Going to Sydney three years ago had been an adventure; Brisbane wasn't. After all, I'd been an undergraduate here. But now I was "Dr." Hollister and an employee of the CSIRO.
Long Pocket Labs really overwhelmed me, however. It was far larger than I had imagined – around 60 staff. It was also the site of international activity, with collaborations with Brazil and the American Department of Agriculture. I filled out a mass of paper and asked one of the staff about locations to live. It turned out that there were so many short-term visitors that there were duplicated lists. I took a list and a phone book and sat down at a vacant desk.
I was staying at the old Regatta Hotel. During my three years in Brisbane we'd had many beers there, but I'd never stayed overnight. It was relatively dear, so I wasn't going to stay long. I decided that I wanted to live in the West End, and located several places along Browning Street, not far from Vulture and Boundary. I'd drive there after dark to see just how noisy it was. I decided to stick with the Commonwealth Bank – there was a branch right by the University and I'd had an account there before.
There were two projects going at the Labs. One involved using the alligatorweed flea beetle as a control agent; the other involved cattle ticks. I felt I owed it to my dad and opted for the tick research team, even though all my work had been with insects, not arachnids.
The alligatorweed flea beetle, Agasicles hygrophila, is native to southern Brazil and northern Argentina. It has been successfully employed to control alligatorweed.
The cattle tick is an economically serious external parasite. It is one of the most economically important diseases of cattle in Australia. If left unchecked, cattle tick can significantly reduce cattle live-weight gain and milk production. It is also responsible for transmitting Tick Fever.
The cattle tick, Rhipicephalus microplus, formerly known as Boophilus microplus, affects primarily cattle but can also infest other species. It is responsible for transmitting three blood-borne tick fever organisms, Babesia bovis, B. bigemina and Anaplasma marginale, which cause "tick fever". Tick fever results in sickness and death in cattle.
In Australia, the distribution of the cattle tick is limited by legislated movement controls of cattle and other susceptible species. The tick infected zone comprises the coastal area east of the Great Dividing Range and north of the Great Northern Rail line in Queensland.
My work was actually quite interesting: I was relating tick activity to temperature. After a few months of that I tried to measure the presence of Babesia relating to ambient temperature as well. I also tried to avoid being bitten by the ticks.
There was a Chinese student, Yuanyuan Jiang, in the lab and two interns from the University of Queensland. Jiang was very quiet, but had the longest, shiny black hair I'd ever seen. In the lab she kept it up and under a net, but for meetings and after work she let it flow loosely, below her waist. I'm sure I would have made a fool of myself, but she was returning to Wuhan, which I learned was the most populous city in Western China, with over eight million residents. Wuhan University was just over a century old. Before she left, I gave her a copy of Shattuck's Taxonomic Catalog of Ant Subfamilies. She shyly gave me a copy of Chou Io's A History of Chinese Entomology. I was honored, but I knew I'd never see her again.
At the same time I met a woman at a concert of the Queensland Symphony where she cleverly backed into me at the interval and, turning, doused part of my shirt in white wine. I responded by permitting her to take me for "coffee later." She was quite tall and slender and had short, light-brown ringlets.
Her name was Melissa and she worked for Morrissey Edmiston, a high-fashion label. Melissa had taken a post-graduate diploma in textile and fashion at RMIT in Melbourne. This was her first job; I mentioned this this was mine as well – though I'd spent parts of two years at the Australian Museum. When she asked what I did, I said "entomology," which appeared to startle her. Her dad had been a banker but had invested in a balloon ride company. A few years ago he had fallen victim to a (rare) accident, which left his widow, son and daughter handsomely financed. Melissa didn't sound very upset, but (after two more glasses of wine) she revealed that he had spent a great deal of time interviewing female staff only a few years older than his daughter. I had shifted to coffee, so I steered a tipsy Melissa to her flat, where I declined to spend the night.
I saw Melissa a few more times, I took her to a performance of Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte, which I enjoyed tremendously. I also saw a few other women during my first six months in Brisbane. I had furnished my flat by making the rounds of "antique" shops and attending a few "estate sales." But I purchased new kitchenware, tableware and crockery.
Work was ... well, work. I surveyed the tick literature; I handled ticks carefully; and I handled the noxious chemicals even more cautiously. I visited my parents about once a month and even drove through Dalby to St. George to visit David and Sandra. My father's cattle appeared to be tick-free and there was no trace of phylloxera in Queensland. I was certain there would be, eventually, but locusts were on my Dad's mind, as well as David's. Sandra was pregnant and smug.
I was twice shipped off to Black Mountain, where CSIRO had its Entomology Laboratories, and had a chance to actually meet Steve Shattuck and to see Dr. Challis again. I also met the big man, Kevin, who was responsible for CSIRO Entomology. I wasn't overwhelmed by Canberra or the ACT, but that didn't matter. I went to see the Australian Opera on tour and felt that they really had the right mix of romance and silliness in The Merry Widow. Danilo's motto of "Fall in love often, get engaged seldom, never get married" really hit home. Of course, he does get married at the end.
I was on a two-year "probationary" appointment, so I really exerted some effort. I gave another paper at the Entomological Society and a presentation at an internal (to the CSIRO) seminar on arthropod pests, which got me some nice comments from Syd, who worked on agricultural pests. About the middle of June 1996, I received a memo inviting me to take part in a survey of the wildlife in the Great Victoria Desert, WA. Of course, I said "yes, please."
The two weeks in the Nullarbor in winter was a larger repeat of my week with Logan and Dr. Challis. We flew directly from Adelaide in a large Cessna – twelve seats, I think. We had both an ornithologist and a mammalologist with us as well as a herpetologist, a lepidopterist, and a botanist. Quite an array. I think I learned a lot. We all collected a lot. The plane returned and picked us all up. I think we each spent an hour in the showers at the domestic terminal. We then flew off – to Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane.
I wrote up my "trip report." I also wrote full descriptions of all my arthropoda. I made three copies of each and handed one to my boss and sent one of each to the Australian Museum and to Kevin at Black Mountain.
The last responded with a phone call from a woman called Janice.
"Kevin asked me to call."
"Your two years are up soon."
"At the beginning of the year."
"Kevin was thinking he'd like to see you here."
"Yes. You'd be the junior myrmecologist here at Black Mountain, working under Dr. Shattuck, he found one of your Camponotus specimens interesting."
"Right. I'd like that."
"Fine. This will take a bit. But we do have nearly four months. Well, I'll do the work. Can you keep your mouth shut?"
"Okay. In about a week, you'll get a bread-and-butter note about your report. Then, two weeks after that you'll get a letter from Kevin. You respond to that and after another two weeks you'll get a wad of guff that'll offer you a transfer to Black Mountain. By October you'll be in your terminal weeks in Brisbane. You'll get all of December to pack, relocate and such. I'll schedule you for orientation on Tuesday, 7 January. Is that clear?"
"Fine. And keep mum until you get that letter from Kevin."
"Right. Thanks, Janice. And tell him thanks."
"You'll find out what an ogre I am in January."
By the time of the Melbourne Cup it was all done. There was a small party at the lab. I sold my furniture to a bloke coming for six months from the States and he took over the flat as well, sight unseen. I packed my books and specimens, my clothes and personal stuff into my trusty 4x4 – now eight years old – and drove to Mitchell.