I grew up in Australia. The land of the legendary drop bear. For as long as I can remember the story has been told time and time again…
One should never stand too long under the eucalyptus tree. It is where the drop bear lurks, that tourists should beware. Some laugh like it’s a joke, I can tell you it is not. I witnessed it myself when I was a small child.
I work as an accountant yet in my spare time I study myths and legends, many I have found not so far from the truth.
One I have been studying since I was a small girl, is the legend of the drop bear Images have been found sprawled across caves dating back to 38,000 B.C.E.
With a striking resemblance to the iconic koala evidence suggests due to being heavily hunted during the twentieth century as well as rising levels of pollution and urbanization, the koala since reached a process of evolution. Becoming larger than the herbivorous counterpart and Australian icon, formerly known as the cullawine or koolah.
The first known written reference of the cullawine or koala was in 1798. However in 1803 the Koolah was described as being larger than a wombat.
It has since been argued that what was encountered was not a koala in fact the larger more aggressive carnivorous form, the drop bear. With the conclusion being made that wombats are evidently known to grow to a larger size than the Koala.
5X23= 115+7-9+5= 116… ‘Where was I again?’
The search began to track down the drop bear on a camping trip with my mother Janelle, stepfather Mike and brother Jack. We pitch our tent as the sun goes down…
“Becky… Oi Beck… REBECCA! Go get some wood for the fire and take Jack with you,” Yells mother. Jack and I wander into the scrub to get some wood for the fire using a torch from Mike’s car.
We walk through marshland seeking dry branches, sticks and twigs. Jack and I stop to pick up a large branch all of a sudden there’s a rustling noise above us.
“Let’s go back to camp,” I say. “I’m not scared of anything I’m bigger than that tree, nothing can catch me,” Jack announces confidently. “Come on, I’ll race you back to camp,” I request, shaking my head side to side, attempting not to laugh.
I make the request knowing that Jack would delight at the challenge. Jack scampers off. I follow not far behind keeping the torch light on Jack as branches crack under my feet.
“I win, I win, I’m faster than you,” Jack taunts. “Yeah, yeah you win,” I concur. I find a patch of dry ground placing twigs at the bottom followed by larger sticks which crossover and overlap each other.
“Jack since you are the fastest can you grab that old newspaper out of the car, I am too slow and I am sure everyone would like some dinner… I will give you some of my marshmallows,” I coerce.
Jack speeds off. A short moment later he returns the newspaper looks large against him, of course if you told him that he would disagree. “Thank you Jack, I love you forever,” I say assuredly.
Tearing pieces of newspaper, rolling them into a ball, I place them in the gaps. Keeping a piece of paper to light. I strike a match, the wind blows it out. I try another to no adieu. “Third time lucky,” I mutter.
I use the lit paper to light the rest of the paper I have crumpled and placed between the branches as the flame licks creeping up toward my hand. I drop the paper sweeping it into the fire with a stick. The fire is lit.
Jack, Mike, Mum and I all gather around the fire. We have Damper with honey followed by Marshmallows for dinner as the night is growing tired. Everybody begins to yawn.
“I’ll show you my favorite fishing hole tomorrow we can explore the great bush land… now however is a time for rest, goodnight,” Mike proclaims.
Mum and Mike head to their tent. Jack staying with me.
“Time for bed,” I insist. “I’m not tired,” Jack groans.
“I know but we can have lots of fun tomorrow,” I promise putting out the fire. Jack and I wander to our tent, Jack reluctant dawdling behind me. Unzipping the tent to wriggle into the sleeping bag. Jack eases into his and curls up next to me. Jack falls asleep. I nod off thereafter…
I am startled awake by rustling over the tent followed by growling. “Becky, I’m scared,” Jack whimpers. “I know it’s ok the sun will be up soon, I will protect you,” I reach toward my heart with my index finger drawing a cross over it. “Cross my heart,” I assure.”
“Tell me a story?” Jack sulks. Propping myself up… “Once upon a time there was a boy named Jack, he was ever so fast and ever so smart.” Glancing down I notice Jack has fallen asleep. “So much for not being tired,” I whisper to myself. Sliding myself down into my sleeping bag.
‘TING!’ ‘TING…’ ‘TING.’
I hear the banging of pots and pans.
“The sun is up, get out of bed, you lazy rascals.” Mike demands. “Yeah, yeah I’m up,” I say rubbing my eyes bemused. Placing my hand on Jack’s shoulder gently.
“Come on it’s time to get up,” I insist. I open the tent allowing the light to creep in knowing Jack would otherwise shut his eyes drifting back to sleep.I exit the tent to join Janelle and Mike by the fire. I am not exactly a morning person.
Mike passes me some toast and a cup of soup. I gobble it down preparing to head out on our adventure.Strolling along the beaten track we come to a fork in the road. “This way,” Mike gestures left with his hand outstretched.
Continuing along the winding path until we reach a billabong.“This is where I like to fish,” Mike states.
“There isn’t always water sometimes it dries up but after long rain it fills up, the water recedes in times of drought though when it is full there’s always lots of fish,” Mike proclaims.
“Oh, I think I’ve caught something, it’s big,” I yell. I try to reel it in. I tug it back a few times to see if the fish will bite but the line does not release any further. I try again to reel it in.
“Well I don’t think it’s a fish,” I grumble.
“Probably a pet rock knowing my luck,” I smirk rather impressed with myself. I try again to reel it in pulling sideways. It comes loose but something seems heavy on the end of the line. I continue winding it in…
A shoe floats to the surface, examining again I notice
The shoe tangled in fishing line connected to my rod.
“Well it’s not a pet rock, rather a pet shoe, just what I always wanted… I will name you Peter!” I declare amused with myself. Jack reels in a fish. Mum too.
Hours pass… Mike and I have caught nothing yet.
“We should get back!” Mike’s voice booming loudly.
Shuffling off back to camp. Mike prepares fish ready for dinner. The cold is creeping in as the sun tucks itself away. Jack and I head out collecting wood for the fire.
Returning… “You’re just in time, I was about to send a search party,” Mike proclaims jokingly. Jack and I settle in by the fire. After a while I feel the heat prickling against my cheek. I begin inching my chair backward until the heat is at a comfortable distance.
Feasting by the moonlight. Mum boils water in the billy, collecting mugs for each of us. She heaps cocoa into each followed by sugar. Staring off into the distance admiring the moon and flickers of the dancing flames before me.
Mum taps me on the shoulder handing me a glass of hot chocolate and returning to her place by the fire.
“Look what I have,” Mum teases shaking a bag of marshmallows in front of myself and Jack. Jack’s eye’s light up. “Marshmallows!” Announces Jack gleefully bouncing upward standing to his feet, a grin spreading ear to ear.
A rumbling sound erupts from nearby, followed by screeching noises. Jack runs to my side. Hiding under my arm. “I’m scared,” Jack cries. “It is probably nothing Mike proclaims, I will go have a look,” as he grabs a flashlight heading off in the directions of the sound.
Jack, mother and I wait by the fire patiently. Minutes passing feel like hours. “Roar!” I jump. Jack shrieks.
I turn around to see Mike standing there with his hands scrunched up like claws. Jack is crying. “Why did you do that?” I yell. “It was just a koala,” Mike retorts.
“I hate you!” Jack yells as his voice cracks and he breaks into tears. “You don’t mean that,” says Mike. “But… but… you are being mean, you scared-ed me,” Jack stutters. “Not cool!” I say sternly.
“We need to have a word,” Mum asserts.
“You can’t go scaring the children like that,” I hear mother’s voice trailing off. Mike and my mother Janelle head off into the scrub.
“Are you okay?” I ask Jack. He runs off into the tent myself trailing behind him. Jack zips the tent closed as if to lock me out, though there’s a zip on the outside I do not enter as I do not wish to upset Jack further.
“May I come in?” I plead. “No!” Jack shouts angrily. “Pretty please?” I insist again kindly. “I said No!” Jack declares.
“If you let me in… I’ll let you share my chocolate stash, I’ve got chocolate and chips,” I persuade. “Okay, you can come in,” Jack says meekly whilst he unzips the tent slowly. I ruffle Jack’s hair.
“Close your eyes and count to ten,” I insist playfully. “Are you going to scare me?” Jack queries. “Of course not, it is a surprise,” I remark. Jack closes his eye’s.
“Now put your hands out,” I add. Jack puts his hands out.
I place a bag of chips in his hands holding onto the chocolate as his hands are too small to grasp the two.
“You can open your eye’s now,” I preclude. Jack opens his eye’s delighted. “You are the best sister.” Jack says. “You are pretty awesome yourself,” I flatter. Jack looks pleased. “Feel better now?” I ask. “I do,” he remarks. “Now what do we say…” “Thank you!” Jack interjects.
Night lingers. I haven’t heard mother and Mike return.
I am beginning to worry. It is getting late. Jack is becoming weary.
“I need to go put the fire out,” I announce.
“Please don’t go, stay until I fall asleep,” Jack intervenes. “But… then I must put out the fire,” I insist. ‘Okay,’ Jack nods reluctantly. Jack drifts off to sleep soon he is snoring not loudly more like a quiet hum. I giggle. Grabbing the flashlight.
Making sure not to wake Jack I exit the tent carefully. I do not wish to startle him. I put out the fire and return to the tent zipping the tent steadily. I sit up meanwhile hoping to hear Mother and Mike return. Fighting sleep until tiredness becomes too much. My eyes blink shut unwillingly.
I hear the chatter of birds as the light begins to edge into the tent as the sun comes up. Jack is still sleeping soundly. I sneak out of the tent cautiously so not to disturb him heading toward the burnt out embers to light the fire.
Once the fire is lit, anxiously I wander to Mother and Mike’s tent to check if Mother and Mike have returned.
Opening the tent just a crack, I peak inside. I do not see anyone…
Extremely worried now, I go and sit by the fire.
Sipping tea, the sun is not yet warm against my skin, the dew sits on the grass. I hear a tiny voice “Beck, Becky… I’m hungry,” Jack squeaks. I make toast over hot coals to quiet the hungry child. “Vegemite on toast do?” Jack nods eagerly.
I hear low howls and rummaging in the tree’s behind me, turning as I look over my shoulder, a figure is emerging out of the bush land.
I arise to my feet, turn to face the figure beginning to walk toward it, getting closer, I can make out the long flowing red hair and the clothes yesterday my mother wore.
I run toward mother to greet her with arms outstretched.
“I peered inside your tent this morning to see if you and Mike had were back, I couldn’t see anyone.
I’m so glad you are home, I love you mum.”
“I love you too,” replies mother.
Mother’s gaze turns toward Jack. “Did you behave for your sister Jack?” Mother asks. “I did, I did. I was super good, ask Beck, I was really good wasn’t I?” Jack assures.
“Yes Jack, you were really good,” I concur.
I turn to look at mother standing there, as if there’s something she is not saying she seems drawn inside herself.
“Mother is everything okay, did Mike come back with you?’ I prod. Mother’s arms retreat and overlap one another as her shoulders curl forward.
“I’m sure Mike will be back any minute.” Mother declares.
A sense of doubt etched into her forehead as her brow furrows and her bottom lip quivers momentarily just long enough to notice. Mother’s face hardens as she flicks her hair backward in an attempt to compose herself.
I can tell something is wrong but I dare not ask anymore questions, mother looks tired. “Stay by camp, I’m going to take a nap, wake me in an hour,” Mother asserts.
“Yes mum,” I groan. Moments pass.
“I’m bored, Becky… I’m bored,” Jack whines.
“What about hide and seek… you hide, I’ll seek? Just remember mum said not to leave camp.” “But that’s boring,” Jack groans. “Have you got a better idea?”I interrupt. Jack shakes his head from side to side and bows his head lowly.
“Well then… it’s this or who can stay quiet the longest,” I affirm. “I don’t like that game,” Jack sulks stomping his feet. Well the only other thing I can think of is I spy. “You know that one, right?”
“Can I go first Becky?” Jack pleads eagerly. “Yeah, yeah… okay,” I conclude. “I spy with my little eye something beginning with T,” Jack proclaims. “It isn’t tree is it?”I intrude.
“That’s not fair, how did you know?” Jack protests.
“Well the camp is surrounded by trees, you can go again just pick something less obvious this time, yeah.” I note with a hint of sarcasm.
“I spy with my little eye, something beginning with T,” Jack announces. “It better not be tree again,” I interrupt. “It’s not.” Jack argues boldly. “Is it tent?” I ask.
“It isn’t, tent,” Jack insists rather pleased with himself.
I ponder to myself. Searching around the camp exploring the vast canvas of forestation and camping goods that stretch out as far as the eye can see.
“Twig, is it twig?” I query.
“Nope, not twig, that’s a stupid answer,” Jack squawks.
‘Words that start with t…words that start with t… t…t…t… track, is it track,” I interrogate.
Jack shakes his head smugly snickering, lifting his chin standing upright whilst he places both hands on his hips.
Out of the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of flickering light. Where mother exited the scrub that morning.
I wander over to investigate the seemingly unnatural light gleaming from the bushes. It cannot be… Can it?
Leaning in toward a gap between the branches below. I extend my arm outward wrapping my long slender fingers around the blinking object. Hoping for the best and yet expecting the worse.
“It’s a torch!” I exclaim. “Just as I suspected.” my head bobs up and down whilst I mutter under my breath.
“You got it… finally!” Jack announces with a groan.
“If that’s Mike’s torch, where’s Mike?” my voice stammers.
I continue to wander further into the scrub to investigate whether Mike is nearby. Maybe he’s trying to scare us again, I ponder. I continue walking away from camp. “Don’t go without me!” Jack yelps. “I’m not going anywhere, just looking,” I assure.
“Whatever you do don’t leave camp,” Mother’s words echo in my mind.All of a sudden I am overcome by a wrenching feeling in my stomach, my muscles clenching, as the hairs stand to attention at the back of my neck.
“Jack, let’s go back to camp!” I declare as I reach out for Jack’s hand as he attempts to scamper off ahead of me.
“Come on… I’ll give you a piggy back. It is almost time to wake mum and besides I’m sure you’re getting hungry, it should be lunch time soon,” I conclude.
“I’m hungry, Becky…” Jack whines.
Kneeling down in front of Jack as he reaches his tiny arms around my neck. I push myself upwards from the ground as I wrap each arm underneath Jack’s small boyish legs so that he does not slip.
“Ready!” I exclaim as I race off, bouncing along whilst Jack’s laughter pierces my ears. I go to place Jack down on the damp grass below ‘Again Becky!’ Jack protests.
“Last time, then you can go wake mum.” I say galloping around, Jack’s arms latched around my neck. Jack chuckling loudly until his laughter grows tired and the high pitched squeals turn into gentle sputters as Jack gasps for air.
This time I kneel down releasing Jack as he unravels his arms from around my neck without protest. Breaking momentarily to regain my breath and compose myself before preparing to wake mother whose snores I can hear erupting loudly from the tent across the way.
Mother only snores when she’s tired. I feel guilt at having to wake her from her slumber yet I know it must be done as I fear for Mike and my younger brother. I want to keep them safe.“Go wake mum, will you?” I say to Jack.
Jack bounds towards the tent.
“Mum…mum…mum… it’s time to get up,” Jack yells excitedly. “I’m up, I’m awake. Jack Tell your sister to boil some water, I need a coffee,” I hear mother mumble.
Placing the billy over the fire ready, I grab a mug and prepare the beverage ready. Jack appears by my side.
“Mum said…” announces Jack. “I know, I heard,” I interject. “What do you want for lunch, why don’t you go have a look,” I request. Jack drags his feet but does as he is asked. Mother soon appears from the tent.
I pass her the hot beverage I have prepared. “Thank you,” mother says sheepishly. “Mum you know… I found Mike’s torch this morning, have you seen him, you don’t know what happened do you?” I intrude, it is just that I am getting awfully worried.
Mothers eyes widen “We had an argument he took off… we will have a look after lunch, don’t worry too much, I’m sure everything will be ok,” mother says as she rolls her shoulders back, pausing she blinks her eyes shut for an extended period. I notice her chest rising as mother opens her eyes slowly.
Noticing a tug at my leg “Can we have spaghetti?” Jack requests fluttering his eyelashes. Mother, Jack and I finish the meal before heading off into the bush land in search of Mike.
“Oh, look mum Lilly pillies,” I reach out plucking the fruit from the tree. We scour the bush land with no trace of Mike. “Maybe we should check by the fishing hole besides Mike did put some crab traps out the other day could be a nice change from toast and tinned spaghetti,” I suggest.
“Mum, mum look Quandong, that’s some good bush Tucker maybe we could have Quandong pancakes with dinner,” I say.
We continue pottering along until we reach the mouth of the watering hole. Mike is nowhere to be seen. Mother let’s out a sigh. Jack and pull in the crab traps.
“Anything?” Mother asks. “Nothing to see here?” I say. “What about you?” Mother and I blurt out in tandem looking toward Jack. “Wait a second… oh, look I have one… Yay!” Jack yells excitedly. Mother and I continue pulling in the last of the traps. “Becky, can you go grab a bucket from the camp, be quick?” Mother demands.
I scuttle off back to camp quickly at mother’s request grabbing two buckets which I place inside each other.
Pausing for a moment querying what may have happened to Mike and walk over to where I found the Mike’s flashlight earlier that day.
Curiously heading through the shrub peering outward at the wilderness surrounding me. I scout for any sign of Mike, exploring nearby camp as far as the eye can see. I soon notice I’m standing at the base of a large eucalyptus tree.
Running my fingers along the base of the tree, admiring its tall stature when unexpectedly I observe a rough contrasting texture beneath my fingertips like scratches indenting into the trunk. Continuing to examine the texture with my fingers it is a little sticky so the wound must be fresh.
Shifting closer, leaning around the broad circular torso whose wooden body stands tall above me reaching to a crown of branches that stretch out above me. I turn my body around the tree placing each foot solidly on the ground to fix my gaze.
Gawping with the slits of my eye’s agape as I notice the etchings carved deep into the wood grain. The carving spells out in plain sight. ‘Beware of the drop bear!’ Followed by a love heart and the letter M. Could that be M for Mike I ponder.
An eerie shadow cast itself over me, I hear rummaging up above me. Without a second thought I speed off in the direction of the watering hole the buckets clanging against my leg as my heart thumps.
Time stretches on it feels as though I have been running forever. Finally I reach the Billabong. Panting loudly my breath is heavy. “Becky what’s wrong…Beck…?” Mother stares at me.
My lips move to utter the words of that which I have seen but no sound emerges. I am stunned and frozen with shock and disbelief.
“You are white as a ghost,” mother inspects with a great deal of scrutiny.“Jack start getting everything ready to go, we need to get back before it get’s too dark.” Mother wails loudly. Mother pulls me close.
“Come on time to head back,” I look up at mother frightened. “It will be ok, come on.” Mother persuades.
I stick close to mother’s side like glue, her arm reaching out as it curls around me. Turning into camp, there’s still no sign of Mike. Mother, Jack and I sit by the fire.
“What is with you, you have not said a word since you returned to the water hole, what is going on with you, am I talking to a brick wall… Speak to me, what happened?” Mother pleads prodding me.
Attempting to speak, the words sit still on my tongue. Reaching outward I extend index finger pointing toward the tree’s where mother had exited earlier that morning.
“What about it?” Mother queries.
I shake my head with worriment at the thought of the encounter I had earlier that afternoon.“There’s something in the tree’s… there’s a message in the tree’s I forewarn,” Mother ogles at me with a sense of bewilderment.
Mother’s hand sits over her mouth, her teeth rest over the crescent moon of her thumb which sits edged onto the opening rim of her mouth.
Mother appears confused and not quite sure what to make of the situation. I study her while she tries to fit the pieces of the puzzle together watching her eyebrow creeping upward to an arch which dominates her usually relaxed composure.
“Show me tomorrow, if Mike isn’t back by then we are leaving without him,” Mother says hardened. I look up to her my bottom lip trembling my eyes well up with puddles preparing to fall onto my cheek.
“Are you sure about what you say you saw?” Mother asks perplexed. I nod as I inch closer to mother as she weaves her fingers through the tendrils of my dark chestnut hair.
I can feel my hair wrapping between each digit, not so frightened now, the gentle touch soothes my leaping heart and my clenched muscles begin to unwind.
My toes unfold as I listen to the swishing of tree’s, swirling in the wind, howling a low hum.
‘CRACK!’ ‘GROWL!’ ‘SCREECH!’
Erupts suddenly from the very place I found the writing on the tree’s. I can hear scampering as branches break. I quiver struck with fear. The sound comes booming closer.
I attempt to run, I am frozen. Mother mouthing words I can not quite make out, in slow motion. Whirring, it hurts my ears. I go to scream but no sound comes out, a lump forms in my throat.
I see Jack running toward me, my feet become unstuck. I pick Jack up and to hand him to mother but she is gone. The creatures building a barricade. I am overwhelmed. I can’t breathe.
I notice in the corner of my eye the dancing of flames not so far in the distance. I torpedo toward it. Blazing toward the fire and pick up a stick trying to wield off the rabid beasts.
I feel sharp claws scraping against the skin of my bare legs. I take a deep breath, searching for a way out. I am surrounded, a flame in one hand, small child in the other.
I swing the flaming torch fiercely. A path clears, a tight winding path. Knowing it is now or never, I make a break for it.
Two beaming lights appear charging toward myself and Jack.
It is my mother Janelle she has taken charge of the four wheel drive ploughing through the furry fearsome beasts I once looked at so fondly.
I think to myself…
‘The cuddly mascot, the native species, the totem animal of my country the Koala has turned into an unrelenting carnivorous beast. The Drop bear. How can this be?’
I push, kick, jump and hop trying to make my way to the beaming lights ahead. Jack is shaking holding onto me gripping tightly.
“It will be ok, almost there.” I say with reassurance.
‘Plop!’ “I can’t see!” I yell. I kneel down. My arm unravels. “Run!” I scream. The rabid beast has latched onto my face. I pull and tug. It won’t let go.
“Get off!” I shriek. Pulling with all my might, I stumble backward. ‘Plomp!’ Finally I am released. ‘Crack!’
“Ouch!” I say rubbing the back of my head.
Finally I am released…
The slits of my eye’s become wider. Peering upward from the ground. I can see the sun peep out from the mountains up ahead. In the distance I notice two large power plants with a thick black smog seeping from the large chimney.
I hear low growls and screeching followed by pitter pattering of a crowd dispersing, scuttling, high pitched squeals in the wind, branches break the noise echoing and ricocheting off the mountains in the valley.
Glancing side to side. The large fluffy seemingly cuddly creatures are scampering off into the tree’s. One turns toward me, I notice it has not one but three glaring eye’s. I tremble.
Fearing the end is near, I clench my fists in preparation but the ugly koala loses interest and moves along. Pitter pattering on grass. Jack and mother appear gazing down upon me, the sun is gleaming brightly behind them. “Rebecca!”
I feel a hand on my shoulder. “Your next client is here!” It’s my boss Gene. “I must have fallen asleep, give me a minute,” I insist. I yawn stretching both arms outward.
Moments later there’s a rapping at the door.
The sound of bare knuckles on a hard timber door.
“Come in!” I trumpet with enthusiasm. “How can I help you today detective Jack Cavanaugh?” I ask with a warm smile.
“I need to do a summary of my expenses,” Jack replies.
“Let’s start with an estimate of your home office and travel expenses,” I suggest. Jack rattles off the estimated hours working at home in the office and time spent travelling to and from work. I jot down the expenses.
“What’s the amount on average you have spent this financial year on uniform costs?” I query. “Nice suit!” I add.
Jack banters on. “Stumbled upon any drop bears lately?” I query.
“You know me, I try to stay away from them and tourists, they seem to go hand in hand,” Jack smirks uncomfortably.
“They leave an awful mess!” Jack exclaims. “As long as you don’t hold me accountable,” I say as a smile inches across my face in attempt to lighten the mood. Jack grins.
“I am finished with the estimates, since your tax return is over three hundred dollars, you will have to provide receipts, you will be audited as suspected, here’s your tax summary and invoice,” I announce.
Gathering his paperwork placing it in his briefcase, pushing the chair backward, Jack stands to his feet, composing himself. “I shall be seeing you again,” I assure as I bow my head…
By Amber Craig Rose from Australia