Hunting Magpie Geese:
I was working for a government instrumentality in Darwin. The government used to hire consultants to advise on aspects of business promotion. One such consultant by the name of Ron and I became firm friends. He was a few years my senior and hailed from South Australia. Ron was a businessman from the south with a penchant for hunting. He had all types of rifles and used to fly in his fixed-wing plane to remote locations to hunt a variety of animals but mainly feral ones, such as camels and ostriches. We got talking one day and I mentioned that the Magpie Geese were arriving on the Marrakai Plains from the north and that they were good tucker.
Magpie Geese would flock in the thousands on the Marrakai and Humpty Doo Plains. If you went early in the morning and crept up to a billabong or waterhole, where they were congregating, you would have a good chance of bagging a few.
Now, we only used to cut out the breast meat of the geese, which is a rich, dark meat, and put it on ice straight away after the kill in the esky. The rest of the goose is discarded for the Hawks and Wedge-tail Eagles to enjoy. Once you have fired your shotgun the geese take off, naturally and fly out of range. The surrounding country on the plains has numerous waterholes and mangrove mud creeks so there is little chance of getting a second chance of bagging breakfast.
Ahhh, there is nothing nicer that throwing some Magpie meat on the fire in the early morning! We would leave Darwin long before sunup and speed out to the Humpty Doo Plains after skirting past Humpty Doo Homestead and get out on there just on picaninny daylight. We would set up a makeshift camp with an icebox for the meat and a lean-to for shade and I would prepare the 4×4 for the morning’s hunt. I had a Suzuki Ute 4×4 in those days. It was a little red car which I named Hot Stuff! The little ute was almost totally capable of being dismantled. I would take the sides of the tray off and take the doors off as well. I would then have a harness of sorts made up of old trouser belts so that the shooter standing on the tray would not need to hold on to the roll cage whilst the vehicle was in motion. Then we would go out on the plains.
The idea was that just on sunrise we would creep up quietly along the fringes of the plains making use of as much tree cover as we could and then I would charge out in the little ute with lights on and horn blaring to get up as close to the geese as we could. There would be three shooters in total, myself, my passenger and one other on the tray. We all had pump-action shotguns. We would get the geese up and flying and then pick out individual birds out of the rising mass, left, right and centre. We could shoot up to 25 geese and we were always at pains not to wound any in the crossfire. Then we would go on foot, collect the spoils and return back to camp to cut the meat off the geese and pack it into the ice before tossing the carcasses into a pile under a Pandanus Palm tree for the feral pigs, dingoes and ants to deal with. Then we would have a beer or two before driving back to town. This ruse worked well for a while. We would give the geese a rest for a few weeks before going out again, tackling the hordes from another vantage point.
On this almost fateful morning, the geese had moved on to another waterhole on the plains. We had to hunt about a bit to find them. As the sun broke the horizon I could see that there would be a good stretch of plain to cross before getting close to the flock. Ron was standing on the back of the ute, I was driving and Ben was my passenger. Unbeknownst to me Ron had loosened his belt and was hanging on to the roll cage with one had whilst holding the loaded shotgun in the other hand.
I must have been doing about 40 kilometres per hour halfway along my trajectory when I heard a scratching sound. The next thing I knew I was thrown against the steering wheel and windscreen of the little ute with some force. The ute had come to a Dead Stop! Ben hit his head on the door frame and that stopped him from falling out whilst Ron overbalanced in a forward motion behind the roll-cage, became airborne over the cab, hit the front of the bonnet with his chest and slid off that into the black-soil mud beyond the bull-bar. He got up wild-eyed, retrieving his shotgun from the mud, glared at me and stated “YOU ARE MAD……YOU BASTARD ….YOU ARE GOING TO GET ME KILLED”….. and strode away in the direction of our camp. I let him go and got out to see what had happened.
I had driven over an old disused fence which had fallen down a long time ago and the wires had been lying prone on the ground since that time. The right hand front wheel of the ute had flicked this hidden obstacle up and it in turn had twisted over the rear wheel to become entangled over the rear axle. Our progress had only been a few metres from the point of contact when the fence became taught and stopped the ute in it’s tracks! Ben and I went to task to cut the wires away with pliers and side-cutters so as to free the vehicle. No damage had been sustained to the ute and we did not sustain any injuries by a stroke of luck but we eventually had a few bruises.
Our hunting day was over as the geese had flown away. Ron also declined hunting invitations for a while until he weakened. But riding on the back of the ute was definitely a thing of the past !!
Green Ants (Weaver Ants)
Have you ever eaten one Green Ant ?….or many? They build nests from leaves weaved together and are aggressive in protecting their home should you brush up against it. They have a sharp stinging non-venomous bite.
Years ago, I used to run a tour business in Darwin. Amongst other sights, I would take my clients out on the Marrakai Plains for an afternoon walk in the scrub.
There used to be a Strychnine Tree with its yellow fruits, growing on a rise. I would tell the folks a yarn about the old fella who lived to be 105 because he ate one of these berries every day.
Now the strychnine berry is the foulest tasting fruit you may find on this planet.
I would entice some to take a bite of the berry advising that its taste may not be all that palatable but I would bite into one myself to prove that it was edible….and that I was going to live for a long time as well.
Those who did so, spat the contents of the berry out in haste, as it leaves the bitterest taste in your mouth.
Then I would tell them that the only cure for that taste was to eat some green ants. I would then shake another tree nearby which had a colony of green ants living in it. The ants would get really angry and run out on to my hand and arm biting all the way. I would then run my mouth over my arm engulfing some ants and start chewing. The green ant is similar to the honey ant as its body contains some green fluid which tastes like citronella. You have to chew quickly, of course, as the ants tend to bite you at every opportunity. The ants also used to get into my beard and bite me well after the event even when I thought that they were all cleared away.
Aussies normally took the joke in their stride but Europeans and Americans used to throw up on cue.
I always had some liquorice or bon bons in my pocket to take away the disgusting berry taste for those who refrained from eating ants.
Along the power-line
There were some functions on and I had to be in attendance at all of them. The last one was to be out at the Hidden Valley Motorsport Complex and Judith did not want to attend so I removed the house-keys from the key ring and she took a cab home whilst I went off to the last function.
Time went by and it was getting late in the afternoon when I decided that I should return home. The trouble was that I had consumed a number of beers and was worried about the RBT bus. Somehow I was the last to leave the complex and there was no one available to drive me home. So I decided that I would drive along the power-line into Darwin until I got to Dinah Beach and then I could walk home to Packard Street from there and retrieve the car the next day. It was a plan to miss the busy Stuart Highway and possible random breath testing by the police.
Not all plans come to fruition. It was April and quite a bit of the power-line track was still inundated with water from the wet season rains. I soldiered on in four wheel drive until suddenly the little Suzuki fell into a submerged hole and I was bogged well and truly. I was within a short distance from a power pole and thought that it would not be a problem to extricate myself with the electric winch which was attached to the front of car. So I got out into the mud and slush after removing my good shoes and socks and ran the winch cable out to its extremity. The cable was about 5 metres short from a possible stable winch point. I went back to the car to get the spare roll of cable which was rolled up and stored under the purpose built tuckerbox in the back of the car. It was then that I realised that I had given the rear door key to my wife earlier in the day. There was no way I would be able to get to the cable as the car had had a cargo barrier fitted behind the seat. So I walked out to the closest pandanus trees to try to attempt to winch myself out using them as an anchor. I must have pulled six trees out until I gave up. By this time it was dark and the mozzies were biting. There was no option but to walk back along the bush track to the BP Berrimah Service Station. It seemed like ages before I got there just before their 9pm closing time. I must have looked a sight when I walked into the servo caked in dry mud and looking generally dishevelled. There was Gold Phone in the corner of the serving area (mobile phones were not in existence then) and I only had 50 cents on me. But it was enough. I rang my mate Mal with a plea of help and also that he must ring Judith to let her know of the situation. He agreed to a rescue after many words which sounded like “What??!!”
In the meantime Judith had become worried by my absence and had rung the police. They had in turn rung the hospital and clinics but I was not listed anywhere. She was quite relived when Mal rang to tell her what was happening. Mal duly turned up a short while later and we drove in the direction of the bogged car. Down the power-line we went into the pitch dark night.
“Where is it?” Mal asked.
“A bit further” I replied.
“How much further”
“A little bit”
By now we were driving in water and my car was still not to be seen.
“Bloody Hell…you’re mad driving down here at night” Mal said
“No mate, it was daylight when I came down here” I replied
Low range gears were selected to advance even further into the dark night and deeper mud. Eventually the spotlights of Mal’s Jackeroo picked up a reflection.
Mal said “I can’t get any closer as I can feel my car sinking. You get out and run the winch cable to your drawbar….I am not getting my feet wet” I duly complied.
It wasn’t long before we had the Suzuki extracted and we were both back on hard ground.
“Thanks Mal” I said “I owe you one”
“You know, Willie” Mal said, “You’re mad”
“Yes, Mal, I know”