Mullengudgery, 20 May 1893

During the night we drove from Narromine to Mullengudgery where we would hunt on the lands of various farmers  who planned to join us in this undertaking. The most prominent among them were Mr. Alison and Mr. Campbell.

First on the agenda was a wagon hunt on Australian bustards to which I was looking forward with interest as I had not yet known about that kind of game and had not found a natural history description of it. At dawn Mr. Campbell picked me up in a small wagon on which I and Clam took our seats and then we went off in the already familiar Australian manner at a very fast pace cross country to a very large meadow that served as a pasture for sheep and featured tufts of grass and some individual clumps of trees.

Soon Mr. Campbell showed me a big bird that stood with its high neck in the heath and which I recognized as a bustard when we tried to drive closer. The Australian bustard seems to have the same qualities as its European brother, especially the same timidity as it too did not remain standing. A shot at great distance was unsuccessful. We now drove continuously around in the heath and saw many more bustards. But these always flew away many hundreds of meters distant from our wagon so that I only managed to come within shooting distance to a flock and bag a beautiful specimen which however was totally ruined by the  500er bullet. The coat of the Australian bustard is different from that of the European one as the male has a large black badge on the breast while the back feathers are pearled. It also lacks the barb of our bustards.

Our morning hunt was very exciting because I saw many other specimens of various other bird species I had not known before beyond the many bustards. Among them the Australian crane that is parading around seeking food while crying constantly. One of them I shot with a bullet without however being able to catch it. On a dry tree sat a whole flock of ibis and at another location I saw for the first time a pair of the beautiful pink cockatoo with its red crest that they challengingly raise at any moment. During the return drive I bagged a beautiful falcon (Hieracidea berigora).

Having returned to the station I found the other gentlemen there with whom I was now to undertake a water game hunt and in the afternoon one for emus.

With the usual country-specific delay we set out, followed by a number of riders. This time our wagon was even more enormous than the one in Narromine. This one was a hunting wagon of huge dimensions and pyramidal height. But this vehicle driven again by the also present Mr. Mack proved itself splendidly. Taking short-cuts, he guided the monster through the pinewood forest of at least 3 m tall so that the wagon’s impact broke the trees and drove over them at speed which would hardly have been possible with a lighter vehicle. Extraordinarily skilled were also the four horses that drew the wagon. They jumped and turned progressing through the thicket.

Just after the departure we saw a large number of bustards that stood around in the open terrain in small groups or flew past us. Also rabbits rushed around everywhere or sat in front of trees in numbers of six or eight. These animals form one of the worst plagues of Australia. Once imported, they multiplied in a frightening way and can not be eradicated now. The number of the rabbits might be illustrated by the message of Mr. Campbell that he had caught in one night more than 8000 rabbits in traps without noticing a difference afterward. Some farming neighbors had to move away from Mullengudgery as they could not contain these animals. The number of rabbits had increased in 1883 so dramatically — during a single year 102.300 km2, an area larger than the combined size of Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia and Lower Austria, was destroyed by the „rabbit plague“ — that the government had allowed important subsidies for the capture of rabbits from 1883 to1890 to contain the expansion of the rabbits.

The sums the government spent for the eradication of the rabbits are estimated to be more than 12,000.000 fl. in Austrian currency. The only reliable measure is the enclosure of the threatened areas with wire netting of which the government has built in total 1688 km while the length of wire netting built by the individual herd owners of the country is said to amount to 21.500 km.

When we came to a small fairly dense forest, suddenly some emus starting fleeing and were immediately pursued by the riders until they had driven them into a corner created out of wire netting. Unfortunately the birds managed to get over the netting after multiple tries and disappear forever before we arrived with the rifles.

The proximity of a large swamp made itself noticeable by the presence of countless cranes that were standing in the low cane brake and filled the air with their hoarse cries. The hunting leaders intended to position us at various points where there were open water areas and ducks tended to land and then send the horses in to scare up the game. Wurmbrand and Clam remained at the beginning of the swamp while I drove on for about another 7 km, driving past some open pools where I shot some pieces of game, among them a rare harrier. A rather deep stream was overcome with the wagon at a gallop and I then was in my position at a small pool that extended between two veins of the swamp. Here I selected a more favorable spot under a strong willow bush and surveyed the surrounding area with great attention.

By and by some flocks of ducks approached but usually at a height I could not shoot at them. I could hear shots in the far distance, now and then a crack of the whips. But the game seemed to have taken another direction and avoid my position. The hunting leaders had apparently made wrong assumptions and spaced the shooters too far from each other so that the game could spread out and fly away into all parts of the world after the first shots. In relation to the total number of shooters many approaches had been left uncovered which the game used to escape, leaving us behind. I waited for two hours and had to be satisfied with four ducks during this time until my endurance paid of towards the end of the hunt. I bagged two birds that were a beautiful addition to my collection. An ibis that I shot out of a flock flying over my head as well as an Australian crane. That one had approached my position to about 200 paces when I missed it twice with my bullets. As it could not know where the shots were coming from it remained sitting so that I could bag it with the third bullet. The gentlemen of my entourage did also not return home without a catch and brought two beautiful bustards with them which they had met near the swamp in sandy terrain.

Already during the hunt I had spotted various emus at a great distance and now urged the farmers to use the afternoon to bag one of these rare animals as this had been one of the main reasons of this trip. They complied eagerly with this request and positioned me alongside a fence in a plain covered with crippled trees and bushes while the riders rode of taking a wide turn in order to drive the emus present towards me. In front of me stood some low mustard bushes, the favorite food of grazing sheep. Behind these bushes I tried to take the best possible cover. I must have waited for only about 20 minutes when I heard the loud shouts of the galloping riders and a dust cloud was advancing towards me. Now I saw a very strange image of at least 40 emus running furiously with their necks held high at full speed. In front of all of them ran an almost black large male  leading the whole unorganized herd behind. The animals rushed alongside the fence which they could not overcome, breaking out into the open area from time to time which was skilfully prevented by the riders. Only 40 steps away from me, the first animals noticed me and now the whole herd dispersed. I sent two grain shots at the closest emu and heard the grains impact against the dense coat of the bird and could determine that it had been heavily wounded but could not prevent it from taking off. Having learned from this, I took the rifle and shot an old male that had started turning to flee. Other shots I could not fire at the departing animals due to the presence of the riders. The herd fled now at a frantic speed towards the plain where my gentlemen had unfortunately been incorrectly lined up that is in a secondary line. Only Clam managed fire some shots at the emus at a great distance. If the gentlemen had been placed correctly sideways from me, the resulting catch would have been considerably bigger.

The piece wounded by me with grain was soon discovered by two riders. The bagged pieces were of a rare beauty and large specimens whose collection was even more welcome as it is said that this mighty bird species is on the way of becoming extinct.

The riders tried to drive the bustards back again, in fact from the other side so that we only had to turn around in our positions. After some time some pieces advanced toward us. But the emus with their fine senses had exactly noticed the dangerous position and escaped at a great distance from our position without a chance of reversing their direction again.

Mr. Campbell proposed to hunt cockatoos and bustards as the continuation of hunting emus was futile and there was still some time left.  He sent out two riders to find the spot of the cockatoo flocks. They returned after a few minutes with the report that they had found a flock. As fast as our wagon permitted we drove in the reported direction and after about 2 km we saw a flock of gorgeous pink cockatoos (Cacatua roseicapilla) flying above the tree tops and land in an open area. Immediately I and Wurmbrand jumped off the wagon and sneaked up to see the 300 to 400 redheads with raised crests visible above the grass. A bit later we could see the delicate animals themselves, seeking food, parading around with a grave air. When we had approached to 60 paces, the flock lifted off as if by command and with two shots I bagged three pieces that shrieking fluttered around on  the ground.

Following a strange drive cockatoos never separate themselves from dead or wounded comrades of their flock but fly around it in the air and dive down to it again, even if one shoots multiple times at them. Thus the colorful cockatoo flocks flew up into the air like a pink cloud only to dive quick as an arrow. Another ten pieces were bagged until the flock finally ascended to great height and disappeared beyond the eucalyptus tree tops.

Soon afterward I shot during another drive still three lovely small parrots and with a bullet a bustard and finally reached in complete darkness the station where Hodek was hard at work in preparing and treating the various catches.

After I said good-bye to the friendly farmers, the railway took us to Narromine where we then said a heartfelt good-bye to the kind Mr. Mack who had arranged and greatly contributed to our hunting successes.

I had left the wagon in Narromine for a moment when a decently but poorly clad young man approached me out of the crowd, took and pressed my hand and said to me: „When Your Imperial Majesty returns to Vienna, I ask you to greet the old „Steffl“ (St. Stephan’s Cathedral) and tell it that he was a faithful Austrian who will not forget his old homeland!“ Having said this, he disappeared. I immediately sent one of the gentlemen after the unknown man who after a long search found him and offered him some support in my name. The compatriot refused all kind of assistance, mentioning that he may be poor and out of work but he had only wanted to see a member of the Imperial family. Then he disappeared again in the crowd. The whistle of the locomotive was sounded and we moved on. This surprising scene in the Australian bush moved me deeply. This simple man with his love for his homeland truly aroused my patriotic heart. What sacrifices, what kind of sorrows the poor man has to bear in the hard struggle for existence and still he carries the memory of his homeland with him and keeps alive his love to his old Imperial family! Whatever might have sent him to Australia, the true Austrian spirit in this burdened man lives on too — many thousand miles away from his dear homeland — and expressed itself in words that made a profound impression on me, his warm blooded compatriot.

Links

  • Location: Narromine, Australia
  • ANNO – on  20.05.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is playing „Maria Stuart“ and the k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is performing the opera “Margarethe (Faust)“.

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