In the far north coast of Western Australia, a herd of cattle at a Catholic mission is protecting Australia from virus and bacteria from overseas. Source: ABC News.
Kalumburu is one of the most remote Aboriginal communities in the country — a 12-hour hour drive from the nearest town.
It is the most northern community in WA and geographically close to Asia, making it the perfect location for sentinel cattle, used to detect risks to humans, plants or other animals.
The small herd is owned by the local Catholic mission, an institution that has been present in the community for almost a century.
It is cared for by Kalumburu Catholic mission employee Michael Keane, who has been living and working in the region for more than 30 years.
“I come out here almost every day to give them some feed and to check the fences,” he said.
The cattle were used locally for food until the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources began testing them for disease and now the herd is used to detect disease that might travel from overseas.
“It’s a good first point of contact, the frontline to any potentially diseases that might literally blow in from across the waters,” Cassandra Wittwer said.
Ms Wittwer, a veterinary officer with the Department of Agriculture’s northern quarantine strategy, travels to Kalumburu twice a year to take blood samples from the cattle.
“We would like to go more often but it’s a logistical nightmare to get there and it’s cut off during the wet season,” she explained.
Blood testing occurs on approximately 30 younger cattle — the younger they are, the less likely they are to be exposed to any viruses or disease.
“They are going to give us the best picture of any strains that might be circulating,” Ms Wittwer said.
Ms Wittwer attributes much of the success of the program to Mr Keane's dedication.
Originally from Melbourne, Mr Keane grew comfortable in the remote community after his first visit.
“I’ve got a lot of memories from out here, it’s recalling them that’s the problem,” he laughed.