Meet a Top End crew catching feral buffalo in the wilds of Arnhem Land

Meet a Top End crew catching feral buffalo in the wilds of Arnhem Land

Meet a Top End crew catching feral buffalo in the wilds of Arnhem Land

Updated 5 October 2017, 11:20 AEDT

Catching feral buffalo in remote central Arnhem Land is not a job for the faint-hearted.

It involves sending a helicopter up to spot the animals and drive them towards bull catchers, which race up beside a running buffalo and trap the beast with a bionic arm.

That means adrenaline-pumping rides in bull catchers, careening through scrub thick with termite mounds, dodging the long horns of 400kg-plus buffalo, and long, tough days in the sun.

Every dry season for more than 30 years, Jed Fawcett has headed bush from his home in the Northern Territory's Adelaide River to spend months catching feral buffalo with a crew of men and women.

The catching crew become like family — eating meals together, sleeping in swags around the fire, and relying on each other to do their job safely each day.

The Top End is home to around 100,000 feral buffalo that cause huge issues for pastoralists and the environment by wrecking fences, wallowing in waterholes, and eroding riverbanks.

Captured buffalo are mainly sent to live export markets in Malaysia and Vietnam, with a small number slaughtered by the Australian Agricultural Company's abattoir near Darwin.

Jed comes from a family with a long association with wild bull and feral buffalo catching in the Top End.

His father, Tom Fawcett, began catching wild bulls in the 1960s before turning to feral buffalo and was last year awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his services to the livestock transport industry.

Jed's crew is currently subcontracting for the Indigenous-owned Gulin Gulin buffalo company near Bulman, 300 kilometres north east of Katherine.

He said being out bush, camping and working outside — often with his three daughters and their partners working alongside — was much better than working in an office.

"[Buffalo catching] gets me away from my real job running trucks; it's good for your health I reckon," Jed said.

"[I love] the bush life and the people you work with."

Jed said driving the bull catcher took skill and quick reflexes.

"You have to be watching the country [and] which way you are going, make sure you're not running towards a creek, rocks, trees, logs … there is a lot happening at once," he said.

The thrill of chasing buffalo has kept Roley Cronin, from Daly River, in the job for more than 40 years.

He started catching buffalo at just 17 years old, working for Jed's father at Fish River, Elizabeth Downs, and Litchfield Stations.

"It is all excitement," Roley said.

"It is better than any other job, I reckon. You have to be really skilful but it is a really exciting job, it keeps you on your toes.

"You're always camping on creeks or billabongs, but you always have a bit of time for fishing, which I like."

Wayne Runyu is the newest member of the crew and had never caught a buffalo before starting out a few weeks ago.

He lives in the community of Barunga, but the area where the crew has been working is his mother's country and he has family in the nearby communities.

Wayne said he was a bit nervous the first time he got in a bull catcher with Jed.

"It's pretty tough when you're chasing the buffalo through the scrub, hitting anthills, big trees, bumping into holes, but that's the way it is," he said.

"You have to get used to it."

Wayne has the nerve-wracking job of tying a chain or rope around the head of the buffalo so it can be loaded into a truck.

"When they get real cheeky they move their head; you have to try and get the rope around their horns, that is the scariest bit," he said.

Mitch Young left school aged 15 and went working for Tom Fawcett catching buffalo in the Daly region.

After four seasons he left, on Tom's advice, for a job in Darwin where he worked for the next 24 years but this season, he decided to return to buffalo catching and is now driving the pick-up truck.

Mitch said the kinship which developed between the crew made the day's work much more enjoyable.

"We can put each other down. Someone nearly gets killed but you can have a good laugh if he still survives," he said.

"We have our bad days but when we go back to camp, there are no hostilities; it is just enjoyable."