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By Louis Becke
Finding that the pool was clear of snags, I bent on three extra hooks, baiting each one with the whole of a tiny fish. Again the baits were seized before they reached the bottom; I hauled in two more bream, and as they came struggling and splashing into the shallow water I saw they were being followed by literally hundreds of the same species, and also by fish much like an English grayling–the pool seemed to be alive! The presence of such large numbers in so circumscribed a space could, however, be easily accounted for by the absence of rain for so many months, the drying up of many minor pools and stretches, and the diminution of the water generally throughout the creek and its tributaries driving the fish to congregate in the deeper and larger pools.
By noon I had caught as many fish as the boys could carry. None, it is true, were very large, 2 1/2 lbs. being the heaviest; but I was pleased to learn that there were places farther down the creek where the blacks frequently caught some very large cat—fish; when the water was muddy from heavy rain. These cat—fish, or, as some people call them, “jew—fish,” are the heaviest and best of all the Queensland river fish I have ever tasted, except those which, for want of their true name, I called grayling, and Hansen asserted were trout.
Sending the black boys off with the fish, I cut a rod from a she—oak and quickly rigged a line; for a float I used a small piece of dead wood, and baited with the largest minnow I could find. Then, clambering up the bank, I found a suitable open place to stand at the butt of a Leichhardt, from where I had a good view. I could not, however, see any of the gars, one at least of which I was so anxious to get, but made a cast into the centre–and almost instantly one darted out from under the lily leaves and hooked himself beautifully, but in swinging him out my line fouled a thorny bush, and for a minute I was in despair; there was the shining beauty suspended over the water, and almost making a circle of his body in his struggle to escape. At last, however, I cleared my line, and swung my prize high up on the bank. Determined to get a better rod, and return after dinner, I picked up gun and fish and followed the boys.
By sunset I had a catch of fish that fairly astonished Hansen when he returned at dusk with but half a dozen black duck, two or three teal, and two turkeys. All that evening we were employed in cleaning and salting the fish and birds, except some for immediate use.
We had many such days. Fish were to be had all throughout the course of the creek, and had we possessed a net like those the blacks sometimes used, we could have taken a hogsheadful in half an hour.
Then, as the rainy season began, I ceased fishing and took to the gun, for now three or four kinds of duck made their appearance, and one moonlight night an immense number alighted in the creek just below the hut, and kept up an incessant gabble and quacking till sunrise.
In less than ten days we had enough salted game and dried and smoked fish to last us three months, even had we eaten nothing else. Our black friends–with the exception of one lad who desired to remain–left us one morning at sunrise, and we saw them no more. I am afraid they were deeply hurt by our poisoning half a dozen of their mangy dogs, which were, with the rest of the pack, a continual source of annoyance to us by their expert thieving.
One dull, rainy day, as we sat indoors mending our clothes, and yarning and smoking, we heard the scream of parrots, and, going to the door, saw some twenty or thirty of them, large, fine, green and scarlet plumaged birds, hanging on to and crawling in and out among the branches of some low trees growing between the stockyard and the creek. These trees were a species of wattle, and were just opening out their yellow, sweet—smelling, downy flowers, which the beautiful birds were devouring eagerly. We did not disturb them, and they did not appear to be alarmed when we walked up to within a few yards of the trees, merely screaming defiance, and flying up to the higher branches, or to other trees near by. These birds the local settlers called “king—parrots”; they were larger than those of the same species in New South Wales, and later in the season we shot a few of them for soup. This particular flock visited us for many days in succession, forming a pretty picture as they hung on the branches, chattering loudly the while, and flashing their gaily—coloured plumage in the bright sunshine. Like the spur—winged plover, they were very inquisitive birds; if one of their number was shot, and fell wounded, the rest of the flock would fly round and round the poor creature, watching its movements and listening to its cries, not out of pity, but of sheer curiosity, and each could be shot in succession, or sometimes knocked down with a stick. I was told by a stockman on Fanning Downs station that on several occasions when he had wounded birds of this variety of the parrot tribe, their companions descended upon them with fury, tore out their feathers, and bit and lacerated them savagely.
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