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AUSTRALIA’S HISTORY OF TERMITE CONTROL

A new book from two well known industry figures charts the history of man’s battle against the ‘white ant’ in Australia.

Pest control has a colourful history. Colonies in Collision, a new book by Doug Howick and Ion Staunton (pictured)tells the many untold stories that first unfolded in 1788 when convicts tried to shift a crate of calico that had been six months on the ground at Sydney Cove, and was infested with strange ‘white ants’.

“It was 127 years later that William Flick first defeated termites and the termite service industry germinated,” explained co-author Ion Staunton. “The book traces these almost forgotten names and their stories.”

This includes features on Barney Houghton, the industry’s first millionaire, and his company that was eventually bought by Rentokil; the nine Smith brothers who moved from Tasmania – where they’d never seen a termite – to Victoria, SA and WA; and their sister, who married a member of the Bonney family in NSW. These were household names in pest control from the 1920s to the 1960s.

“Up in Queensland,” added Mr Staunton, “Jock Wightman shared a corner of his office with Bill Flick and we realised it must have suited them both because Jock wasn’t into termites and Bill wasn’t into cockroaches.

“Jock was the father-in-law of Darcy McCarron, grandfather of John, Marshall and Andrew McCarron who set up Amalgamated Pest Control. The twist in the tale is that about 90 years later, in 2016, Flick Anticimex bought APC and with that merger, people from both companies shared office space again.”

Colonies in Collison also outlines the role the Australian Government played in developing the pest control industry. From the late 1800s, government botanists and zoologists were encouraged to become entomologists, to detail the different termite species and investigate why various treatment methods would or wouldn’t work against them.

“Lysaught (the galvanised ant-cap people) led the way with physical termite barriers from around 1900 and, Termimesh, Granitgard, Kordon, Termiglass, Term-Seal and others followed with products of increased technological sophistication,” explained Mr Staunton. “After the dieldrin years, dusts made a comeback when Bayer’s Intrigue and BASF’s Termidor Dust again put some focus on eliminating colonies rather than relying on an insecticidal barrier.

“Then came baiting. Dow started it, Exterra and others joined in the quest to get worker termites to transfer insect growth regulators (IGRs) back to the colony. Just another variation on Bill Flick’s original strategy.”

The book tells the history of the termite industry through a series of connected stories, arriving at the present day. “Roland Hovey, who wrote the foreword, said he was initially reluctant to write it as it meant reading the book first, and he didn’t really want to read “another bloody book on termites” after his previous 45 years of termite warfare,” said Mr Staunton. “After a few days of procrastination, in the wee small hours of one morning, his wife came out and asked if he was ever coming to bed? He had become so involved in this story that he was taking sides, and was even starting to hope the termites would win.”

Authors Doug Howick and Ion Staunton are both former leaders of the industry Association. As young men, they met many experienced pest managers who told them stories of the generations before them. After three years of preparation, they now share these stories in their book. Colonies in Collision also details over 600 scientific termite papers (listed in the appendices) with information, where available, on how to download them.

Further information on termite treatments and protection.