The Day I shot my Brother

Blackall was the same as it always was in winter, very cold with a gusty westerly blowing in. It had been a hard summer, no rain and several fires that were too close for comfort. We lived at the Twenty Mile which of course meant that we lived twenty mile out of town and our weekly treat was the Saturday matinee, or as we would have said "Going to the pictures". On these trips, as a matter of fact any time we went out, Dad always had a gun in the car. For us, as for most people, the family rifle was a .303 calibre ex army gun. They cost next to nothing as did the ammunition; it took more than thirty years to clear these stock piles of Lee Enfields from WW2 so in those days everybody had one.

Now the gun was in the car in case we came across a "plain turkey" (bustard) which, when roasted, we considered to be as fine a feast as you could get. My mouth still waters at the memory of those golden smells drifting from the oven. Now a military .303 is a fairly serious bit of gear to be shooting a bird but I do not suppose it made a lot of difference to the turkey. The open sights on these rifles were raised perhaps 10 or 15 mm above the barrel and to shoot the turkey you would shoot across the roof of the car. You got out on the side away from the turkey so as not to spook it and gentle poked the rifle over the car roof. Our car had a very curved roof and unbeknown to my father he had not leant far enough across the roof so the curve of the roof brought it up in front of the muzzle but not the sights. My father took lethal aim at his dinner, licked his lips in anticipation, and fired. The bullet went into the roof in front of the barrel and came out again about 10 cms further along before continuing on but now only vaguely in the direction of the turkey.

The noise inside the car was absolutely stunning. The roof lining above my head was on fire and I could not hear a thing above the ringing in my ears. The turkey looked up and then continued calmly feeding. The back of my leg felt warm so I put my hand down and it came away covered in blood. I looked at it and said (in a small voice) -  I'm bleeding. My mother looked at it and said, rather callously I thought, - It is just a scratch it will stop soon. Meanwhile my father reloaded and took another shot at the turkey. Being rather shaken by his first effort it was not surprising when he missed. The turkey decided enough was enough and flew away.

My wound was a neat puncture wound, not sure if it was part of the roof or part of the bullet, but it is still in there.

My father always had a gun to hand. When I was quite young we lived in a house some six miles or so out of town. One of the first things you noticed when you entered he living room was that a very new phone seemed to be covering a large hole in the wall. The house was constructed almost entirely of tongue and groove hardwood, outside and inside walls and also the ceiling. The timber I now know was Johnson River hardwood, about the hardest hardwood around. Because of the rather odd walls, tongue and groove both inside and out, there were lots of gaps where walls met walls or ceiling. Of course this was a great encouragement to the local carpet snakes to take up resident in the roof space. Now the telephone was in one corner of the living room, a corner that the pythons used as their front door. My father had moved in a few weeks before us and while enjoying an evening post prandial libation noticed a rather large snake emerging from the ceiling over the top of the phone.

Let me digress. The phone was of course not a mobile or even a push button land line. No, not even a rotary dial land line, it was in fact a wall phone with two large dry batteries inside. When the phone rang you listened to the number of rings to hear if it was for you, our ring was three long rings, yes a party line. To ring someone you picked up the phone off the hook and jiggled the hook up and down until the exchange answered and you then gave them the number you wanted. (For younger persons the meaning of the phone being 'off the hook' and 'party line' now becomes apparent.)

Of course as soon as my father moved the snake retreated back into the ceiling. A few minutes of stillness and the snake would once again start to emerge. Now it soon occurred to my father that if he was appropriately armed then he could ambush the snake when it emerged, so he rushed off and returned with his double barrel 12 gauge shotgun. After sitting completely still for ten minutes most of the snake had emerged so he leapt to his feet and let go with both barrels. Unfortunately the snake was largely out of the ceiling and the sudden movement made him, – the snake that is - panic and fall to the floor which of course prevented his immediate demise. However the same cannot be said for the phone which literally blew apart. The snake escaped before my father could reload and all he was left with was a hole in the wall and a tangled smoking mess of wire, wood and Bakelite which was the telephone. Thus the very new telephone covering a shot gun hole through the wall.

On another family expedition in the Gulf country we were camped on the banks of the Big Bino, a distributary of the Leichhardt River. It was just after the wet and the road was still closed where it crossed the Leichhardt and we spent an excellent few days doing what every one did then which was killing as much of the wild life as we could. The family motto was - If it moves shoot it if it doesn't cut it down.

We were below the Leichardt falls and despite the fact that it was fresh water and that we were 80 kms from the sea, it teemed with estuarine life, sharks, sting rays, saw fish, barramundi and crocodiles. We duly caught fish for dinner together with numerous sharks and saw fish. When we tired of that we stalked the sharks and rays with wooden spears but that slaughter eventually palled too. After lunch we dozed under the river gums until my mother got up and said she was going up to the pool above the causeway to shoot a few crocs. In those days that was considered a public service, something like Neighbourhood Watch now. After a few minutes I decided to go up and see how many she had got. There was my mother perched on a rock beside the Causeway rifle in hand rolling a cigarette. Nothing yet she said.

We sat in silence for a while and watched but still no crocs appeared. Then as my brother came across the Causeway towards us I stood up and said to my mother - Mum you have to watch the safety on this rifle, it does not always work. Having said this I took the rifle off her cocked it and put the safety on. By now my brother has arrived and as always is pushing in beside me to see what is happening. The rifle is pointed down and I pull the trigger, you guessed it there is a bang followed by a short silence, then my brother takes off up the hill screeching - I'm shot, I'm shot, I'm shot - and between each yell/scream he leaps in the air rather like a gazelle being chased by a lion. My mother and I watch this performance open mouthed, about a hundred yards away he stops, turns around and slowly walks back. When he gets back he says - You missed.

Apparently the spray of concrete from the bullet hitting the causeway had stung his foot convincing him that I had finally got round to trying to end his days for ever. My mother did not say a word, just took the rifle off me and went back to the camp.