Hello fellow travelers … it being Sundee ‘n all … and I being a tad “burred” around the edges … I thought I’d try for another short, reflective piece for your amusement..
I was telling you about Willie Wilson and his ferrets …
Willie Wilson kept ferrets, he used them for trapping rabbits in any of the multitude of warrens dotted about the hills where I grew up before the Mixxy got a hold – I’m talking back in the late fifties or so. A lot of people kept ferrets for that purpose in those days. There was a front-bar trade in fresh bunny-meat back then – “underground mutton” they called it – along with local/caught fish like snook, tommies, garfish and such, that you could buy off the fishers down at the Seacliff Hotel. I know,’cause my old man used to come home of a Thursday evening, pay-day, with a broad smile on his face, a good half-dozen long-necks clinking away in his kit-bag, a big bar of Cadbury’s milk chocolate in his rough, brickies hands and a roll of newspaper-wrapped fresh produce under his arm … every Thursday night, like clockwork … that’s how it went in those days before age, homesickness for the old country and the drink got a hold on him. That’s how it went in those days.
Willie Wilson kept ferrets, so did the Oxfords … and the O’Niels … not the ones on the corner, but the ones down by the railway station. (Of the O’Niels on the corner, one of them, John, grew up to become a copper in police forensics and he had to deal with those “Snowtown Murders” … it done for him. I’ll tell you about him one day). They kept ferrets to catch rabbits … the ferrets were clean, but the cages would sometimes stink to high heaven! Tex, Marlene Oxford’s long time beau kept the cages clean … I’ll tell you about him too someday. Tex knew how to hunt with ferrets … Willie was just learning … it was a slow job with Willie … he was young, he was keen.
I can only recall going “ferreting” with Willie once – just after that Emma St crossing crash that I was telling you about … the one where the mum and dad both got killed in their car by the train while their four kids and the grandmother were watching over the other side of the crossing. They were waiting for the parents to pick them up and take them on the short drive home on The Cove Road … just like every work-night.
The day was cold, it was wet and the whole episode was a disaster for both ferreting and friendship. There were four of us: Davy Parker, Bruce Irving, myself and Willie. We took turns carrying the cage with the ferrets … we hiked right up to the top of the long gully, not far from the old Linwood Quarry, where one of the O’Niel men (there were four families – not related – in the district) got his coat caught in the crusher feeder, was dragged into the crusher and was killed there. I can just remember the wife coming to our place and my Mother comforting her … I suppose it was a Catholic thing … the micks stuck together then.
There is an art to catching rabbits with ferrets. Willie did not have that art. All he did was to block as many holes as he had nets, bury in the rest and then let the ferret down one hole … if all goes well, the rabbits will flee the ferret and get caught in any one of the nets as they run out of the warren … the biggest worry, is that if the ferret is hungry, it will trap and kill a rabbit down in the warren and remain there till it eats it to its hearts content. Then all you can do is to try to smoke it out or wait.
That’s what must have happened … after the rabbits stopped coming out, the ferret remained. Willie tried to smoke it out with setting fire to some paper in one of the holes, but all it did was to sear the ferrets nose and made it flee back down the warren … and it rained … and it rained, and rained, and rained some more till we all looked like a picture you sometimes see of one of those groups of American Indian’s sitting sadly under their blankets on the prairies … except we didn’t have blankets, or praries, just wet skin, cold hands and it was getting dark and we lost our patience and our kid-tempers and told Willie where he could stick his ferret if it ever come out and to our dying shame, we deserted him there and then. Kids can be bastards!
Not my most glorious moment, but there is only so much the patience of a child can stand, especially when we could see more rabbits hopping about the dusky hill-sides than what we caught with the stupid ferret!