PANIC-buying and a looming threat flying in from New South Wales took on a starkly different, but still concerning, form in Ballarat at Christmastime 10 years ago.
City of Ballarat and its surrounding farmlands were on high alert for the creature known to devour crops, embed in and destroy car radiators, and create havoc on roads. An invasion creating some fear on the streets.
"They're here" boomed The Courier frontpage headline on December 6, 2010. Locusts were see hopping down Doveton, Peel, Mair, Eastwood and Sturt streets in the city's centre. In the suburbs, there were reported locust sightings in Alfredton, Mount Helen, Ballarat East, Mount Pleasant, Delacombe, Wendouree, Ballarat North and Black Hill.
One Ballarat shopper pondered why there were so many in town: "maybe they are lost?"
While Ballarat was spared the worst of the swarming, authorities were also quick to reassure there was no immediate danger. Cars were equipped with fly-wire guards to protect their radiators and all Ballarat could really do was wait.
But the bulk of the locust issue seemed to be a little further afield in the wider Ballarat region.
Ballarat's professional runners were forced to confront a thick locust presence blanketing Princes Park for the Maryborough Gift on New Year's Day. Locusts had arrived just in time for Christmas and, while creating headaches for organisers, eased a little for Maryborough's 160th highland celebrations.
This reporter did note in The Courier "during the first race on the program, a novice 70-metre heat, the mini menace set off timing devices...Luckily, Victorian Athletic League officials were prepared with an enormous entourage of visual judges armed with stop watches".
Nearby in the Wimmera, conditions were among the worst in the state. Localised locust groups had started to gather across the region in April and embedded themselves for the winter to emerge in spring among locusts flying in from New South Wales, and even Queensland.
Outgoing Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke, whose property is north of Horsham, recalled to The Courier this month the consequent human and animal behaviour changes.
I distinctly remember people driving around trying to steal squeegees from service stations to wash their cars.David Jochinke
"I distinctly remember people driving around trying to steal squeegees from service stations to wash their cars," Mr Jochinke said.
"People had fly-wire over their radiators and, especially on the major bitumen roads, there were two silver lines in each lane. Locusts didn't mind the heat of the bitumen and this was were the cars run.
"There were lots of guts on the road. Cats were playing catch-and-release with them, birds had easy eating and the smell on the road was cooking guts, especially when we had the truck windows down on a hot day."
Wimmera Mail-Times then-editor Rod Case described sitting inside with his house sounding like it was being sprayed with bullets.
"Thump, thump, thump, thump," Mr Case said. "I don't get that - if you are presented with a paddock full of green grass, why would you choose to slam yourself into a house or fly headlong into a car doing 100 kilometres an hour?"
It was not a new phenomenon. Mr Jochinke remembered locust plagues when he was younger but nothing on this scale.
Crop damage on his property was not bad. He had targeted two spots where the locusts had been laying eggs and did what he could to prevent young locusts from swarming.
Other properties fared worse in what was seemingly just hit or miss.
"You'd see a lot of eggs on the ground or in numerous holes or cracks. That was a concern," Mr Jochinke said. "We got a plastic container full of them and put them on the dash in the ute and you could see how vigorously they would hatch...about an hour later locusts emerged."
There have been higher than normal locust sightings in western and north-western Victoria this season. Agriculture Victoria has confirmed there is no plague predicted but conditions are ripe for locusts to breed.
Like a decade ago, La Nina weather with plenty of spring rainfall and green feed is what locusts prefer.
Victorian Plague Locust Commissioner Kayla Finlay said locusts needed a lot more weather in their favour to become a major issue here. They need a carrier boost.
"The national stomping ground for locusts in northern New South Wales and south-east Queensland. That's where they breed and live persistently," Dr Finlay said. "That's not to say we don't have them, we're just not their preferred territory.
"The other thing we would need would be a large scale migration. Correct wind patterns would need to lift them up from New South Wales to travel thousands of kilometres here...Victoria is somewhat protected because New South Wales is where it all happens."
Dr Finlay said it was not really until swarms hit Melbourne 10 years ago that people started to notice what was going on.
National locust conditions predominantly rely on farmers to report to state commissions.
Dr Finlay said in Victoria, this generally starts with observations then, if perceived a potential threat, the process becomes more formal in checking in with people and control actions are escalated.
The Victorian Plague Locust Commission's role is to help people understand what they need to do to best treat locusts - and this relied on everyone doing the right thing to help each other. This was why it was important for Dr Finlay, as commissioner, to know exactly what was going on.
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"Any improvements made in New South Wales, Queensland or the Australian commissions benefits us because we're then less likely to get migration, that's what causes outbreaks in Victoria," Dr Finlay said.
"We have good modelling systems, we're feeding in data to work out where eggs are laid, where locusts are flying in and what direction they're going in.
"...Our new communications strategy is a big part of getting people prepared."
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