From his outpost on Cape York Peninsula, Scott Templeton is the last line of defence against potentially devastating insect invasions.

Story By Don Fuchs

It’s the little things that can cause the most damage and it is these little things that Scott Templeton is after. The lanky and gregarious 43-year-old plant biosecurity inspector and senior operations officer runs the Coen Information and Inspection Centre, 25 kilometres north of Coen on the Cape York Peninsula, for the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (DPI&F). His main role is to “inspect items going out of Cape York that could do harm to agricultural industries to the south. We try to spot potential high-risk pests and diseases”. Every car going south has to stop at the centre, which is not much more than a large shed without a front or back wall. There is nothing threatening or suspicious in the way Scott approaches a vehicle. A disarming smile, a twinkle in his eyes and a few friendly words appease most travellers who might feel inconvenienced by the stop. He casually asks all the questions he has to ask: “Where are you coming from? Where are you heading?” Then there’s more small talk and a little bit of banter. While all this is happening his eyes scan the interior of the vehicle. The question to have a quick look in the esky comes easy, sounds natural. The contents of the esky prove to be fine, but tucked behind the cool box, hidden among camping gear, Scott discovers mangoes. Almost apologetically, he explains the risks. The travellers willingly surrender them to Scott. Despite the smiles and chitchat, Scott is serious about his job. “If a pest or a disease slips through, it could be devastating,” he says. Transporting mangoes past the checkpoint is absolutely prohibited because of the red-banded mango caterpillar. Bruised or stung fruit are suspects for carrying pests and diseases, and are disposed of. Inspectors also look out for borers in firewood and sugarcane and mango and banana plants.

This story excerpt is from Issue #63

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2009