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Tech & Science Tributes flow for 'superb bushman' Peter Pangquee, who was instrumental in protecting Kakadu

02:00  18 february  2020
02:00  18 february  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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a boy feeding a cow: Peter Panquee helped prove feral buffalo could be domesticated for live export. (Supplied: National Archives of Australia)© Provided by ABC NEWS Peter Panquee helped prove feral buffalo could be domesticated for live export. (Supplied: National Archives of Australia)

He was a crocodile hunter, a pioneer of the buffalo export industry and was instrumental in the protection of Kakadu National Park.

Peter Pangquee, who died in Darwin last month at the age of 85, is being remembered as a "superb bushman" and a real-life Crocodile Dundee whose intimate knowledge of vast tracts of land in the Top End contributed to the World Heritage listing of Kakadu National Park.

"He was Crocodile Dundee, he was Buffalo Bill, he was the Australian version of every western hero a kid had ever thought of," former CSIRO worker Peter Brady said.

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Peter Pangquee began working a man's job in the bush from a young age, shooting buffalo before he was forcibly removed under the Aborigines Protection Act at age 11 and taken to the Retta Dixon home in Darwin where he met his future wife Lena.

But later he would return to work in the bush.

Mr Panquee's son and namesake said a highlight of his dad's celebrated career was his contribution to the buffalo export industry.

A young Peter Pangquee was able to prove wild Territory buffalo could be domesticated. He walked 44 head from the Government's Beatrice Hill farm near Adelaide River to Darwin, where they could be shipped to south-east Asia.

"In all of his jobs he was able to do the things that he loved doing, that's working out bush and with wildlife and with proving people wrong when you talk about things like domesticating buffalo — so he was a leader in that field," Mr Pangquee's son Peter said.

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When the strong buffalo-hide trade gave way to a lucrative market in crocodile skins, Mr Pangquee became a crocodile hunter, which was then a legal industry.

"There was nothing he didn't know about crocodiles, he knew how to think like a crocodile sometimes and track them down," his son said.

After the outlawing of crocodile hunting in 1971, Mr Pangquee turned his skills to science.

While he had no formal scientific qualifications, in the 1970s he helped established and later managed the CSIRO's Kapalga Research Station on land that would later become part of Kakadu National Park.

"I didn't think I was qualified for it you know, but anyway I was working for the CSIRO for 17 years," a humble Mr Pangquee told the ABC in 2011.

He worked at the site tagging feral Buffalo, monitoring their impact on the land and documenting native species.

The science created at Kapalga was used to underpin world heritage listing for Kakadu National Park.

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Mr Pangquee was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 1982 for his work at the station and he was immortalised in Kakadu National Park where a billabong was named in his honour.

CSIRO post-retirement fellow Dr Garry Cook described Mr Pangquee as a "superb bushman" who had acquired knowledge of the land that became Kakadu through his work there as a buffalo and crocodile hunter.

"There was just so much that wasn't known scientifically about Northern Australia back then," Dr Cook said.

"Peter's intimate knowledge of the landscape and ecology of the area really helped set up what became hundreds of scientific papers published on ecosystem functioning and the management of landscapes up in the north.

"He knew the wildlife and how the countryside worked. He knew where every permanent waterhole was across hundreds of square kilometres and how the animals were using those waterholes."

By all accounts, Mr Pangquee excelled at keeping the scientists at the station alive, successfully managing dozens of research teams from across the country and around the world.

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"It was pretty wild back then. It was very remote country and when the work started there were still thousands of buffalo around and they don't really like people wandering around their country," Dr Cook said.

Mick Gill, who worked with Mr Pangquee at the station and became a lifelong friend, said Peter was gifted in his ability to navigate the terrain.

Together with co-worker Nigel Gellar, the three established an intricate network of roads across more than 670 square kilometres of wetlands.

That was not a small feat given the sweeping flood plains that could dramatically change the shape of the land in Kakadu during a heavy wet season.

"He was a very good bushman. We could go into an area where he had never been before, drive around all day and he'd come right back out on the same track we went in on," Mr Gill said.

"It got a bit hairy at times, but Peter never used to worry, steady the ship sort of thing. When you're dealing with feral animals, large feral animals, it can get dangerous at times."

Dagoman traditional owner and former chairman of the Northern Land Council Joe Morrison said the research by the station Mr Pangquee helped establish was still being used by Top End landowners today.

"A lot of this work now benefits black and white landowners with blended fire management knowledge across all of northern Australia," Mr Morrison said.

"The Northern Territory has lost an enormous contributor."

Mr Pangquee is survived by his wife and their seven children.

His funeral is being held in Darwin on Tuesday.

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