“Outrunning a crocodile…”
Previously, I’d mentioned that our closest neighbors lived 35 miles away at Roper River Mission on the aboriginal reserve of Arnhem Land. A location not exactly close enough to borrow a cup of sugar in a pinch!
The Mission, which by the time of my arrival was administered by the Welfare Branch of the Australian government, was on the opposite side of the river from us. Traveling from St. Vigeon’s Station to the Mission meant we either took the speedboat up the Roper River or we carried a dinghy on the back of our Land Rover. No bridge connected our side of the Roper to Arnhem Land so we crossed the river, dense with crocodiles, in the dinghy.
Our friend Dieter, an older German fellow, managed the Mission’s only store. In his youth, he had been intrigued by the Outback’s untamed bushland and moved to Australia. He’d originally hunted crocodiles, selling the hides for a living, until the government outlawed it. A gentle soul, I could not imagine him as a hunter. Yet, through that early work, he knew the river and its tributaries better than anyone.
I’d asked him so many questions about the giant reptiles that one day he invited me to go “hunting.” This meant cruising the river to spot crocodiles.
Dieter steered his speed boat from the main artery of the Roper to its tributaries, whipping around winding curves like a wild man. Utterly surprised at Dieter’s spirited behavior, I hung onto the grab bar, feeling the snapping and tail spinning of a roller coaster. I thought we’d scare the crocks away. Without warning, he brought the boat to a crawl.
“Smell that swampy, musty odor?” he asked.
I nodded, not really smelling anything, other than the river.
Letting the boat drift, he pointed toward the bank. I heard a splash but saw nothing.
“The odor is the first indication there’s a crock in the area,” he explained. “It’s stronger and mustier than the river. Your nose and eye will train after a few more tries.”
“What if the boat capsizes?” I asked, clearing my throat, trying not to sound scared.
“Swim to shore, and if you make it, then run like hell in zig-zags. Crocks are lightning fast, but can’t turn corners. That’s the only way to outrun them. Zig-zagging.”
I’d already killed a poisonous King Brown snake, but outrunning a crocodile was not something I wanted to try.
Next installment: More Adventures at the Homestead
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This blog is based on my recollections of my life in Australia many years ago. My own photographs of Australia are not only limited, they are old 35mm film in dismal condition. To make the series more appealing to the reader, I supplement with photographs that are similar to the experiences and locations I’ve described in this series. I’m often dependent on pictures from the public domain, Visual Hunt, and Creative Commons. All photographs are used in an editorial or educational manner.
Boat – Public Domain
Crocodile – Live Science
River, hills, and vegetation – Australia’s Guide to Arnhem Land
My Life in Australia Blog – Installment 8 – brought to you by Tortuga Publishing, LLC