Buffalo Horns: An Unhappy Trophy

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. 

 

 
 
The Trophy

 

 

 

 

 

About the author

Judy Opitz
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By Judy

Born in London in 1924, my upbringing and education by governesses and select schools were probably typical for certain families of that period which followed the end of the First World War. When war broke out again in 1939 I left school without having passed my exams and lived for a while in Narborough helping out in the apple orchards. In 1942 I joined WAAFs (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) as a motor transport driver. After training, I was based first at RAF Marham in Norfolk, and in 1944 was posted to RAF Bourn where I drove aircrew of a Mosquito Squadron to and from their kites when on ops. I was demobbed in 1946, a year after VE Day and I returned to Narborough, taking weekly trips to London for singing lessons. Using the name Rose Ash I had a stint on the stage as a chorus girl in the touring company of the musical comedy Annie Get Your Gun. I became third understudy for the part of Annie Oakley and when the star, Barbara Shotter, suddenly became ill on the opening night at the Liverpool Empire Theatre, played the part as the other understudies were also ill.

I loved my stage days but decided I wanted to see more of the world and joined a group travelling to India on a rickety old bus. From there I intended flying over to Australia. Unfortunately, I picked up some nasty complaint en route and had to return to England to recover. Fit again, I became a Ten Pound Pom and, in 1958, I sailed away from Tilbury Docks on the Orient Liner 'Orontes.' For two years I hitch-hiked in Australia ending up in Darwin from where I intended flying back to England to start off again in another direction. However, as a last fling, I went on a Safari and met one of the crocodile hunters, called Tom, who worked for the camp.

I married him and we set up our own very primitive ventures for travellers to the area. No bitumen anywhere-just rough tracks on which wild buffaloes were likely to hinder one's journey. We progressed over the years until the bitumen and civilisation came to the area and we retired to a now modern Darwin city. Sadly, Tom took ill and died shortly after and, with a sudden hankering for the education I had missed out in my childhood, I applied to the newly opened Northern Territory University(later to become Charles Darwin University) and was accepted on probation. Amazingly I went through all the stages of Bachelor of Arts ending with my doctorate in 2008. After so many adventures in my life, I decided to write my autobiography called An English Rose in Kakadu which was published. At which point I felt a hankering to return to my family in England.

I now live in a beautiful Retirement Home called Cavendish Court in a new town called Cambourne built on the edge of the wartime airfield RAF Bourn, where I had been stationed. My days are always full, going through old papers, playing on my keyboard, writing short stories or poems and enjoying visits from the family or walking(with my stroller) around the garden with its birds singing merrily or through the nearby woods. But suddenly the world has been hit by the corona virus and life for everyone is on the verge of chaos and collapse.

Footnotes

  1. 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

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