My brother Brett, I and our families were camped at Mungo Brush, up north of Newcastle on a place called the Broadwater, a part of the Myall Lakes national park. (Check out Google Earth for it.) I shouldn't really say this, but this is the best place in the whole world. It is a series of coastal lakes that stretch for a hundred kilometres; each lake has its own unique quality, and a bloke can happily spend a good proportion of his life simply exploring the place. It is adjacent to one of the best beach and dune systems in the world; and it is, relatively, in pristine condition.
At Mungo Brush there is a camping area set up by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. They do a great job, all over the country, in maintaining ecologically-friendly camp-grounds for the public to use, There are a few rules: don't fuck the place up; take your litter with you; don't feed the wildlife, etc. I must say that, by and large, the Australian people respect these kinds of ecological imperatives, and most places I've been to are clean, well-kept and show that people are thinking the right way about their relationship with the natural world.
We set up our campsite at Mungo. Our kids were little, then, and the Broadwater was the perfect low-maintenance place for them to be safe - a shallow lakeside that you couldn't get into too much trouble from, and easy vision from the campsite to the water. Idyllic, and just the place to spend Easter with family and friends.
After a couple of days of sheer pleasure (one of my treasured photos is one I took of my late father playing in the lake with my daughter), we were joined by a mob of young blokes who came into the camp-ground late one night. They noisily set up their camp, then proceeded to drink like buggery until dawn - once again, noisily.
Now, I am not one to cast aspersions on blokes who enjoy a beer or two - god knows, brother Brett and I have been known to get fairly voluble from time to time - so this kind of shenanigans didn't worry me at all. We got up the next morning, said g'day to the blokes, and went for a surf over at the beach.
At this stage of the story, I should point out a couple of relevant facts. Firstly, the wildlife at Mungo Brush consists mainly of dingoes and goannas. The dingoes are very timid, normally; although there have been reports of them being aggressive (and, at least in one incident on Fraser Island, actually killing a child), at Mungo they tend to stay away from the camping area. You can hear them howling, of course, but they tend not to cause any problems.
The goannas, on the other hand, are the perfect domestic scavenger. They're not really goannas, by the way; they're actually what is known as lace monitors. In any event, they are great big lizards that love hanging around the camping area looking for whatever scraps they can pinch off barbeques, and the like. They grow up to six feet in length, and the big daddies have broad backs and fairly nasty-looking claws. They love climbing whatever tree is handy if they're unsettled or frightened; that's why there is an old saying that if a goanna is coming towards you, lie down on the ground so he doesn't think you're a tree. They'll climb up a tree and rest for hours in the sun.
The second thing I need to mention is my brother Brett. Don't tell him I told you this, but he has always been my best mate. He's huge: six feet-four and built like a brick shit-house. He has immensely strong hands about the size of your average dinner-plate. And he's one of the most placid, gentle guys you can imagine. I've only ever seen him riled up once or twice; it was scary. He is also, just like me, a committed environmentalist; the world of nature is his beloved domain, and he is a fearsome advocate for it.
Brett and I were sauntering back into the camping-ground after a great surf; we were famished, and were hoping that the girls, our wives to be precise, might have got a frypan of bacon and eggs on the go. As we walked into the area, we noticed that half a dozen of the blokes who had pitched tents the night before were clustered around a tree.
A goanna, big and fat, was clinging to the tree about eight feet above the ground. One of the blokes had a big rock in his hand, and before we could say anything he'd hoisted this rock at the goanna, hitting it square on the back. The goanna scrambled further up the tree, while another couple of blokes started pelting it with stones.
Brett looked around, spied a rock sitting on the ground, picked it up and threw it as hard as he could. It hit the first bloke precisely in the middle of his back. It was a big rock, and delivered with huge force. The bloke let out a screech of pain and collapsed to the ground. His mates all turned around to see my brother, with another big rock in his giant paws ready to unleash again. The guy who had copped the first rock got to his feet and turned to exact revenge on whomever had committed this dastardly act. He saw Brett, and started to have second thoughts. Brett casually tossed the rock from hand to hand, and said to him, in a voice full of absolute menace,
"Hurts, doesn't it?"