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Monday, 20 October 2014

Crooked Mick and the drop bears

I've been busy, finishing a book that I will talk about here later, though my facebook friends know all about it, and are probably getting heartily sick of it.  Anyhow, here's something I prepared earlier...

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There was one serious problem, back before the big flood, and that was the drop bears in the Speewah Ironbarks.  Now if you want to be really fussy, of course, they aren't bears at all, but a form of koala with a carnivorous habit.

Like the koalas, the drop bears are marsupials, with the same sort of pouch.  Funny thing is that the koalas and the drop bears both have a pouch that faces backwards.  The scientists say this is because they evolved from a sort of burrowing animal just like the wombat, which also has a backward-facing pouch.

I reckon Mick would've got the Sydney Harbour tunnel done easier if he'd used a couple of drop bears, if they can burrow, because their claws can rip into a Speewah Ironbark and slice through steel, but there's no reasoning with one of them—and even less chance of reasoning with two of them.

Back to the pouches though, a pouch like that makes sense in a wombat, because it digs burrows in the ground, but it seems just a bit odd in an animal that mostly lives in trees.  Anyhow, that's how the koala and the drop bear are, though the scientists at the museum are still arguing about whether the drop bear is more like a koala or a wombat.  Still, just goes to show that nature is sometimes a bit dumb.

The drop-bears are even dumber, when you come to it, and that was how Crooked Mick managed to get the problem under control, around the Speewah homestead area.  You see, ordinary drop-bears are usually only able to prey on small marsupials, things up to the size of an ordinary rabbit, but everything on the Speewah is big, including the rabbits and the drop-bears.

Some of them, from time to time, have been known to attack humans, using the same method that they use on small animals, even in the suburbs of the towns and cities along the east coast.  That is, they drop from a great height, and sink their razor-sharp canine teeth into the victim's throat, slashing the jugular vein, then they leap to one side, and wait for the victim to fall over.  As a matter of fact, I saw one try it in the Sydney Domain, round the back of Parliament House, one time, but it attacked a politician, and they're all bloodless anyhow.

Usually, the bears drink the victim's blood, but some of the more daring drop-bears on the Speewah had developed a taste for human flesh.  There are no two ways about it. They were man-eaters, though they seemed to prefer being woman-eaters and child-eaters, so people were pretty cranky about that.  We didn't mind too much when they just knocked off an overseer or two, but when they had a go at one of the shearers, we got good and cranky, I can tell you.

Anyhow, Crooked Mick knew a thing or two, and he knew how the original inhabitants of the area had solved the problem of drop-bears.  Walk through the area with two spears held vertically, one against each ear, and going well above the head, and make a sort of drop-bear kebab: that was how the Koori people used to deal with the problem.  In good times, Mick had been told, one stroll through a drop-bear grove, and you had a feast for the whole tribe, all neatly skewered on two spears.

Mick's first attempt was with a couple of crowbars, sharpened with a good stone, and that nearly did for him.  You see, he hadn't scaled up to a proper Speewah size.  The first two drop-bears on each side filled the crowbars up, and the ones that rained down after that bounced off their cousins on the crowbar, landed softly, and came in at Mick, spitting and snarling.

Luckily, Crooked Mick doesn't panic.  Nobody on the Speewah panics, but if anybody was ever going to, this would be the time.  There must have been a hundred of the things coming at him from all sides, crazed for blood: we were half a mile away, watching from out in the open, and we could hear the noise from there.

Anyhow, Mick stayed calm, and waving the two crowbars around, he flung off the four impaled drop-bears, which flew over our heads and off into the distance, and then ran straight at the live drop-bears, roaring and using the crowbars as two clubs.

Instead of stabbing, with the risk of getting the crowbars caught in the tough hides of the animals, he went through methodically, smashing the canines of each animal as it came within reach, rendering them harmless.  A few of them, disarmed in this way, retreated to the trees, but they were soon replaced by more drop-bears, drawn in by the noise and the smell.

Meanwhile, the boss and three of his mates had ridden up with rifles, and they opened up on the injured drop-bears on the ground.  They were good shots, so every now and then they dropped a bullet down the throat of a snarling animal and killed it, but most of the bullets just bounced off their hides.

That made it hard shooting for them, because they had to make sure a stray ricochet didn't get Crooked Mick.  Still, Mick was wearing a Speewah kangaroo skin vest and trousers, so he was about as safe as a knight in armour, from all but a really unlucky shot.

Anyhow, in the end, the drop-bears withdrew, still snarling.  There must have been four hundred dead ones, littered across the ground as we moved in with carbide-tipped chainsaws to skin them, and twice as many again, up in the trees.  We kept a good eye on them as we skinned the dead ones, I can tell you, but they seemed to have had enough for one day.

That night, Crooked Mick was busy in the smithy, clanging and banging away.  The Professor, who knew about these things, said it reminded him of Siegfried, who was a German bloke who killed drop-bears and things in some opera.  At least, I think that's what he said.  Anyhow, by daybreak, Mick had these two wicked-looking skewers, at least ten times his height, opening out into a broad sort of sword blade, which was as sharp as his axe, then flaring into a shield below that.

The boss came down about then, so Mick explained that the idea was to have the drop-bears impale themselves, slide down and be slice open on the sword part, and then be thrown to one side by the shield part.  The boss reckoned a few of the drop-bears would only be lightly wounded, but Mick pointed out that the wounds would make good targets for the riflemen, and give the bullets a way in.

Well, it worked a dream.  Mick went into the drop-bear groves, one by one, got nearly all of them with his bear-sticker, and the boss and his mates did for the wounded ones.  There were a few drop-bears left, the young ones which had not acquired a taste for human blood.  As Mick pointed out, it was only the ones which attacked him that died that day.

We were able to leave the groves further out alone, where the drop-bears weren't killers, and later, Mick even trapped a few adults and brought them in to ensure the survival of the species in the area, by providing a balanced population.  Like I say, he's a real softy, at heart.  Smart, but.

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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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