Crocodiles of the Adelaide River

How do you describe meeting up with someone you haven’t seen for seventeen years? Especially when that first meeting was for only one afternoon and took place in a professional setting. The French have a word for it: “simpatique”, it means that on a certain level you resonate with another person and find yourself comfortable in their company and in accord with their sentiments without necessarily knowing why. It can turn out to be totally misleading but that particular problem usually arises in the romantic context – and haven’t we all fallen for that one! However, it can also be the basis for a lasting friendship and even one that survives from opposite ends of the Earth.

So Troy and I said our hellos at the Museum and managed to navigate our way in the borrowed car to the borrowed apartment via the grocery store. We sat and talked. He worked out how to use the gadgets while I cooked cowboy beans and then we talked some more. And some more. By the time we had caught up on the intervening narrative and set the world to rights it was pretty late but that was Okay because we had a Plan.

I was to discover that in Aboriginal society protocol and politeness are paramount. Troy, whose ancestry is from the East Coast and whose background is fairly “establishment” could no more just turn up at an encampment than I could. Introductions would take time to negotiate and, since there were several meetings he needed to set up for an ongoing theatrical project, I knew I would be playing tagalong at best. It seemed better to use the time while everyone was away at the festival to get the environmental part of the trip out of the way and we headed just out of town to Holmes Park Nature Walk.

Here, we found an almost deserted car park next to what seemed like a well-marked trail and I left Troy to relax with the birdsong while I set off in my slouch hat and walking boots with camera at the ready.  (At this point in the narrative Sandy probably has her head in her hands.) No, I didn’t get lost on the trail and I’d certainly absorbed enough information from the Natural History galleries at the Museum not to depart from it even for a second but then neither did I find much birdlife. I had listened to the locals and liberally dowsed myself with “jungle strength”  but even so the insects were out in force. In fact at one stage, tiny spiders dropped down from the canopy to attach themselves to the brim of my hat after the fashion of the classic cork-dangling Aussie stereotype.

“What about the crocs?” I hear everyone ask but first I have an altogether different Darwinian wildlife experience to relate. After about an hour (with no reptilian encounters) I got back to the picnic area to meet a couple of obliging gentlemen who turned on a standpipe and attracted some tiny finches for my photographic amusement. There was no sign of Troy. Fortunately we had a phone signal and, when he came back to pick me up, he explained that the place where I’d left him had turned out to be a popular Gay pick-up area and that he’s had to decline several invitations.

There are saltwater crocodiles, or “salties”, pretty much everywhere along this coast. A prolific and dangerous lifeform has apparently been made even more prolific by the introduction of the cane toad. This non-indigenous species is poisoning off the goanna lizard, the main consumer of crocodile eggs so local people do not fish in the creeks or swim in the sea. Of course, Troy is not a “local” either so on the next day I managed to persuade him to accompany me on an Adelaide River Croc Jumping Cruise. Only in Australia.

Harry, the captain of our flat bottomed aluminium boat, was straight out of Central Casting although at least his khaki shorts and greying blond ponytail were accompanied by substantial boots rather than the ubiquitous “thongs”. We learned that most of the recent human fatalities were caused by drunkenness or careless fishing but then it’s always the fault of victim, isn’t it. We were told to wear plenty of insect repellent and sunscreen and keep our hands inside the boat at all times. Certainly.

Just as promised The Dominator was upon us as soon as we pulled away from the landing stage. He charged the boat in order to demand his regular feed of buffalo meat dangled on a rod over the side. Yes, I’ve seen plenty of crocs in Africa and India but this was five meters and a thousand kilograms of dominant male. And we were looking straight down his throat from a distance of less than a meter. He is probably over seventy years old and these people are teaching him to jump? Upstream we met Brutus, an even bigger and more athletic specimen and the fact that Harry’s brother had another boat full of crocodile munchies out on the river meant that our photographs were stunning.

As well as being such a fund of crocodilian lore, the brothers obviously knew all about the rest of the estuarine species and Harry was kind enough to call in a couple of the whistling kites and toss some food up for them to catch in mid-air. I wasn’t quick enough to capture that in a photo but was taken by how similar a performance it was to that which we give with the Harris Hawks when we fly them for the public at home. This little mystery was solved when I found out that a few of the local birds understudy for the crocs and are summoned out to do this spectacular fly-past when the brothers have not been able to tempt the big guys out of their dressing rooms. The show must go on.

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