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By Louis Becke
At dawn, as I lay half—awake, I heard a sound that made me jump to my gun–the soft quacking of wild duck in the creek. Stealing cautiously down through the fringe of she—oaks, I came to a fine broad pool, in the centre of which was a small sandbank, whereon stood a black duck with a brood of seven half—fledged ducklings around her, dabbling merrily amongst the weed and debris of the margin. Of course, no one who thinks, unless impelled by sheer hunger, would shoot either an incubating or “just familied” duck, and I laid down my gun with an exclamation of disappointment. But I was soon to be rewarded, for a minute or two later five beautiful black and white Burdekin ducks flashed down through the vista of she—oaks, and settled on the water less than thirty yards away from me. They lit so closely together that my first barrel killed two, and my second dropped one of the others as they rose. I waded in and brought them ashore.*
* The name “Burdekin” hat been given to these ducks became they are to common on the river of that name. Their wings are pure white and black.
I wonder how many people know how to cook and eat wild duck as they should be cooked and eaten–when they are plentiful, and when the man who shoots them is, in his way, a gourmet, and is yet living away from civilisation and restaurants? This is the way. Pluck the feathers off the breast and body, then cut the breast part out, sprinkle it with salt, impale it upon a stick–if you have a stick or branch of any kind–and hold it over a fire of glowing wood coals. If you have no skewer, then lay the red, luscious—looking flesh upon the coals themselves, and listen to it singing and fizzing, as if it were impatiently crying out to you to take it up and eat it!
When I returned, the sunrays were piercing through the gum—trees and dissipating a thin mist which hung about the green, winding fringe of she—oaks bordering the creek. From the ground, which now felt soft, warm, and springy to my naked foot, there came that sweet earthy smell that arises when the land has lain for long, long months under a sky of brass, and all green things have struggled hard to live. As I drew near the hut I saw that the flock of spur—winged plover were still standing or running about the margin of the newly—formed pool. They took not the slightest notice of my approach, and I was careful not to alarm them, knowing that as long as the water remained they would continue to haunt the vicinity of the pool, and, besides that, I already had three plump ducks, which would last me at least till the following morning.
After breakfast I set out to make a detailed examination of the creek for a distance of three or four miles towards its source. I was glad to find some very extensive water—holes at intervals of a few hundred yards, then would come a stretch of sand from bank to bank, for owing to the want of rain the water had fallen very low, though it was still flowing by percolation through the sand. Yet, in time of flood, the whole of the flat country was submerged, and some of the large gum—trees growing on the banks held in their forks, thirty—five feet from the ground, great piles of dead wood and tangled debris that had been deposited there in a great flood of two years before.
I was not long in making a very pleasing discovery–all the pools contained fish, some of which were of good size, for the water was so clear that I could see them swimming about, and I remembered now with satisfaction that among the stores coming on in the dray was a bundle of fishing—tackle which I had bought in Townsville. Bird life all along the creek was plentiful; but this was to be expected, as the long drought had naturally driven game of all sort towards the water. I saw two or three small kangaroos, and everywhere along the margin were bandicoot holes, where the little pig—like creatures had been digging for roots.
Two miles from the hut I came across a well—constructed native fish—weir, and near by found the site of a camp; evidently a party of blacks had been enjoying themselves quite recently, fishing and cattle killing, for under some scrub I found the head and foreleg of a young steer.
As I walked my horse slowly over the sand under the fringing oaks, I made the unpleasant discovery that snakes were very plentiful–not only the harmless carpet snake, but the deadly brown and black—necked tiger variety; though against this were a corresponding number of iguanas, both of the tree—climbing and water—haunting species. The latter, to which I shall again allude, is a particularly shuddersome reptile. I had never before seen these repulsive creatures, and, indeed, had never heard of them.
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