Goanna blinked its leathery lidded eyes, keening its senses to the source of the noise as they had approached, and flicked a pink forked tongue at the air, trying to determine the identity of the intruder. The male he had already seen from a distance for a few years, now and then, but this colourful flower he brought with him was a new curiosity for the reptile.
“Take a look at that monster”, exclaimed the young woman, leaping back several steps, in case the advance of Goanna was a warning she should heed.
Simultaneously the reptile, alarmed by her sudden movement, decided that the human might be dangerous, and urgently withdrew from the clearing, making no pretence of being quiet in the process. Behind him, the voice of the woman”s male companion felt almost derisive. He laughed boisterously.
“Are they dangerous, Pete” she asked, apprehensive of the long claws and sinister demeanour of their unwanted neighbour.
“Well I don”t think I would want to be cuddled by it,” he responded, “But I”ve never heard of anybody actually being attacked by one. Probably the worst thing to worry about is if it mistakes you for a tree and shinnies up to get a better view.”
Goanna, by now secreted behind a burnt stump, looked down at his rough skin, at it”s texture, at his claws and long tail. The sense of surprise from the encounter passed away, like every other new experience that coloured his life. Such uncommon occurrences were simply the learning of life; you learnt from them, or you died. It is the simple balancing mechanism that prevails in Nature.
Attentive now to his movements, Goanna slunk back through the undergrowth towards the recently created clearing, curious to know more about the new arrivals in his locality. He was interested to understand if they represented a danger, or perhaps even a new source of food.
Deftly twisting his slender body this way and that, he scarcely touched any of the dry blady grass, disturbing nothing which might arouse the anxiety of the young couple. The male did not seem to be particularly concerned by his appearance, but the female had apparently been quite agitated by him, although why, Goanna could not imagine. After all, even with razor-sharp claws and teeth, it only occurred to her in times of need or danger.
No, the two-legged creature was surely the one to take care of, for such disturbances of mood could easily turn dangerous during moments of stress. This he knew from his own long experience, for nature replicates itself in many aspects of shade and hue, mood and response.
He reached the tussocks on the edge of the campsite, and proceeded no further. Instead, he peered through the blades of grass, confident that his concealment would not be noticed. His confidence was not misplaced, in spite of the young woman continuing to glance about for signs of life. Had she been wiser in the ways of the bush, she would not have been so haphazard in her reconnoitring, but rather surveyed her surroundings methodically, painstakingly discerning between texture and shape, keen to differentiate for any telltale incongruity. This one though, was definitely not attuned to nature; even the covering she wore was clearly from another world quite different from the bush. The tight jeans and fine boots were a give-away. She would be doubly unpredictable.
Goanna, aware now of his vulnerability, knew well that one flicker of the eye, the tremble of a muscle, would be sufficient to betray his presence to a fellow creature of the area. Although he surely gave no such hint, she was clearly an outsider, obvious by her appearance, smell, and especially disposition.
“Now I come to think of it though,” the man was saying, rubbing his stubbled chin thoughtfully, ” I do remember as a kid in school, that one of my classmates ran foul of one, and damn near lost her finger.”
“No,” exclaimed the girl, her smooth forehead creasing with angst as she looked around about her anxiously, in case their unwanted marauder was contemplating another attack. “Then maybe we should consider setting up camp somewhere else. That goanna must have been here a long time to grow so big – probably thinks we”ve invaded it”s territory.”
“Easy now,” the man responded, taking the opportunity of giving her a hug. “We don”t have to go anywhere. I”m sure the old goanna won”t mind sharing his space with us. Probably quite like our company. You know, a change is as good as a holiday, and the poor old bugger probably hasn”t taken a break in years by the look of those wrinkles.”
“Ha ha,” she retorted, “I didn”t so much notice the wrinkles as those claws. Can you imagine what a mess they could make of you.” She shuddered involuntarily at the thought.
“No really” he assured her, “The goanna in the kid story didn’t attack anybody. Apparently what happened was that the she was camping with her parents and thought that she would try and feed the local lizard that was forever scavenging around the caravan park where they were staying.
“So, she offered him a chunk of cheese and it seems that the goanna figured a bit of fresh meat was preferable to a bit of processed cheese. Nobody said that goannas don’t know what they like. Anyway, he was so enthusiastic that he almost took off the top or her finger. Missed out on the cheese as well. And left a mighty scar on the girl.”
“Well it was a pretty stupid thing to do I suppose – I’d be damned if I’d put my fingers or any other part of my anatomy too close to one of those creatures.” She shuddered with her own imagination.
“I think that the moral of the tale is to leave native animals to feed themselves. I”d reckon that by now they are pretty savvy about how to keep the wolf from the door. Might give us a tip or two if we could talk about it with him.”
It had been the first time that Goanna had actually revealed himself in the days since the arrival of the couple, though he had been aware of them from the first moment their noisy old vehicle had bounced and bumped up the rough bush track. At first he had merely noticed their presence and gone about his daily business, since they had not come near to his tree-stump home.
He had good enough reason to be wary though, since they might have been trigger-happy young drunkards eager for some sport at the expense of local wildlife. Such situations happened all too commonly.
If Goanna had had more than just a passing interest in observing her, he would probably have known immediately that this pair presented no particular danger. They scarcely seemed to notice the land at all. Both were so excited to be there, sharing a new adventure together. Even on that first brief visit they had made to the land though, the reptile had been keenly aware of them.
As it was though, they had only paused for a couple of hours, pointing here and there, gesticulating wildly – especially the man – and talking in excited tones. Then they had departed, leaving Goanna in peace once again, and relieved for the relative solitude. There was always plenty of other company to share the place with; feathered, furred and scaled.
It was only on their second coming that Goanna paid them more attention. Long before they actually reached the relatively flat tongue of land, he could hear them chattering with more earnest intent; the man was doing more of the talking, in tones that suggested he was full of bright ideas; those ideas were apparently focused on precisely the area where goanna lived. Goanna spied on them nervously from a distance, and only relaxed when they departed a couple of hours later. He was none the wiser if or when he would see them again, but content at least for the time being to have his home to himself. There were more than enough neighbours already in the vicinity.
Struggling up the rough road several months later though, the old Holden station wagon had complained reluctantly, wheezing at the steep incline, bald tyres slipping as they sought traction in the clay ruts. Having reached the top of the rise, the driver was forced to brake hard as the greasy track halted at a jumble of lantana and weathered old branches.
The vehicle slithered for some metres more, finally coming to rest with the bonnet half buried in the weeds. The engine spluttered into silence, and the two occupants could be heard laughing raucously. Out of control. Goanna was perplexed, and more then a little perturbed by these intruders on his peace.
The laughter gradually subsided, a few animated words were exchanged, followed by the sound of unlubricated metal surfaces rubbing together. Two doors slammed and, in a flurry of leaves, Goanna retreated to a safer distance. The young woman started at the noise. So did her companion, but he recovered quicker, and gave her a reassuring hug, making light of the alarm she displayed and covering up his own reaction.
“It must be just lizard or something. Maybe that old goanna again – a snake would’ve slithered.”
She accepted his bravado with a wan smile and they tramped up the hill, with the man talking excitedly. Goanna emerged from his concealment and cautiously approached the car. He sniffed, moved around it before slinking underneath and surveying it there. Nothing special. The smell of unburnt oil, grease, rubber. The engine was hot, along with the rusty exhaust system. One wheel was warmer than the rest, although Goanna had no experience or interest in recognizing that one brake drum needed urgent attention.
Craning his slender neck up towards the open window, he could detect the smell of ripe bananas, butter that would soon turn rancid, the ferment of a sourbread. Briefly he sought entry by stretching his front legs up the door, but it was pointless to make any serious attempt to clamber up there. As strong as his legs were, they simply were not long enough, and the surface of the paintwork, though rough and pitted, offered no possibility for him to secure a grip to haul himself up. He added to the scars of years of neglect with a thin series of parallel scratches as his claws slipped down the door. The owners would never notice one more set of markings on their old car. Nor would they have cared if they did.
Losing interest in the new arrivals, goanna wandered off to stalk some nourishment elsewhere. Perhaps a marsupial mouse caught unawares or, better still, a nest full of eggs. His salivary glands produced copious quantities of moisture at the mere thought of such a feast.
When the young couple returned some time later, their approach was announced by a babble of enthusiastic conversation. Now she too was making flamboyant gestures, her face flushed with excitement, voice pitched several notes higher than when they had left. Goanna did not know what to think, but the level of excitement aroused an intense nervousness.
“I think it’s just perfect,” the woman declared, planting a wet kiss on the young man’s cheek. The man beamed, returned the kiss passionately, and swung her off her feet in a giddy arc. The reptile was even more astonished by such extravagant expression.
“Well, I’m rapt to hear it,” he acknowledged, as if he had been hoping for such a response, but not expecting it. “We’re home then!”
Their emotions remained at a level of bubbling enthusiasm, all the more disturbing for Goanna when they spent half an hour concentrating their attention on the immediate area around the stump, his home. The man marched about this way and that, taking sightings of goodness knows what, scribbling in his book, and scratching his head, offering an impression of logical assessment, while she actually sat on the shelf which, many years ago, an earlier human had axed into one of the buttresses of Goanna’s stump. It seemed to accommodate her shapely bottom comfortably, and she contented herself with enjoying the place while her partner performed his curious ritual.
The man eventually finished his performance.
“I reckon,” he announced, “We could nestle ourselves in right here. It’s well sheltered from the strong westerly winds, as well as the sun”s afternoon scorch. And there seems to me to be enough relatively flat ground for us to build and make some good vegie gardens. We’ll put ourselves together a perfectly wonderful little piece of paradise.”
She clapped in response to his pronouncement. “I can see by the light in your eyes that you can see it all unfolding, step by wonderful step. And if the shine is anything to go by, then I’m sure the vision will turn me on too.” She smiled at him encouragingly, and was clearly pleased by his agreeable response.
They clambered back into the battered car shortly after, coaxed it into life with a cough, then a smoky roar, made an elaborate eight-point turn, and rattled away down the track. Goanna ventured back into the sunshine to pursue an unsuspecting grasshopper. He surprised himself by catching the large insect with one ferocious snap of his jaws.
He crunched the unfortunate victim into a digestible form and swallowed. As the dominant sensations of texture in his gullet were replaced by taste, Goanna ruminated on the significance of this fleeting visit, pondered their emotions and expressions. He had a slightly uneasy feeling, of imminent change.
Apart from the occasional sighting of the farmer attending to his cattle, no humans ever came near the blackened old stump which the reptile considered as home. The farmer – a ruddy-faced gent whose frequency of farting suggested serious digestive problems – paid little notice to Goanna basking in the sun on a wintery morning. He would do no more than raise an eyebrow as he continued on his way, rounding up cattle.
Sometimes, too, they had met as both were resting from the blazing summer sun under one of the shady mango trees. These chance meetings bore no particular significance to the pattern of the seasons, the fluctuations of abundance and scarcity. Neither gave the other more than the scantest of consideration; both were content that it was so.
As for the cattle, the most contact Goanna made with those four-footed clods was when they used the stump as a back-scratcher. The reptile’s home vibrated for a moment, but did little more than briefly disturb its slumbering occupant. Goanna gave them a wide berth, and they in turn paid him little attention.
He harboured an inexplicable sense of ill-will towards them, mingled with an intrinsic feeling that they were outsiders who simply did not belong. His negativity strengthened during the rainy season, when the combination of their huge body-weight and relatively small hard hooves wreaked havoc on the soft wet earth. When a herd of them became alarmed, often by the characteristic wild thunderstorms of that time of year, the effect of those hoof-prints was to press the ground into a sludge of holes and uneven ridges that the sun baked hard when the rain had passed, and not a single grain of grass, whose seeds would call the succulent small marsupials, nor flowers that would attract delicious insects, could grow through it. Not that this was any reason for such enmity, for there was always enough to eat. No, somehow they just did not belong, that was all. Sufficient reason for his irritation.
These two new intruders though, aroused more disquiet than negativity. At least the cattle were apparently oblivious to either him or anything else in their proximity. Dullards to say the least. The couple were, in contrast, far from indifferent. They had shown unseemly enthusiasm for the neighbourhood of the stump. Worse was to come a few weeks later, when they visited for the third time.
Their ancient car, piled high with goods and chattels, had laboured even more painfully to reach the site. After some animated discussion, the young man acceded to his partner’s opinion and, muttering discontent to himself, began slashing the weedscape near the stump while she unloaded the vehicle.
The sweaty toil apparently pacified him, and when fatigue overcame enthusiasm, he surveyed the expanse of cleared weedscape, smiling with satisfaction. Turning, his eyes met hers. She was grinning, amused by his boyish expression. He bounded across the scattered debris, whooping, and hugged her passionately, delightedly. Ah, young love.
Goanna was far from ecstatic. The new clearing encroached right up to the stump, which at that moment was actually barred; the man had leaned his brush-hook directly across the charred entrance.
Goanna had seen many changes to his environment over the years though, and each time he’d adapted. Even the wild bushfire which had scorched the countryside ten years earlier had eventually proven to be a blessing in disguise. Having escaped its searing heat by sheltering at the riverbank, Goanna eventually returned to the tree-stump to find that, far from being destroyed by the fire, it had actually been improved, enlarged . And after a couple of lean weeks, the new grasses attracted more succulent cicadas than ever .
In the clearing, the couple raised an ex-army tent, and by the time the sun was setting, they had created a rustic but homely abode. The firewood was damp though, and refused to co-operate, despite the use of every conceivable method of fire-lighting which they thought they knew.
After more than an hour of blowing and puffing and fanning and cursing, the half-filled billy of water gave encouraging signs of heat; small bubbles floated to the surface. Any notions of a cooked meal had been abandoned long before, when tempers of mutual frustration had spilled into accusations of each other’s incompetence, threatening to plunge their first night into total disaster.
“Okay, so we’ll settle for salad then, but I’ve got to have a hot cup of coffee.” She agreed wholeheartedly, but half an hour after the appearance of the bubbles, the water still hadn’t boiled. Tempers had come closer to the point. Both were red-eyed and coughing from futile attempts to coax a glow from the few coals, an occasional flicker of flame.
They glared spitefully at each other, then burst into laughter. Hugging, they agreed that the water must surely be hot enough for coffee. It wasn’t, but they each stoicly forced down the tepid beverage. Without fire to cheer them, nor adequate light to read by, bed seemed the only solution to their woes.
More discontent awaited them there; by the light of the kerosene lamp, the bed appeared soft and romantic – it was neither. What had seemed to be relatively flat ground, proved quite rutted and bumpy, and the foam mattress did nothing to flatten it. His passion was already aroused though, determined that at least some joy might be salvaged from the ruins of the evening.
Any mutual spark vanished the moment she lay down. She couldn’t be convinced to ignore the discomfort, and they whiled away the night back to back, eventually fuming into restless sleep in silence and frustration. A few meters away, Goanna had long drifted into deep sleep.
Morning cast a fresh light on the campsite, and despite their lack of sleep, the couple treated each other sensitively, easing into the day with quiet conversation, and eventually, over breakfast, with laughter as they recalled the evening”s disasters. They were even able to enjoy piping hot coffee, having mustered a brief but adequate blaze.
The day passed without trauma and the campsite was transformed into a liveable home, of sorts. Most importantly, they would not have to suffer another night of lumps and bumps. Nor the torment of soggy wood, for they collected and stacked a mighty pile of wood and kindling. They raked and piled high the slashed weeds, and even made an fledgling start on the digging of garden beds.
The evening meal was hot and delicious, steeped in wood smoke, prepared together with love and contentment. All their dreams long nurtured in the city, of peace and the good life from the sweat of their hands, seemed to be actually happening at last.
The tantalizing smells from the campfire drifted up to Goanna; perhaps the newcomers would provide tasty supplements to his diet, and that could make the inconvenience of their presence a little more tolerable, perhaps.
The following weeks provided a mixture of highs and lows for the young pioneers as they experienced the unfamiliar vagaries of country life. On the third night a possom discovered the new source of food, including taste delights it had never dreamed existed. These were prizes worthy of fighting hard for, even if it did involve a certain amount of danger.
That danger was a pair of irate humans, intent on keeping all the delectables for themselves. They were very slow and clumsy though, especially when awakened from deep sleep. After several arguments with her mate, the female gave up the battle, and he was left to storm around in the night brandishing a flashlight in one hand, and various weapons in the other, cursing and shouting.
His efforts merely provided sport for the intruder, who apparently delighted in the game, taking particular pleasure in escaping with its spoils to the nearest perch. There it would flaunt the victory, sitting to eat just beyond the reach of the blustering human, who seemed unreasonably nettled by the sight of his avocadoes and bananas being consumed so close at hand.
After several sleepless nights of trial and error, the couple managed to secure their edibles, in a large wooden crate. Sleep was still disturbed though, as the possom snooped around the site in search of nourishment not locked away. Such oversight invariably resulted in a heated exchange of accusations and bitter counter-accusations as each denied responsibility. Goanna regarded all their performances with curiosity, amazed by what these creatures did to pass the time.
These were only the start to their challenges. A week of carrying buckets from the creek convinced them that more permanent water arrangements were a high priority. After two full days of dragging plastic pipe through lantana and prickles, cursing and swearing, and grappling with the technicalities of modern plumbing and the science of thermosyphons (sucking and cursing and swearing all the while), they were elated when finally, with a hissing of air, then encouraging spluttering in the pipe, the water began to spurt and spit from the tap, finally running smooth and clear. The couple danced around the clearing making such a fuss and noise that Goanna seriously contemplated alternative arrangements for his habitation.
Back-to-the-basics magazines which they had pored over enthusiastically in the city seemed wasted in the face of actually doing the work. Rational understanding can seem so far removed from practical execution. But anyway, no more water-carrying; the sweet pleasure of simple success.
The work, and the regular incursions of the possom, provided a roller-coaster of experiences. Life was so different than they’d anticipated, let alone been accustomed to. The aspects of living which had irked them in the city were different, but life was no less problematic in the country. On the contrary. Simple day-to-day tasks which had been tedious and humdrum became such time-consuming efforts; doing the dishes, cooking, clothes washing, “turning on” the light, “popping down to the corner shop” (ten bone-shaking kilometers). Everything took so much energy, and there was still the necessity of building themselves a house.
The first round of heavy rains stressed the point. It poured for almost a week without respite and the campsite became a quagmire; leather sprouted furry mould overnight, the tent leaked (mercifully not on the bed), and their relationship suffered as never before. They fled to town and purchased a simple gas stove, frustrated by hours of huffing and puffing at soggy wood.
They also became painfully aware of isolation, and the desparate need to forge friendships. Otherwise their country paradise might soon become a bush hell.
Such a deluge caused little concern to Goanna, for his leathery skin absorbed none of it. Eventually sunshine and blue skies would reappear, and even if he had to suffer a few lean days of rations, the bounty of food sure to follow would more than compensate for the brief dearth.
Naturally, the rains did finish, the sun came out, and blue skies brightened each day. The couple threw themselves into a new frenzy of activity. Shelter was the consideration after their suffering under canvas; a dry floor above ground level, a solid roof and walls. For two frantic weeks they worked as one, with scarcely time to argue.
During the respite from rain and rankling, Goanna watched with interest as the modest hut took shape. Still uncertain as to whether the couple were friend or foe, he kept his distance, observing their work from the long grasses at the edge of the clearing.
While watching, Goanna snacked voraciously. Silently he”d approach an unsuspecting victim from behind, manoevering long slender body with such skill that the target sensed only grasses rustling in the wind. Too late, a hot gust of digestive air preceded powerful jaws crushing fragile body. Goanna knew his prey stood little chance of escape; years had honed the skill to recognize the crucial instant his prey would move, the moment to attack.
Not since childhood cubby-houses had the young man put hammer to nail. Then the constructions had seemed to be veritable palaces, with crudities easily glossed over by a child’s imagination. Building a house with an adult’s eye for detail was an altogether different matter, and his inadequacies became a painful frustration. Again and again, those do-it-yourself books and magazines seemed a total waste of time compared with perspectives and techniques “in the flesh”. The pretty photos and neat diagrams now mocked at his ineptitude.
Yet the building took shape. He came to accept that she was often able to grasp the link between book and action more clearly than he. They felt a new bond growing between them. Working together was a new experience, and though there were moments of difference and disagreement, these were far outweighed by hours of harmony. They stopped work at the end of each day due to lack of light rather than lack of enthusiasm, then prepared meals together, chattering about the day”s achievements, tomorrow”s projects, growing closer all the time.
In such domestic peace, Goanna decided to investigate the kitchen area. Almost nightly he”d been awakened at some stage by the sounds of the possom rampaging about, and the futile gestures of the man to discourage it. Goanna had great respect for the possom”s nose for good food.
One morning, while the builders were hard at work, Goanna crept over to the food locker, where several plastic bags of food had been left unstored after breakfast. Poking his nose into a bag of muesli, Goanna discovered the disturbing noise made by scrunching plastic.
Goanna froze, discovered by the woman. The two regarded each other from a safe distance. She was awed by such a creature, fascinated by its size, and fearful of its claws. While wary of her size and bulk, the reptile was also well aware of the fear she exuded, and held his ground, waiting for her next move. Fear smelled like danger. She remained still, fascinated and repelled. Apart from the multitudes of birds, and various noises beyond their perimeter, the only encounters with wildlife had been the unwelcome nocturnal visits of the possom. Her partner slowly approached behind her. Goanna steeled himself for flight.
“What a beauty,” the man whispered,”Not exactly cuddly, though” The three regarded each other with mutual curiosity, mingled with fear.
“I think we need the roughage more than him,” she quipped.
Goanna sensed a measure of dangerous bravado from the male, who inched forward a pace, waving his arms threateningly. There was as much fear as courage in the gesture, but Goanna didn’t tarry to study which emotion would prevail. It scurried away into the long grass and the refuge of his stump, miffed at the laughter which erupted as he fled.
“What a beautiful beast indeed,” he declared in an exaggerated denial of her fear. “He moves like a prehistoric road-train.” Indeed the two meter reptile did resemble an ancient articulated vehicle, head seemingly moving independently of body, and that too bending and flexing in different directions along its length to the cream-yellow tip of its leathery tail. He made a fair imitiation of Goanna, shoulders hunching side to side, neck craning, and the pair doubled up in laughter again.
Goanna didn’t return to scavenge more food; the grainy cereal wasn”t particularly tasty anyway, apart from the sweet dried fruits, and was hardly worth the risk of exciting revenge from the man.
The rain stayed away until the shed was about to be roofed. The consolation that they wouldn’t have to suffer their leaking tent again next time – surely – was little comfort in the downpour.
It lasted only three days, but drove them out of their soggy mire to seek company and respite at the home of a couple she’d met at the local shop. It was a mixed blessing, for although they escaped from their own situation for a day and a night, their neighbours sobered any notion of imminent easy times with tales of their own struggles of the previous three years. The house was delightful, immaculately constructed and finished, and reeked of large amounts of money, which the young couple did not have. Despite the pleasure of forging much-needed friendships, the newcomers returned to their own site with a mixture of relief and depression.
The roof was complete within a few days of the sun’s return, and coincided with a totally unanticipated revelation; she was pregnant. The realisation stunned them both, and aroused unwelcome differences of attitude.
“How can we start a family in this situation,” he implored, waving an arm over their still-sodden campsite and crude, unfinished building.
She was shocked by his rationale, and unspoken solution to the dilemma. Part of their dream had always been to raise a family in their country paradise, but with the presumption that a house would be complete, fruit trees bearing heavily, prolific gardens, and modest income to maintain it. The details and logistics had never been discussed beyond vague notions and grand schemes, with each assuming that time would take care of such matters. Time had other ideas, and the suggestion that she should abort the child for pragmatic consideration appalled her. She exploded in a torrent of spite and accusations.
“You callous bastard! How typical you are of men. A nice tight logical solution to anything that might ruffle your nice tight world. What about me, and my body and soul? Not quite so simple, scumbag!”
He winced, tried to backstep and mollify her, sooth her with justifications for his suggestions; that he had been only thinking of her, considering their situation and the difficulty of raising a child in unprepared circumstances. She would not be comforted, turning sarcasm on him and spuring his clumsy attempt to hug her.
“Get away, and leave my body alone. Do you think that all the millions of babies in the world were born in luxury? Can’t you handle it when the going gets tough? Can’t you get off your bum and get your act together a little quicker?” She paused for breath, then added, “You take your pleasure, then aren’t prepared to pay the price.”
“And I suppose you suffered while I did my worst.”
Goanna had become accustomed to the state of peace, and didn”t welcome the return to battle. He hovered on the perimeter of the site, hearing the couple trade insults and venom, watching them shout with ugly twisted faces, seeing the tears and hearing shouts of anger and despair. Why creatures would behave in such a way, yet not be prepared to lash out with tooth and nail to resolve the issue, was a mystery.
The squabbling grew less bitter, but the wounds weren”t healed. He was hurt by her accusations, the doubts within himself about his innocence or guilt, and the prospect of what lay ahead. She was embittered by his callous rationale, and the reality that she must make the ultimate decision, accept the suffering regardless of his support or rejection. Nothing he could say would convince her of his commitment, nor the depth of his intentions.
The construction continued, though with less fervour, interrupted often by renewed arguments and bickering. They were building for three instead of two, and the inadequacies grew by degrees. Winter accentuated the conditions, when every imperfection of carpentry screamed out in biting cold draughts. In times of rain, buckets were hastily arranged to catch drips, but treasured books were still damaged, fabrics ruined.
She suffered an uncomfortable pregnancy from the outset, with raging headaches and aching body. The pain left her weak, wondering how much she could stand, and she was frustrated by her impaired ability to contribute to the home-making, which progressed at an ever-slower rate.
Often he became so disconsolate that nothing was achieved at all. He would wander off into the bush to bury himself in solitude. Overwhelmed by the concept of fatherhood, and distanced by his inability to share it with his companion, he felt disillusioned about the dream they’d shared.
The moments of laughter and shared pleasures were dulled by continued squabbles and disagreements, growing more frequent and vehement with the passing weeks.
One morning, the battle was even fiercer than before, punctuated by shrill shouting and bellowing, the pitch rising until the sound of smashing glass preceeded a stunned silence. Goanna crept closer to investigate.
Through the open door, the woman could be seen hastily throwing clothes into a large suitcase, while the man was sulking by the fireplace, snuffling into his hands. A pall of gloom hung over both of them. Few words were spoken, and half an hour later she struggled out to the car with her bulging case, miserably summonsing his attention. Like a drunkard, the young man stumbled over and pleaded with her. She responded negatively, he cursed her, then both climbed into the battered vehicle with an angry slamming of doors. It roared off down the track.
An hour or so later the car returned, the man climbed out alone and ambled sadly back to the shed.
For the next couple of days Goanna heard little noise from the campsite. The young man was locked in a confused daze, aimlessly picking at activities which apparently excited no interest. He would slash half-heartedly at the weedscape for a while, then wander into the hut to restlessly turn the pages of a book, or sit for hours by the unlit fire, staring into space and occasionally crying softly.
The days passed into weeks with little sign of change. Goanna felt as disturbed by the inactivity as he had been by the fighting. He decided to venture closer.
Tentatively entering the clearing, he stopped when the human looked up, red-eyed. They regarded each other for a few moments, then the man reached behind him to the food box. Goanna cocked his head. The man, face contorted in mean anger, hurled a large block of wood.
The reptile, off guard, was struck sharply in the back. He frantically turned tail and fled. In the sanctuary of the charred stump, he inspected the deep gash, tending it with his tongure, painfully aware of the throbbing bruise. He did little in the following days, allowing the wound to heal with rest and sleep.
Eventually the man regained his purpose, digging garden beds and setting about a new round of building, adding a new wing to the shed. As he worked, he gained in confidence and self-esteem. The tools, which had seemed so poorly designed for their use, gradually felt more comfortable in his grasp. Challenge replaced despair, and the work was achieved faster, more competently; life had gained a new momentum .
Goanna was still wary of his unpredictable neighbour, quite unable to understand the driving force behind the mood shifts, for there seemed little connection to the season and weather, which naturally the reptile considered to be the primary influences on all activities.
It wasn’t the variables of Nature which drove the young man to industry, but the knowledge that his companion would soon return, and they would be three. Overwhelmed by pregnancy and his intractable attitude, she had fled to the comfort and understanding of her parents home. Her decision provided instant relief from the trials of the pioneering dream, but her heart soon suffered from the parting.
Two lonely weeks passed before he telephoned, full of contrition for his anger and pride. She was overjoyed, and he hoped for her early return. Dropping everything, he rushed down to the city and they fell in love again; life was wonderful.
She wouldn’t return though, while she was pregnant. Three more months was little to wait, and sufficient time for the house to be finished to a comfortable stage. Surely? He reluctantly accepted her decision, and returned to the country full of enthusiasm.
Ten weeks later, Goanna became aware of a new joy in the man, singing and laughing to himself like a man possessed. For months he had been working frantically from early moring until the last light of day had faded. The shed had become a little house he was proud of, despite its crudities and incompletions. He was about to become a father.
Goanna had no idea of such an auspicious moment, when the man suddenly abandoned his frenzied toil and didn’t return for several weeks. Slamming the front door to the house, the man had skipped down the front path to the car, singing to himself.
The next time the old car rattled up the track Goanna, keeping to the safety of the long grass, keened at the strange sound which continued after the engine had stopped. The sight of the tiny young creature in the woman’s arms stirred familiar recognition. Though still pale and drawn from pregnancy and birth, the young woman wore a glow, a maturity; a family would surely bring happiness to the couple.
The young man proudly let the way into the little house, and was delighted by her enthusiastic response. He ignored her sigh while inspecting the unfinished bathroom, and busied himself with the unfamiliar role of father. The sunset cast an exquisite glow on the forest as they sat down to eat.
The blissful peace didn”t last long. After a couple of days of tolerant acceptance, disillusionment began to gnaw at the fragile calm. She realized the struggle ahead and, after the months of comfortable ease, didn’t find the notion attractive. Despite the great effort he’d made, their house was still little more than a primitive shack, and the prospect of coping with motherhood in such circumstance was not appealing. He tried to reduce the situation by shouldering much of the domestic work, but the work necessary to make their lives more comfortable suffered as a result. Squabbling and spatting flared again, and the tiny baby responded with full throat.
Then, one blustery morning, the sounds were different. Calmer. Goanna stalked over to his customary vantage point and watched. There was plenty of movement in the house, and both were involved.
The couple were packing their belongings into large boxes and cases. In the afternoon a small truck arrived and goanna watched as the two men lugged the furniture and containers from the house, stacking them in the truck.When it was full, the van trundled slowly down the rough road, rattling and shaking.
As the sun sank low in the sky, the young family came out of the little house. He closed the door, securing it with a large padlock, and they headed for the car. Goanna could see that he young man was crying.
With its usual cloud of blue smoke, the car roared into life and rattled down the hill one more time, leaving goanna wondering in the shadows about how the latest turn of events might affect his existence. He shrugged with indifference, and with lightning accuracy snaffled a blue-green dragonfly from a waving sapling.
Three months later, the grass around the empty house was higher than the window sills, and spiders had spun a maze of cobwebs from the rafters and beams. Goanna decided that the young family wouldn’t be returning for quite some time. He sniffed and scratched amongst the house stumps for a while, and eventually settled for a back corner as a suitable new home.
The reptile didn”t remain alone for more than a few weeks, before other home-seekers zeroed in on the abandoned shack. Not the two-legged variety this time though.
First to arrive were a pair of pesky possums, clattering and clunking amongst pots and pans in the lean-to that had served as a kitchen. No doubt searching for food where they had often enough been successful during the couple”s occupation.
Apart from some mouldering bread that had been overlooked in their impromptu departure, there was little of substance apart from crumbs, and the jars that broke as they rummaged for better offered nothing worth eating. Foul smelling herbs and spices that no self-respecting creature would give a second look at.
Next came the carpet snake, slithering its three metres of sleek, mottled muscle around the rough-hewn timbers, fossicking around the kitchen too, tongue flickering keenly, seeking any rodent smell that might indicate the presence of fresh food in the offing. Satisfied that there were promising odours, it finally stretched and pulled itself up to the rafter beams where it settled to await supper.
A few skinks and a fat land mullet came and went, apparently unimpressed by the potential the shack offered, or sensing their presence might constitute a population explosion.
Two species of fruit bat inspected the rafters as a possible rook, but had second thoughts when the python showed interest in them. Rats with wings was the perception of the large reptile. The bats sensed his presence and flapped back to their residence in the shade of the gnarled old fig tree down by the dam where the abundance of insects supplemented their fruit diet, even if there was hardly less danger of becoming python-fodder.
The various creatures who stayed, worked out a formula of co-existence, each respecting the other”s presence generally, keeping a distance from each other for the most part, none wishing to antagonise the other, so long as their needs did not coincide.
Each staked out its territory, with varying degrees of hostility required to win the acceptance of the others or, if unsuccessful, to reach the conclusion that there were other options more appropriate to establish a home.
So Goanna – being the largest of the menagerie, and possessing the sharpest teeth and claws – naturally insisted on taking the most luxurious refuge, under the leather sofa in the corner where the woman had spent so much of her time as her tiny babe suckled its contentment. The corner was the most easily secured home, and none would challenge it’s occupant who in any case could defend the space so easily. There was no animal or reptile capable of challenging the strength and armoury of 170 centimeters of leathery skin and razor-sharp talons.
Finally though, their equilibrium was disturbed one day by the return of the young man, alone. Goanna observed him acutely from a distance, peering unseen through the long grass and mist-weed that had thrived during the Wet season. Something had changed. That much was obvious from the moment the door opened and the man extracted himself wearily from the car. That was different too, an upgrade from the ancient rattle-trap the family had departed in. Apparently the long months of absence had improved the financial status, though the slouch of his shoulders and downward set of his mouth suggested that there had been a high price to pay for it. He had gone to fat a little too, no longer lean and muscular but rather paunchy and slow, his palid complexion matching the faded condition of his body. Goanna wondered about the absence of his partner and their tiny offspring. What was this new phase going to produce?
The man paused by the car, surveying the site. He sighed long and loudly, shaking his head as his eyes settled first on one problem, then on the next. The path to the front door of the shack had been obliterated by the rampant growth, and creepers had worked themselves into the gaps of his rudimentary carpentry. How had he thought those planks had been evenly attached.
“Shit,” he exploded, looking down to his feet. A leech had already attached itself between his toes. Reality time. Tossing the armful of things back on the car seat, he bent and ripped the slimy parasite off, and tried to throw it away. Unsuccessfully, for the creature had already reattached itself to the fingers that had separated him from his meal.
The man nodded to himself, remembering the process. Confuse the wretched creature. He rolled the leech between his fingers into a ball, before flicking it as far as he could into the undergrowth. It would probably return to claim another bloody meal, but by then there would be a salt bath waiting to accept him.
A tiny pool of blood was already expanding down there, where the anti-coagulant saliva was taking effect. Good for aiding micro-surgery perhaps, but just another challenge for him to endure. Again. He recalled the bout of festering ulcers he had suffered in their first months of camping. Determined not to resort to the conventional response of anti-biotics, he had tried every alternative means to cure himself, beginning with pissing on it, graduating through various remedies claimed to be effective. Tea-tree oil, honey and charcoal. The ulcers had grown and multiplied in response.
The only positive effect of the pee remedy was the amusement factor when his aim was not so good as he’d supposed and he pissed on his jeans. Dabbing from a container was less messy, but had no apparent healing quality. After that he’d tried, Tea Tree Oil, and Manuka honey with powdered charcoal powder, various foul herbal concoctions and a host of other highly recommended – and less highly, but at least alleged curatives. None of them worked, and finally he’d hobbled into the doctor, who castigated him good-naturedly for his hippy naivety, and prescribed a hefty course of antibiotics. They worked impressively quickly, and left him wondering at what point in future he would give up on the “soft” remedies and rely on the magic of modern medicine to fix him up.
Goanna heard the man’s deep sigh, recognised it this time as a sign that more hard times were likely. The human understood the task that lay ahead of him. It was a very rough camp site indeed, just as his partner had accused. He’d been so focussed on the progress that he’d made since their first wretched night in the tent, that he had blinded himself to the reality of how much still needed to be done before their pioneering would qualify as “home-steading”, and then how much more before they could feel that they had really created their nest. Goanna had no idea of the significance of the sigh, only recognising the probable outcome.
He reclaimed the bundle of things from the front seat and pushed his way through the weedscape to the front door, and kicked it open. A scurrying noise in one corner assured him that he would not be sleeping alone until he managed to reassert his sovereignty.
Goanna decided that they could co-habitate the simple house for the time being, but it would be better for all concerned if he retired to his former corner underneath the floor boards. The man might not appreciate his company and resort to violence again. The stump was no longer an option since goanna had become accustomed to having more space to move, and a perennially dry home.
All creatures adapt to change in the end.