The GoGo Goanna Man

Host: Aneka Collison & Hugh James
Written by Hugh James – Ranger, GoGo Station.

To an East coast boy the Kimberley has such an association with all things wild and untamed, from the long and isolated roads to the rough and rugged gorges hiding adventure and discovery. It was my fourth year at the University of Newcastle, my honours year. A year in which you find a small project and work ya guts out trying to do field work for a period and then spend the rest of the time to write it up into a 100 page thesis. Ideally you would take on a project locally based so you don’t waste precious time on travel, a safe bet so you minimise risks of failure, and something you know a little something about. On the last point I had done some work on El Questro station doing pre-cane toad studies and fell in love the place, little did I know that would stretch from Kununurra to Broome. A safe bet? Nuh, taking on a project which no one prior has succeeded in and has no idea of, about as safe as riding shotgun in a bull catcher with Graeme Ford driving. Locally based . . . well I suppose I now live on GoGo station, Fitzroy Crossing, and call the Cage Bar my local, but at the time it was about as far from Nelson Bay, NSW as possible.

I packed my old Hilux up, whacked my postie bike on the back and in seven days of driving I was at my research site. Fitzroy Crossing. Only problem was that I didn’t know anyone. Not a soul. I didn’t have any connections, any leads as to where I could stay, where I could find goannas and what was going to be involved with living up here. Possibly I should have tried to contact someone before I left home. I camped up at the Old Crossing for about a week whilst I tried to network. Where do you go to go to get information about a new place? The information centre! After discussing my predicament with Belinda she suggested that I contact Rick and Stacey out at GoGo station. I saw the sign on the drive in, I knew where that was. Explaining to a station manager that I wanted to live on their station, dig up the biggest mob of goanna burrows which could be anywhere from 1-4m deep 1-6m wide and that I could be out there by myself for up to four months, was a surprisingly easy sell. They in turn, asked me “why?”.

“To find out how goannas nest, as no one has found their nest before, so why not?!” They sent me out to Margaret Bore, 5km to the East of Muludja Community on the Margaret River. The first nest I found was only 15m from the bore, cheers Rick.

Rick seemed like an imposing bloke, and he said Margaret Bore was where I could camp. So within 10m of the busted windmill I set up camp, unwilling to push my luck and camp under the shady trees that lined the river bank. After many visits from the bore runner, a couple of sneaky gold cans and helping to pull the bore and replace the subby, I got invited to come to the station for a beer after the boys knocked off. They suggested that it would probably be fine to move camp 50m to under a big old ghost gum. Best day of my life, no longer did I have rude awakenings when the genny (generator) kicked into gear, or the risk of a fan blade falling from the mill. I still used the windmill as my main source of communication. Many a call was made from the top of this vantage point, calls to mum and dad, calls to volunteers about to journey up, and to the GoGo ringers to organise a night at the Cage . . . Rockin’ the Bridge etc . . .

Whilst at camp one day I saw/smelt smoke, thinking that possibly camping in a lovely shady grassy area might not have been a good idea, I quickly cut back a fire break using a whiper snipper which would stop nothing more than the coolest of burns and decided I should cut my loses and just pack up and flee. During this time I ran into the Gooniyandi Rangers, the bastards trying to burn me out! They didn’t know I was there and I didn’t know they existed, lucky for me some of the old people at Muludja had said there was some goanna man living down there and they went to see if I was there. After a quick yarn and chat about what I was up to they pulled the fire up and left my camp to be. Crisis averted. That situation wouldn’t have happened at home.

The research ended well, I found the world’s deepest animal nest. “How deep?” is the question I always get, how deep do you think a goanna can nest? Well after four months of digging, cave-ins, and using buckets and ropes to excavate over a 100 nests I found a clutch of eggs at 360cm deep. There was a reason why no one had found them before. Average nest depth was 220cm, and they nested in helical spiral structures, just like a corkscrew which works its way into the earth. The burrows are back filled and the young are expected to dig themselves back out when it comes times to hatch. Any ideas as to why they a spiral? We haven’t found the answer yet, so let me know if you have any ideas!

B1.1 copyDigging deep, at 3.6m deep goanna nests are not the easiest thing to find.

B1.2 copyHome sweet home, base camp under a shady Ghost gum on the Margaret River.

B1.3 copyThe goanna man with Rusco Smith of Muludja Community, that was the first goanna I ever ate, and definitely wasn’t the last. Rusco took extra care in preparing it for me and we didn’t end up eating it until 1am. I was gifted the base of the tail and at that point I knew I was studying the right species.