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November 19, 2011, by Léon Krijnen

By Jove, I Love This Game!   

wedge-tail.jpg
Photo: Wikemedia Commons

I've written the first of a series of guest columns for my friend Bob Powers. He doesn't care too much about the fact that he is what he is: the eldest bike courier in The Netherlands. Maybe in Britain, or in Australia too, mate!

Bob's also a cartoonist and the writer of a monthly column that's being sent to a mailing list with subscribers all over the globe. Most of the readers are based in Holland and Kyrgyzië, one of the world's six independent Turkic states (the others being Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan).

A country that Bob and Yvonne are in love with, where they have made fantastic mountain bike tours, and met a lot of new and now dear fiends. Other subscribers of the mailing list are living in Bob's native Great Britain, the USA, France and Thailand.

The eldest reader is Lee, an American lady, 91 years old. Every spring both Bob and I are taking part as guest riders on a 175 km cycle ride organised for and by local government workers.

My guest column is a story about our life on the farm in outback Queensland, Australia. The stays on the farms on the Darling Downs are some of the best and dearest memories of my life.

The story 'By Jove, I Love This Game', has happened a few times. The only difference: three out of five time the guineafowls outsmarted the eagles. So many stories yet to tell . . .

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By Jove, I Love This Game!

'For Christ's sake mate, why don't ya stay here? Would have been a whole lot cheaper,' said the immigration officer at Melbourne Airport, browsing through my passport, counting a total of twelve entry and exit stamps, six visa over the previous five years.

I always will be a bloody Dutchman, but at the same time I'd like to feel myself a true blue Strine. I've lost count but I must have been Down Under more than twenty times for a accumulated period of over three years. Been there, done that. I'll always go back, I’ll always come back. I love Holland in the summer, I crave for Australia in our winter, their summer.

There are so many things I love about Australia that I could write a guest book for my editor Bob instead of a column. Alas, no time, this time, maybe later.

For now, let's talk about the amazing, fantastic birds down there. About a big bird: the majestic wedge-tailed eagle.

Almost every day I see buzzards in Holland, on poles along highways. Big birds, but a wedge-tail could easily have a buzzard for breakfast.

They've got one problem: they are slow starters. Taking off like an overloaded 747 on a long runway.

At night kangaroos love to take a nap on the bitumen roads in the outback. On chilly desert nights the asphalt is warm and comfy. It's the main reason for a lot of road kills. Gigantic road trains thunder over the highways, crushing roos like limos flatten cats. The drivers don't even notice.

All those dead roos mean a free brekkie, brunch or dinner for the eagles. Most farmers call them eaglehawks, or hawks, which they are not. Feasting on roo carrion is easier than hunting, saving precious energy in the heat of the desert. In the heat you don't see the horizon when you’re speeding over a highway. The air is trembling, dust blows over the road. Suddenly there's a wedge-tail desperately trying to fly away from a dead roo, often too late.

A real pity, more so because they are such smart hunters.

We've often admired their hunting skills om Corowa I and II, the Outback farms in Queensland where we worked and lived almost every year between 1995 and 2009.

Tom Leahy keeps his peacock, chooks and guineafowls inside at night. Too many foxes, snakes and goanna's, always looking for an easy kill. At dawn Tom opens the gates so they can forage on the farm.

Guineafowls are beautiful and funny birds. Quiet and relaxed sometimes, most of the time busy, every once in a while seized by demons. The whole bunch can stampede in an instant, screaming and shrieking, running faster than the devil, some of them killed, breaking their necks against a tree or a fence. An instant later, all is quiet and peaceful again.

At noon, in the heat of the day, the guineafowls are in the shadow of the giant thorny pine tree in the meadow in front of the veranda.

The wedgies know. Be quiet. Look. They are there, somewhere. They will come, tiny specks, high in the air, the sun behind them.

They know when the fowls are resting under the pine tree, when the farmers are taking a nap.

The eagles come closer. Three of them this time. Two adults, and an offspring that has killed its own brother or sister to become the lone survivor.

The young eagle knows he has to stay aloft. The father, the largest one with over two meters wingspan, gently touches down in the dust, ten meters from the tree.

The game begins.

Fear stiffens the guinea fowls. They always look completely brainless in everything they do, but for now they sit and wait. They know they are safe as long they stay under the pine branches. The eagle knows he can’t get under there, his wings would be caught and pinned by the thorns.

The fowls all know that the one who takes a run, is doomed. It's a mental game. Nobody loses if nobody moves. Nobody wins as long as nobody moves.

The eagle on the ground tests the nerves of the fowls, waiting for one to snap. He is a bad walker, his big claws are made for killing. He moves as if he's doing an audition for The Ministry of Scilly Walks. His enormous wings spread out he waddles slowly to the tree, like a drunken ballerina, with his intense piercing looks.

This time all fowls snap at the same instant, succumbing to the piercing stare of his breathtakingly beautiful eyes. Suddenly, all together, they shriek, scream, run and try to fly in all directions.

The eagle on the ground can't do anything. He can’t run. In the time it would take for him to become airborne again, the fowls would be safely somewhere else.

No worries. He knows the kill will be taken care off by his mate. Thundering from above comes the female eagle, a cruise missile fixed on its target.

The chosen fowl is killed by the blow of the impact even before the deadly claws close. Feathers flying everywhere, like an exploding pillow. The eagles scream in triumph, earpiecing shrieks, fowls panicking in all directions.

In the master bedroom Tom Leahy is being rudely awakened from his daily siesta. By Pam, shouting on top of her lungs: 'Goddammit Tommy, wake up. Get yer bloody gun, the bloody eagles are hunting my bloody chickens. Get moving, Tommy!’

Tom acts as he is moving as fast as he can but he’s in no hurry at all. He loves the majestic eagles and they are a protected species anyway. On the other hand he doesn’t care too much about the bloody fowls. There are always too many anyway. For weeks you don’t see them, breeding somewhere in the bushes. Then they show up with twenty or thirty new chicks. Always way too many bloody fowls.

But Pam loves her chooks and fowls, and Tom knows is useless to argue with a woman. 'You can talk all day mate. But when the sun sets, she’s the one who’s right. Listen. Don’t waste your time.'

More important, he loves this game, and Pam. So he yawns, and shoulders his antique elephant gun, loaded with a bullet as big as a deodorant. The old cannon with the rusty barrel sounds like a salute from the ‘Guns of Navarone’.

The recoil throws him back but Tommy was always a good shot. He made sure the bullet whooshed high over the triumphant eagles, disappearing into the sun once again.

Moments later the deafening sound of the gun echoes back from the the big white ghost gums at the outer edge of the grounds, two miles down the driveway.

Cherised moments, haunting me because they’ll never come back.

Pam knowing, understandig everything, winking at me, laughing good naturedly as her husband, the love of her life, misses his shot.

Tom roaring his familiar victory yell, 'By Jove, I Love this Game Pam. My life, my love, my problem.’

Pam passed away in 2007, a heartbroken Tom sold Corowa last year.

By Jove, I miss the man, I miss Pam, I miss the farm, I miss Australia.

Leon Krijnen November 2011


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Bob is born in the district of Kent. It's as far as you can get in the direction of Australia, with your feet still on British ground.

Maybe that's the reason I hear a trace of Strine in his English. Or is it almost East End rhyming slang?

Anyway, Bob provided a list with the English words for some of the Strine ones, as several of the words you may not know are either Australian English or Australian Slang.

Since the 1960’s Australian English/slang is generally known as Strine.

Words in order of appearance.

By Jove = an exclamation used to add emphasis, somewhat old fashioned certainly in American and UK English.

Down Under = Australian ( For the English Australia is at the other side of the world.)

Strine = Australian English or in this case and Australian 'True Blue Strine' = a full blooded Australian

Limo = limousine = large car

Brekkie = breakfast

Chooks = chickens

Goannas = meat eating lizards. Amazing creatures, climb a tree faster than a squirrel, swim faster than Thorpy, dive like a croc.

Snap = in this case ‘losing self control’

Ghost Gums = one of the over 700 different species of the Gum Tree, or Eucalyptus. A Ghost Ghum is a white eucalyptus.

Posted: November 19, 2011 01:15 PM (1664 words).   

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