Professional shooter Graham Miller has spent the past four decades removing goats, pigs, camels, wild dogs, deer and foxes from the Australian landscape.
On the back of his business card is a quote from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in the hit 1987 science fiction action film Predator – ‘If it bleeds, we call kill it’ – and Graham has certainly proven he can.
Today the 70-year-old is hunting one of his toughest quarries – the feral cats that once infested a remote corner of South Australia outside Pukatja on what’s known as the APY Lands.
Graham has already reduced the numbers of these feline killing machines to such an extent he is credited with saving a local population of black-footed rock wallabies, the state’s most endangered mammal.
Graham Miller is a professional shooter who has been hired to help eradicate cats from the remote APY Lands in South Australia’s far north-west. He is pictured with partner Robyn Pohlner and their son Murray, who hunt with him
Graham Miller is credited with saving a local population of black-footed rock wallabies, also known as warru, South Australia’s most endangered mammal. Eight cats and a fox are pictured strung up near hiss camp
But the job is never quite done and Graham is spending 24 days, mostly camped at a spot called New Well, with his partner of 40 years Robyn Pohlner and their son Murray picking off as many cats as they can bag.
‘It’s bloody hectic at the moment there’s that much work,’ Graham says.
The family’s home is at Poochera on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula, 60km north-west of Streaky Bay, but they spend months of each year on the road eradicating feral pests.
‘Normally they ring me up when they tried every other avenue,’ Graham says of the customers who use his business, Feral Solutions.
‘We go in and do it in half the time and for a quarter of the money.’
The job at New Well is to kill the cats and foxes that destroy native wildlife in and below the Musgrave Ranges and his paymaster is APY Land Management.
Graham’s son Murray uses a drone to help guide his father towards his quarry. Fitted with a thermal camera, it has added a new level of sophistication to pursuing feral cats
‘He’s telling me what what the cat’s doing all the time,’ Graham says of his son’s drone guidance. ‘If there’s a cat on top of the ground we will get it.’ A cat is pictured in drone footage
Pukatja is the largest community on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands, which cover 103,000 square kilometres and since 1981 have been held freehold in Aboriginal hands.
Anangu (pronounced arn-ahng-oo) are the people who speak the Pitjantjatjara (pit-jan-jah-jarra) and Yankunytjatjara (yan-kun-ja-jarra) Western Desert languages.
The black-footed, or black-flanked, wallaby – warru in Pitjantjatara – was once abundant across the ranges of Central Australia but fell into drastic decline due to predation by foxes and cats.
In 2007, the Warru Recovery Team was formed, consisting of traditional owners, APY Land Management staff, rangers and ecologists from various organisations.
Graham, who was shooting kangaroos from age 10, first came to the Musgrave Ranges in 2009 and cleared out hundreds of the warru’s main predators.
‘There was that many cats,’ he says. ‘There were just cats everywhere.
‘Dingoes don’t have an impact on cats. Dingoes control foxes to a certain extent. Foxes won’t take on a big cat. They’re too dangerous.
‘I saved this warru population and continue to save this population. If it wasn’t for me they’d be extinct. Now there’s plenty here.’
Among the family’s arsenal is Brno .22 Magnum lever-release rifle which reloads much like a semi-automatic and an Australian-made Taipan pump-action .223 (pictured)
Tanya Plibersek declares war on feral cats after watching ‘ruthless killers’ stalking wildlife at Uluru
Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek announced a ‘battle plan’ in September to wipe out feral cats, which kill two billion mammals, reptiles and birds in Australia every year.
‘When domesticated cats are living inside our homes, snuggled up at the end of our beds, we rightly love them,’ Ms Plibersek said. ‘But feral cats are the opposite of adorable. They are walking, stalking, ruthless killers.
‘We are declaring war on feral cats. We are setting up our battle plan to win that war.’
Ms Plibersek realised the damage feral cats do to native wildlife when she was introduced to the mala, or rufous hare-wallaby, on a trip to Central Australia.
The mala, which is extinct in the wild on the mainland, stands just 30cm tall and weighs no more than 2kg.
The day after visiting a mala sanctuary, Ms Plibersek witnessed ‘a massive cat stalking through the grass at the base of Uluṟu’.
‘The mala wouldn’t have stood a chance,’ she said. ‘They are being bred in a feral-proof enclosure in the hope they can one day repopulate the desert.’
Feral cats were driving multiple species to the brink of extinction.
Ms Plibersek revealed plans to help control the predators, including greater use of cat traps and expanding cat-free island havens.
Cat owners could also be banned from allowing their pets outside under new rules being considered by the federal government.
Graham says a feral cat has a range of 11km and a fox will roam 22km a night. While foxes and wild dogs will take the widely-used 1080 bait, cats won’t touch it, making shooting the most effective method of destruction.
Almost all the cats Graham kills around New Well he describes as ‘big-boned tabbies’. They only need to weigh 3.5kg to bring down a wallaby.
‘I don’t give a s*** what people think if I shoot cats,’ Graham says.
The biggest cat Graham has brought down near here weighed 7.1kg – the average domestic cat weighs 4.5 to 5.5kg – and his heaviest ever take was an 8.1kg monster at Venus Bay, 400km west of Adelaide.
‘That cat looked like it had been sitting on the couch in front of the TV eating Kentucky Fried,’ Graham says. ‘We shoot the little ones as well,’ meaning kittens.
Graham says many Anangu believe the cats around New Well are descended from animals that arrived in Australia before 1788, perhaps from Dutch ships that visited the west coast.
‘The Aboriginals reckon there was a cat here before white people,’ he says. ‘They ate them. I believe maybe there was a cat here before we were.’
‘We’ll shoot from 100 to 200 yards,’ Graham says. ‘Failing that, if it looks impossible, we put that drone up. As soon as we put that drone up I’m on foot.’ Graham is pictured in drone footage taking aim at a cat
The drone has added a new level of sophistication to pursuing targets. It is fitted with a normal camera, a thermal camera, speaker and search light. Graham is pictured with a dead cat
Some older Anangu still eat cat and on his latest trip Graham received a special order from one senior man for a fresh head-shot moggy. (‘It tastes good,’ that man says).
When Daily Mail Australia visited Graham’s camp nine days into his latest trip he had shot 10 cats. Three days later his cat tally had risen to 17.
Each member of Graham’s family has a role in the hunting operation, which begins about 8pm.
Graham drives the ‘bus’, a V8 LandCruiser, and shoots from that side of the vehicle if the quarry is close enough. Murray rides alongside, shooting from the passenger position, and operates a drone.
Robyn sits atop the bus on a beanbag with a red-filtered spotlight and thermal binoculars. The 61-year-old also also carries a decoy device that emits sounds which include a distressed kitten and a squeaking mouse.
‘You’ve heard the saying, “Curiosity killed the cat”,’ Graham says. ‘Well, it did.’
All three are scanning for a cat’s or fox’s eyes in the darkness. ‘We’re driving along, if I see an eye and reckon I can shoot it from the vehicle I will,’ Graham says.
Murray sounds like he will take over from his father when he eventually retires. ‘I’m ready to take it a bit easy,’ Graham says. ‘I reckon I’ve got a couple more years left doing this’
The black-footed, or black-flanked, wallaby – warru in Pitjantjatara – was once abundant across the ranges of Central Australia but fell into drastic decline due to predation by foxes and cats
Among the family’s arsenal is Brno .22 Magnum lever-release rifle which reloads much like a semi-automatic and an Australian-made Taipan pump-action .223.
Thermal scopes on the rifles light up the night so that anything warm blooded appears moving over the ground with almost daytime clarity.
‘Once the sun goes down the ground goes cold,’ Graham says. ‘So everything moving above that is going to be hot.’
‘We’ll shoot from 100 to 200 yards. Failing that, if it looks impossible, we put that drone up. As soon as we put that drone up I’m on foot.’
The drone, which the family has been using for 12 months, has added a new level of sophistication to pursuing targets. It is fitted with a normal camera, a thermal camera, speaker and search light.
‘It’s a game changer,’ Graham says.
While Graham stalks his prey, 23-year-old Murray keeps eyes on it from the sky, communicating speed and changes of direction to his father’s headset.
‘It’s not too bad,’ Robyn’s says of the lifestyle. ‘Look at the surroundings. Take the flies out of it, it’s lovely. Twenty four days this time gets too long. I’m just thinking of how my garden’s doing at home’
The family has a well-set up camp which is covered by security cameras to protect their valuable equipment. On this trip they will spend 24 days in the Musgrave Ranges
‘He’s telling me what what the cat’s doing all the time,’ Graham says. ‘If there’s a cat on top of the ground we will get it. Once we put the drone up we have 100 per cent success.’
The drone can fly for 40 minutes in which time Graham might cover a kilometre on foot.
‘I do all the hard work,’ he says.
‘I’ve got to get there and get that cat before Murray runs out of battery power. We film everything we do.’
Once killed, each cat is taken back to the bus where its weight, where it was shot, the date and a reference number are all recorded in a ledger. The animal’s stomach contents are removed and bagged for scientific research.
‘They can go back through our paperwork,’ Graham says. ‘Just in case they find something that’s supposed to have been extinct for 100 years. It could be a feather or a beak.’
When Graham is finished with a cat’s body it is strung up on a tree away from the camp with earlier kills to show he is doing his job.
The family, who get paid by the day, started their latest trip in June and had a recent holiday in Dundee Beach, 120km south-west of Darwin, shooting pigs. They will return home in October and be back out in November.
Murray likes the life, even with the flies that are in plague proportions at New Well.
‘It’s not all sunshine and rainbows but it’s better than being in a city working nine to five in an office,’ he says.
Asked if she agreed it was a good life, Robyn answers, ‘Sometimes’.
‘It’s not too bad,’ she says.
‘Look at the surroundings. Take the flies out of it, it’s lovely. Twenty four days this time gets too long. I’m just thinking of how my garden’s doing at home.’
Murray sounds like he will take over from his father when he retires. ‘I’m ready to take it a bit easy,’ Graham says. ‘I reckon I’ve got a couple more years left doing this.
‘It’s a good life but you’ve got to like living out like this. If it wasn’t for the bloody flies it’d be great.’
Graham has been shooting all his life and is paid to remove goats, deer, camel, pigs, foxes and rabbits. ‘I don’t give a s*** what people think if I shoot cats,’ he says