Everyone that has spent any time in the bush knows that a key life skill is to be able to tell a good yarn. Sitting around fires with all sorts of people over the years, I’ve heard plenty. That being said, I’ve gotten involved in as many situations that make a good story too. Just for kicks, here are a few of the golden ones that I’ve seen or heard about lately.
The summer of 2012 found our ecology team spending a lot of time on the south coast of NSW looking for the threatened green and golden bell frog and Australasian bittern. The swamp we spent our time surveying took a fair bit of effort to get about in due to the thick growth of cumbungi and common reed that carpeted the area, as well as the fact that the entire place was inundated by up to nearly three feet of water. At some stage in the past, the landholders had worked on drainage of the swamp by constructing a series of drains running the boundaries of paddocks. The digging of these drains also created raised bunds that provided the only hard footing in the place.
One such summer day found myself and the ever keen Jim wandering about in the thick of it counting frogs, falling in hidden drains and steaming ourselves to a nice juicy consistency in chest-high waders. By midday we had covered the section of swamp that we wanted and were ready to head back to the vehicle to go and check out another area. Getting to a bund was a nice change from forcing through the almost impenetrable reeds that grew everywhere else and we were glad to get a slight reprieve on this metre wide corridor.
Taking the lead, I wandered along keeping an eye out for the odd wader tearing blackberry bush. Understandably, the first patch of sunlit ground that we came onto was home to a fine example of a tiger snake; the swamp loving, black banded, bad tempered bastards that they are. While there is no need to fear a snake, being able to read and react to the individual is a valuable skill. There is also the saying of letting a sleeping dog lie.
I spotted the snake at about the same time that it saw us. True to form (I’ve never met a tiger that needed any provocation) it cocked its head up and flattened its neck in a big-noting ‘I’m thinking of biting you’ kind of way. Pulling up to observe I pointed it out to Jim saying “look at this cranky bugger”.
What I had forgotten was Jim’s fascination with reptiles and interest in snake handling. Taking one look and with a “that’s awesome!” he found a stick, squeezed past me, and poked the snake.
The thing just went mental.
“Oh shit!” was all Jim managed to get out as he realised the confined nature of his position, with no option of jumping to the side and a slow retreat at best along the way we had come. Meanwhile the snake was free to move wherever it wanted, and all it wanted was Jim.
What I watched next was the best amateur fencing match I’ve seen, with the snake advancing repeatedly only to be parried by Jim and his trusty stick. The defence was astounding, and I’m sure the nearby bell frogs listened in bated breath to the angry hisses, the clash of swamp oak against scale, and the subtle rustle of PVC wader footwork as the battle raged.
In time the snake realised the tenacity of its opponent and stopped to glare at us while we waited to let it make a decision. Eventually, and with a final flick of the tongue, it slithered off into the undergrowth. Jim turned to me saying “that wasn’t a good idea”. Agreeing, I decided not to mention the event to our Work Health and Safety committee.
My uncle was fishing for mackerel from his local pier in Fife, Scotland, one summer afternoon and was enjoying having the place to himself. One fish landed already, things were looking promising. Before long, however, approaching (loud) voices were heard and an American couple came chattering down towards him. Laden with plastic shopping bags and massive beach caster rods, the woman asked whether there were any fish about and what they were interested in.
“Yes, a few around” pointing to the fish at his feet and holding aloft the light spinning gear and metal jig that the fish had taken.
“See honey, the fish are here!” She exclaimed to the bloke and they selected a position nearby.
Setting out the shopping bags, a couple of six packs of lager were extracted and duly cracked. He began setting up a rod while she got in a quick smoke, and he handed over a baited rod buckled under the weight of a lead approaching the size of a billiard ball. Time for another can.
He was getting ready to set up another rod while she wound back to send a line out there. With amazing force, she fired the weigh out over the Firth of Forth. Taking in the slack, and confused with the lack of resistance, she wound back in to find what she hadn’t noticed; that the line had snapped when she cast.
“What’re you doing?” he cursed as she waved the broken line in front of him.
“The weight wasn’t heavy enough, put a bigger weight on!” and she cracked another beer while he re-rigged.
“Go easy, just go easy” he instructed as he handed the rod back over.
Taking aim, she wound up for another overhead catapult. Swoosh! went the rod and she squinted out into the distance to see where the bait landed. Splosh! went the cannonball as it finally landed in the harbour behind her.
“What’re you doing!” he cursed as she adjusted to fish her new destination.
“I’ll just leave it there” she remarked while looking for her lighter.
“No! Get it back out in the sea!” he instructed and she began to wind back in.
“Just go easy this time”.
He sat back down to crack another beer as she repositioned for another cast. Apparently unimpressed with the performance of the overhead cast, she must have decided to try a different approach and wound up for a sweeping sidearm cast.
The bloke was just settling back and raising the can to his lips as she rocketed another cast aimed at the clock tower in Edinburgh. Just short of his face, the weight took the beer can head on on its way past and cleaved the thing neatly in two in front of his eyes.
Staring dumbly at the surgical-grade amputation for a second or two, he then began to splutter, cough and finally roar at his accomplice.
My uncle quickly and quietly packed up his gear and left the pier to them, assuring them that he had enough for his tea on the way past. A couple of other locals that had been wandering down the pier with rods in hand turned around at about the same time.
A few years ago my good mate Forest decided to visit me for a month in the United Kingdom to see a few different things. While in Yorkshire we had a bit of roe deer stalking lined up and he was pretty keen to get out and see these little creatures up close. Unfortunately for him, he had also managed to contract glandular fever at some point just before getting to the UK and was having trouble with fatigue.
We were planning on heading to the nearby village pub with my old man and a few of his mates for a couple of pints on Friday night, before an early morning stalk on the Saturday. Forest was feeling pretty doughy on the Friday afternoon and decided to have a kip so he would be fresh for the pub. I assured him I would wake him up in time to go at 7pm.
At that time of year it was getting dark around 5pm, so by 6:30 night was set in. Daylight wasn’t until about 7am. Heading to his room, I decided to stir him up a bit. Bursting through the door and clapping my hands I woke him.
“Come on, get up! I couldn’t get you up last night mate so we left you to sleep. It’s 6:30am and we’re getting ready to head out for a deer. Get your gear on, there’s a coffee downstairs for you”.
I went back to the kitchen and informed the others. We didn’t think the trick would hold for long.
Ten minutes later Forest came down fully decked out in his stalking gear, grabbed his coffee and started lacing his boots. Having done so he sat back to take his coffee and get ready for the hunt. First he looked at me then my dad, decked out in clean shirts, jeans and dress boots. I could see him thinking as he sipped his coffee. Finally, he looked back to me.
“Why are you guys dressed like that?”
Bursting into laughter, I explained that it wasn’t actually morning and we were about to head to the pub.
“Oh. That makes sense then” he said, starting to laugh.
It turns out that when he woke up he had a text message from one of the locals asking what he was up to. He had replied that he was just getting ready to go out and look for a deer. After a few minutes of silence he got a reply.
“How will you see them?”
To which he replied:
“Don’t worry, it will be getting light soon”.