In 1967 there was an extraordinary rat
plague in the Northern Territory that started here in the Barkly Tablelands.
Countless, millions of rats - it was an unbelievable episode. I've never
forgotten it and unless you'd seen it you wouldn't believe it.
Millions upon of millions of rats teamed off the Barkly and headed north.
They ate everything in their path and they totally destroyed Katherine
and all its agricultural crops. I was working for the Department of
Agriculture at the time and we had these countless millions of rats
running all over the country eating everything!
We devised lunatic schemes to try to counter the rat plague - we were
trying to save the horticultural producers in Katherine. I can remember
at one stage, we did a survey and there was an average of between 600
and a 1000 rat holes per acre of land.
We had a tractor with a piece of rubber hose attached to the exhaust
and we actually tried gassing them at one stage by sticking this pipe
down the holes! It was a complete waste of time.
By far the most lunatic proposal of all nearly dispatched me from this
earth. There was an absolutely appaling chemical, I can't remember the
trade name of it now but it was an organo-phosphate, I mean the stuff
would just kill you dead. It was used on all the cattle dips and there
were drums and drums, rotten corroded drums, full of this stuff on all
the public dips around this area.
An agricultural labourer and myself got the job in this old Bedford
truck, of going to all the old cattle dips and loading the truck up
with rusty drums of this absolutely appaling, carcinogenic, organo-phosphate
chemical, which has been banned for twenty years now!
We soaked peanuts in this stuff and then laid the peanuts around crops
and on stores of grain. It worked like a dream, in fact it was so deadly
to the rats that we actually found rats that had peanuts in their mouths
and the teeth hadn't actually pierced the shell before it had killed
The only trouble was that it put the two of us in hospital on the first
day we used it! We ended up having people with liver damage, it was
just terrible. Anyway we stopped using that stuff, but the rat plague
was just extraordinary.
At the height of it when we were collecting all this toxic chemical
off the cattle dips, we called into the Dunmarra Roadhouse which Old
Ma was running in those days - some people from here will remember her,
she was an amazing character. Anyway we pulled into the Dunmarra Roadhouse
where only a few days before we arrived, the kitchen had burnt down
at the back of the roadhouse. None of the fridges worked, because the
generator had been destroyed by the fire. Therefore the beer was actually
warm, but she still sold it to us. So after we got our beers we said
to Ma, "The beer's warm" and she said "Well what do ya
bloody expect, the bloody generator's buggered up!"
There was a traveller up at the end of the bar, who had also just called
into the Roadhouse. He had a beard and long hair, which at that time
was very unusual in the Northern Territory. While we were sitting at
the bar, this traveller called out to Ma, "Excuse me, can I glass?"
and she said "What! you want a glass?", and he said, "I
think I can taste some kerosene or something on the top of this can".
She walked down the bar and she whipped this can of beer out from underneath
this bloke and walked up to where we were, slammed it down in front
of us and said, "Drink that and see if you can taste anything on
the top of it!". And we said "Oh look, no, we don't really
want to", you know, so she picked the beer up, walked back down
the bar, slammed it back down in front of this guy and said, "Listen
mate, just cause you look like Jesus Christ, there's no need to act
like him!" Anyway that was my first experience with Ma at Dunmarra.
When she came back we asked her if there was any chance of getting a
sandwich and she said. "There is if you go out and make it yourself".
So we walked out the back of the roadhouse to where the kitchen had
been and it was completely burnt down. It was the middle winter, a freezing
cold day and late in the afternoon. Her partner was out in the kitchen
standing in front of the fire place which was still there. He had a
fire going and there was a wooden table with this big plate in middle
of it with what looked like a leg of lamb on it. There was a loaf of
home made bread and all the rest of it all there.
It turned out to be goat, the first time I'd eaten goat and it was very
nice too, quite acceptable goat, nothing wrong with goat. Anyway, Jim
and I went over and hacked of some pieces of this goat and as we were
cutting the meat off it seemed like someone had been at it with a blunt
knife. But the knife was okay, we sliced it and made a couple of big
sandwiches and when we'd finished, this old guy who was sitting in front
of the fire said to us, "Oh listen fellas, ya finished makin' ya
sandwiches?" and we said, "Yeah".
He said "Oh look, would ya mind takin' that inside, the leg of
goat, we forgot to take it in last night and those rats nearly carried
That was the sort of standard of the tourist trade in the Northern Territory
25 years ago but things have changed a bit since then.