Friday, September 17, 2010

Crocodile Rock


Crocodile Dreaming
Bruce Nabegeyo (c1949-2009)
(Yirritja moiety, Nawamud subsection,
Gunbalanya Region, Western Arnhem Land)

Size = 75 x 105 cm.
Natural ochres on arches paper

Aboriginal Fine Arts Gallery

You move to a new town, draw up a list of things that you want to see or do, work your way steadily through the list. & then, about halfway through, you stop.

Until you decide it's time to move on. & then you pick up the list again, maybe add or take off a couple of things because of what you've heard about them.

There are two main roads that go down to the ocean. Rule of thumb is to do the round trip, just over 100 kilometers, varying which road we use to get there. It means that either about 12 kilometers before we reach the sea or 12 kilometers after we leave it, we pass a side road that is signposted "Crocodile Farm." We've always passed by it before, but decided to visit it yesterday as we headed to the beach for a bit of ocean tang & a fish & chips lunch.

Spent a great 2 to 3 hours. Learnt a great deal about crocodiles—the crocodile as co-inhabitant of the planet with the dinosaur; the crocodile as religious object in ancient Egypt & in modern-day Melanesian clans; how the crocodile is born with 67 teeth, but one of those is intended solely to break through the shell at birth, falls out soon after, & how, though there are never more than 66 teeth at any one time, the crocodile can grown up to 3000 teeth in its lifetime. Which can be 70 or so years. How, though the popular nomenclature is freshwater or saltwater crocodiles, they are all essentially freshwater; it's just that one variety has the ability to extract & extrude the salt it takes up. How the freshwater crocodile has a long thin snout for catching its prey in narrow rivers, unlike the saltwater which is much more wide & can catch & consume much larger prey. Including humans. How the crocodile's back feet have webbed claws, but the web is vestigial.

The farm is split into two parts. One, the commercial aspect, crocodiles grown for skin or meat, we didn't get to see. The tourist part, though, is an essential part of the commercial aspect. What you get to see, up close & personal, only a single wire fence away (plus, of course, the extra meter or so you give yourself for safety) are primarily breeding ponds, most of them containing a mating pair, the male twice the size of the female, & generally caught after they'd taken up residence in an area of high human habitation & needed to be removed. One was caught after it had been sighted in the waterski park of the Fitzroy River which runs through our city. During its capture, it was discovered that there were actually three crocodiles living in the area, but the permit allowed for only one to be taken. So the others remain there, along with the 50 or so that are known to inhabit the river. Another was removed from a Cairns swimming hole popular with the workers at the nextdoor sugar mill. The farmer who owned the land knew the crocodile was there because he'd seen it at night, but no matter how often he warned the swimmers they paid no attention because they hadn't seen it. He became so nervous about it that he called in the experts to have it removed, & a large crowd gathered to watch the event. The owner of the crocodile farm reckons he could tell who amongst the crowd had been swimming there because of the looks of absolute horror that appeared on some faces as the several meters long animal was tied up preparatory to being taken away.

There is also one large pond that contains a number of young males selected from those bred on site. Twenty crocodiles used to be there. There are now only 18.....

The crocodile farm practises what it calls conservation by commercialization. It has persuaded a number of the owners of cattle spreads in the Northern Territory to stop (illegally) shooting any crocodile that came onto their land & took the occasional head of cattle & instead find out where the nests were & harvest the eggs annually for sale to the crocodile farm where they are incubated & grown for the skin & meat. The cattle people get $10 an egg; a crocodile matures at around 15 years of age & lives for another 50+ years. There are about 50 eggs to a laying. I think the figure quoted for the value of the skin & meat of a three-year old, three meter long cultivated crocodile is $1000. The crocodile in the wild gets to keep on keeping with those females whose laying sites aren't known to propagate the species, & everybody else gets to make money.

The words, the information, are still here, but will probably fade. What will really stick in my mind, haunt my dreams, though, is the physical thing, is the size that a crocodile reaches. Almost five meters long, a meter wide at its belly, 850 kilograms in weight, those yellow eyes watching you, the teeth, the size of its mouth as it lunges up to snap at the chicken head/feet/entrails that the keeper feeds it with. The hollow clap as its jaws close. Ouch.

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