Our Small Friends
Growing up in an all male family (moms were not girls, they were moms), I had a fair bit of trouble communicating with most girls. Some that I played with at times were OK. They would pick up a frog, a lizard, or most little bugs for a closer inspection without turning a hair. But most, it seemed to me, were a little bit above me and talked down at me. Also, their peer group, mothers or in particular schoolteachers, were continually trying to instil in them that they were young ladies (wrong). To have anything to do with spiders or the like was terrible. In fact, the better the acting performance they put up, the better everybody liked it. So then, shrieking, jumping onto the nearest chair, fluttering a hanky in front of their faces (a-la-the southern belles in the movies). All this was accepted of young ladies. The only thing not one of them perfected was swooning. And thank the lord for that, because all the rest was bad enough. To have the soppy lot falling down everywhere would have been just too much. One of the worst attributes of young ladies was fawning all over the teachers. A feller had to be very careful when experimenting with anything or even turning sideways because one of the young ladies would have a hand up saying.
'Please sir, I saw Robert Oliver looking happy at lunch time, he must have done something wrong.'
All this made me feel nervous, even when I had nothing on the drawing board.
But to the story. While I was in third and fourth grades, we had a Miss Anges Curruthers as our teacher. Miss Curruthers was built like one of my moms broomsticks. Straight up and down whichever way you looked at her. As a matter of fact, if she had her head turned sideways and you didn't know, you would think she was facing the front (work that one out). Miss Curruthers was a born teacher though and I remember Miss Curruthers, because I reckon she was the best teacher I ever had. A lady for sure. Plain outside but a beauty inside. Well Miss C was telling us one day a bit about spiders and that usually the biggest spiders were females. In our dunny at home, there was a very good collection of grey huntsmen (why are they called 'grey' because a lot are a brown or black?). I had a habit of wanting to sit on the throne when I should have been in bed, so I had to troop down to the dunny with a candle (and a stick to change the mind of any spider that wanted to walk over me). There was one very big black huntsman so I knew it was a female. What else could I call her but 'Anges'. She would sit on the outside wall of the dunny, seemingly not doing much. So I got an idea that I should help a fellow dunny dweller like myself. In moms sewing box was a really long needle (a bag needle I think it is called) with a super sharp point. It disappeared one day, much to momsdismay because it was part of a set. But never mind, it went to a good home behind a loose board in the dunny. The blowies would settle down inside the dunny up near the roof. A stab in the back (that happened a few times) and I would hold the needle with the struggling blowie in front of Agnes for ten minutes sometimes before she suddenly grabbed it. The dunny was never a lonely place while Agnes was around and she around for a fair while.
Between our house and Hanna's place was a huge pile of blackberries. From our kitchen window at the side of the house to the blackberries was a clear section about ten feet. In the middle of the clearing was an old tree stump. Out of the blackberries and onto the stump used to come an old man blue tongue lizard. He would sun himself for quite a while before moving on. I was admiring him from the kitchen one morning when mom said I should try to feed him a little bit of fat she had trimmed off the meat for tonight's dinner. So I go out armed with the fat. Old blue didn't even flinch as I walked up to him and put the fat about two inches from his nose. He sat very still looking at me. Then as quick as a flash he ate it. I was thrilled to bits about that, so mom and I decided, if I were home that I could feed him, if I was away, mom would. Old blue got as fat as a pig over the next few months with plenty of good food and not much work. But a sad ending was in store for I wasn't the only one admiring blue. So was Kooka who had him for breakfast one morning before he had warmed up his turbo enough to move quickly.
Rose Brown had a rubber mouse. It was a baby toy but it looked good. I borrowed it and put it out where the Kooka would see it. Down he came and picked up the mouse. He belted it from side to side on a branch then let it drop to the ground. The mouse bounced around like an Indian rubber ball. If a Kooka face can show amazement then this one did. He nearly fell off the branch watching every move it made then dived and picked it up again. As a matter of fact, three more times. Then thoroughly sick of it all he flew off in disgust. I got a little back for old blue, I reckon.
Alan and I were sitting on a high bank above the road in Mahoney Street one Sunday morning. We both had lengths of rubber that we were flicking ants with, This was one occupation that could keep us quiet for hours. About ten feet away was a large clay knob. All of a sudden on the top of the knob was a lizard. We both saw it together and froze, watching to see what it was going to do. About eight inches long, it looked like an ordinary garden lizard but much bigger. It was silver with dark grey flash along the side of its jaw and around to its ear hole. Suddenly it dived into a hole. We thought we would dig it out and have closer look. So with sticks we set to digging. About a foot down, we broke into the top of a small cave. The lizard flashed out and was gone before we could blink. But the cavern, about eight inches in diameter, was chock-a-block with eggs. We cleaned the dirt off the top of the eggs very carefully then lifted them out one at a time. Fifty-six eggs in all, about three quarters of an inch long, shaped like an American football and pointed at the ends. They had a soft leathery shell and when we lifted them to the light, we could see right through them. They were in different stages of development. We found that twenty-three were ready to hatch, the little lizard was perfectly formed, curled up, ready to go. I had read somewhere that some birds will help their young ones to hatch by pecking a hole in the shell. So carefully, we tore one shell a little bit and waited to see what would happen. About twenty minutes later, the little lizard popped his head out and looked around then took off into the scrub. That was brilliant. There must be something we can do with the other. If we put them into the girls desks at school, the young ladies would be certain to cause a stir. Tomorrow was Monday. Monday mornings, school monitors were at work (monitors were students, boys or girls, who were allocated jobs a school, filling ink wells, cleaning blackboards etc). This was the time on one would notice us walking around. But where could we put the eggs so no books were dropped on them or a heavy hand crush them? After a little discussion, we decided to keep an eye on the ink monitor. When he had finished our room, we could empty the girls inkwells and pop an egg in each one. Assembly took about fifteen minutes. Singing the national anthem, then a speech from Fitzy. Another talk in class before work started usually took about ten minutes. This exercise needed plenty of luck too. If all was finished early, the little lizards would be stabbed to death with the nibs of the pens.
We went to Alan's place and with the help of his moms watch, we timed two more eggs. Twenty-Two minutes, give or take a minute. Every one was allowed into school before class to put away their bags etc in the huge wardrobe that ran the full length of the back of each room. The next morning Alan and I had walked in half a dozen times before the ink monitor had finished our room. Alan had brought a bottle with a screw top and while I kept watch, he emptied the girls inkwells into the bottle. Then we walked down the back into the bush. We tore the tops off our eggs (twenty) and very carefully carried them back to our classroom. Alan kept watch this time while I popped the eggs into each inkwell. That was about five minutes to nine, So with a little prayer and a bit of luck they should pop out about twenty past nine, just right. The assembly, another anthem and talk by Fitzy went OK. We were sitting at our desks and Fitzy, loving the sound of his own voice, rambled on and on. Twenty past came and went. Nearly twenty-five past. I looked at Alan and shrugged. Then at just after Twenty-Five past a little inky body popped out of an inkwell and leaving a wonderful inky trail, raced down the desk onto one of the young ladies laps. Three or four in quick succession had the young ladies standing on their seats tuning up. A torrent of little bodies and the ladies were squealing and screaming hard enough to pop a gasket. Fitzy at this time, not knowing what was happening, stood open mouthed for a minute. All the young ladies were giving their all. The boys, once the penny dropped and they saw the little lizards scampering around under the desks, took after them whooping and yelling and laughing. Fitzy by this time was really red in the face a screaming for quiet. But with true dedication and not wanting to miss out on a heaven sent opportunity, the girls went up an octave or two. The other teachers ran in and stood open mouthed, like Fitzy, not knowing what was going on. Jane Gray slipped on the seat she was standing on and fell flat on her face. Slowly calm was restored by the other teachers and Fitzy, still red in the face and shaking, was led off to the staff room. Alan had taken a chalk box and was counting the lizards as they were dropped in. We were one short. All seemed to be in good condition so Alan took them down the back and let them go in the scrub.
This little experiment was successful beyond our wildest dreams. An hour and a half wasted. Fitzy not feeling too good had the day off. We had Miss C. for the day. That was nice. The young ladies, well they were just terrific I thought. But they got a big dressing down from Fitzy the next day for being so stupid (I thought that was good). No one found out who was the juvenile delinquent was that did this. Not a whisper. Two days later the last little lizard was making a dash across the open floor between Fitzy and the front desks. Fitzy moved to stamp on it, but Henry Johns made a terrific sideways dive off his seat and scooped it up one handed. So the only injury was Jane Gray. A flattened nose, split lip and two blue rings around here eyes. I looked at her a few times in the next week and I really think it improved her looks. There is a saying I have heard and that is - no pain - no gain, I often wondered if this was coined for Jane Gray.