I am a water person. My family all know that. I am obsessed with things that live in water. Frogs and tadpoles. Fish, and octopus and sharks. Images and stories about them fill my Twitter stream and my Facebook pages. “Grrk, The Motorbike Frog” is a story, still half written.
Before I went to live in Stoneville with my beloved husband, Robbie, we had lived in South Perth and Como for years. First, it was just the children and myself. We lived between the Zoo and the Swan River, where we had easy access to the sandy shore. A curving pedestrian walk led over the Freeway at the end of our street. My kids and I spent many a warm summer evening, paddling and picnicking on the river foreshore. We walked in the early morning light, to find the piles of weed and discarded jellyfish left behind by the prawning parties, who had long since decamped with their prize of sweet, juicy river prawns. We kicked our way along the white sand, jumped over the blowies left to dry out and become the trophies of eight-year-old boys, and talked of futures yet to come. At night, while we shone our torches into the water to see the red eyes of the prawns we would never catch – for we were too scared of standing on a cobbler to do much trawling of our own – we heard the lions roar behind us, in the Perth Zoo.
Later, after several moves and changes in circumstances, we lived the other side of the Zoo and fed the Indian Palm Squirrels atop the brick wall around our patio. We would curl our noses up when we moved the plant pots, finding whiskery noses of large rats that Muggins had brought home from the Zoo, for his midnight snack. He left their tails, as well. Too tough, I guess.
Some nights, Colin and I would climb out to the end of the depilated Coode Street jetty, a few hundred yards up from Mends Street, and spend the evening fishing. It was a journey not undertaken lightly, with the jetty roped off, in a calamitous state of disrepair and many timbers missing. Especially when we did it at night, loaded up with gear, but it was a great adventure with my son. I was never quite patient enough for him: cobbler suck at the bait and there is a knack in waiting for them to suck and nibble away long enough for the bait to be sufficiently in their mouth, before you give the line a sharp tug and hook the fish. On more than one night, Colin sent me home, leaving him to fish in peace! Occasionally he would catch one, at the edge of the water with a gidgie, but we were always very careful about their spines – because a cobbler sting inflicts hours of excruciating pain that is only relieved by putting your hand or foot into almost boiling water. Nowadays, there is a total ban on catching cobbler in the Swan and Canning Rivers until 2017, to help rebuild their stocks.
In the hills, Robbie, my Dad and I built frog gardens and a huge shade house. I struck up a friendship with Prof. Mike Tyler, legendary man of frogs, and learned how to breed them. Robbie’s patience was endless, as we dug holes, ran cables for pumps, and put in ponds. Warren found me a perfect fishpond on the side of the road and we quickly turned it into a breeding pond. My back patio was a jungle of hanging baskets, ramrod rushes and verdant ferns. Dozens of motorbike frogs, sitting nose to tail, lined the timbers of the back verandah roof. A five tiered fountain Robbie made from earthen ware bowls was soon a thriving mass of wriggling black bodies, regularly fed according to Mike’s instructions and, as their front and back legs appeared, they would be moved to the “birthing” houses. These were broccoli foam packing boxes, with no lids, and they were set up inside with dirt, rocks and leaves on one side, and a shallow bowl of water on the other. In there, the tiny froglets could safely finish their metamorphose and it was such fun to watch them jump up onto the edge of the foam box, and after a minute or so of getting their bearings, leap down onto the brick paving and hop away into the garden.
Almost every pot plant had its own resident frog or two, and they particularly liked to sit on the big philodendron leaves and overhang the above ground pond. We had a moaning frog, deep in the sand around the fishpond. A slender tree frog took up residence on a large bulrush and little Crinea were everywhere. Their calls varied, but were usually quite distinctive and we had lots of Quacking Frogs (Crinea Georgiana). Their gold or red eyelids matched with red inner thighs made them easy to identify. One day, far away from the house, I turned over a rock when I was looking for a likely stone for the garden, and discovered a beautiful little Granite Frog who didn’t live near water at all.
Quacks, tkk tkk tkk, ribbit ribbit, and the Grrrrrrr of the motorbike frogs filled our nights with joy.
The next-door neighbours would prevail upon me to remove buckets of tadpoles from their outdoor spa in spawning season. Black eggs, like native caviar, lined the edges of grass blades, from which tiny tadpoles would emerge and fall, plop, into the pond below. I had a wild adventure in the inlet to a storm water drain where I had scrambled (or more truthfully, fallen) down a gravel bank, into a murky pool of water covered with duckweed,looking for native pigmy perch. Leeches quickly attached themselves to my thigh and calf, and I escaped – bloodied and bruised – by dragging myself through a blackberry bramble. The fish were saved, but I can’t say the same for my dignity.
When a sudden hot spell was drying up the roadside creeks and puddles, and tadpoles that were only half way to becoming frogs were caught in the mud, I spent hours carefully moving them into safer waterholes and went back, day after day, to share the joy of their saved lives.
My dream was to be a marine biologist – but, my education was sparse and science and biology never in my curriculum. To lie on the beach, with a snorkel and goggles and my face in a rock pool is my idea of heaven. When I sailed on bark Europa up to the Houtman Abrolhos last August, we swam and snorkeled over the most amazing coral reefs, in the Leeuwin current, miles and miles off the coast of Geraldton. Huge fan corals, stag corals of amazing colours and fish that brought me to the surface, spluttering with excitement over their size and colours, have brought me back to the sea.
Equipped with reef walking shoes, a waterproof camera and a new halogen headlamp from Warren, I can’t wait to make my Mandurah move.
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