Ratus ratus or Rat

Ratus ratus or Rat

“There’s a rat – look!” cried someone sitting at a sidewalk café table in Main Street. And sure enough, heading towards them and pirouetting beneath moving vehicles was a big brown disheveled ratus ratus. And not just any rat. This was heritage from the ends of its fishing line whiskers to the point of its scaly tail.

I couldn’t count how many generations this beastie would represent but we can guess that its ancestors surely reached back to early settlement and the diggings. Think of Dickensian London; think Black Death or Bubonic Plague. Remember those black and white lithographs in old books showing the rat-infested lanes of cities in Victorian England before the days of sewerage and rubbish collections.

Our unhappy rodent did not finish its run but instead turned and headed back to where it had set out from, then disappeared beneath a gate between two shops.

Now for a reality check. All animals groom themselves constantly, even rats and their smaller cousins, mice. So why did our rat look so scary? The most likely reason is that it was scared and it happened to also be in an agonizing death throes. Its crazed dash into what it would normally consider an exposed and dangerous situation came about as it made its final desperate attempt to find water to quench the fires burning in its belly as a result of eating a poison bait. Amen.

In the book ‘Nothing But Gold’ and in a chapter entitled ‘The Neighborhood’ that talks about daily life in the early days of the gold diggings, local author Robyn Annear mentions the problems that the diggers had with rats. While guard dogs were popular, they were too big to be effective ratters. Terriers were few and far between and there were no cats or at least they were rare.

It is on record that an enterprising miner took a dray to Melbourne and returned with cages of cats rounded up in the city’s back streets and lanes. He supposedly sold them for a pound each to residents who, on returning to their quarters, offered their new pet a saucer of milk and a comfortable place to sleep. As we can imagine, moggy had other ideas and quickly disappeared to rejoin the rest of the newly liberated feline gang which then collectively reduced the rat and mice population while at the same time driving the dogs – and residents – mad throughout the night.

A final note from the above mentioned book (available from the Athenaeum Library in Maldon) tells of the many feral dogs. Bitches would have litters of pups in the nearby bush and these eventually formed packs which attacked the miners’ dogs and roamed through the diggings looking for food. The Council put a bounty on dogs, in return for tails, and this brought about the desired reduction in wild dogs at that time.

A Good Year

Does summer really end at the end of February or should it more naturally end at the Solstice on March 21th? I don’t know.

It seems that farmers are generally happy with the summer we’ve had so far and they now look forward to the Autumn Break when the first heavy rains provide green pick and an opportunity to work the land.

Most people probably do appreciate what farmers provide for us but just sometimes we might forget. Next time you buy fresh food at the butchers or the greengrocer, spare a moment to think about where your food comes from and what it took to present it so beautifully in front of you. It will taste even better if you do.

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