Thursday, 22 December 2011

Cooktown Crossing: "Mummy, they're having terrapins for supper!"

Love this picture of Raz on the Cooktown Crossing.
Hadn't realised that it bore such a resemblance to the Napalm Photo from 'Nam at the time it was taken.

An ageless man, a kind of white aboriginal with a matted white beard and long hair, who'd been the bush warden here for 5 years, came and sat with us. His opening gambit, after he'd settled himself next to me by the camper and said hello to the kids, was “they’ve been massacres here!” Did he mean last weekend (we had a bbq and it all went horribly wrong, they bought Shiraz, not Pinot Noir) - or in Capt'n Cook's time?

It turned out that there was an "incident" between the white folk and the aborginals in the 1950s when 3 white children became ill and died over a period of 2 weeks. It was blamed on the local aboriginals and then 50 of them were killed in a revenge attack. This man, whose name we never found out, said it took him many years to get the full story out of a local woman, who had been a child at the time. He took up the offer of a glass of wine and a bowl of pasta marinara and then told the kids that it was fine to swim in the river. "It's full of crocs, but these freshies and are more scared of you. If you shine a light over the water at night you'll see their red eyes."
Raz and Bear collected dry wood and got a fire going for the night on the river bank under the gum trees. We met some local boys and their dads, that had come up for the weekend from Mossman. Raz and Bear were keen to find out what they were fishing for and trying to catch in their cages. They came back to the camper surprised and concerned in equal measure . They told us that these boys were hunting terrapins and were eating their tails for supper.

I didn't realise that terrapins were native to this area or that they lived in fresh water. Less so that they were bush tucker for schoolchildren. We wondered down to the river in the dark to to talk to them and their dads. 

It turned out that they were looking for yabbies and a local crayfish, called a “cherrapin”. All through the night I could see the boys from Mossman checking on their yabbie cages and cherrapins. Raz and Bear got out of the campervan at 6am to go fishing with them and check on their hoard from the night. They hauled up a beautiful red clawed cherrapin which got put in a plastic washing up bowl with an empty can of beer. Later one dad got a chain saw out of his 4WD and started chopping up the wood in the fire as it was burning. Raz, Bear and the Mossman boys  (Dallas the blondie that Bear liked and Damien, the aboriginal boy) went swimming in the river - with the shy crocs.

Happy Yabbies?

Red spotted Cherapin.

Bear and Dallas fishing.

Bruce, taking Cooktown Crossing in his stride.

We packed up shortly after the Mossman boys and left Cooktown Crossing, back through the ford and up the dirt track for 10km to the “Hurricane” signpost. We turned left and took the Mulligan Highway to Cooktown itself.

Just after Dead Dog Creek, which was all dried up like the others, we saw our first large dead Roo by the road. We stopped for a late breakfast at a truckers café at the Palmer Rail Road Crossing. The cafe had a side museum devoted to the gold rush that hit the Palmer River area ("purest gold in the whole of Australia") in the 1830s. The woman who ran the place had a “small family mine” up near the now abandoned town, of Maytown. She said it was pretty violent during the gold rush era and mentioned that the Chinese came in their droves and took gold out of the country in their trouser turn ups and shoes!

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