National Geographic : 2004 Nov
"Why do mosquitoes give you Ross River virus? All part of the ecosystem, mate." Policemen everywhere run to a fine line in deadpan irony and sarcasm-but when you add an outback setting and a pair of veteran bush coppers in full banter, you get dialogue with an almost Tarantino-like genius for the droll and offbeat. We were on "bush patrol." Mick and his partner, Senior Constable Jason Jesse, were mak ing their periodic two-day circuit through the remote country along the Staaten and Gilbert Rivers, a hundred miles or so northeast of town, and I was along for the ride. Only a few weeks ago there'd been the liquored-up pig shooters camped along the Gilbert River, letting off steam and rounds of happy-go-lucky, heavy-caliber rifle fire into the night; Mick and Jason had relieved them of their (unlicensed) firearms. And then there was the carload of mango-maddened yahoos from Mount Isa who had replaced a wheel on their broken trailer with a road sign one of them ripped down. They'd beerily sped along the Matilda Highway in a cloud of dust-the sparks from the metal igniting fires for the next 150 miles. "They thought it was a hoot." But all was dead calm out here this time, nothing but the vast conspiratorial silence of the bush. In 400 miles we encountered nothing more suspicious than a cagey old crocodile basking on a riverbank; it slid partway into the murky water, eyed us for a few moments, and then slipped from sight. The only drunks we saw were rainbow lorikeets, a noisy flock of them, stoned on the overripe and fermenting fruit scattered beneath the huge mango tree that Extending a toothy welcome, Andrea the Crocodile(right) was built in 1987by vocational students in Wyndham, model ing their 66-foot-long creationon a real 12-foot saltwater croc. While they keep mostly to them selves, crocs have been known to attack unprovoked.In 2002 a 15-foot saltie killed a tourist taking a late nightdip in a billabong. On the Adelaide River, touristswatch crocs snatch chunks of bait danglingfrom the boat. "We have about a hundred crocs in the area,"says Tony Blums, who runs Jumping Crocodile Cruises. "The wet is breedingseason, so the males are more aggressive, and that's exciting."