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ALBERT DORRINGTON

WHAT THE ALLIGATORS DID

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As published in
The Sydney Mail & New South Wales Advertiser, 16 May 1906

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-04-02
Produced by Terry Walker and Roy Glashan

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HO, and here's plenty of snap in me! From jaw to tail I'm full of possibilities. I live in the blue mud, where the grey backed eels twist and squirm whenever I begin to thrash about for my dinner. From the low hills to the gulf the creek bank is black with mangrove shade. The creek is wide and deep at mouth; the north wind and tide bring whiffs from the pearling grounds, and the black luggers straddling across the oyster banks.

I like the hot sun; there's nothing better for my health than a steady swim against the incoming tide, or to play possum and let the current strand you at the mouth of a nice inlet. There's a knack in lying slantways like a bit of charred driftwood. Short-sighted people and dogs are apt to fall over you. I like the fat wild geese that come squalling over the back lagoons; and spying about the long reeds. People think I'm a sluggard, a gross overfed reptile without brains. Let me tell you I have picked up a duck the moment it dropped from the sky to river. That's as smart as a man with a gun, eh?

Speaking about guns. Last year a Chinaman with a 25 shilling pea-rifle fired at me point blank. Opening my mouth I kicked violently, and then lay quite still. The Chinaman hugged his pea- thrower and chuckled.

'You welly dead, my friend,' he said, looking at me. 'You no killee my lille pig any more.' He came closer and closer, and—Well, I did, and nobody ever inquired after him. But the Gulf Chinaman who offers you his best dog is not to be trusted.

I remember a young Batavia River alligator who came upon a fat little dog asleep on the bank. Being inexperienced, he waddled over and lifted the dog in his mouth. Then a jam tin full of dynamite ripped the air, and my poor young friend was blown through a ten-foot mud bank with the dog in his mouth. In future I want a reference with stray dogs lying about creek beds.

If sick cattle go missing in the Gulf they mention my name, and send out search parties. A search party with guns walked over me one night. My word they got a fright—so did I.

I am fond of a deep-water swim; the scouring tides tone a fellow up. Besides, you never know what you may pick up, a cask of beef from a wreck, a dead sheep, or a Queensland bullock. A coop of drowned turkeys hit me on the nose one morning; must have got washed overboard from a China-bound steamer. If an alligator goes pig catching he must rise early and walk fast.

The full-grown 'gator makes no sound when he takes the water. He is hard to track and harder to kill. The way to catch a pig is to get him in the middle of his squeak and scrape his whiskers in the mud. That settles him—that and a half-mile swim under water. I've carried a pig across country with the whole district chasing me with axes and guns; and the pig in my mouth calling on his friends to hurry up, to hurry up. A pig in your mouth is like a comic opera with all the fiddlers in full swing.

I rolled the little beggar in three feet of mud, but his squeak grew louder and longer, until a nasty rifle bullet ripped my back and made by head ache. I dived with piggy in my mouth, and stopped the squeaking, but you could have played golf with the bubbles he sent up. Those bubbles were almost the death of me. Gun and rifle shots fairly spilled into the water. I took a back seat between two mangrove roots until the footsteps and the banging died away.

I didn't tell you about the buffalo-hunters. It's a great story, but the hunters didn't think so. The old blue bull led the herd over the sand drift; behind them thundered the horses and guns, working in a half-circle to drive the mob into a boulder- packed gully. Then a ti-tree swamp got in the way, and before the herd could swing clear they were up to their girths in slush and mud thick enough to hold a herd of elephants. The hunters fumed and raced along the sand ridge, but a buffalo in five feet of mud is worse than a ship on a reef. The hunters left them. After dark the alligators looked in. I haven't tasted buffalo since.

King Margooline was the biggest bull alligator on the Australian coast. I've heard of the Ganges mugger, with a body like a thousand-gallon tank. King Margooline was as thick across the barrel as an ordinary steam launch. He wasn't satisfied with the rich food to be found in the creeks; he took his two sons, Jag and Guz, towards the Great Barrier inlets once in quest of new dinners and sensations.

The ravenous Cape York sharks got wind of their movements, and it doesn't take a Cape Yorker long to scoot from Hannibal Island to Cook's Passage. An alligator is at home in the mud flats, where the slime holds and blinds his prey. A half stranded Jack shark could be torn asunder by a baby 'gator, but in deep, clear sea water things are different. A small shark can follow and bite an alligator to death by striking at him under the throat.

Well, the Cape York sharks came down in a great flutter to see King Margooline and his two fat sons. They sighted the three alligators just below the Lizard and made a splendid rush to cut them off from the beach. Guz and Jag and the old King got in front of the enemy by two lengths. But they were afraid to move an inch towards deep water. Behind them stretched the Barrier Reef, with its sun-rotted grass and naked rocks—a hungry, cheerless place. Opposite was the rich coast of Queensland, with its creeks brimming with food.

The Cape York sharks had blocked the return passage. They cruised in watchful lines beyond the surf. The King was puzzled at his position; he was unable to move forward without being caught by the hungry watchers flitting here and there like torpedoes The skin under our throat is soft as velvet and once a 'gator allows seven feet of water to pass under him he leaves himself open to attack.

Crawling inland the King noticed a wide lagoon in the steep hollow of the Barrier. It was fringed with palms and the floor was of dazzling whiteness—not a good place for an alligator, but very inviting to a shark. The face of the lagoon was alive with strange sea fowl; large and small fish streamed in flashing shoals across the sandy floor. Guz and Jag licked their jaws suddenly.

The King grew, thoughtful. The entrance to the lagoon must be on the Pacific side of the Barrier, he argued. The lagoon formed the centre of an atoll, and he wondered if the sharks. could effect an entrance at high tide. He waddled through the long Barrier grass, and over the loose stones, where the sun stayed like a hot plate on his back.

Trundling across the small white beach he slipped with a great noise into the lagoon, and followed the outgoing tide towards the entrance. The opening was deep and wide, just the place for a hungry shark to go through on a hot day.

The Cape Yorkers had grown uneasy at the sudden disappearance of the King and his two sons. But a shark can follow the scent of a bull 'gator as easily as be can follow a dying man on a ship. Within an hour they had manoeuvred through the reef strewn channels, and were swimming in a line towards the lagoon entrance. For a long time they waited outside, suspiciously, until a fresh scent of blood drifted towards them, and they knew that the King and his sons were at work somewhere inside the lagoon.

Slowly, like a fleet of ghost ships, they stole through the opening, led by a ferocious tiger shark with the teeth of a band saw. The shoals of Barrier mullet scattered in quick flashes as the squadron of sea-hunters moved across the lagoon. The gulls wailed and beat inshore; a strange. bird-cry went up from the distant lagoons that was heard by the spying quail and ducks on the mainland. The blacks at Emu Gully heard it. and stared seaward, knowing that something was happening in one of the big fish-packed lagoons.

The old King watched, the sharks moving towards him; he signalled to his sons to keep inshore, as he swam from the entrance with his enemies close behind. He knew the worth and courage of each monster that swirled in his wake.

When an ocean-going shark is hungry, he will follow his prey into corners where a 'couta or salmon wouldn't be seen. Looking behind suddenly, the King saw the villainous admiral shark at his heels. Swerving noiselessly, and without effort, he flashed into shallow water suddenly; then turned his big snout towards the fleet of hungry sharks.

'Good morning, gentlemen,' he said, politely. 'I fancy we have met before.'

The slow-swimming sharks turned and eyed him sullenly.

The King lay beside his sons in a shallow pool within three yards of their pointed jaws. A slim tiger shark, a born shallow- water fighter, turned suddenly, and flashed forward his teeth, striking the King's armour above the left shoulder. Guz and Jag shook with laughter; but the King lay still as a log, until the young tiger turned to join his comrades; then his black snout ripped through the sand and caught the shark by the middle, tearing him almost in halves. The squadron of Cape-Yorkers splashed and rolled in their futile rage, as the King rose with the young tiger in his mouth, and walked to where the black mud lay deepest. Then, with terrible strength, he bruised his enemy's body into the slime, and covered it, doglike, with sand and stones. With a merry twinkle, in .his eye, he returned to the waiting enemy, and lay beside his sons, while the sun slapped them pleasantly between their armour-plates. The full-fed wind- driven birds hovered about in clouds. Far down the Barrier, they heard the low beat of the out-going tide.

Rising with a mighty yawn, the King waddled along the beach, and viewed the mob of sharks now huddled in one shallow pool. The tide had receded stealthfully, leaving a line of wet sand hills between them and the lagoon entrance. It would be hours before the tide returned.

Guz and Jag walked near, and stared at the writhing monsters, trapped in the shallow bed of the lagoon. There was no outlet, and they crowded and flapped over each other, striving to reach greater depths. Here and there the hot sun scalded their exposed bodies, and set them gasping for breath.

'It will go lower yet,' laughed the King, 'until they are almost high and dry.'

The slow-receding tide drained the lagoon bed gradually, until the mass of ocean-bred monsters lay in a vast huddle of flashing fins and jaws.

'Now, my sons,' bellowed the King suddenly. 'Let us begin our work.'

He stooped nearer, and the beach trembled under his thrashing body. His great snout stabbed in and dragged the admiral shark from the hole. The brute was hard to kill; be fought and slashed with his enormous tail, his jaws moved like trip-hammers, but the King beat his body against the rocks, and squeezed him like a sponge. Guz and Jag flung themselves into the shark-filled hole, dragging monster after monster ashore.

The air was soon alive with screaming gulls and fowl.

'You fellows know how to command the sea,' chuckled the King; 'but when it comes to a plain mud-fight, you aren't worth your salt.'

His big snout slashed right and left among the squirming mob; some of them fought and thrashed, but they were as helpless as a herd of caged geese.

The sun went down hot as the mouth of a fiery crater. When the moon stole over the distant cape the blacks crawled to a near headland, and listened to the sounds of slaughter.

'It is the Bunyip,' they whispered. 'The debil-debil.'

Ho, what a sight was there when the tide raced through the lagoon entrance. Dead sharks, grey giants with gaping jaws and mangled ribs lay half buried in the black -belts of mud. The tide uncovered them at dawn, and the big blue fish-flies hummed over the beach, darkening the bodies and feeding like carrion.

The King and his sons slept long and deep. When they awoke their eyes wandered over the scene, and their laughter was heard by the crabs scudding over the distant reefs and pools. Thousands of small fish crowded in through the entrance. The news of the big kill flashed from Hannibal Island to Pera Head.

'Good work,' guffawed the King, 'to clear the water of such vermin.'

Putting their heads north the three adventurers sailed home to their native creeks among the swamp quail and the haunts of the pigmy geese. Glad enough were they to hear the wind thrashing through their beloved mangroves. The tropic darkness shut out the world of jungle around them as they stole from inlet to inlet.

'Hush!' whispered Margooline. 'Something is sliding towards us.'

Out of the blackness of the creek bed came a huge Queen alligator, her eyes burning with rage and vexation. King Margooline trembled from tip to tail.

'It's your mother, boys,' he gasped. 'Now for it.'

The three adventurers slunk along the creek bank until the angry Queen spied them out.

'Where have you been?'

The words seemed to come from her throat like bullets. 'Must I hunt alone all the days of my life?' she demanded.

King Margooline trembled in the creek mud.

'We've been fishing,' he answered, querulously. 'I asked the boys to come with me.'

'Fish, Foodleum!' bellowed the Queen. 'You've been for a deep sea drink. Don't come here with fishing tales. Isn't there enough to drink at home?'

'It tastes a bit different down the Barrier,' said the King, humbly. 'Don't lose your temper, my dear.'

But the Queen's bitter tongue followed him along the creek. All night it was heard lashing him to fury.

A pair of rock pythons basking in the sun heard him say that he would never go shark hunting again.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.