Revisiting Lake Constance
The state of Queensland has the greatest diversity of ants in the world, with more than 1,400 species known within its borders. The total number of species known in Australia could possibly be over 6,500, with only one in five ants being described.
"You know," Gordy said, "I envy Alan Anderson!"
"Who?" Weena asked.
"Alan Anderson. He's at CSIRO in Darwin. He researches and writes – those two books on Australian ants, for example."
"And you're head of the Australian Museum."
"When I moved to Sydney in 1982, all I wanted to do was research."
"Well, you did research. Then you became a director and then a professor and now we're here."
"All true. But I've been thinking about Canberra."
"Brooding more likely!"
"Sit dow, let me get us each a glass of wine, and let's talk."
"And don't get snarky with me after all these years!"
We sat and drank a glass or two. For close to 30 years Weena had been able to get me to relax. "OK," she said. "What's the real problem?"
"I don't know exactly. It seems to me that five years is long enough to be at the Museum. But I'm fairly certain that I don't want to be an administrator in Canberra. And it seems to me that I was happy doing research – all sorts of research. Being a junior detective. As I was at Lake Throssell. Or at Monkey Mia. That sort of thing."
"Could you get leave from the Museum?"
"Well, you've had staff go on expeditions. Could you go on one? Would you qualify for a grant? Where would you want to go? What would you want to do? You know that 30 years ago you had ideas. Did your doctoral research in the field. If you want to do something, get off your duff!"
"Don't get worked up!"
"Why not? You're just whining. You want to do research. OK. Do research. Think of a project. Think of how long you'd need. List the possible funders. Then, let's work on it."
"OK. But first I'm going to email Chas."
"And let him know I'm out of the running. You answer the phone in ten minutes."
Weena laughed. The phone rang in half ten minutes. She answered and explained to Chas what Gordy really wanted to do. In fact, she explained twice. Chas seemed incapable of understanding that Gordy wanted to give up power to go back to "grubbing" in the field.
"Told dja," Gordy said when she finally got off.
"You did. And you wuz right." They both laughed.
Patrick wasn't prepared for a call from his father – generally calls went the other way: initiated by Patrick. "What's up?"
"I thought I'd try to chew through something with you."
"Over the phone or should I meet you?"
"This is fine. Briefly, I'm not applying for the job at Black Mountain and I've told Chas not to put my name forward."
"That's not all."
"Far from it."
"You're not running away to join a circus?"
"No," Gordy laughed. "I've left that to your sister."
"Ooh! A low blow."
"Not really. Anyway, I think I really want to return to research. Or at least some field work."
"Can't you just do it? You've told me how you went on a field trip with the Museum when you were a student."
"True. But he was head of entomology, not the ball of wax."
"The Museum must still provide for things. Who's in charge of research? They must work for you."
"The Research Institute was created about 18 months ago. Rebecca Johnson is Director. She's an expert in wildlife genomics."
"So there you are. Call Dr. Johnson and ask her whether you could do some work for the Institute. I'm certain that you qualify for leave after four years behind a desk. Actually, the PR folks at the Museum will love it."
"You're a smart lad. Your parents did a fine job."
"Don't push it! They had help from a kangaroo!"
"Anyway, do you recall what a precis or a summary looks like? Do one a page long or a bit more and email it to Dr. Johnson. No more that 3-4 references. When she gets back to you, be ready with time and cost. Have your admin find out about leave in the meantime."
"You're right. Thanks. Any notion what you're going to do?"
"Yes. But I'm not telling a government spy."
"OK. I'm going to construct a proposal, now."
Gordy sat at his desk, reading an article by A.J. McArthur on "New Species of Camponotus" from Australia. Archie McArthur was from the South Australian Museum in Adelaide. Gordy's thesis had been on Camponotus in Queensland [see "Thesis"]. Had anything changed? Would trips to Bladensburg and the Diamantina be worthwhile? Were Lake Constance and Little Lake Constance dry? He realized that a two- or three-week trip would be worthwhile. He began to type.
While there has been extensive work recently concerning the identification of ant species [see McArthur & Shattuck 2001; Andersen 2007], there has been no recent survey of range nor of change in distribution.
Nearly 30 years ago, I surveyed the distribution of Camponotus spp. in arid Queensland [Hollister thesis UNSW]. I propose to reexamine the locations previously visited and evaluate the changes in distribution and range.
That actually looked OK as a "mission statement." All that was necessary was to inflate it to several pages and locate the reference to that piece by McArthur published in Vienna. Then time frame and budget and, voila a proposal.
It turned out to be unnecessary. There was a "Director's Fund." My admin pointed it out to me. There was over $100,000 per year that could be disbursed at my discretion. It was where my travel funds to etymological and museum functions had been coming from and whence funds for my staff's travel stemmed. And though Weena and I had taken a few days or a week here and there, I had a lot of "vacation" un used.
"Could you spare me for a few weeks?" I asked.
"With pleasure. Just designate someone to sign things if and when."
"Do you have a preference?"
"Nadine. In Education."
"Could you ask her to stop by?"
"No problem, master."
We saw The Pearl Fishers at the opera over the weekend. It was quite beautiful, the famous duet in Act I was gorgeous, but I was unmoved.
"What's wrong?" Weena asked as we walked to the car.
"Well, it was lovely, but actually it's quite depressing. And the view of the idyllic natives bear so little resemblance to reality."
"You don't think Carmen or Barber of Seville reflect Spain, do you?"
"No. But the smugglers and the brutality in the one and the high-handedness of both the nobility and a legal guardian in the other most likely do. But Mascagni, Leoncavallo and Puccini certainly tried to bring reality a bit closer. This was closer to the beautiful, innocent natives in the balmy south seas."
"There is the storm. And the prayers to fend off evil."
"True. But it's quite inferior to Carmen."
"And 15 years earlier."
"True. But that's not it."
"I know. You're ill-at-ease in general. Do you know where you want to go?"
"Yes. I'm pretty sure. The Diamantina. When we get home, I'll tell you and you can give me a critique."
Weena made coffee while I spread a map on the dining table.
"You know, I visited the Park twice when I was doing my dissertation. Well, I thought I'd revisit one of the areas, spend about a week on-site and then come home to spend a week or two going through my collection. Then we'll have to see."
"How will you get there?"
"I'll have to drive. It's over 2000 klicks each way. Three or four days."
"A week to get there and back and a week there?"
"Perhaps a few days more. Here, this would be the route. Dubbo to Bourke to Charleville to Quilpie to Windorah to Bedourie. I'll go to the Park from Bedourie."
"I recall Charleville and Quilpie from twenty years ago. But why don't you just fly to Birdsville and rent a Land-Rover there? Didn't you tell me that you'd done that when you were a student and worked at the Museum?" [see "Field Work"]
"You're right! And you're smarter than I am!"
"Right. But I'm glad you remembered. I'm sure I can get someone to fly me there. And it'll be faster and cheaper."
"Six or eight fewer nights in hotels or rest houses and fewer meals in restaurants. And it must be under three hours to Bedourie. From there to Lake Constance will be rough, but I've done that before."
"When you were half your age."
"Less than half." We both laughed.