…you’re ever likely to meet in Australia. Forget the kangaroo and koala, the honey possum or the numbat – cute and cuddly are not what I’m working towards here. The platypus and our echidna probably come second in my book – but I’m odd like that – and the wombat (Sorry Wombat mate) and the emu, really don’t rate on this scale at all. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering an emu or a wombat it’s probably doing one of two things: showing you it’s bottom (as it bolts away from you), or it’s completely ignoring your sense of personal space – trying to get close to you! Wombat’s dig bloody great holes in the ground and don’t care if humans fall in them, and emu’s don’t believe your tucker belongs to you, and you alone!
I’m talking about this fella – the thorny devil (molloch horridus).
Take it from me, this little fella is absolutely, bloody fascinating! The name is a good one, but don’t think for a moment that the ‘thorns’ you see here are as sharp and prickly as they might appear. These little fellas are as soft as any other reptile, and in my mind probably one of the most eye-catching! The thorny devil can be found throughout the centre of Australia, over to the western edge of the desserts in WA. As a kid – it wasn’t unusual to come across these fellas wandering around. You often found them propped up over a bundle of angry black ants – their head oddly cocked and looking down – all the better to get the advantage over their tucker scurrying about the ground under their belly. If you’ve ever seen one of these critters standing up – you’d be forgiven for thinking they were obviously males, flexing their muscles (and tail) and puffing themselves up. If I could do THAT with my body, I’d be posting my piccies here – not theirs!
I was reminded of these guys today when one of my colleagues was telling a yarn about coming across one on the highway north of Newman, Western Australia. The kids in the car fell in love with it instantly – wanting to keep it as a pet (which folks, is a serious no-no here in WA and most of Australia. These guys are a protected species!). We laughed and reminisced about how we used to see them quite often as kids – but saw very little of them now. They’re – as you can imagine – quite the conversation stopper. Sadly people would be known to take them, and not knowing of how specialised their diet was – a particular species of ants – these little fellas would die. That too – was quite a conversation stopper. A sad story indeed.
So I thought I’d share a funny one with you instead. I’m forever amazed at the ability of our young people to never miss a trick. If there’s an opportunity to be had, a situation or circumstance to be milked – our young people (all young people) are amazingly quick off the mark. We have a weed over here in WA, mostly north of Perth, and well known because it produces ‘fruit’ that dries hard and look like this:
We call it a Doublegee over here – although it’s been call a three cornered jack, and is known as the spiny emex – either way it’s a problem weed, painful to step on (it can make some livestock lame) and is often thick-as, in cereal crops. It’s a bloody nightmare, and mostly – no mater how it lands on the dirt – one of those bloody spines are sticking up. Green (still on the plant) or hardened and dry, these buggers are bloody painful, and if you’ve grown up in a rural community – you’ve stepped on these sodding prickles, somewhere!
In the eighties, it wasn’t unusual to have American Warship’s pull into the Geraldton Harbour for their R&R. We’d see the warships come and go anywhere up to half a dozen times then – and we’d welcome them. They (the ships crews) were a welcome distraction in a small coastal country town, which had very little to occupy itself. They brought money – American money – and the looks we’d give our schoolmates who’d brought an American dime to school, well… WOW! If they produced a ship’s cap to go with it, they were almost God-like. If they’d scored a jacket – you’d genuflect – such was the feeling! We were kids – these things were gold to us.
And so were our odd critters – to the Americans. Any of us kids with odd critters, could make quite a few bucks, getting your photo taken down on the wharf, with a critter like the Thorny Devil, and which ever sailor had himself camera. There’d be a line – so charge ’em 50c a shot, and you’d make yourself a killing. enough to take yourself and a few of your mates out for a feed at the local deli – enough for an absolute ARMLOAD of 50c bags of mixed lollies (you know – when you’d actually get a WHOLE bag full of ’em!). Such a day’s work would make you King for a day amongst your mates.
Imagine then, what a little matchbox, lined with cotton wool, and containing two or three of them there doublegees would get you? Especially if what you did was carry with you the type of critter you’d be expecting to lay such oddly shaped ‘eggs’. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story eh! A super enterprising kid (no it wasn’t me!) connected our amazing wildlife to one of our most painful weeds, and came up with a perfect match! Such was his success with the first warship he’d flogged his Thorny Devil ‘eggs’ off too, he had helpers ready when the next ones came around. He made a whole BUCK and a half on a matchbox, three doublegees, some cotton wool, some care to detail, a good prop, and a little selling. He made a bloody killing!
I remember the kids working the wharf, and I remember the sailors they duped! I laughed so hard the first time I came across their selling technique – I nearly choked on my Kole Beer (soft drink). I never had the heart to dob ’em in… it was simply to good a ruse, and I had to acknowledge the sheer mastery of the way this kid played his punters. I saw this again in nearly every single port we tied up in, as a sailor myself. I never fell for the everyday tricks the young fellas would try, I’d learned early – but I always congratulated them on their form, as they reminded me of the young fellas who shown me this ‘caper’ in the first place.
So when you’re out and about in someone else’s backyard, and a kid is trying to pull the wool over your eyes – smile – and think on what I’ve shared here… don’t you think for one minute that YOU haven’t been one of these kids, once… sometime ago. Nahhh – you weren’t like that now… were you?
Belongum – Out!