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By Louis Becke
At a spot where the stream was about a hundred feet wide, and the water very shallow–not over six inches in depth–a rude but efficient dam was expeditiously constructed by thrusting branches of she—oak and ti—tree into the sandy bottom, and then making it partially waterproof by quickly filling the interstices with earthen sods, ti—tree bark, reeds, leaves, and the other debris found on the banks. In the centre a small opening was left, so as to relieve the pressure when the water began to rise. Some few hundred yards further up were a chain of water—holes, some of which were deep, and in all of which, as I knew by experience, were plenty of fish–bream, perch, and a species of grayling. As soon as the dam was complete, the whole mob, except some “gins” and children, who were stationed to watch the opening before mentioned, sprang into the water, carrying with them great quantities of a greasy greyish blue kind of clay, which rapidly dissolved and charged the clear water with its impurities. Then, too, at the same time thirty or forty of their number (over a hundred) began loosening and tearing away portions of the overhanging bank, and toppling them over into the stream; this they accomplished very dexterously by means of heavy, pointed sticks. The work was carried out with an astounding clamour, those natives in the water diving to the bottom and breaking up the fallen earth still further till each pool became of the colour and something of the consistency of green pea—soup. Hundreds of fish soon rose gasping to the surface, and these were at once seized and thrown out upon the banks, where a number of young picaninnies darted upon them to save them being devoured by a swarm of mongrel dogs, which lent an added interest to the proceedings by their incessant yelping and snapping. As the slowly running current carried the suffocating and helpless fish down—stream the hideous noise increased, for the shallow stretch in front of the dam was soon covered with them–bream, and the so—called “grayling,” perch, eels, and some very large cat—fish. The latter, which I have mentioned on a previous page, is one of the most peculiar—looking but undoubtedly the best flavoured of all the Queensland fresh—water fishes; it is scaleless, tail—less, blue—grey in colour, and has a long dorsal spike, like the salt—water “leather—jacket.” (A scratch from this spike is always dangerous, as it produces intense pain, and often causes blood—poisoning.) Altogether over a thousand fish must have been taken, and I gazed at the destruction with a feeling of anger, for these pools had afforded my mining mates and myself excellent sport, and a very welcome change of diet from the eternal beef and damper. But, a few days later, after our black friends had wandered off to other pastures, I was delighted to find that there were still plenty of fish in the pools.
* * * * *
Early in the “seventies” I was shipwrecked with the once notorious Captain “Bully” Hayes, on Kusaie (Strong’s Island), the eastern outlier of the Caroline Islands on the North Pacific, and lived there for twelve happy months, and here I saw for the first time the method of fish stupefaction employed by the interesting and kindly—natured people of this beautiful spot.
I had previously seen, in Eastern Polynesia, the natives drugging fish by using the pounded nuts of the futu tree (Barringtonia speciosa), and one day as I was walking with a native friend along the beach near the village in which I lived, I picked up a futu nut lying on the sand, and remarked that in the islands to the far south the people used it to drug fish.
Kusis laughed. “Futu is good, but we of Kusaie do not use it–we have oap which is stronger and better. Come, I will show you some oap growing, and to—morrow you shall see how good it is.”
Turning off to our right, we passed through a grove of screw—pines, and then came to the foot ot the high mountain range traversing the island, where vine and creeper and dense jungle undergrowth struggled for light and sunshine under the dark shade of giant trees, whose thick leafy branches, a hundred feet above, were rustling to the wind. Here, growing in the rich, red soil, was a cluster of oap–a thin—stemmed, dark—green—leaved plant about three feet in height. Kusis pulled one by the roots, and twisted it round and round his left hand; a thick, white and sticky juice exuded from the bark.
“It ’sickens’ the fish very quickly,” he said, “quicker than the futu nut. If much of it be bruised and thrown into the water, it kills the largest fish very soon, and even turtles will ’sicken.’ It is very strong.”
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