Lennox Head lost a real local character with the passing of Ian Watson early this year. He was a great storyteller, who had lived an interesting life. This is a story written by him, about his younger years as a crocodile hunter.
‘I was asked to catch eight crocodiles in the NT in the early seventies for a program agreed to by the Northern Territory Administration and Sydney University, for the purpose of studying the habitat and breeding habits of crocodiles.
The plan was to catch live crocodiles and fit them with radio beacons monitored by satellites. Peter and I set off from Darwin and headed for the Mary River country, east of Darwin, excellent crocodile country. We had enough tucker for two weeks, fishing nets, rifles, ammo and swags, plenty of gear for a good camp. If necessary, we could live off the land.
We landed at the Mary River about noon, had a drink of tea, still trying to work out how to catch the crocodiles and, when caught, how to handle them. We ran four nets and sat down on the bank of the Mary with a fresh drink of tea leaf. In a matter of about 30 minutes, the water and nets started to jump about and we decided to pull the nets. We had six crocs in the nets and a big mob of Barramundi.
Having never experienced live crocs, we had a scary time retrieving them from the nets. Once we had them out, we tied the back legs and put a light rope around their snouts, then loaded the fish into the eskies.
It was late afternoon, we needed two more crocs and we also had a big mob of fish on ice. The fish would need a top up of ice after a few hours. We decided to find two more crocs quickly and get back to Darwin before it got too hot the next day.
I had a brilliant idea, we would go to Keith’s camp at Moon Billabong, a lovely spot on the Mary River Country on the way back to Darwin. Keith was an elderly gentleman, who some people may have classed as a poacher. If you needed to put a label on Keith you would say he was an ‘opportunist’. Keith was a typical bushman who could and had turned his hand to most things allied to living in the bush, with a good reputation as a drover, prior to becoming an opportunist.
We approached Moon Billabong with a bit of noise that would allow Keith to gather any suspect goods and hide them from prying eyes. We met him at the main shed and discussed local news. We were then invited to camp the night and have a feed.
Over dinner I asked Keith if he had any spare live crocodiles as we were two short of the total we needed for research. Keith said he had a few and we could borrow a couple if, in the future, we would replace them. I assured Keith that, as the crocs would become the property of the Commonwealth of Australia upon us receiving them, we would be obliged to replace them ASAP.
The camp was awake at daylight and we had the choice of a number of crocodiles, we tied and loaded two on the truck. During breakfast, I asked Keith when he first camped at Moon Billabong. He told me he had walked a mob of bullocks (1200) from the west and decided to come through this country as there was plenty of feed and water. He commented that he left a pocket watch on a tree at Moon Billabong, and only after he left the camp with the bullocks did he realize his mistake. It was not possible to go back at the time so he continued on his journey.
Twenty years later he returned to Moon Billabong to fish, shoot buffalo and pursue the opportunity to become an opportunist. Keith was organising and setting up a new camp at Moon Billabong, when he noticed the pocket watch on the tree. He then said ‘Brolga, you know they made bloody good watches in those days, it had not lost a second’.’