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National Museum of Australia

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4

Modified and battered green Toyota Landcruiser 40 Series Short Wheel Base Four Wheel Drive vehicle known as the 'Buff Catcher'

1999.0018.0001

On display

Modified and battered green Toyota Landcruiser 40 Series Short Wheel Base Four Wheel Drive vehicle known as the 'Buff Catcher'

Object information

Physical description

Modified and battered green Toyota Landcruiser 40 Series Short Wheel Base Four Wheel Drive vehicle known as the 'Buff Catcher'. On the right side front corner of its prominent bullbar is a heavy steel 'bionic catching arm', which was designed by Cal Carrick to catch feral buffalo. The arm is powered by an electric motor that is mounted on the left side chassis rail behind the bullbar. Several drive-belts run from the electric motor across the front of the flyscreen-shielded radiator grille to the ratchet mechanism that raises the catching arm. A steel tube that mechanically releases and drops the arm, or raises it through the operation of an electric switch, runs from the ratchet mechanism, along the top of the right side of the bonnet, to a control in front of the driver. The vehicle is encased in rusty steel plate 'armour' welded to a steel frame. The original windscreen, two doors, and the roof or canopy have been removed. A spare wheel is attached to a large bracket across the back of the very worn and torn black vinyl seats. The tailgate is welded shut, and Northern Territory vehicle licence plate number 179 977 is attached to it. The bonnet is secured by a strap made from a section of nylon webbing seat belt and a piece of rope, which is tied to the frame for the armour on the right side. Both of the back corners of the bonnet have '21' stencilled on them in black. The paintwork is very faded and worn. All of the lights and indicators are broken or missing, with the exception of the right headlight.

Statement of significance

The Tommy Fawcett collection consists of a steel-encased, armour plated Toyota four-wheel drive vehicle, modified to catch feral buffalo. The bullbar is equipped with a heavy steel "bionic catching arm", designed by Cal Carrick. Heavy bars welded to the catcher's side prevented rolling and protected the vehicle and its occupants in case of collision. The curved restraining arm is mounted along the frame's right hand side to allow its operation by the driver. The arm pulled the animal's neck down against a buffering plate.

Vehicles like Tommy Fawcett's "buffcatcher" replaced horseback mustering of buffalo and dominated the feral buffalo harvesting industry in the Northern Territory during the 1970s and 1980s. The animal catching unit attached to the vehicle was designed and patented by Kal Carrick in 1981, and enabled single operators, such as Tommy Fawcett, to capture wild buffalo. The catching device and other vehicular modifications were created in response to the needs of the feral buffalo harvesting industry and to local environmental conditions. The feral buffalo industry, which collapsed following the introduction of the Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Eradication Campaign (BTEC), has been a key element in shaping contact history in western Arnhem Land and has had significant environmental impacts. The buffalo catcher with its locally engineered "bionic arm" provides material evidence of the responses of people working within the industry to the physical challenges posed by both the animals and the environment.

Educational significance

This is a modified and battered green Toyota Land cruiser 40 Series short-wheel base four wheel drive. Known as a 'buff catcher', it has a heavy steel 'bionic catching arm' attached to the right side front corner.

European settlement bought buffalos to northern Australia. By 1874, there were 20,000 buffalo on Cobourg Peninsula alone. They provided the basis for a thriving meat and hide industry. In the 70s and 80s, buffalo were captured using four-wheel drive vehicles equipped with catching-arms to snare running animals. This way of life came to an end in the late 1980s as herds of feral buffalo were eliminated across northern Australia. Beef export markets were preserved and the environment benefited while the buffalo industry and the way of life it supported greatly declined.

Tommy Fawcett ran a buffalo-catching team in western Arnhem Land. His buff catcher was fitted with a 'bionic arm' designed and patented by Kal Carrick in 1981. Like other buff catchers, the vehicle is encased in a steel frame with armour plating. Sidebars protected the vehicle as it slid into trees, and helped prevent it from rolling. The catching arm was operated by the driver and enabled operators to capture wild buffalo without the use of a stockyard, crush or cradle. Coming alongside a buffalo, the arm was dropped over the animal's neck, pulling it down against a buffering plate. Vehicles such as this soon dominated the buffalo industry in the Top End of the Northern Territory.

Fawcett used the buff catcher for four or five seasons, catching ten to 20 animals a day. The operation required three people, known as the 'arm team'. One drove the buffalo catcher, another used a second vehicle to herd the beasts, while a third drove a truck into which the captured buffalo were loaded. No one wore seatbelts. Roll bars were never fitted.

Physical description

On display at the National Museum of Australia.

Object information

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