Outback Animal Conflict

John Sayles

© Copyright 2019 by John Sayles

Photo by Ben Douglas on Unsplash
                                        Photo by Ben Douglas on Unsplash

Our small fifteen-seater plane dropped down through the rain after the one-hour flight from Brisbane to the lovely named town of Toowoomba. Our young farming friend waited by her farm wagon to take us to their Australian outback farm near the little town of Goondiwindi, situated close to the Queensland & New South Wales border after a bone jolting trip of over three hours.

The outback was rather different to that expected, in places looking like the rich, flat black soiled Fenlands of England. I had not expected to see cotton fields. Further on we passed stretches of  bush paddocks, cacti, gum & eucalyptus trees and the occasional emergency reservoir, while thirty-eight wheeled road trains rumbled past us on their way further east, moving sheep to better grazing lands. We drove westward further inland to the drier grassy plain looking out for the farm which had been built by our friends.

When our farming friends were about to get married, they sent us a message to say they would send a picture of their new planned home. This turned out to be a sawn-off telegraph pole with a telephone perched on top.

They simply telephoned a store in a town hundreds of miles away to order the basic sections of their new home from an illustrated catalogue. Ray built, with his wife’s help, their new home section by section as and when they could afford an extension.

At last we stopped, being pleased to turn off the main road to a dusty farm track, at the end of which we were promised we would see where the sawn-off telegraph pole had been transformed into the farmhouse for our holiday stay. Thinking we were near to the farm we were surprised to find the dusty track crossing paddocks of dry, waist high grass was to go on for a further ten miles. Being able to stretch our legs was relief as we tackled the first of many gates approaching the farm providing an opportunity to appreciate the vast size of the farm covering several square miles in area. The front of the truck was protected with strong ‘roo’ bars. Running into kangaroos, wild pigs and the occasional dingo or wild dog was a motoring hazard. Not just a dusty farm track but a mind blowing ten-mile track between farm and the school bus stop. A journey made every school day by the boys of our friend, so no wonder when, a little older, they were placed in a boarding school near Toowoomba.

Next morning up for an early start to give a hand with installing fence posts before the searing heat of sun up made hard physical work very unpleasant. Jim, our friends farming husband, loaded the truck cab with a massive can of drinking water, some grub and a couple of rifles for protection which was a great surprise. Why protection? Jim had been having trouble with wild boar damaging the rabbit fencing and, in the past, had had a narrow escape from a tusk attack from a cornered pig.

Resting from the hot work of sinking another long railway sleeper in to the ground as a fence post we could hear nothing but the rustling of dry, sun-bleached grass under the blue sky. Savouring the silence and unusual beauty of seeing vast dry grazing as far as the eye could see, I thought I heard a voice breaking the silence.  Jim said “Oh, that will be dad mustering sheep movement with his dogs some three miles away”. Then a strange grunt-like sound could be heard in the silence of our rest break. Jim took his gun from the truck saying it could be pig or if we were lucky, a Bowerbird mimicking a pig.

Telling me to get behind him Jim crept forward to a scrub area, stood listening and looking close under the scrubland bushes and fired his gun. Swearing, as he had hit but not killed a wild boar, Jim quickly raised his rifle again as the shrubland burst apart to see the wounded charging pig. Jim did not miss a second time. Thank goodness I thought,  almost on the point of running back to the truck for protection. Jim cut off the best parts of the pig or wild boar as a treat for his cattle dogs back at the farm.

Jim was not sure if the mimicking Bowerbird was a warning signal to other birds of the pig’s presence or not but from experience, he thought there could be more than one Bowerbird nearby. So, keen to show me another wild creature with a remarkable life style he suggested we downed tools and went exploring. Jim said: “Look for pieces of bright shiny metal or other unusual coloured litter items across the ground”. If seen, this could be a trail leading us to the nest of a Bowerbird. Sure enough, before long I saw pieces of broken green glass, possibly from a shattered beer bottle. Following the small trail of green glass led us to a Bowerbird nest. 

The male Bowerbird had built nearly a metre long, tunnel-like avenue of twigs between two close bushes.  Inside were a few soft leaves and small twigs forming the nest surrounded by a mixture of shining bottle tops and green flakes of glass to attract the female. There could well be other such nests in the area, the female flitting from one to another in deciding which was most appealing.

Returning home Jim went to one of the barns looking for enough boxes of  plastic fencing clips to repair the rabbit fencing next day.  Another early start next day in a different paddock, this time seeing a few kangaroos and cones of soil from which emerged lines of teeming, vicious red ants disturbed by our footfall. We quickly got out of the way of the ant trails deciding such a place was not a good site for a lunch break.

While walking along the fence in need of repair I saw a few red pieces of plastic on the ground. Having by now got used to looking out for unusual or unnatural trash on the ground from, milk bottle tops, snail shells, berries of different colour and metal foil, I wondered if this might lead to another Bowerbird. Jim laughed when I mentioned what had been seen. I could not see anything special to laugh about but Ray suggested I try following the red items and see where you end up. Sure enough, a few yards further on, there was another Bowerbird nest tunnel, surrounded by piles of red plastic fencing clips and a few snail shells. Rays laugh was understandable, for here were some of  his missing fencing clips from the barn, where a box had been found open earlier that morning by an inquisitive male Bowerbird in search of further delights to attract a mate to his nest.

One could not help thinking that, with the upright timbers raising the floor of their home above the ground, the concept was not too far from that of the Bowerbird’s nest, especially when they stored the contents of their new home under the floor staging, Shiny pots and pans, coloured carpets, mirrors and glass for future windows, a scene not so very different to that of  Bowerbird nests that Ray had guided me to.

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