Linda Behrendorff is known to many FINIA members for her extensive knowledge of K’gari and its wildlife, particularly the wongari (dingo).
Ranger in Charge of Natural Resource Management at the Great Sandy National Park on K’gari (Fraser Island) & Cooloola with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service & Partnerships. Linda shared some of the thrills and surprises of life as a Parks Ranger on K’gari with Zela Bissett at K’gari in May 2021.
Linda: I have recollections of going over there during the school holidays and spending some time as a St John ambulance officer. That would have been the mid-1980s. The funny thing about that is that I don’t remember dingoes: I do remember the horses! People would come in with injuries from the horses, those who had their shoulders bitten or their hands bitten. I would hear stories about how a horse had tried to grab the ice cream or shoved its head in through a car window and nipped them on the shoulder or kicked the car door in! You can still see remnants of the electric fences that people used to have around their properties to keep the horses out and try to stop them from munching their lawns and gardens. All through the eighties, the horses wandered all through Eurong village.
Zela: Have you always loved animals?
Linda: I was the girl who rescued any baby bird that fell from the nest! I came over to do some volunteer work in 1999, which I had to do as part of a Wilderness Reserves and Wildlife diploma that I was studying externally.
Zela: Was it unusual for a girl volunteering to do that?
Linda: Well, no, because I came in as a public contact Ranger and that was seen as suitable work for girls and women. Those seemed to be the women’s roles at the time – they were either admin or public contact. So, after leaving school, I was all packed up to go on a trip to Japan when I got a phone call to say, ” Look, the interp. lady is going away on some holidays, and would you be interested in coming in and doing some casual work with us?”
At Central Station, I had the end room in the forestry barracks, and there was a hole in the ceiling and beautiful island timber flooring. I recall we had a resident pack of dingoes there, a male and female with two young ones. It was a sort of unwritten agreement: you knew that you were in their territory, but we agreed, “If I don’t bother you, you won’t bother me.” The female would come in under the barracks every morning at about 5 am and start howling. I would stick my head out and say, “Go on! It’s too early,” and she would walk off out into the campground and sit down outside someone’s tent and wake them up. There was a family of crows with young ones that were familiar. They are still there.
Another memory I have of those early tours: we were on a bus driven by Graham Stocks, and I picked up this duck that seemed to be ill. It couldn’t move its legs, so I picked that up off the beach and then we continued to Dilli Village, where a carpet snake was pointed out to me. It was obviously unwell, it was just skin and bone, and ants were starting to eat its little face. So, I picked that up too, brushed it off, took it back to Central Station, and kept it with me that night. First, I put the duck in the laundry sink with some water to see if its little legs would work because it seemed to be paralysed. Then I got the snake and put it in some warm water because it didn’t seem able to open its jaws, and the warm water would help rehydrate it.
I showed them to Larry and Neil, who I was working with at the time. I said to them, “When I go off shift, you’ll have to look after these. You just have to make sure that the duck gets a bit of food. As for the snake, you’ve just got to push it gently down under some warm water, so it drinks a bit of moisture.”
When I came back from the mainland next, I brought back some little pinkie mice (deceased) and fed one to the snake. It opened its jaws and ate one. Larry said, “You told me it couldn’t open its mouth. So that means all the time I’ve been looking after it, it could have opened its mouth and bitten me!”
It so happened that my boss at the time brought one of the Regional Directors in to inspect the barracks. Later he said to me, “Linda, while you were away, we inspected the barracks, and there was a snake on the windowsill and a duck on the veranda. Can you explain what’s going on?”
There was wildlife around all the time. Antechinus would get into your couches and cupboards, melomys and bush rats would eat vehicle wiring. Later I lived in a four-bedroom house in Eurong, and green tree snakes would come in during broad daylight through the floor holes. You would get up in the middle of the night and think, “I don’t remember leaving an extension cord there!” and it would be a brown tree snake on the floor. You could wake up in the night with a bush rat crawling on you.
“Monster”, the rescued squirrel glider, earned his name after he ate the huge huntsman residing at Sandy Cape in the cottage bathroom. The glider went missing from my room while I was turtle trekking, and he was found in the bathroom licking his fingers surrounded by the legs of the giant huntsman: the same one I’d ordered the volunteers not to touch or remove! The volunteers said, “Linda, um… we’ve got good news and bad. The glider has been found…with the huntsman you said not to kill…”.
My colleague Jenna and I ‘rescued’ a spotted python from the lock-up at the Police Station next to our office at Eurong. A hardened convicted repeat offender was being held in the air-conditioned lock up with the snake! Two male adult police staff and the offender were just about on chairs when we came in to collect this little cold snake from the corner of the lock-up. So, I think we were actually rescuing the people!
I had a Southern Giant Petrel named Shed for ten days over my shift before going to the Twinnies for rehabilitation. He’d follow me around – they can get attached! Then there’s the satin bowerbird who would completely ignore you until you were on the landline telephone and tug at the chord, along with the ringtail possum, brush-tailed possum etc. We now have a fantastic network of carers who look after injured wildlife on the rare occasion it’s required. So many stories and personalities of the individual animals!
QPWS offers opportunities to move around. I went into Maryborough for a while and managed other teams, did wildlife work, fire management and planning work, but I keep coming back to the island – it does keep bringing you back. So here I am now, and it’s been almost 21 years! I hope that I have become a role model for women to feel they can pursue outdoor careers. You don’t need to wield a big chainsaw to feel like you’re good enough to do the job. Each of us brings a diverse set of skills, and if we all work together, we can make a difference for the island.
Contributed by Zela Bissett, Fraser Island Defenders Organisation