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By Louis Becke
Now and again a few wandering emus would cross the grey gum plains around us, and then, as they caught sight of our figures, shamble quickly off again. In former years they had been plentiful in the district, and provided good food for the aborigines when the latter organised their big hunting parties. But as the country was taken up as cattle runs, hundreds of the great birds were wantonly shot by white men for the mere pleasure of killing, and all the months we lived in the district we did not see more than twenty.
I have before spoken of the number of snakes that were everywhere to be seen in the vicinity of the water, particularly about pools with a reedy margin. Scarcely a week passed without our killing three or four, and we were always careful in bathing to do so in very shallow water, where there was a clear sandy bottom. There were three kinds of water—snakes, one of which was of a dull blue colour, and these the blacks said were “bad fellow,” i.e., venomous. They seldom grew over two feet and a half in length, and on a bright day one might see several of these reptiles swimming across from one bank to the other. Of the common brown snake–the kind we most dreaded–and the black—necked tiger snake, we killed numbers with our guns and with sticks, and one day, when crossing some red ironstone ridges on the Ravenswood road, we despatched two death—adders which were lying asleep on the bare, hot road. They were of a dull reddish brown, the same hue as the ground in the ironstone country, just as they are a yellowish brown in a sandstone region.
One great pest to us when fishing were the number of mud turtles, greedy little creatures which persistently swallowed our hooks, which could only be recovered by placing one’s foot on their backs, drawing out their long snaky necks to the utmost tension, and cutting off their heads; the other pests were the hideous flabby water iguanas (I do not know their proper name), which, although they never interfered with our lines, sickened us even to look at them. They were always to be seen lying on a log or snag in the water. As you approached they either crawled down like an octopus, or dropped, in a boneless, inert mass, without a splash. Their slimy, scaleless skins were a muddy yellow, and in general they resembled an eel with legs. Even the blacks looked on them with disgust, though they are particularly fond of the ordinary iguana.
The time passed somewhat wearily to us when heavy rains and flooded country kept us indoors for days together. Then one night after the weather had begun to get cooler and clearer, we heard, far, far overhead, the honk, honk of the wild geese, flying southwards to distant lagoons, and Hansen reminded me that in another week our term of service came to an end.
“What made you think of it?” I asked.
“The cry of the wild geese going South.”
For we, too, longed for the South again.
FISH DRUGGING IN THE PACIFIC
In an American magazine of a few months ago mention was made of the “discovery” of a method of capturing fish by impregnating the waters of slowly running rivers or small lakes with a chemical which would produce stupefaction, and cause the fish to rise helpless to the surface. The American discoverer no doubt thought he really had “discovered,” though I am sure many thousands of people in the civilised world have heard of, and some few hundreds very often seen, fish captured in a somewhat similar manner, the which is, I believe, practised not only in India, Africa and South America, but in the islands of the North and South Pacific, and I have no doubt but that it was known thousands of years ago–perhaps even “when the world was young.”
Nearly all the Malayo—Polynesian people inhabiting the high, mountainous islands of the South Pacific and North Pacific Oceans can, and do, catch fish in the “novel” manner before mentioned, i.e., by producing stupefaction, though no chemicals are used, while even the Australian aborigines–almost as low a type of savage as the Fuegians–use a still simpler method, which I will at once briefly describe as I saw it practised by a mob of myall (wild) blacks camped on the Kirk River, a tributary of the great Burdekin River in North Queensland.
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