Learning more about camel melons than I ever wanted to know

'Paddy melon picker' – that's the latest job title that I'll be adding to my CV and cobweb-covered LinkedIn profile.

I picked-up the job and qualification this week at Hamelin Station Reserve in Western Australia, where I headed for a couple of days of annual leave and a bit of volunteering.

There's lots of jobs for volunteers on the reserve but one that occurred to me during a routine inspection visit to Five Mile Bore (now decommissioned), was to hand-weed an infestation of Paddy and Afghan melons.

Paddy melons (Cucumis myriocarpus) and Afghan/Camel melons (Citrullus lanatusare common weeds across Australia, having originated from Sub-Saharan Africa, and introduced to Australia (along with camels) sometime in the mid-1800s. They're summer-growing annuals.

Both of these weed species are growing in and around the old stock yards at Five Mile Bore, although most of them (and the most visible) were the larger Afghan melons. These are a wild relative of the watermelon ... although with none of the bigger brother's tasty attributes – instead they're bitter, unpalatable and emit an unpleasant odour when split apart.

The Afghan/Camel melon is so-called because it's thought to have been introduced by Afghan camel train operators in the 1860s – either deliberately as camel tucker, or accidentally amid other produce imported along with the camels. These legendary camel trains once operated on transport routes all across Outback Australia and, not surprisingly, the first and worst infestations of the melons were recorded along the tracks used by the 'trains'.

Normal weed-control best practice for these two melons is to use a knock-down herbicide, however hand-weeding is recommended for relatively small areas – like around Five Mile Bore – to prevent further seed being set.

The old adage 'one year's seeds, seven years weeds' was on my mind as I set about pulling-up all of the melons around the yards. 

It was good to look back over the site later and see that (although not yet 100% finished) I'd made a dent in the weed burden. There's still lots more work to be done out there to completely eradicate them.

It looks like I'll just have to come back. Again and again.

– Richard McLellan

​Richard is the CEO of NACC (Northern Agricultural Catchments Council of WA) and a Bush Heritage Volunteer. ​You can follow Richard on twitter: @RichardMcLellan