Sunday, May 15, 2005

Happiness is a warm gun!

or not, as the case may be.

I've already mentioned how my mother remarried in 1962, just after my 8th birthday. My new step-father, hereinafter to be known as 'Misery Guts', was a bit of a gun person. I don't think it was guns in the same philosphical sense that one hears of gun advocacy in the USA. It think it was more related to relative poverty in Seddon in the 1930's, the proximity, at that time, of open fields and a glut of rabbits. Give a man a rabbit and you feed him for a day; teach him to shoot and he's fed for life; that kinda thing.

We ate a lot of rabbit in those days; roasted (incredibly dry and chewy) or stewed with carrots and onions; very tasty. Um nope, I'm not remembering the 1930's but I suspect the habits ingrained into him at that time led to our still going hunting rabbits in the 1960's. Actually it was quite fun; we'd drive to Lancefield, which is about 45 miles north of Melbourne and ask permission of a particular farmer to go hunt on his paddocks. Always granted but he liked it if we asked.

We'd park some distance from the road having passed through a gate which was always closed behind us. Then Mum and Misery'd go thataway in search of the prey; we'd stick pretty close to the car and play in the creek. I once found the tiniest frogs I've ever seen, not much bigger than a housefly, clinging to the mud at the top of an undercut bank over the creek.

We always started maybe two hours before sunset and I have glowing memories of the sun's gold splashing across the horizon, lighting up the fire gums and the yellowish green bracken. Tufts of spider grass and sheep wandering their way home across well worn tracks, each following the others tail.

Periodically we'd hear a 'boom' in the distance; another shotgun blast. Eventually, as the last light trickled away Mum and Misery'd come back, half a dozen rabbits hanging from their belts. Then came one of the less pleasant parts of the evening; the skinning and gutting. I had to hold the rabbit by it's back feet while the skin was stripped off. Blood and a most unpleasant smell, and never enough water to get clean afterward. Oh, and it took considerable physical strength to hold it.

But after that task was done came the second highlight of the evening. Sitting in the car eating Sardine sandwiches washed down with orange flavoured cordial as the last faint glimmers of the sun slipped away. And then, wow! Have you ever seen the Southern Sky in all it's glory? Both Magellanic clouds high overhead; the Milky Way snaking it's way across the sky. The Coalsack! That large globular cluster who's name escapes me just to the south of Alpha Centauri? And of course both crosses, the Southern Cross and the fake cross! The Northern Sky is pale by comparison. I've seen both .

Misery didn't content himself with shooting rabbits of course. I was taught the basics of handling a gun. All the standard stuff; never ever believe a gun is not loaded; don't point it at anyone unless you mean it. And how to cross a barbed wire fence with a gun. (Lay it down close to the fence; then climb through the fence on the butt side of the gun; once through the fence reach back and pick the gun up carefully.) Oh, and never trust anyone who's climbing through a fence trying to short cut the steps; stay on the side away from the barrel. In 1948 he made that mistake and paid for it; he lost 2 or so inches of his left leg and to this day he has to use a special pair of shoes where the left foot is built up. Not that he lets that stop him getting around!

So one day in 1969 I was given my first gun. Uh huh, me. It was only a BB gun but I loved that gun. I'd shoot at anything that moved that wasn't human or someone elses property. And so it was that we went shooting for rabbits again. The olds went thataway and I, armed with my new BB gun, went thisaway. I knew that I had no chance of bagging a rabbit so, even though more than one came within sight, I passed em by. Instead, I shot at a crow sitting on a tree branch maybe 15 feet away. Got him right in the chest. He fell. Another shot. He squawked. A third shot, right in the eye. More squawking. And then the horrible truth dawned upon me. I had enough firepower to bring him down but not enough to release him from his misery. Shot after shot but he kept squawking. Though I hated to do it I ended his life by stamping upon him with my boots.

I never again took pleasure in owning a gun. And, apart from the odd spider, I've never since consciously brought another being to it's end.

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