Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Plague

When Australia does something we do it all the way, even Plagues!

Since the mid 1700's we have had several Mouse Plagues a century, I lived through one in the late 1970's. At the time my Mother had a house in the outback grain belt town of Kimba and I spend many weeks a year out there helping her keep the expansive yard and garden. When the Autumn mouse plague swept through the area I went especially to see it. The mice ate every plant in the yard and even stripped the bark from the trees, they ate anything made of paper or cotton, they even ate the plastic off house wiring causing many fires.

Of course everyone baited the mice but then the cats, birds and reptiles all ate the poisoned mice and they died to. Some dogs and even hawks and Eagles ate sick reptiles and birds and died a. Cats that killed but did not eat mice got so sick of killing that they would lay there bored, as mice ran right next to them...and how many mice were there?

If you lifted a sheet of roofing iron laying on the ground there would be several hundred mice under it. (and often a bloated snake unable to move from it's full belly)
My mother set up a 44 gallon drum with a beer bottle fixed hanging over the edge, the drum was partly filled with water to drown the mice that fell into the open top and the bottle was made slippery with fat or butter. I was quite sure it would catch exactly nothing….

The next morning it had two buckets full of dead mice in it, they were so desperate for food they ventured out on the bottle to lick the fat off, eventually they slipped off. In fact that drum had at least one bucket full of mice every morning until we tired of scooping the bodies out and carrying them away to the local tip. After nearly two weeks we removed the bottle and even then it had many dead mice every morning as they tried to get the water to drink, fell in and drowned. I ended up turning the drum over so I didn't have to clean it out every day.
That year there was no crop of any kind, no vegetables in the gardens, no flowers, nothing. This went on until the cold winter froze and starved them off in staggering numbers, the smell of a decaying mouse still makes me feel sick from the remembering.
The last mouse plague was 2011, it was bad in some places but we saw very little of it here, the government supplied farmers with thousands of tonnes of poisons in affected areas to stop the plague before it got too bad. I only killed a few hundred that invaded my shed…



Anonymous said...

Hi Tempo,
I remember seeing a couple of documentary's on TV about the mice plaques,absolutely horrifying for those involved, it seemed like nothing could get rid of these verminn.

I would hate to have to live through something like that, I know I would have nightmares.

Twisted Scottish Bastard said...

I've seen them on TV but never had to live through them thank goodness.

I did however buy a house that had had an infestation of mice. I counted over 200 corpses in the attic and eaves that I had to remove as the smell got bad, so I can sympathise with your memories of decomposing murine proteins, They really stink.

What triggered of this post if I may ask?

Belle said...

How horrible! I can't imagine going through a plague like that. Thank God for the winter!

Spiral said...

How horrible, I've seen documentaries but never thought about what it would be like to live through. Apparently, every species breeds like crazy when it gets a food source, then all die when they run out of food... the question on my lips is, are we humans any smarter than mice?

Tempo said...

Hi Mags, It sure is incredible, and not at all nice. It's the odd things like the mice stripping the plastic off the household wiring that I find remarkable.
Hi TSB, Going through my Photo records of many thousands of photos I came across the folder of old yellowed pictures from those times, so I wrote it up. I will never forget that smell, it's particular to rotting mice and like other particular smells this one immediately triggers those memories. I guess you know it well too?
Hi Belle, yes, Winter kills them in their tens of thousands but then it's all you can smell for weeks. The mice are so many that the whole area (many thousands of square miles)stank of rotting mice. The other thing that happens is the remaining, starving mice invade the towns looking for warmth and anything edible... anything at all. Clothes, paper, bark from all the trees, every plant, every vegetable. (yes, even Brussel Sprouts)
Hi Spiral, Right on the money there Spiral, it's all mans doing, clearing the land, planting thousands upon thousands or acres of grain and leaving few trees to support the mouses mortal enemy, Hawks, Owls etc. To answer your question, I'm quite sure we humans will go exactly the same way, over breeding, over using available food. It's happened before and it will surely happen again (sadly)

River said...

I'm just glad they die off in the winter, imagine if they didn't!!
I'm also glad we didn't see any mice down here in Adelaide. Maybe an occasional one, but no plagues and there's never been one in any of my homes since I blocked off an entrance hole with steel wool in my last unit.

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

HOLY CRAP. I am brave man but that scares the crap out of me. When I taught I had video footage of such a plague where the baby was found one morning with a half chewed upon mouse in her crib.

Tempo said...

Hi River, Really, no mice in your home? Wow, I guess I see mice at least every week in my shed or yard and at lease one every three months in the house. It creeps me out of course but there seems nothing we can do about it out here. A few years ago I had extensive renovations done in the house and while it was empty I sealed every crevice,every join, every made no difference.
Hi Cal, Every now and then you hear of babies being chewed by mice and waking up screaming, also pet birds etc. It is freaky but then they are only mice. I guess this is why we Aussies laugh at the movies where you see people jump on chair when they see a mouse, Aussies go after it...