The truck rattled and jumped over the patchwork of crusty potholes on the narrow dirt track. Only three months before the vast grassland that stretched out before us was covered by a huge inland sea. Even though it was August and Southern Australia shivered in the clutch of winters icy grip, the sun in the Northern sky was as potent as a furness.
Cattle grazed peacefully on the abundant vegetation, you could easily be excused for thinking you were in the African Savannah. Water Buffalo, native to Asia and complete with giant black horns, viewed the intruders with suspicion.
My father was in his element, he had been given the job of recording all mechanical equipment and parts at an iron ore mine in the Northern Territory. The mine was being liquidated so his job was virtually autonomous, no one telling him what to do. A Londoner by birth he had taken to life in the tropics like a pig to mud. His pale white Anglo skin had miraculously turned the colour of tanned leather with in weeks of his landing in Australia and it was now impossible to tell by looking at him that he hadn’t always been here.
We were heading to the Mary River to fish for the famous Barramundi, a legendary fish in size and flavour. I had never seen landscape or vegetation like it before. I spent many years telling anyone who would listen about this park like paradise that I had seen. Apparently in later times other people felt the same as me and it is now the Mary River National Park.
We spent a great day fishing and exploring the river bank. Dad and his mate caught some unbelievable fish so it was well worth the trip.
Latter in the day my friend and I wandered further along the bank following the paths that I now know had been made by the cattle. We reached a place where the bank dropped to a low muddy tributary. The trees changed, instead of being tall and majestic they became low and tangled. Taking a moment to decide if we were going further the decision was taken out of our hands, a sound I had never heard before froze me to the bone. A blood curdling, deep, rumbling, growl began.
It may seem strange now that I didn’t know what it was or that we didn’t even think that there were salt water crocodiles in the river but the fact is they had been hunted to almost extinction by the mid 70’s. Steve Irwin was a kid like me and his famous cry “Crocs Rule” was an ungerminated seed in his brain.
Even though I hadn’t realised before that there may be crocs in the river, it only took me a moment to realise what that sound was and we ran back to our fathers as if our lives depended on it, which they probably did. The funny things was I had actually asked earlier in the day if I could go for a swim and been told yes. I’m sure my father wasn’t trying to get rid of me.
These days crocs are known to inhabit most of the Northern Territory waterways but back then most people barely gave them a thoughts, how times change.