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Full Circle

Day 127: Katherine

Katherine, Australia 
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Raine, Bluey and the crocodile midwife.
Michael Palin - Full CircleAfter lunch (crocodile curry, cooked by Bluey) we toil out into almost intolerable heat, now over 100° Fahrenheit, to watch Peter's most difficult consultation. A fully grown, fourteen foot-long croc has to be hauled out, sedated and examined. Bluey and Patrick, one of his men, get a line over the croc's snout, and he is dragged from the grass and mud of his enclosure, lashing, turning and twisting out of a gate in the fencing. His jaw and back legs are unceremoniously gaffer taped, a piece of sacking is thrown over his head, and he's given a Valium jab. While Peter goes to work on a nasty raw nasal abscess I ask Bluey, who has been at the thick of the battle to get him out, if, after all we've seen today, he's still afraid of crocodiles. 'Oh, yeah,' he smiles and tugs on the ring in his ear. 'That's what keeps me going. Fear.'

I remember these words an hour or two later. We are halfway through our two-hundred mile flight back to Katherine when the darkening sky ahead of us is rent with tremendous flashes of lightning. Two great black slabs of rain-cloud are rolling at extraordinary speed towards us, like a massive pair of gates closing. I'm the only other occupant of Peter's Cessna, which suddenly seems very frail and fragile. Worst of all, Peter, normally full of wisecracks, has gone very quiet. He keeps looking down at the instruments and speaking rapidly into his headset. The storm is terrific to look at but I wish we were seeing it from below. The black shrouds of rain are by now blotting out all but a tiny crack of the horizon ahead of us. Peter has the plane at full throttle but it looks for a moment as though this will not be enough. We are within an ace of being engulfed when we slip through and put down at Tyndal Air Force base.

At seven o'clock, safely landed, the rain is sheeting down and we stand tired, but happy, waiting for Peter's wife to come and pick us up. With us, in two long tubes with wooden, punctured ends, are four live crocodiles.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 127
  • Country/sea: Australia
  • Place: Katherine
  • Book page no: 184

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