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My introduction to buffalo hunting started soon after I arrived in Australia in 1960 as a Ten Pound Pom. After various jobs in the southern States, I hitch-hiked up to the Northern Territory and got a job as chief cook and bottle washer for the Nourlangie Safari Camp run by Allan Stewart. His guests were rich American hunters who, after a successful kill, liked to take the horns back home with them as a trophy to hang on the wall.
In my off-duty moments Allan taught me how to fire a .303 rifle to kill buffaloes the way the Americans did. One day Allan took me out with a hunting party, handed me his .303 and asked if I’d like to ‘have a go’. Well, why not, I thought, and boldly pulled the trigger aiming at a buffalo standing in the scrub nearby calmly looking at us1. Sadly, my shot only wounded it and it fell, struggling pitifully, to the ground. I found I couldn’t bear to shoot again and possibly only hurt it further and Allan had to finish it off for me with a well-placed shot.
The harmless buffaloes
Then reaction set in for me. I was so upset at causing it such agony that I vowed never, ever to kill – or try to kill – another animal in the name of sport. Allan tried to comfort me by saying the flesh would be part of necessary camp fare and persuaded me to help in skinning the poor creature. I realised then that, of course, these hunts also provided the meat for the tasty stews I so often prepared for the guests. But it still didn’t stop me from later writing a poem – or rather, putting different words to the rhythm of Robert Browning’s poem The Lost Leader – expressing what I thought of safari hunters.
Just for a feeling of glory they downed him,
Just for a trophy to hang on the wall,
Deep in the heart of the bush where they found him,
Gleefully pranced the safari men all.
They with their guns on high, sought to do battle,
Nothing like killing for having some fun,
What is a buffalo, who cares about him?
Why not enjoy bubbling blood in the sun.
We who had loved him so, saw him hit, staggering,
Looked at his wild and so terrified eye,
Helpless to stop them, those splendid brave hunters,
Watched him rollover, and noisily die.
Why must they kill him? How has he hurt them?
Far rather would he be a friend of a child,
Pulling a plough like illustrious forebears,
Or quietly at peace with the rest of the wild.
Allan arranged for the buffalo horns from the animal I had wounded to be mounted and then presented them to me. I brought them back to England when I left Australia and they now hang on the wall in my Flat in Cambourne where I gaze at them with deep remorse.
These buffaloes were not like the fearsome African ones but domesticated water buffaloes from the Philippines brought to Australia in the 1800s to help in establishing settlements in the Northern Territory