Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries require enduring officers. They may not see the ocean for months on end or they may not set foot in a boat for weeks. Their duties can involve working in 40oC in summer or below zero in winter – yet their presence endures.
West Region Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol (QBFP) district officer, Gary Muhling, and field officer, Loren Horn, are based at Longreach. The remote area is 700km west of Yeppoon on the Capricorn Coast. So why are fisheries officers based in such a remote location?
For generations illegal fishing practices in the States’ central and far west have been taken for granted. It is almost a part of life or tradition for local anglers. Part of the norm of living in the scrub is to head down to the local river for an afternoon of fun and snag a few yellowbelly or barcoo.
However, according to Gary all this is changing and it has to do with communication and education between the QBFP and locals.
Gary Muhling and Loren Horn cover more than 700,000km2 that reach to the Northern Territory, South Australia and the New South Wales borders. Their area is part of the great Lake Eyre Basin and the Bulloo River system. It seems a daunting task for only two men to enforce fishing regulations over such a large area. Nevertheless, the duo believes they have been able to restrict illegal activities to a minimum through communication and education.
Being in touch with the local population, including community organisations and schools, is a major part of the daily role of the officers of the outback.
Gary stated "One of our major duties and one which we thoroughly enjoy is talking to the school students on fishing, fishing regulations and their role in preserving the environment. It’s through the younger generation we hope to get the message to their parents to change their attitude towards illegal fishing practices".
The Longreach officers are prepared with a lot of educational material and a specially-designed mobile education unit. Gary and Loren take the mobile unit to local shows and major events to be on hand to answer any questions relating to fishing regulations and the environment.
Visiting shows are the more pleasant side to this occupation, as the two officers often have to endure harsh conditions monitoring their huge expanse. During the summer, temperatures consistently pass the 40oC mark coupled with building storm and dust clouds.
During these times, Gary and Loren are often found several hundred kilometres from their home base checking on illegal fishing activities. With their four-wheel drive, trailer with tinny on top, the duo traverse some of the roughest country in the State. They can spend between 4-5 days sleeping under the stars checking the entire length of one of the six major rivers.
Gary admits that on the odd occasion the adrenalin can be pumped, especially when a large herd of half-wild cattle become inquisitive and move to the edge of the camp. There have been other incidences when Gary and Loren have placed their camp directly across the line of wild pigs heading for the river. Likewise, not keeping a close eye on their swag has seen them sharing with a startled snake.
"It's one of the reasons why we have such a large camp fire and we pack all foods and scraps away before settling for the night, it tends to keep unwanted visitors away," Gary explains.
In other words, if you become a touch jittery over the howl of dingoes or watching them sneak up to your campsite in the glow of the fire, then this job is not for you.
The worst fear for the officers is becoming bogged or trapped by rising floodwaters. When the signs of a large storm appear it virtually means it's time to head out from the river's edge to higher ground or simply cancel the trip and head home. If the pair became bogged and other vehicles are unable to assist, then they could be stranded in an area for days.
When the big wet arrives, usually in January or February, and the rivers and streams of the Channel Country flood, Gary and Loren take their holidays or stay close to the bitumen.
Policing the State's far west for fishing is relatively a new initiative. Patrols have only been set up in the area in the past decade. But according to Gary, QBFP officers of the outback and the work they undertake have been well accepted by local anglers. He explained usually a person caught illegally fishing in the west would simply put their hands up and admit the infraction without resistance.
"The people in the bush are wonderful and both Loren and I are well accepted in the community. Longreach has a population of 4500 and when we walk down the street most people know us and are friendly. They usually stop us for a chat or to find out what the fish are doing or ask about a rule or two," he said.
Gary and Loren readily admit that one of the most pleasurable and memorable parts of the job is their visits to outback schools. In some of those schools there is a high percentage of Aboriginal children.
"Their attentiveness is incredible because we are talking about their land, and the very things they want to know more about - fishing, the rivers, billabongs and their environment," Gary said.
Gary has lived in Longreach for six years but is often asked if he gets bored living in a small country town."No way! The people out here are great. There's always something to do or something on and with our children and myself into scouts, soccer and cricket it's full on! When I do have a little spare time I help eliminate feral animals with some of the property owners."
Loren and his wife are also well occupied with three young children with their parental duties swapping between junior rugby league and the pony club.Reads: 1228