I’d been an only child the first ten years of my life. When my baby brother was born, I was delighted. My parents had a built-in nanny to care for him. With the ten-year age difference, I never had the teasing or pestering brothers can dish out. On the contrary, I’d led a sheltered life and likewise developed into an overprotective sister.
When I married, I had no idea of the pranks or tormenting jokes my former husband and his brother inflicted on others. I was soon to find out at the mustering camp. After dinner, we settled around the campfire that Irwin, the camp cook, had made. My brother-in-law passed around a box of raisins for dessert. They were sweet and refreshing, especially after gagging through Irwin’s “booger bread” dinner.
With the dry season’s hot weather, I asked why we needed to sit around the fire. “To keep the pesky mosquitos away,” my father-in-law said.
To which my bother-in-law quickly added that it was really the snakes we were avoiding. “Remember, Australia has over 170 species of snakes and 100 of them are poisonous.”
The glow of the campfire must have lit up the fear that overcame me.
“Don’t scare her,” my father-in-law said.
“I should correct that,” my brother-in-law said. “Only three are among the most dangerous in the world.” He described the Coastal Taipan that could grow up to two meters in length. Then he mentioned the Inland Taipan and Eastern Brown snakes, two that are more poisonous than the Indian cobra. All three inhabited our area. By now, I was paralyzed with apprehension.
Irwin started washing dishes. He whistled “Waltzing Matilda” and broke into the lyrics. When he finished, he explained the song to me. It was a story about a swagman, a worker seeking seasonal jobs in the Outback. “Waltzing is about travelling on foot, not dancing,” the elder aboriginal gentleman said. “Matilda is the name the swagman calls his swag or bedroll, where he carries all his worldly belongings. And he usually carries a billy can or two for cooking.”
We rolled out our swags as Irwin continued singing. Everyone started swatting themselves. Everyone except for me. The mosquitos had arrived. The idea of sleeping in a swag on the ground where poisonous snakes were laying, just waiting to bite me, must have changed my body chemistry. Forever. And mosquitos don’t like it. To this day, mosquitos leave me alone.
We climbed inside our swags under a full moon that night. At first, thinking that images of snakes would keep me awake, my exhaustion kicked in and erased all thoughts of venomous snakes. Drifting off to sleep, I could hear Irwin humming “Waltzing Matilda”.
Next installment: Flying Over the Mustering Camp
If you want to read previous blogs on my life in Australia, you can find them on my website.
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 the old 35mm film in dismal condition. To make the series more appealing to the reader, I use photographs that are similar to the experiences and locations I’m writing about in this series. I’m dependent on pictures from the public domain, Visual Hunt, and Creative Commons.
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