The Prickly Pear problem

Prickly pear was originally introduced into Queensland as a hedging plant on stations and other properties. Due to the hardiness of the plant, it began to spread over prime agricultural and grazing land and impact on the efficient use of these lands by farmers and graziers.

T H B McGee, a forest ranger with the Forest Branch at Narrabri wrote a report in September 1887 requesting that further action be taken against the spread of prickly pear from Queensland to New South Wales. He states:

prickly letter
QSA, Digital Image ID 23000: Letter to the Colonial Secretary of Queensland, from the Colonial Secretary’s Office Sydney, regarding prickly pear growing along the border of New South Wales and Queensland, 5 May 1888

I have the honor to bring under your notice the fact that Prickly pear is growing in abundance in the Mungindi District in Queensland near to and along the boundaries dividing New South Wales from that Colony . . . Birds carry the seeds and floods wash the leaves and plants down the streams from the infested localities thereby imposing a heavy tax for their destruction upon land holders in New South Wales who would otherwise be free from the pest. As New South Wales has an Act enforcing upon occupants of land the eradication of the Prickly pear and in fairness to the people of New South Wales, Queensland should be in the same position.

The recommendations of McGee’s report prompted the Colonial Secretary’s Office Sydney to send a letter to the Colonial Secretary’s Office Brisbane in May 1888 which invites the Queensland Government to do something about the problem.

A further report submitted in June 1888 from the Under Secretary for Agriculture to the Secretary for Public Lands states that:

Legislative action should be taken that this noxious weed may be exterminated.

Section 156B of the Local Authorities Amendment Act 1910 declared that prickly pear was a noxious weed. Local authorities were charged with certain responsibilities to assist with the eradication of prickly pear within their council areas.

Records in Queensland State Archives’ collection illustrate the issues surrounding the control and elimination of prickly pear in Queensland:

  • A report from Goondiwindi in June 1889 highlights the spread of prickly pear to specific properties in the region and the cost involved with controlling the plant in existing areas of infestation;
  • Suggestions for the eradication and prevention of prickly pear were made in 1899 and included a number of schemes for the clearing of plants on both leases and Crown land;
  • By 1916, poisoning of prickly pear with an arsenic solution had been proposed to prevent its further spread;
  • A report from the Warwick area in 1918 indicates that prickly pear, and other similar plants, were still a significant problem in agricultural and grazing areas.

It was the introduction of the stem-boring cactoblastis larvae in the later 1920s that saw success in this weed’s destruction.

A c1930 map, which illustrates the main prickly pear areas in Queensland and New South Wales, highlights the difficulties still facing farmers and graziers when attempting to eradicate the plant.

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