29 January 2005

(70) The Crow Shooter

The locals at Shindy's Inn told me a number of tales the night I stayed in Louth. They ranged from incredible feats to stories about unbelievable characters. All true of course!

There was the one story about a drover from Byrock who rounded up two hundred goannas. He herded them along the road, planning on taking the reptiles to Nyngan and load them on the train. From there, they would be transported to Sydney to be turned into goanna oil.

The story goes that a cattle truck with an extra trailer on the back, ran over half of the goannas through the night. The Council had to close the road for a week just above Giralambone because it was too greasy. Cars and trucks were sliding everywhere on the oil saturated surface.

A story night would not be the same without someone bringing up the tale of the crow shooter. Everyone in the bush knows that crows are carrion eaters and their beaks are often septic. If a crow breaks the skin of an animal, it usually became infected. To make matters worse, crows had the habit of landing on a sheep's back to pick any maggots from around the animal's tail. They also liked young lambs, especially their eyes. If the poor critter didn't die from starvation at being blind, it would keel over from blood poisoning.

It is easy to see why bush people hated crows. They also had a sixth sense that frustrated shooters who tried to thin the crow's ranks. A crow had to be the most gun-shy creature on God's earth. You could walk around all day with a stick or pocket full of stones, but the instant you produced a firearm, the crows would disappear from sight.

The night at Louth wasn't any different and before long, a local larrikin told the story of the crow shooter from South Australia. I knew of the story, but his rendition had a quaint local flavour.

At the end of one long hot summer in the middle of the worst drought on record, a plague of crows descended on Gundabooka Station. The manager tried in vain to remove the black birds that made havoc among the weak sheep. He even poured arsenic over several carcases in an attempt to poison the crows. Much to his disgust, the flocks of feathered fiends thrived on the deadly meal and came back for more.

A station hand suggested they build a hideout made of boughs and branches below where the crows liked to roost. He planned to hide in the covered enclosure and wait for the birds to return, then pick them off with his rifle. The station hand reckoned that if the crows couldn't see where the shots were coming from, they wouldn't know which way to go.

The manager and his men set about building a large hideout directly below the crow's favourite tree. They carefully selected branches from surrounding scrub so the whole thing would look as natural as possible. With the hideout completed, the manager and the station hand hid the bushes and waited for the crows to return. The two men waited all day, but not one crow came in sight.
That night, the manager was told the crows had simply moved to another paddock and killed twenty sheep. According to the storyteller, the station manager got on the phone to the newspaper in Bourke and placed an advertisement. He offered a reward of one shilling each for every crow that bit the dust.

Within days, hopeful would-bes arrived at Gundabooka with all sorts of traps and firearms. No matter how or what they tried, no one succeeded in bagging a solitary crow. The station manager all-but gave up until a man rang from South Australia. He offered to come up the Darling River if the Station would pay his expenses.

The man from South Australia claimed to be the word's most successful crow shooter. He had records for kills all over the country and guaranteed to take the black birds out within a week. The station manager was so impressed with the crow shooter's credentials, he agreed to his conditions.

The crow shooter from South Australia came up the Darling by paddle steamer to Louth, then by packhorse to Gundabooka Station. The locals watched with interest as the stranger unpacked and set his rifle up on a tripod at the top of a rise near the crow's favourite tree. He also had a large acetylene lamp with curved mirrors attached. "I will wait until midnight then light the lamp and blow those crows to kingdom come," the man from South Australia boasted.

That night, everyone waited in anticipation. When the crow shooter turned up the wick of his lamp, pairs of yellow eyes began to appear in the nearby tree. Before long, the tree was a wash of eyes and the crow shooter opened fire. One by one, the eyes disappeared until the tree looked as black as the night sky. "You can count the bodies and pay me in the morning," the crow shooter concluded and doused his lamp.

The sun had hardly risen before a crowd gathered beneath the crow's favourite tree to see the results. Much to their amazement and the manager's disgust, there wasn't a dead crow in sight.

"I must have bumped my sights during the trip," the crow shooter explained. He immediately took his equipment down the paddock a bit and began adjusting the sights of his rifle. There was no doubt in anyone's mind the man from South Australia could shoot. He blasted tins and cans into oblivion from one hundred paces without missing a shot. Satisfied his trusty rifle is deadly accurate, the crow shooter set it up again in readiness for another attempt later that night.

Now the story goes that the station hand who built the hideout, didn't believe the crow shooter is as good as he reckoned. Without anyone's knowledge, the station hand hid in the secret enclosure while the crows were doing their rounds. He sat there all afternoon and into the evening, silently watching as the crows came in to roost.

That night, just as the clock struck twelve, the crow shooter turned up his lamp. The pairs of yellow eyes appeared as before and the man from South Australia placed a bullet between every one of them. After all the eyes disappeared, the manager and the shooter began to pack up. They stopped dead in their tracks when the station hand emerged from the hideout and called everyone together.

"Your expert didn't hit a solitary bird," the station hand said loudly to the manager.

"How do you know?" The crow shooter replied indignantly.

"Well the crows are all roosting in pairs with one eye open," the station hand explained. "Every time one of your blanky bullets whizzes between them, they close their eye and go back to sleep."

If you don't believe this story, drop in to Shindy's Inn or any pub along the Darling River and ask if anyone knows how to shoot a crow.