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Willy Wilson’s ferrets

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!


8 comments

  1. wam

    With you there, Joseph, the advantage of ferrets is the undamaged carcass.
    I lived in Corny Point and we trapped rabbits, which sold for 2s and 6p a pair, was our meat with chicken at xmas. When we shifted to port vincent my dad drank 6 long necks every night and when we came into Adelade he would drink at the pub till 6 and then have his long necks when he got home. Even after so many beers, I don’t remember him pissed.
    Later, when the price was too high, he made his home brew(good drop).

  2. Joseph Carli

    Ah!…wam..yes know Pt. Vincent well..we owned (and built) a shack a Pt. Julia back in the eighties..just sold it recently..:

    This may sound like a bit of sentimental tosh..but hey..

    Got the old shack up for sale…years ago, back in around 1980..we (the family / brother, sister and the old folks) chipped in a few hundred quid each and bought this block of land on the peninsula and I built a holiday shack there..sure an’ it was built on the dirt cheap , out of bits of sticky-tape and bent wire sort of, but it was great for the kids to get away from the city and we’d go fishing, crabbing, that sort of thing…

    You’d get there and the first thing is you’d run to claim a bed and throw your clobber in one of the two big rooms with four beds in each, grab a crab-rake or fishing rod from the corner and make for the beach..the shack..and it really was a shack..was just to flop in for the night..cook the tucker in and watch the fire burn and crackle before you hit the sack….it was effing great when the kids were growing up..

    Some times there’d be half a dozen or so family or friends kids and the parents over for the school hols’ and it would be a whale of a time..sometimes on one of the days, we’d all go to Pt. Vincent to fish off the wharf there and I’d go check out the books and such in the op-shop over the road in St Neot’s church (best find : a first edition USA. of T.E.Lawrence ; “Seven Pillars Of Wisdom” !..heyyyy!) annex and we’d all end the day before going back to the shack with a big butcher’s wrapped paper pack of fish and chips…and how many chips went to the gulls!..the fish being caught local from one of the fishing boats that worked the gulf in the area…geez!..it was good.

    But now, the old shack is up for sale, I am getting too old to maintain it..and after the recent hernia operation ( I’ll tell you about it someday!)..it’s all getting a bit too much for me..The kids have grown up into gen Y adults..and are no longer interested in “crab island” or “cockle cove” or “starfish rock”….the shallow flats are “smelly” now..and just who wants to gut and clean their own fish anymore?..indeed…who wants to even go fishing anymore..and the old place has that “old smell” and look..it never was pretty..the old shack..not like the brand-spanking new McMansions popping up all around the little enclave..and NO-WAY will anyone be using the “out-the-back” dunny..even if it is a flush toilet..the spiders?.the dark!? And the rainwater in the old tank..is it safe to drink?…doesn’t everyone nowadays have an ensuite?

    And those retirees who came here to getaway from the city…and brought the city expectations with them, expect there to be ; services, no fire risk..and that grey-water run-off from the kitchen and the shower that goes under the trees to keep them watered in the long hot summers..is that a health risk, is it legal?..and if there is a bush fire, those trees around your shack could “catch on fire and send it onto my house..I’m going to ring the council”…But the birds, the animals, you protest..the delicate native lilies and such?..Poison the lot…not a blade of grass..not a hint of verdant cover shall tarnish the scoria and gravel expanse..

    It’s the school holidays..and there are no kids fishing..not even an adult walking the beach..nor at the wharf at Pt. Vincent..no kids, no people even to watch the crayfish boat sidle up to the wharf and unload it’s catch..not a curious soul..what has happened..is this a kind of Brave New World of hideaway people..is there no wonder in nature anymore?..no cry of children in a discovery of delight..Do not the parents delight in showing and explaining even with a touch of bullshit those strange shells and twists of sea-worm casings..to tell lurid tales of the goings on there just around the next cliff of “smugglers cove”..of dark nights and pirates and booty and good lord knows what else to see the wide-eyed wonder in their eyes as they fall to sleep snuggled in you lap by the fire in the old shack…

    The shack is up for sale now..and I was there to cut the grass and tidy the place up a tad so it’ll look good…But really, it is only being sold for land-value..to be honest..no-one wants a shack anymore..you see..everyone now has an ensuite..the kids their ipads or smart-phones..But you know, as we were walking on the cliff-top road down to the jetty there..for just a moment..be it the wind-blown smell of the mallee trees in flower, or the cry of a gull in the air…for just that one short breath, I was back in the time with the kids and our arms full of fishing gear and buckets and a crab-net and we were all laughing and heading to the jetty and my little boy was saying that he bet he will catch a big, big squid…for just that one short moment..

    Time has stolen the years from me , and I could bloody well weep.

  3. helvityni

    I think it was in the nineties that Hubby bought some crocodile meat, he had eaten it at a local restaurant and thought he could cook it at home; I put it in the freezer,(out of sight, out of mind), it looked pale and uninspiring, and it stayed there. After a month or so I secretly slipped it to the cat in the courtyard, she turned her nose up at this weird-looking flesh and escaped under the bushes…

    We had a German student staying with us at the time. When I told her the crocodile story, she drew a wonderful picture of him cooking it, it’s nicely framed and has a prominent place on our kitchen wall…

  4. helvityni

    Then there was the rabbit stew; the boys had been hunting and shot a couple…We,I and the kids, were told it was a chicken casserole….

    It confirmed my belief that rabbit stews ought to be left to French chefs; the kids ended up with some hamburgers, I had an extra glass of white…
    The Master of the house shared the rabbit with our Border Collie and the Red Heeler… I believe they were the only ones who actually liked it….

    The following night we feasted on MY Chicken Cacciatore…

  5. Joseph Carli

    helvi’…there is an art to cooking game..especially wild game..as there is little fat on the meat and it takes a skilled hand to tenderise the meat..my mother was never very good at it..but I once tasted a Greek recipe for rabbit stew and by hell it was so good!

  6. roma guerin

    My mother knew how to cook rabbit. It was the yummiest meal I can remember from my childhood. The rabbitoh came on his pushbike, with the rabbits hanging from the crossbar, and he whipped off a pair for Mum and she paid him sixpence. After she skinned them she put them in the washhouse trough to soak in salt water, I think it got rid of an earthy taste. I wish she had written down what she did next, but she would have laughed if I had asked for a recipe.

  7. Joseph Carli

    There was a rabbitoh used to come onto a part of our property here and would give us a pair of bunnies for being able to camp and catch..a win-win for us…but the recent few dry-spells have decimated the rabbit population around here…which is good.

  8. Michael Taylor

    There weren’t any rabbits where I grew up (Kangaroo Island). I heard that there were a few back in the old days but goannas would go down the warrens and eat the young, so they soon died out.

    Having never seen a ‘wild’ rabbit until I was about 14 or 15, I almost went mad with excitement when I saw my first one in the scrub near Blackwood. Off it took, running at what I reckoned was something close to 75,000,000 mph after being startled by me and a couple of mates.

    “Haven’t you seen a rabbit before?” Their tone was rather mocking.

    “Of course I have.” How could I tell them I’d never seen a ‘wild’ rabbit? “This one just runs faster than the others.”

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