Inflated and Agitated

Oh, you’re complaining about the mosquitoes on your last fishing trip? Perhaps you saw a rattler skulking off the trail as you ambled down the bank? Pffft. Big deal. Peter Morse is not impressed. Morse, a lifelong angler, guide and the author of “Inflated and Agitated” in this month’s issue, has spent years stalking barramundi in remote stretches of northern Australia. Morse isn’t worried about no-see-ums or ticks or things with stingers. Morse is worried about 14-foot saltwater crocodiles capable of taking down feral pigs, inattentive cows and unlucky anglers. His advice? Stay out of murky water, remember that submerged logs tend not swim and try not to fall out of the boat when two big bulls are about to battle.

I was sent to boarding school in Australia when I was 12 years old. For my school vacation, I was bussed to the remote Queensland outback to spend three weeks with relatives I’d never met. It was an alien world.

My cousin was 12 years older than me and instantly became my hero. He was a crack shot and taught me to hunt. To my joy, I was given the daily task of shooting rabbits to feed the pack of dogs that was essential to running a sheep and cattle property of 30,000 acres. In the quiet study of the homestead was a rack of assorted firearms, dark and oiled. There was a reloading bench and the room smelled of oil and guns. There were also some heavy leather skins, dark brown and buffed, knobbly looking but soft and pliable. Some had been made into hand-stitched gun bags. I was told the skins were from crocodiles. My cousin had gone hunting for them when he was 20 and had an album full of black-and-white pictures of their trip to the swamps and rivers of the north. They’d driven five days north to the Gulf of Carpentaria and tanned the skins themselves.

That was during the mid ’60s when shooting crocodiles was legal. Hunted almost to endangered status before “endangered” was even a status, they gained full protection in 1970 and the population has rapidly recovered. As a 12-year-old I had no idea of the encounters I would have with these creatures later in life.

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