Chapter 1

Professor Adam suggested I expand my "report" for my first presentation. Another milestone passed. I petitioned to have Dr. Challis as an external advisor. Piece of cake. At the outset of my second year at BEES I continued to work at the Museum. I also continued to see Winnie, my "friend with benefits." Actually, there were many benefits: Winnie took me to art shows and the opera and (as she put it) broadened my horizons.

In April 1994 I reused the presentation, turning it into a presentation at the Australian Entomological Society meeting in Brisbane. I got in a visit to my parents on the dosh UNSW gave me for expenses. I was certain that I wanted to write my dissertation about ants, but what was unclear.

I did a great deal of reading, too. About taxonomy, exploration, invertebrates in general, and ants in particularly. Many new books flowed through the office at the Australian Museum. One that caught my eye was a copy of a book by Bolton. In it he wrote: "Camponotus is a very large (currently around 600 described species), complex, taxonomically confused genus, and in great need of revision."

Fascinating.

There are over 100 Camponotus species in Australia, I knew. Though labelled by Gustav Mayr in his book about ants seen on the expedition of the Novara (a sail frigate of the Austro-Hungarian Navy that circumnavigated the globe in 1857-59), real detail was lacking. Camponotus, I learned, have an omnivorous diet and workers are also significant predators of many small invertebrates.

I found we had a nice specimen in room 2. It was labelled "Camponotus pitjantjatarae Macarthur: black, similar to inflatus but with less pilosity, erect setae scattered on front of head, mesosoma, node, gaster, none under head, on scapes nor tibiae. Specimen: major worker. Head sides mostly convex, anterior clypeal margin projecting; node summit blunt."

Really interesting.

The specimen came from Bladensburg. I wondered whether Professor Adam had an interest in the region and did some work on the area.

Bladensburg is a national park in Queensland, located 1152 km northwest of Brisbane, and just south of the town of Winton. The park features grassland plains, river flats, sandstone ranges and flat-topped mesas. The 84,900 hectares of national park were declared in 1984.

Bladensburg was once a station, now a protected area containing mulga lands of high biodiversity. It covers both the Channel Country and Mulga Grass Downs bioregions.

The park contains dinosaur fossils as well as aboriginal story places and ceremonial grounds.

I looked at Barker and Vestjens, The Food of Australian Birds: Non-Passerines [CSIRO, 1989], and found that emus ate ants. The part of Queensland that wasn't desert or urban was emu habitat. More thought. Then I went to Australian Entomological Society 25th Annual Meeting in Adelaide on my own. I took the Indian Pacific via Broken Hill. I met several blokes who were quite nice, especially an older chap working on acarids [mites and ticks] at the CSIRO in Canberra and a Yank named Steve who worked at the Insect Collection at Black Mountain.

When I got back to Sydney, I sat down and wrote a brief note to Prof. Adam with a copy to Dr. Challis. I printed out a draft to show to Winnie before submission. I supposed that was the first step. I needed to have a dissertation proposal approved by them (and my Committee) before progressing.

Winnie made only a few corrections and I submitted my note. The next morning Dr. Challis said: "Nice job. I called your advisor. Write the damn thing up and we'll have the proposal approved."

"How long, sir?"

"More than three and under 20 pages. There's a copy of Mayr downstairs. Put a copy of the appropriate page in. Also Wheeler and Holldobler and Wilson. Bibliography of about two pages, if there is that much. Something general on taxonomy to make the outsiders happy. See Adam on the make-up of the committee."

"Yes, sir. Thank you."

"Oh, and estimate your time in the field: you'll want at least two visits to each of those sites at different seasons."

"Right."

Sounds easy. But it was work – yakka. And the research and then the writing would be yet more work – hard yakka. Life being what it is, I was interrupted.

I was at the Museum and a volunteer asked me to come to the Director's Office, a place I'd never been. When I got there, I found Dr. Challis and – amazingly – Winnie's father. After introductions and greetings, I was handed a sample vial.

"Recognize this?"

"Yes. It's a bruchus. I'm not certain which one. But certainly a coleopteron. And not epilachnon."

"See how simple? Okay, Gordy. Back to my office and see if you can work out exactly right away."

It only took a few minutes, once I had Naumann's Beetles of Australia in my hands. It was Bruchus rufimanus. I went back to the office.

"It's rufimanus, sir."

"Hmmm." He turned to the others. "It's a weevil that infests beans. Where did it come from?"

"A farmer from the Agricultural School in Yanco brought it in."

"Beans, eh?"

"I suppose so."

"It will be difficult. DDT is banned. So is dieldrin. You'll have to recommend parathion. But I'm certain that will be but a stopgap. It's a dangerous chemical."

"Yes. I know.

The control of the weevil Bruchus rufimanus, was formerly a single spraying with DDT at 2 kg. technical compound/ha., or parathion or dieldrin at 400 g. and 467 g. active ingredient/ha., respectively. Spraying should be carried out as soon as the lowest bean flowers begin to wither, preferably when the temperature is above 17°C.

In 1996, a decade after DDT was banned, the APVMA began a review of parathion-methyl as part of the former Existing Chemical Review Program. Parathion-methyl was nominated for review because of concerns over worker health and safety, and the potential for adverse environmental effects. It was banned in 1998.

Bruchus infests broad beans. The broad bean is the same species as the faba bean (Vicia faba minor) and markets are also similar (i.e. mainly Middle East) but they have a wider Australian use, for example they are exported to Southern Europe and also South East Asia where they are roasted for use as snack food.

Everyone shook hands and the Director was most complimentary. My boss winked at me. Winnie's dad asked if he could take me to lunch and I told him I'd wait in the outer office. It was only ten minutes. When we were in the entry hall, he asked me where, and I suggested the same place Logan and I had gone to a year ago.

At lunch I expressed my surprize at seeing him.

"We get people bringing in flowers, leaves and insects all the time. Usually we can respond appropriately quite rapidly. This was different: it came from the Agricultural school and it concerned a foodstuff, not an ornamental. I volunteered to drive here, thinking I might see you and, possibly, Winnie."

"She's not at the Gallery today. But I'm here."

"Obviously. And you've been – uh – dating her for a year."

"Yes." I paused. "Are you going to ask my intentions?"

"Not really. But I'll admit to curiousity."

"Well, you know I'm working towards a doctorate in entomology." He nodded. "I've got an idea as to a research topic. If my proposal is approved, I'll be off somewhere doing fieldwork. Then I'll be back here writing a dissertation. I'll be looking for a first 'real' job, then beginning it. I like Winnie and I think she likes me. But I'm just not ready to even begin thinking about getting married. That's two-three-four years in the future. And Winnie's got several years on her degree. We haven't talked, but I doubt that she's willing to think about matrimony yet either. We've got Jennie as an example."

"Okay. I wasn't trying to be the evil potential in-law."

"You're not. You didn't come on that way." I chased a last bit of salad around my plate.

"Dessert? Coffee?" He looked at his watch.

"No, thanks. I should put in another hour or two at the Museum."

"Fine. I'm going to try to talk to Winnie and then head south. I'll take care of the bill."

"Thank you. Winnie's at a lecture till about 1400. I'd call a few minutes past that."

"Thanks." We shook hands and I walked back. I thought about Logan and Jennie. He'd altered his studies to a Master's and was nearly finished. He had a job offer at the Taronga Zoo's Reptile House and they would be married soon thereafter. As soon as they had enough dosh, she'd go back to her degree. They were tied up. Game-Set-Match. Not me. Not me.

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