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DAY 199: Stalking seals

18 Mar


THE stench! I rate seals only slightly below ducks and rabbits in my top animals poll, but I had no idea they reek of wet dog, rubbish and rotten fish. No danger of a new pet here.

We’re out in Apollo Bay in Kenty’s sparkly purple speedboat, which he’s smashing down on dips in the ocean with great aplomb. Earlier, the bush pirate betrayed the unspoken trust of menfolk by relaying the phone conversation he had with Kenty. “We’ll just take the boat out, give it some sharp turns and scare her a bit,” Kenty said.

So as not to disappoint, I shriek and squall sportingly whenever we take off over a wave and slam down again. I am a bit worried the electric engine contraption he’s screwed on to the front of the boat (for creeping up on fish) is going to fly off and break my nose, though.

“Is she going to be sick?” Kenty yells, as the wind whips off his hat.

“No, she’ll be right.”

We idle at the seal colony and watch a big group of them arf-ing and wrestling in the surf. Others sit atop pointy rocks, grinning. They’ve no interest in us, and ours wanes after a bit too, so we nick off to the site of  70-year-old shipwreck Casino. She went down in a storm, but not particularly dramatically. Today we can barely make out the dark outline. Time for some more yahooing, then.

“This does explain your hair-do of the last decade,” the bush pirate observes of Kenty’s swept-back look as we roar into the harbour.

Keeper? Wasn’t sick, just hoarse. Might have to grab the wheel next time.

DAY 188: Washing a dirty dog

7 Mar


NACHO was dirty. I soaped him up.

Keeper? Yes. Seemed to like it, the weirdo.

DAY 169: Streaking in the rainforest

16 Feb

He didn't come skinny dipping, if you're wondering.

KINDA cool that I dreamt I was skinny dipping last week and now here I am, lolloping into a swimming hole at 2.30 in the morning.

On the way here, coming out of a seaside town, we see a koala sat in the middle of the road, having a breather. After escorting the furry fella away from the white lines, my cohort takes me to the top of the Otways to do some ‘pirating’. I’d thought this would involve treasure coves and jolly rogers, but instead we’re pulling up young myrtle beech trees that are due to be slashed for increased road access. These’ll then get replanted elsewhere in the bush pirate’s reforestation efforts.

Job done, we go for a ‘walk’ through the rainforest, which turns out to be a near-vertical trek up the ridge, hauling ourselves up on vines, tree ferns and dead branches: two steps forward, one giant arse-slide back, for the most part. En route we pass endless pockets of glow worms and hear bats and barn owls flying overhead. Then off for a nudey swim to wash off those leeches.

Keeper: Yes!

DAY 152: Stalking bats and other stuff

30 Jan

THERE’S nothing weird about someone owning a Gen 2 night vision monocular in suburban Melbourne – they might merely be a bat-watching enthusiast.

(Add a Mossberg and a telescope into the equation and it gets a little weirder, but that’s none of my business.)

 Tonight we’re scanning the skies for fruit bats and skimming the grass for trapdoor spiders, the eyes of which you can see glowing up at you – so I’m told, anyway. I’m more interested in checking the windows of the neighbours, but they seem to be wise to this sort of behaviour and everyone’s got their curtains shut.

Keeper? Yes, but will invent an intrepid mission next time. Apparently someone has borrowed the perfectly normal Gen 3 US Air Force headset with automatic rangefinder and IR targeting laser to go pig hunting. So I’ll wait for the return of that.

DAY 151: Riding Ralph ragged

29 Jan


IN among homesteads with fox carcasses strung up along the front fences is Hepburn Lagoon Trail Rides, and it’s here that I first clap eyes on Ralph, my ‘orse.

Like all accomplished studs, he totally ignores me, even when I’m hoisting myself up for a straddle. Then, when everyone else trots off through the gates to begin their epic journey, he wanders aloofly in the other direction to go and have a look at his reflection in the shed window.

You play a hard game, Ralph. That’s okay, so do I. 

Horses are notoriously shirty, but Ralph’s a joker, cutting up the others to overtake, winding them up by shadowing them so closely that they can’t see him over their hulking shoulders, and not observing stop signs when we’re on the road. He breaks in a trot whenever he feels like it, but for someone who has broken in a mechanical bull, this poses no problem.

Ralph plots a course into the nearest low-hanging tree.

Sometimes, as we stumble through woodlands fragrant with ferns and berries, I imagine his massive horsey vertebrae moving together in sync under his muscles, but mostly I stare at the back of his ears for three hours, which must be quite unnerving.

We reach a muddy stream, which I’m half hoping I’ll fall into – better here than somewhere else, anyway – but Ralph wades through it with a bit of huffing. It’s about here I start to totally trust him. Sometimes he stops dead to violently rip up some grass (in a suspiciously rider-throwy gesture), but for the most part he’s now obeying my every nuance with the reins and not giving me any shit, even as the other beasts pull hi-ho Silver moves and jerk their heads in horsey fury. We clop past a ‘Gestalt equine psychotherapy centre’ but I don’t need a shrink to tell me Ralph has developed a grudging admiration here. I reckon I could even pull some one-legged circus moves if I wanted to.

Keeper? Yes. Don’t be surprised if I whinny and break into a trot when excited, from now on.

DAY 121: Going fishing

30 Dec

A DRIVER’S licence might be an elusive beast, but it turns out any chump can secure a fishing licence, so I do.

After buying a $6, 48-hour one from Lorne’s information centre, I hire a rod and bait, and listen intently to the complicated instructions from the chap, which go along the lines of “fner fner fner fner fner, fner fner fner, fner fner fner fner fner and be careful of the hooks.”

Luckily, fishing turns out to be a lot less hi-tech than expected, and Clare and I manage to just stick the bait, hooks and line together with guesswork and a lot of unhooking of hooks from fingers.

The actual fishing commences on Lorne pier, with a latte in one hand, handbag in the other, and rod balanced awkwardly between the knees. Every time the tide pulls the line taut, I reel it in and people flock over at all the excitement.

“You’re drawing a crowd and that’s not what you want,” mutters Clare as I reel in my sardine.

But it’s hard not to just keep taking a little look… Ye gods! There’s a bloody massive upside down crab the size of a dinner plate stuck to the end of my line, and it’s not looking happy. “I can’t get it up!” I yell to the pier (fishing is a fount of innuendo), and the crab smartens up and lets go before we can get any photographic evidence.

A nearby pro tips me off: “You need to come here at six in the morning, there’s nothing around these times. There’s a big calamari down here, but that’s about it.”

The thought of pulling up a big calamari: maximum squealage.

Keeper? Yep. Hooked.

A little number somebody left at the end of the pier.

DAY 120: Having breakfast with the ducks

29 Dec

They came from far and wide.

BREAKFAST was muesli. The only sound was weird grunting noises (them) and clanking of spoon.

Some cockatoos came over and started playing with rubbish, throwing it up in the air with their beaks, rolling it around with their creepy tongues, and wrestling it to the ground.

Keeper? Yes.



Day 100: Testing out a cow-hugging ruse

9 Dec

MARTIN’S got a plan, and it’s so outrageous, it just might work.

“I am reliably informed that there are people in Melbourne – Brighton, if we’re being specific – who will pay 600 bucks for a cushion, without $590 worth of cash or drugs in it,” he ruminates. “I’d like to promote cow-hugging as enhancement of human wellbeing. How much would they pay for that? Fucking heaps or the world’s gone mad.”

And it just so happens he’s got a small herd. Probably the happiest cows in the land, they stroll leisurely through acre upon acre of long grass, chewing cud and huddling sinisterly. I’ve always found cows sinister, anyway, which is why I’m the perfect person to test his new ruse.

Martin starts by dispelling some myths for me that I reckon other pea-brained urbanites would subscribe to: Horned cows are not all bulls; bulls don’t always charge (although his did charge right through the electric fence to get at some panting heifers); when cows lie down it’s a sign they’re regurgitating, not a sign of impending rain.

And how smart are they?

“They know how to be a cow,” he says, non-expansively.

For my hug I’m introduced to a sweet-natured Jersey cow, Madam, in what is a bit of an awkward moment. I know why I’m here; she seems to know why I’m here… first go on the new girl’s for free, but with any future dalliances there’ll be money changing hands.

Martin demonstrates how to hug Madam tightly from the side so that she can’t wriggle around, and she doesn’t protest too much. I climb the fence and wade over to embrace her barrel-like body. She’s just the right size, with a soft, short hide that’s eminently pattable, and a head like a giant anvil.

As I pat, she swings her curly horns violently towards me. “Gerroff,” is the subtext. And she only gets more irritated as the hugging progresses.

“She may need to be broken in a bit more,” I suggest of little Madam as I scoot back out through a gap in the fence to avoid being gored to death in the water trough, although Martin sticks to his story that she’s just after a friendly scratch between the ears. “I can almost guarantee she won’t gore you,” he says, skipping nimbly out of the way of a crotch-bound horn. “Not on purpose.”

To round off the Farmyard Friends famil, we take a walk through a few of Martin’s paddocks, where a bunch of Angus-Friesian cows are lounging around. Martin calls them over and, after some discussion, they come, making their way up from the valley.

Menacing, no?

As they huddle around us, a lark spirals out of the long grass and gives them a scare that turns to bovine fury as they take it out on Martin’s three-legged dog (a lot of the domestic animals around here seem to be listing).

I’m getting slightly nervous myself, with all the looming and staring going on. As we walk away I have to keep checking over my shoulder in case they’re legging it up behind me whenever my back’s turned.

Keeper? Definitely. More hanging out and I might even be able to grab the bull by the horns.

The paddock. It's like a near-death sequence in a film.

DAY 51: Starting a rabbit fanciers group

21 Oct

MEMBERS thus far: one. If I don’t stand myself up, our first meeting will include a vote on whether or not to petition The Daily Bunny for ignoring my submissions of Mr Thumpy…

Mr Thumpy.

Mr Thumpy.

Mr Thumpy.

Mr Thumpy.

in favour of the barely legal tail they’re currently toting.

How very predictable.

Keeper? You could start all manner of fool groups on that site!

DAY 39: Swimming in the Indian Ocean… with dolphins

9 Oct

WE landlubbing layabouts barely have time to panic about the idea of breathing through a snorkel, before the Rockingham Wild Encounters boat screeches to a halt and we’re urged: “Go go go!”

“Mnf!” I exclaim through my snorkel as we’re swiftly surrounded by six female bottle-nosed dolphins. “Fngh!”

For the next hour, as we cling onto each other’s belts and gawk, these girls tumble over, skim past our noses like bullets, swoop at us from below and arc through the air in twos and threes. At one point they all stop and lurk at the bottom and I’m convinced they’re plotting an attack – just for a larf – but dolphin dude Justin assures me dolphins are too busy thinking about rooting to think about attacking.

After a mere hour of living out our long-held dreams, pretty much everyone’s ready to pack it in – this ocean’s a bit nippy, as it turns out. As I climb back up onto the deck, my wetsuit puffs out with seawater like a Goodyear blimp and my arse won’t stop shaking. Where are the sandwiches?

“We can’t beat ’em off with a stick,” our skipper says admiringly, as the dolphins swim right up to the steps of the boat and eye us beadily. “And where the hell do you think you’re going?” they seem to be saying – as well they might.

Keeper: At $200, I might just have to treasure the memory.