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By Louis Becke
A week after our arrival the blacks told us that there were indications that the rainy season would come on earlier than usual, and that game, except duck and spur—winged plover, would be very scarce; also that if the creek came down in flood, it would carry away most of the fish. This was bad news for such ardent sportsmen as Hansen and myself, for we were looking forward to plenty of fishing and shooting, not alone for its pleasures, but also because we were charged heavily for anything but the ordinary salt beef, tea, sugar and flour. Sardines and tinned salmon were luxuries we could not afford, but fresh fish and game were better, and, even when salted, were preferrable to a continuous diet of beef.
We had among our stores a 250 lb. bag of coarse salt–we had to kill our own meat and salt it down–and I proposed that we should at once set to work whilst the weather was fine and spend a week shooting and fishing. Such game as plain turkeys (the bustard), scrub turkeys, cockatoos, ducks, &c., we could put in brine, whilst the fish could be drysalted and then put in the sun to dry. Hansen quite approved the idea, and we at once set to work. I was to be fisherman, and he the gunner; for, curiously enough, my mate was the most helpless creatures with a fishing—line or rod that I ever saw. In five minutes he would either have his line hopelessly tangled, his rod broken, or his hook caught in his hand; and yet he never lost his temper.
Taking with me two sturdy black boys as porters, and also bringing my gun and ammunition in case of meeting duck, I set out on foot, Hansen riding off, accompanied by a blackfellow, to a chain of shallow lagoons five miles away.
Within a quarter of a mile from the house was a fine deep water—hole formed by the creek being here confined between high banks. At one end, however, an exposed bar of small, coarse round pebbles ran almost across, and here I decided to begin, instead of from the bank, for not only were snakes difficult to see in the undergrowth, but plants of the dreaded stinging—tree were also growing around and between the magnificent gums and the Leichhardts. These latter trees, named after the ill—fated Dr. Leichhardt, are, I think, the most strikingly handsome of all large trees in the north of Queensland. They love to grow near or even in the water, and their broad, beautiful leaves give a welcome shade.
But before I descended to the bank I had to remain for some minutes to gaze on the beauty of the scene. The water at one end of the pool was of the deepest blue, towards the pebbly bar it gradually shallowed, and for the next eight or ten feet from the margin was as clear as crystal. Close in under the banks the broad leaves of blue flowering water—lilies covered the surface with a carpet of many shades of green and pink; hovering above the lily leaves were hundreds of small white butterflies, with here and there a black and yellow—banded dragon—fly– “horse—stingers” the Australian youth call them. Not a sound broke the silence, except now and then the rippling splash of a fish rising to the surface, or the peculiar click, click made by a crayfish burrowing under a stone.
I leant over the bank and looked down, and then gave a start of pleasure, for right beneath me were three fish floating motionless on the surface–fish that, until then, I never knew lived in fresh water. They were in shape, colour, and appearance exactly like the toothed gar so common on the sea coast–a long slender body with back of dark blue, sides of silvery white, and fins and tail of blue tipped with yellow. I was so excited that I was about to shoot them, but remembered that at so short a distance I should have only blown them to pieces, especially as they were directly beneath me. I motioned to the blackboys to come and look; they did so, and I learnt that these fish, when the creek was low, were sometimes plentiful, and would take almost any floating bait, especially if it were alive.
Eager to begin, I told the boys to collect some crayfish for bait, but they said that it would take too long, and small fish were better, and running to some small lily—covered pools about two feet in diameter, and very shallow, they jumped in and stirred up the sand and muddy sediment at the bottom. In a few minutes some scores of very pretty red and silvery—hued minnows were thrown out on the sand. I quickly baited my line, and threw it, with the sinker attached, into the centre of the pool; before it could sink the bait was taken by a fine bream of 2 lbs., which I landed safely, and tossed to the boys. It was the first fresh—water bream I had caught in Queensland, and I felt elated.
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