Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dinosaurs in the Backyard.

Bell's Lace Monitor
(Photographed December 30, 2009, "Tiddalac", Upper Lockyer, Queensland).

It was 1977 and Australia was playing against England in the Centennial Cricket Test. Although I was keenly following the events on the TV, it was very difficult to remain still for the entire day and I often ventured outside to bowl a tennis ball up against the door of our outside laundry. I could hear the TV through the window and would fly upstairs at the sound of any bellowing cheers.

I would bowl the ball at a small, plastic bird-seed container set-up at the foot of the door. The idea was to bounce the ball just in front of the container and it would just clear the top it, hit the door and rebound back to me. I’d try to catch it with one hand and claim ten points. (I also got ten points for hitting the container). The goal was to get 80 points for one “over” (though such a perfect score was difficult to achieve). I only had a three-step run-up because of the bushes and fence behind me and I had to bowl fast enough for the ball to carry through to me on the full. I had to concentrate on the placement of the ball and listen to any sudden excitement from the TV. Busy.

I remember preparing myself to charge in and bowl the ball and hearing the dead leaves under the bush behind me crackling as if they were being crushed by something stepping on to them. I bowled the ball and again went back to my mark. I wasn’t so curious about the sound as I just thought it was our cat walking along the fence line under the foliage. It continued pretty much in the one spot for maybe ten or twenty minutes before I had to enquire. Our cat was white and should have been partially visible even in the dark shadows beneath the shiny leaves. I pushed my arms into the foliage and spread the leaves back and peered in. Just in front of my nose I witnessed a large tough-hided torso that branched back into the root of a tail to the right. Reluctantly, my eyes followed the body to the left where they met big, bright eyes beaming back at me. It took almost a billionth of a second for me to land inside the door of the house. The hair on the back of my neck was well above me. I went back to watching the cricket on TV.

Lace Monitor
(Photographed December 30, 2009, "Tiddalac", Upper Lockyer, Queensland)

It wasn’t my first encounter with a Lace Monitor (a kind of “Goanna” or big lizard). I had had even more frightening encounters many years earlier when I was much smaller and they were more proportionate to tyrannosaurs.

On December 30 2009, I was walking at “Tiddalac”, Upper Lockyer, (near Gatton, Queensland) when I met a beautiful Bell’s Lace Monitor just walking along the side of the creek there. It saw me and scaled the nearest tree. I took a couple of pictures and left because I could tell by its face it didn’t like the attention. Just 30 seconds later and I ran into a regular Lace Monitor and had a similar experience. I left them both and wandered on and watched as a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles arrived in the area scanning the area where the big lizards were hiding. I worried about the goannas. Even though both were around two metres in length, they are a favourite food item of the eagles.

I was told in my youth to be careful of goannas and that I shouldn’t get bitten because their saliva contained very bad bacteria. I have since learned that science now claims that they are actually venomous. – I wasn’t so nervous in my latest encounter but maybe I should have been.