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Hunting pigs for the New Year’s Eve Barbecue in the Top End

Excerpts from The Tiger Tea Club, by Harvey Fewings, published in 2013, ISBN:978-0-9871100-0-8, have been included in this article.

Not much of a bloody year, was it?

For our young people, for small business, especially hospitality, for our front line medical staff, doctors and nurses and for our senior Australians, it has been a particularly bloody dreadful year.

But, it is nearly over, and the prospect of a New Year brings hope and confidence to us all. Therefore I thought it would be an excellent idea to lift our heads up from the swamp of daily politics, media-flaunting celebrities who have become upset over an ant looking at them and all the other dross that rocks along on the Bruce Highway eternal upgrade, and have a look at how some other Australians see the New Year’s arrival.

In the Top End of Australia, this is one of the ways that it’s done:

During the Top End Dry Season, wild pigs live around groundwater, or at least must have access to it, and that means, in most cases, wherever there is groundwater, there are pigs. The wild, razorback variety!

In the Wet Season, which embraces the Christmas/New Year period, unless it is unusually dry, groundwater is everywhere and therefore, the pigs are spread over broad areas of the country. Finding them under these conditions can be difficult.

Green Ant Creek runs into the Douglas/Daly River system; it comes off the high ground around Mount Shoobridge and drains South into the Douglas River. Large numbers of wild pigs live in this vicinity, and they can be found, with the right vehicle and good local knowledge, almost anytime.

Heading East from the Tipperary Creek is Green Ant Creek, Harry and Billy nudged the Land Cruiser slowly through the low scrub for about an hour – their task was to kill two young wild boars for the New Year’s Eve Barbecue to be held at the Tiger Tea Club in a few days – it was Friday 28 December 1984.

And it was hot, wet and sticky – a typical Wet Season day in the Top End.

Harry and Billy dismounted from their Land Cruiser. In front of them was open wetland paperbark, spear grass, and water lilies dominated the landscape, shallow channels of freshwater wound through the paperbarks and the thick grass; either side of these channels showed much evidence of pig rooting.

Harry and Billy hunted pigs on foot, without dogs. They preferred this because it brought a certain thrill to the business.

And, if things go wrong, and they can very quickly - then it can be very thrilling indeed!

Wild pigs, the razorback variety, are dangerous animals. They are fast, strong, aggressive and intelligent. They are universally disliked and respected by hunters and pastoralists.

During the heat of the day, pigs usually lie up in shallow mud wallows along watercourses. A typical mob would be one or two old boars, two or three young boars, 15-20 sows and a number of piglets. The young boars were the targets. They are the best eating.

A gentle breeze played softly across the open spaces of wetland. Harry and Billy moved downwind of a line of trees that indicated a watercourse and would probably conceal wallowing pigs. Harry carried an Australian Army .303 Jungle carbine; Billy’s weapon was a Winchester .44 magnum lever action carbine.

Entering the shade, both men stopped and dropped to one knee. They let their eyes adjust to the different light as they cautiously looked about. They also listened for the rustling, slopping, grunting noise pigs make as they loll about in the mud. They were also alert for the smell of pigs, which should waft towards them on the soft breeze.

For five minutes, they waited. Cicadas thrummed the air about them while white corellas, the larrikins of the bush, screeched and cackled in the paperbarks. No pigs were heard.

But they could smell them! Feral, ammonia laden, unmistakable. Pigs!

Each man moved forward very slowly; they were about 5 metres apart. Their weapons were ready; the safety catches on. A clump of bushes and bloodwood trees about 45 metres ahead of them seemed the most likely place for the pigs – the breeze was blowing directly into their faces; it carried pigs with it.

Placing their feet carefully, each time they moved the two men came to within 15 metres of the bloodwoods. Just as Harry was about to signal a halt, Billy hissed, ‘Pigs! Big mob – two o’clock, 20 metres, still relaxed.’

Harry turned cautiously, sinking to one knee; his weapon came to his shoulder; his thumb caressed the safety catch to “off.” Billy sank onto his haunches, 5 metres to Harry’s right, level with him. The Winchester came up, and he slowly tightened his grip on the lever-action, thus freeing the safety catch.

They could hear the squealing and splashing – before they could move again, the pigs broke. A young boar, followed by two sows, exploded, pounding from left to right across the front of the hunters.

Instinctively Harry placed the .303 sights on the boar’s left shoulder, he watched the shoulder blade working, the left leg threw forward in the running motion, the shoulder blade moved forward as well, enabling a clear lung shot. Not for long… just long enough.

Harry’s sight tracked. Breathe in, hold, gently squeeze the trigger, and the boar fell dead! Heart and lungs shot. Simultaneously came the flat distinctive ‘boom’ of the Winchester. The leading sow leapt into the air, fell on her back and skidded to a halt not far from the boar.

Both weapons were quickly reloaded and both men watched their front, looking for signs of the main body of pigs. They were in the spear grass about 40 metres away and heading away from the hunters.

‘ Harry,’ Billy said softly, ‘I reckon there might be an old boar still in there, mate.’

‘I reckon you are right – this is a time when I wished we used dogs,’ whispered Harry.

Billy made a splitting sign with his hands, Harry nodded. Safety catches off; they moved slowly, about 10 metres apart towards the bloodwoods that harboured an old boar… they thought!

‘Bugger – look out!‘ yelled Billy.

Grey with mud, complete with its cloud of midges and sandflies, the old boar struck. Red rimmed, porcine eyes filled with hatred, head lowered, the wicked tusks thrusting, the old boar simply flew towards Harry. A big bastard with badly ripped ears and face. Dog scars! He was about 2.5 metres long.

Harry’s weapon was moving to his shoulder, he did not want to try a hipshot, but he was too slow, and the old boar was almost on him.

Another flat boom! The boar’s neck jerked. Dust and blood misted – down went the ugly head. A tusk furrowed into the soft earth slewing the dying pig’s head towards Billy, who stood, Winchester at his hip, grinning at Harry, who stood, .303 frozen at his shoulder, staring at the boar lying near his boots.

Harry was white-faced as he looked at Billy. ‘ Thanks.’ He said very carefully and slowly.

‘ Its OK, mate. A bit close but OK. How are you?’ Billy kept grinning.

‘Ever had sparrows flying out of your bum?’ Harry whispered.

Billy looked, saw nothing, ‘ Nah.‘ he said softly.

And that pretty much sums up how pig hunting can be… dangerous and challenging.

The cleaned carcasses stayed in a very cold chiller for a few days, then…

On New Year’s Eve, the pigs were washed, stripped, and slowly rotated over bloodwood coals glowing in a half 200-litre drum.

When cooked and basted in wild lime, the two carcasses were delicious; they fed about 25 to 30 members of The Tiger Tea Club, who saluted the shooters with icy cold Tiger Beer.

None of the members or guests ever knew about the ‘sparrows.’

Nor should they.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone.


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