In 1896 David Wynford Carnegie crossed the Gibson and Great Sandy Desert in search of good pastoral and gold-bearing land. In his account of the expedition, named Spinifex and Sand, Carnegie wrote of the landscape of this largely unexplored land:
“There are two varieties of Spinifex known to bushmen – “spinifex” and “buck” (or “old men”) spinifex. The latter is stronger in the prickle and practically impossible to get through, though it may be avoided in twists and turns. There are a few uses for this horrible plant; for example it forms a shelter and its roots make good food for the kangaroo, or spinifex rat, from its spikes the natives (in the northern districts) make a very serviceable gum, it burns freely, serves in a measure to bind the sand, and protect it from being moved by the wind, and makes a good mattress when dug up and turned over.”
The spinifex in Karijini (Triodia pungens) plays an important role in the arid ecosystem of the Park, being part of vast tussock grasslands that alternate with Accacia shrubland and open Eucalypt woodlands. As a native grass species, spinifex offers important protection from soil erosion, however, it has little nutritional value for most animals. Spinifex-eating termites or Manthu are therefore very important in Karijini’s savannah ecology, as the large amount of biomass they process makes them the equivalent of large mammals that eat grasses in similar habitats.
The inner chambers of termite mounds are made up of a complex network of tunnels, galleries and chambers. These impressive structures, made from soil, saliva and excreta not only are home to millions of busy creatures, they also offer shelter to a variety of others such as snakes, goannas, spiders and birds – a perfect example of how the little things in nature can play a big role.