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Monday, 11 August 2014

The bush alligators of the Speewah

Yes, well, I suppose I can tell you about the Speewah dogs, since you keep draggin' them into the conversation.  Just don't keep distracting me, all right?  Now, talking of dogs and dragons, did you know them Chinese temple dogs are really supposed to be dragons?

It's a funny thing, you know, but there're only two places in the world where they have legends about dragons.  China and Wales, half a world apart, and they both have the same idea of flying reptiles.  And you won't find this in any books, but it was Crooked Mick that worked out that the idea began with the bush alligators, out on the Speewah.

Keep in mind that Mick had gathered himself quite a good education during that rainy spell that stopped the shearing for a couple of years, a while back, so it really isn't all that surprising, because probably nobody knows more about the bush alligators than Crooked Mick.  You just needed that good education and experience with the bush alligators of the Speewah, and it all becomes obvious.

Now don't get me wrong: these things aren't alligators at all, but a kind of monitor, or goanna as they're usually called.  Their teeth are nothing like a crocodile's or an alligator's teeth, and they mainly eat insects which they catch in mid-air, and they also chew up wattle seeds sometimes, which the plant scientists say are related to beans.  Apparently they have these big bags off their stomach, and the seeds ferment to make methane, which is lighter than air, and helps them to float.

It's funny, but over the vast history of our planet, almost every group of animals has evolved the power of flight: birds, bats, gliding frogs, even spiders — remind me to tell you about them sometime.  Yet even when people know about those pterodactyls of ancient times, they have never heard of the Australian bush alligator, a flying lizard which is still with us today.  Well, it doesn't really fly, but it glides really well, and that's how it catches its food.

What the bush alligator does is to climb up a tree as far as it can, and then it hurls itself out into space, where it glides along, using the skin stretched out between its front and hind legs, sort of like a gliding possum.  It can steer from side to side with its tail, but insects can escape from its path by suddenly flying up or down.

Or they could, if the bush alligator didn't have a great big tongue that it uses, just like a frog, to catch the insects.  The tongue's a great big orange sticky thing that it waves around, side to side and up and down, hauling the insects in, and swallowing them.  In the end, the bush alligator lands on a tree, and climbs up, and starts all over again.

Well that's probably how they used to do it on the Speewah, too, before the big flood, when all the Speewah Ironbarks were just about all cut down.  Now you find them still, out on the Speewah Plain, but they have learned to use the thermal currents, and Mick wondered if maybe they had always done this.

Now with a bit of education, and a bit of imagination, maybe you can see where the dragon story came from, but if you can't, don't worry about it.  I mean, I didn't see it till I heard of Mick's idea, so don't take it too much to heart.  We can't all be like Mick.

You see, a flying reptile with an orange tongue: that's just got to be part of the origins of the dragon legend, and they're only found in Australia.  But how did the idea get to China and to Wales, and not to any other place?  Well, you can see dragon figures in Indonesia, Mick says, and the Chinese traded with them from really early days.

And guess who else was down that way when Julius Caesar was still a pup?  The Phoenicians, that's who, and when I went to school, they taught us about how the Phoenicians went to Wales and Cornwall after tin.  And guess what they talked about when they weren't buying up all the tin in the area?  Wonderful things seen in distant places, that's what.  At least, that's what Mick reckoned.

I used to think of that, every time I saw one of them Speewah bush alligators circling lazily in the sky, but the Speewah ones are a bit more horrible.  You see, given the size of the Speewah insects, the Speewah bush alligators have a different feeding pattern.  The tongue is rough and rasping, so they come in from below, rip a leg or a feeler off a mosquito, and then dive for the ground, often with the mosquito in hot and anguished pursuit.

The advantage for the bush alligator is that it can close up its flaps, drop fast, then open its flaps again, and stop close to the ground: the mosquitoes can't match this, and they usually crash into the ground and die.  When that happens, the bush alligator flies off, fast as it can, to collect its mate and its young ones, and they all feast on the mosquito.  Then the other ones see it as they circle, and they fly in as well, until sometimes there're forty or fifty of them, all gorging themselves on the dead mosquito.

I've often wondered if the bush alligators do it deliberately, but there's no way you could really tell.  They're game, though: I once saw one rip a wheel off a light plane that was flying out that way.  If another one hadn't come along and taken off the other wheel, I reckon the pilot might've been in trouble.  As it was, he was able to do a belly-landing then, so maybe the bush alligators are more intelligent than people give them credit for.

If dogs could fly, I wonder if they could be as clever as that?  Ah yes, I was going to tell you about the dogs, wasn't I?  Well, maybe next time then.

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Note: there is a whole book of these stories, which I am currently pitching to publishers, but they will probably appear in an e-book.

There will be quite a number of these on the blog, all with the tags Speewah and Crooked Mick.

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