When I think about the native animals on the farm, kangaroos are the first things I recall. They did not usually come close to the house, but whenever we rode horses into the paddocks further away, we would usually disturb some. At that stage I did not recognise individual species, but they were probably Eastern Grey kangaroos, not the bigger inland Red Kangaroos. Their numbers varied according to the seasons, fewer in drought, more numerous when good rains had brought increased native grasses. We did have numbers of the smaller swamp wallabies, which tended to live in the denser shrubby areas near the creekline.
After floods, there was often standing water in the creek under the road bridge, built by my grandfather Harry Littleproud. I crossed it twice a day, on my way to school and on return. As I was on a bike, I was quiet while crossing. Then sometimes I would see disturbances in the water, and the small grey head of a water rat going about his business.
We lived in an area where possums and koalas had been hunted for fur during the 1920s. They were only in very low numbers in the 1950s. I only once saw a koala during my childhood, when a lone male was travelling across country, probably looking for a female. With the help of local parents, we school children saw him up close for an hour or so, then he was released. I don’t remember ever seeing a possum, but Dad did once bring home a dead sugar glider which had become entangled in a barbed-wire fence. Small bats did sometimes visit at night.
Fishing was not a regular hobby. Most of the time, the stagnant water was very muddy, and the fish tasted of the mud. But after floods had brought fresh water, then fish numbers increased, and the fish tasted better.
Our creek fed into the Condamine River, a tributary of the Darling and later the Murray Rivers. So once it might have been possible that Murray Cod lived here. No longer. The biggest fish we caught were Golden Perch … locally called ‘yellow belly’… which sometimes reached 4 or 5 pounds [2-3 kg]. They were very good eating. Also we caught ‘jewfish’, shaped more like an eel, with long whiskers around its mouth, and poisonous spines along its back. The smallest fish we named ‘bobbies’, probably a smaller type of perch.
Unfortunately, we sometimes caught tortoises when fishing. Usually they were wise enough to avoid the bait. If they were caught, we always released them. It was more usual to find them trundling across the grasslands and swamps on their way to the creek.
As children, we also caught a few crayfish, using lumps of raw meat as bait. The meat was tied to the end of a length of string, and we dangled in into pools of water left by receding floods. The crayfish were very hungry after spending months or years hibernating in the dry clay at the bottom of the pools since the last flood. They would grip the meat so tightly that we could lift them right out of the water on the end of the string. Later, we released them back into the water.
In the soil beside the pools of water in the creek, we could sometimes find fresh-water muscles. Dad used them as bait for fishing.
There were a number of different reptiles around us. When the region was overgrown with the pest plant, prickly pear, death adders were common. They are small black snakes, and extremely poisonous. I never saw one. Our common poisonous snake was the red-bellied black. We often saw them around the house and stock yards, probably because of the available water, and the mice which were attracted by grain and food scraps. I had many encounters with them, but managed to avoid being bitten. For example, on my way to the outdoor toilet one evening, I trod on one. It probably got as much of a fright as I did.
Green tree-snakes also lived around us. These were non-poisonous constricting snakes. My one encounter with them was riding my pony under a tree where one was moving. The pony panicked, jumped sideways, and almost deposited me under the tree. But I managed to hang on.
My mother had a different encounter with a tree-snake. She found one in the house, climbing up the door frame. She slammed the door, and the snake was caught in the hinges of the door.
We also had different lizards. Goannas were quite common. They often tried to dig their way into the shed where our hens laid their eggs. As it was my job to care for the hens, it was also my job to check the fences regularly for signs of their digging access. One goanna would be able to eat all the dozen or so eggs I should have collected the next day.
They were also interested in eggs of the native birds. Dad had planted a grove of silky oak trees near the house, and there were many nests in them. Sometimes, we would hear a lot of panicked calls from the birds, and would find a goanna climbing one of the trees, while the birds tried to drive it away. It usually left when we appeared.
One of the smaller lizards was the frill-necked species. At one time, Dad had employed an immigrant couple to work on the farm, and they lived in the smaller house. You probably know that Ireland has no snakes. As this couple came from Ireland, my parents spent some time warning them about our resident snakes. One day, Mum and I heard this poor lady screaming. When we rushed to her aid, we found a very small frill-neck lizard sitting on a fence post. Soon, all was calm again.
The very smallest lizards were geckoes, only a few centimeters long. They lived on the inside walls of the house, hiding behind curtains and pictures during the day, only coming out at night. We welcomed them, as they helped to keep down the numbers of flies and moths. Every night, we were plagued with huge numbers of moths attracted to the electric lights. Sometimes, there were so many that my mother would fill a dish with water, then hold it up just underneath the light bulb, drowning large numbers at once. But the geckoes would be on the ceiling, snatching up any moths that settled to rest.
These geckoes also provided family memories. One evening, my brother was amusing himself by tossing ping pong balls at one particular gecko sitting on the lounge room ceiling. The ball happened to contact the gecko just as my sister was walking underneath. The reptile was so shocked, it lost its grip on the ceiling, fell down, and slipped inside the neck of my sister’s dress. You can imagine the consternation. The poor gecko died, probably of severe shock.
Despite the usual dry weather, we did have several frog types. The most conspicuous were the green tree frogs. They too liked to live near the house, in the gutters of the roof, and anywhere taps dripped water. When Dad finally installed a flushing toilet … using water from the creek, not from rainwater tanks … they soon found the permanent water supply. Then you had to be sure to check for their presence, before you sat down. Otherwise, there would be a loud protest from below. But it was not always easy to fish them out.
They sometimes moved further into the house. Once, when my grandmother was visiting, she found one on her dressing table. She assumed it was a fake, placed there as a joke by my brother. So she attempted to pick it up. But it protested loudly, and she got a nasty fright.
There was a large area of swampland between the house and the creek. After heavy rain, when water collected there, there would be thousands of frogs of several different types. Then the night was filled with an unending chorus of their calls. Later, the water would be alive with ropes and masses of frog eggs. Within weeks, the water drained or evaporated away, and our nights were quiet again. The frogs vanished underground until the next rain event drew them out.
We also lived with many different types of insects, and spiders. They need their own blog.