(Nana on the Farm. 2013. Young Stumpy-tailed Lizard retrieved from eating the cat food)

9. Off Track: Live Long, Little Lizard: Ann Jones, ABC Radio National, 20221 

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1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
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1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts
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1.5.9

After the ABC’s Natural History Unit was shamefully closed in 2007 there has been precious little for lovers of Nature in this, one of the world’s ‘megadiverse’ countries, and with the globe’s highest number of unique species2.

Inside this sad vacuum there has been little to cheer about, few points of light, but, thankfully, one exception has been the fine ‘Off Track’ radio program which has provided 30 minutes of joy and insight each week in an otherwise bleak landscape of faux anxiety and contorted trivia.

(australiascience.tv. 2001. Mike Bull)

Live long, little lizard [RE-ISSUE] – Off Track – ABC Radio National

Each week we are taken ‘off track’ to all manner of places, environments and species, and the stories are a lovely blend of happy discovery, scientific insight, human interest, and natural wonder. The show is rigorous, but has a light, cheerful touch, and the pleasure of being ‘out in the bush’ shines through every program.

One of the episodes I enjoyed the most was ‘Live Long, Little Lizard’. It presents two stories, beautifully intertwined: that of the taken-for-granted Stumpy-tailed (Shingleback) Lizard, and that of Mike Bull and Dale Burzacott, who have dedicated more than 35 years of their lives to studying them.

I quite regularly see ‘Stumpys’ near my home in the Grampians where they are the most inoffensive of creatures, hiding away in the undergrowth or sunning themselves on a bank. They are very slow and ponderous (and as such, one of their common names is ‘Sleepy Lizard’) and only when cornered will they put in a last-resort ploy of sticking out their blue tongue and hissing. They are more the Labrador of the lizard world than the Jack Russell.

As has so often been the case with Nature we have been oblivious to the long and rich world lived by Stumpys, perhaps being fooled by their modest exterior. Extraordinarily, and thanks to Mike’s and Dale’s tenacity, we now know they may live to 50 years or more, mate for life, ‘court’ each other for eight weeks at a time, show ‘grief’ (as does Mike, most touchingly, when relating stories of the losses of partners and its effect3 within their tight pair bond), and bear live young.

Shortly after the initial recordings, Mike Bull unexpectedly died, and not long after, Dale Burzacott died also. In an instant, the Stumpys had lost their greatest advocates and champions, and this rarest of long-term studies was under threat. Thankfully, people in the academic, herpetological and volunteer world rallied around to keep this essential part of Australia’s, and the world’s, ‘environmental infrastructure (knowledge)’ going, but it is almost a year-by-year proposition.

  

1 Re-issue January 8th, 2022; first broadcast 2017.

2 Morton, S. et.al. (eds). 2014. Biodiversity: Science and Solutions for Australia. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne, Australia.

3 Note: At times, our disregard for other life seems endless. A number of years ago I walked in disbelief around a site burnt for supposed ‘fuel-reduction’ for future ‘bushfire control’ in the Grampians. Every ten yards there was the bleached white skeleton of a Stumpy killed by the fire (they are completely helpless in the face of fire), and in this one small area that I searched there must have been dozens and dozens of them. I was saddened to the pit of my stomach as I stumbled from body to body. To think that such careless destruction could be employed, as it now is, almost as an article of faith; a bizarre ideology about the Australian bush, propped up by ignorant mantras of “it’s good for the bush” and “the bush needs it” and “this is how it was always done”. The destroyer as saviour.

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