Thursday, January 6, 2011

Natural balance

The floodwaters in Rockhampton are currently hovering just below the 9.4m that's been predicted, which would put 400 houses under water. The Fitzroy River was very well-behaved when we were there in April, gliding smoothly between its green and shady banks.

We walked along Quay Street under palm trees crowded with rowdy roosting birds, past pretty painted 1890s buildings including the grand Customs House with its pillars and dome: a mini cathedral. At the Heritage Hotel, a fine 3-storey building, its layers of intricate wrought-iron along the verandas making it look like a wedding cake, we sighed over super-tender wagyu beef on a truffle potato mash. The food was so good we happily tolerated the four - count them, four - separate hen parties in the restaurant. Shrill, shrieking, baring startling expanses of ample flesh: these girls could take on their equivalents in Essex or Glasgow and hold their own, no problem.

They were each celebrating the lassooing of another of Rocky's cowboys: this is Queensland's cattle capital, and around the town are six life-sized statues of the favoured breeds — Brahman, Droughtmaster, Santa Gertrudis and others — but even if you miss the concrete cows, the hats, boots and belt-buckles of the locals are a dead giveaway.

All of that will be underwater now, apart from the cattle statues. They'll be standing above the water, much as the real thing will be in the back country, marooned on shrinking islands and surrounded without doubt by marauding crocodiles eyeing up an easy meal.

Croc-hunting was banned 30 years ago when numbers shrank to near-extinction levels, but now there are so many there are calls to introduce it again. I was walking along the Katherine River in the NT one night after a croc-spotting picnic when the guide darted to the water's edge and kicked a cane toad away from a freshie that was just about to snaffle it. "Poisonous: it would have killed the croc," he said. Shame they can't keep each other in check, eh?

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