot on an expedition called Project 138, led by Andrew Harper from Australian Desert Expeditions.
Now that the expedition has come to an end and we’re all ensconced in the warm arms of the iconic bar at the Birdsville Hotel, sinking well-earned tinnies of XXXX, we have a moment to reflect on the expedition.
Out there, thinking about 18 days in the desert was too much to comprehend, so each day we simply put one foot in front of the other (as the camels do) and focused on the task at hand – whether that was weighing a captured marsupial, rolling out a swag or getting to the next point on the map.
But now we’ve returned, we might begin to process the journey as a whole by looking at some numbers.
Collectively, we consumed about 860 litres of water, 50 litres of milk, 17 fruit cakes and 40 litres of port (some had more port than others – but what happens in the desert, stays in the desert).
But it certainly wasn’t all eating and drinking. Over the course of the expedition, the Australian Museum team – Dr Sandy Ingleby, Janet Waterhouse, Dr Anja Divljan and me – dug 90 pitfall traps, walked 300 kilometres and had zero showers (but used hundreds of Wet Wipes in a futile effort to stay fresh in the absence of running water).
We hand-caught, trapped and picked up a range of native and feral animal specimens (anything from a bone to a feather, a piece of skin or a living animal). While picking over the bones of dead animals and digging into sand dunes seems a far cry from laboratory work, this is science in action and an integral part of what the Museum does, and has continued to do for nearly two centuries.
The Australian Museum Research Institute (AMRI) will go on to use, store and share these specimens with the wider scientific and academic community.
With this part of the Simpson Desert scarcely explored by scientists until now, the expedition has revealed a range of key findings, with the devastating impact of feral animal activity in the region being an unfortunate reality too serious to ignore.
But, for now, we’re enjoying warm showers and soft beds before journeying back to Sydney where much of the expedition work will continue (albeit in the much more comfortable surroundings of the Australian Museum).
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.