Merry Christmas 2016 from Australia

On the twelfth day of Christmas my ex-wife sent to me
Twelve box jellyfish
Eleven irukandji
Ten eastern brown snakes
Nine funnel web spiders
Eight blue ringed octopus
Seven coastal taipans
Six common death adders
Five great white sharks
Four Crocodiles
Three redbacks
Two paralysis ticks
And a tiger snake in a plastic tree!

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The Wet

splendid tree FrogThe rain finally settled in on the 19th.  Within a couple of days the unsealed Tanami and Duncan roads were closed and the sealed highway from Fitzroy Crossing through Halls Creek to Kununurra was temporarily impassable for up to a few hours at a time as the creek beds that have been desert dry all year began once more to flow and to flood over the road, which runs through them.

From the house I am staying in I can hear that the frogs are happy with the change in weather.  I can detect the calls of three species at least, the most common being the green tree frog.  It is good to know the cane toads have not eliminated them yet.

I had planned to do a quick overnight trip to Billiluna to pick up a few necessities and check that all was well at home, but I may now not be able to get back for weeks.  Worst case scenario – months. Part of the fun of life here is the uncertainty and the unexpected.

 

King Brown is Cross

The kids took me to visit the “Jesus Cave” on the bluff out of Balgo.  This is a cave once used by the mission nuns as a place of prayer, hence the name.  Access to the cave is by an aluminium ladder down a manhole-sized opening on the top of the cliffs of the escarpment.  As I climbed out of the troopy and limped down towards the cave entrance, the kids all raced ahead, and then, suddenly came racing back again, screaming.

Sunning itself right by the top of the ladder was a two metre king brown snake.  The biggest I have seen in the flesh.

The King Brown, or Mulga snake (Pseudechis australis) is one of Australia’s top ten deadly venomous snakes.  I have handled a couple before, but none this big.

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King Brown is Cross

I cursed myself for not having brought my camera.   I had not brought my catching gear either.  One of the boys in particular was totally panicked, and wanted to kill the snake.  I tried to explain that this was not a good idea and that provoking a snake was foolish and more than likely to result in someone being bitten.  I told them that we should just leave it alone and come back another day.  They would not come away with me, and were determined to kill it or chase it away.  I could not have that, so I ordered them all to stay back while I moved the snake away with a couple of sticks.  This put the lad into even more of a panic, and I realised with just a little gratification that he was afraid for my safety even more than I was concerned for his.

I gently lifted the snake with the sticks and started to move it away from the cave entrance. It did not seem too bothered and allowed itself to be carried, then guided away.

But my young friend was still screaming hysterically that the snake would kill me and started shying stones at it.  His aim was not too good, and a couple of the rocks narrowly missed me.  I told him to stop because now he was really putting me in danger, but he was too far gone to listen.  The others joined him, ignoring my orders to stop.  A stone or two hit the snake, and its demeanour changed instantly from passive to aggressive.

I stepped back quicker than my semi-crippled condition would normally allow. The snake followed me as stones continued to rain down on it.  Finally it decided it’d had enough of being pelted, and slid down into the cave entrance, ending our chance to visit the cave that day.

On the way back I tried to explain to the youngsters that they should leave snakes alone and that most people are bitten because they try to kill them, but I could tell they were not convinced.    Irrational fear is just that. Irrational.

One of the girls had filmed the incident on her phone.  I will try to get a copy from her.

The Wet Begins?

Another rainstorm last night.  Short, but quite heavy.  It seems the wet may really be starting early.  November is usually the accepted time.  It was predicted to be early this year.  I am hoping that this Wet Season will at least be more substantial than last year, when it did not really live up to its name.  The plants and wildlife need the rain to get them through the dry.

This part of Australia has been hotter and dryer than average since I came here.

In September, lightning started a bushfire on Ellenbrae Station.   It went out of control and became a huge blaze  across the Kimberley, burning cattle stations and wildlife sanctuaries. Almost two million hectares of land were affected, the last I read.

That is the size of a small European country.

There has been no loss of (human) life and little or no damage to infrastructure. Nonetheless, the fire has not helped the cattle stations or the ecosystem, which usually deals with natural fire in smaller patches at a time.  Being dryer than usual only increases the damage.

Even now, this rain we just had here does not seem to have fallen all over the Kimberley. It was intense, but of relatively short duration and probably does not yet fulfill the promise of “early, heavier than usual rains” that was predicted.

The only downside from my point of view is how the weather can affect travel here.  The Tanami and Duncan roads are closed, which means  that the visiting doctor was unable to come yesterday and discuss the results of my CT scan. It also means that it looks as if I shall not be able to attend the  Youth Mental Health First Aid training course in Halls Creek tomorrow.

On the plus side, I have seen lots of dragons running around my house this morning.  I did not know I had so many. I love those little buggers.

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Mudded

I took a bunch of my kids out for a nature walk today. We drove out along a rough sandy track to Lake Stretch and talked about the wildlife, fruits and other bush tucker that can be gathered in the area.  Some of the boys wanted to hunt goanna but their attempts met with no success.

Two of the older lads, who have been through Lore and are therefore considered to be men according to their culture, took me to the lake shore, and mudded me.  This is a “welcome to Country” ceremony.  They smeared mud in my armpits and on my back and chest. I then had to swim out to the middle of the lake so the Rainbow Serpent who dwells there would know me, and that I was now part of Country.

The boys thought the water was too cold to swim, though one had a quick dip before retreating. I found it very refreshing and exactly right.  It was the first pleasantly cool swim I have had since I came north. It impressed the guys at first that I enjoyed the swim and did not find it too cold, but they then concluded, correctly, that I come from a cold country.

Afterwards, due to a shortage of goanna, we barbecued some sausages and ate them with bread and sauce.  Then we drove out to the main road and on to another spot, a few km down the Tanami, called Salty Bore for obvious reasons that the boys carefully explained.   On the way we stopped off at another small lake which I was told is not suitable for swimming due to leeches, and the fact that some horses had died there -of what, I do not know.

Near Salty Bore there is yet another small lake similar to, but smaller than Stretch.  Another of the boys attempted to swim, but  retreated shouting loudly about how cold it was. I had to remonstrate with him over his choice of words.

All these lakes are strung out along what becomes in the wet season the bed of the Sturt River, a river that can be  kilometres wide for weeks on end, cutting off communities such as Bililuna, Mulan, Balgo and Ringer Soak from the rest of the world.  Except this year there was not much of a wet and it did not really happen.

On the shore we discovered a small green frog with a pale yellow belly and orange on the inside of his thighs. It looked a little similar to a Green Tree Frog but was not exactly the right shape, or colour scheme.  I did not have my camera along, unfortunately.  On returning and checking the Web, I concluded it may have been a young Splendid Tree Frog. It looked the same as this except without the spots.  It seems a bit far from the habitat marked on the map.  However I am 97% sure it was this little feller.

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Splendid Tree Frog

It certainly had the same equanimity as a Green Tree Frog when picked up and examined. It allowed me to look it over without complaint or struggle and just sat where I placed it after I set it down.  This seemed to impress my young friends.

I told the lads I have an affinity for frogs because, like me, they are happy in the water and on land.  The encounter gave us the opportunity to discuss nature, balance and the proposition that a man in harmony with nature  protects the creatures and their ecology and kills only to eat or to protect his family, not for “sport” or idle fun.   A point I shall need to repeat often in the coming times, because I know these kids will shoot at birds and small creatures with their slingshots just for “fun”.

Here are some photos of Lake Stretch I prepared earlier: