The history of Australia’s battle with the ‘white ant’ has been documented for the first time by industry stalwarts Doug Howick and Ion Staunton.

Doug Howick and Ion Staunton were long-term secretaries of the United Pest Control Association, which started back in 1963. They remember meeting the pioneers of pest control and the scientists who shaped the development of termite control products and technique, which continue “to deliver stress relief to anxious homeowners today.” Now octogenarians, these industry stalwarts thought they might be the only two left who could write an entertaining yet accurate history of our industry “while they still had their marbles intact and before they, too, became history.”

In their forthcoming book Colonies in Collision, the authors have provided a history of termite control and development of the industry, from the arrival of the first fleet to the development of modern termite control products.

“We have gone right back to 1788 when colonies of Coptotermes were waiting on the foreshores of Sydney Cove for the colonists arriving on the First Fleet. Wooden crates of sailcloth, calico and other stores stacked on the ground disintegrated into splinters when they were moved a few months later. These humans had never seen anything like it — millions of scurrying insects, like white ants…

“That was the dramatic start to the termite wars. We decided to write the history of these colliding colonies, which includes the years of termite dominance as they welcomed the timber buildings that were erected all over mainland Australia. Termites had never had it so good. Then in 1915, a dairy farmer in Tyagarah up near Byron Bay, Bill Flick, became the first person in the world to work out how to kill the termite colonies that were attacking buildings,” said Mr Staunton.

Entomologists were thin on the ground but botanists and zoologists from state and, eventually, federal governments began to focus on insects, including termites. Australia was soon leading the world in termite research and the ‘colonists’ began winning battles against the colonies.

Colonies in Collision includes a description of “the biggest KFC store in the world” when the red and white fumigation sheets of Rentokil were draped over the Queensland Parliament House in 1979. It also covers the battle for the bridges, when pest technicians from Amalgamated Pest Control spent years camped out along Queensland’s railway lines inspecting and treating termites intent on causing rail disasters. Many of the smaller companies and personnel also have their stories told.

Alongside colourful historical tales, the book examines the development of physical termite barriers, including the years of the organochlorines and the development of baiting techniques.

Colonies in Collision (250pp) is to be released in late 2018.

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