Upfield Commentary – Jessica Hawke’s ‘Follow My Dust’ (Part 5)

Posted on Mon 10/11/2010 by

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THE PERCEPTION OF THE RABBIT PROBLEM.

The rabbit problem in Australia was also mentioned often in this Hawke book.

Upfield did have his own personal views on the perception of this problem, and again, he introduced this into his Bony novels. In his travels around Australia, he would have been well aware of the various opinions on this problem, mainly from the property owners where he stayed during those travels.

He often mentioned Myxomatosis, invariably shortened to Myxo. This is a poison that was supposed to control the rabbits by poisoning them. A regulated dose was placed into baits in rabbit infested areas, and the baits then spread around the countryside. The rabbits would then eat these baits and subsequently die from the effects of this poison.

Upfield was also well aware that the rabbits, as numerous as they were at that time, would not be controlled by Myxo alone, and that the rabbits would possibly in the long run become resistant to the poison, passing this resistance down to the next generation of rabbits, these subsequent generations then becoming more resistant to the poison.

Upfield also surmised that rabbits were quite possibly not the menace that they were portrayed to be, and in actual fact may just have been the friend of the sheep owner. Crows, foxes, and wild dogs (dingoes) fed off  the rabbits, which were in abundance, and if Myxo wiped out the rabbits, (and the perception was that this indeed was a fat chance) then the crows, foxes and wild dogs, not having an abundant supply of rabbits to feed upon then turned to the sheep. So, the farmers and graziers were thus forced into a cleft stick, and had to use Myxo, because it was perceived that this was the only way to control the pest. It also forced them further into a cleft stick in that, if they did not want to use the poison, then their fellow farmers in that region would place pressure on them to use it.

As happened, Myxo did in fact become less effective over the years. The rabbit population returned to its enormously high numbers, and even then, this numbers were so high at the start of this poisoning program that any dent that was made by the use of Myxo would have been difficult to notice. Also, as was the commom perception at the time, the rabbits did indeed become resistant to Myxo.

This rabbit problem has persisted over the years and rabbits are still the problem now they were in those early days.

To that end, a new method of rabbit control has been developed, this time called the Rabbit Calicvirus (RCV). (originally going under the name of Rabbit Kalesi Virus, shortened to the acronym RKV). Unlike Myxo, a poison, that in fact would kill anything that took the bait, this RCV is rabbit specific, and is an introduced virus that only kills rabbits. During trials here in Australia, the virus was released accidentally and is now fairly widespread across Australia. Again, there are just so many rabbits that it remains difficult to gauge its effectiveness, and earlier human generations of farmers and graziers have passed their cynicism of Myxo down to their children and grand children to the point that this RCV also suffers from the same perception Myxo had, that of the rabbits becoming resistant to it as well.

In his Bony novels, Upfield reflects the cynicism surrounding Myxo, and in every case, when it is mentioned, it is done in a disparaging manner.

LEON WOOD

In this Hawke book, Leon Wood gets a specific and detailed mention in a couple of places, and it’s quite easy to see just where Upfield came up with the idea for his character, Bony, as some of the situations that Upfield writes about are almost exactly that of some of Leon Wood’s experiences. Hake/Upfield also mention in a detailed manner that it was not often that half castes were welcomed into full blooded families, and for Leon Wood to be so accepted, and fully initiated into the family he became part of was  quite a rare thing indeed.

INTRODUCTION TO THIS HAWKE BOOK

Jessica Hawke also includes an introduction that prefaces the book, and this intriguing introduction was penned by none other than Napoleon Bonaparte DI Queensland Police. I seem to think that this is indeed a tongue in cheek way of Arthur Upfield having a polite joke at his own expense, or it may even be surmised that this might be from Leon Wood himself, so many inferences can be drawn.

THE SNOWY ROWLES INCIDENT

there is also quite a lengthy mention about this actual murder trial in this book, in reference to Upfield’s novel, The Sands Of Windee, and this led to some sort of  notoriety for Upfield, and possibly led to his becoming more widely read in Australia, the real life murderer using Upfield’s same method of disposing of the bodies of his victims. This actually was a source of distress for Upfield, as Rowles was subsequently found guilty of murder, and then was hanged in Western Australia. The source of distress was not that he was hanged, but that someone actually used something he had written about to perform an act of murder.

JOURNALISM

This actual murder trial gave Upfield some form of notoriety, and he was then employed as a journalist for separate newspapers, first being asked to comment on how the murder case was taken from the pages of one of his books. This was something he was reluctant to do, but it did provide some sort of entrance for him into journalism, and he ended up in Melbourne, having to work to an Editor’s deadline, the time in question seeing Upfield being asked to construct a serial for the newspaper with regard to the highly popular Melbourne Cup. Upfield knew nothing of horse racing, but duly composed the series, which he disparagingly referred to, evidently not all that impressed with what he had written, this series being later revived during the late nineties in the form of another of his unreleased books, this title surfacing as ‘The Great Melbourne Cup Mystery’.

This mention of a missing title that was not in fact originally released in the form of a book raises a point of its own. I found out about this book when I was perusing the Internet, looking for mention of Arthur Upfield. I did find that some of his books are available on the Internet. You just download them into your ‘reader’ program, and there they are. This was one of them.

In all, this Jessica Hawke book was a truly fascinating read. It offered insights into the life of Upfield that could not have been gleaned from his Bony books. I was glad I read the book, and I feel indebted to Jessica Hawke that she did release the book.

UpfieldTony

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