Some time ago — I’m not sure when because the years roll into each other — a Freshwater Crocodile (Crocodylus johnstoni) appeared in Lake Eacham (yidyam) on the Atherton Tablelands, Far North Queensland. It probably didn’t make its own way there. Although Freshies are found all across tropical Australia, they are not common in upland areas where the temperature gets quite low mid-year. Look, no one is pointing fingers, but it is likely that one minute that croc was snoozing in a warm billabong surrounded by waterlilies, and the next…splash! This water is bloody nippy.
In all my years of visiting Lake Eacham*, I had never seen the croc. I was suspicious of the story. It’s the sort of thing that people say along with claims that the lake is bottomless** or that it is connected to the diatreme at Mount Hypipamee by a submerged tunnel***.
Last Saturday, I was at the lake with a group of bird-watchers and nature-lovers. The sky was overcast, but at least the rain had paused for a few hours. We were standing on the viewing platform, where people and turtles gather to stare at each other — one party in wonder and the other in hope of dropped food. I was holding forth about the origin of the lake (it’s a maar formed by a huge explosion when magma met ground water), the archerfish (they shoot jets of water at unwary insects), and the type of rainforest on the banks (complex mesophyll vine forest), when someone pointed out the crocodile.
And there it was, swimming languidly across the lake, almost wholly submerged except for eyes and nose, an island of armoured back, and the crenellated tail making a sine wave in the calm water. Not a rural legend at all. And much more interesting than my lecture.
This one is not a big animal, maybe a metre and a bit long — adult Freshwater Crocodiles are usually two to three times that size — but Lake Eacham is cold and growth is slow. The species is closely related to the freshwater crocodiles of New Guinea and the Philippines, and more distantly to the Estuarine or Saltwater Crocodile (C. porosus) and other chonky crocs of Asia. Although generally not aggressive, there are records of freshies taking bites out of people. For the sake of good relations — and your fingers — it is best to keep a distance.
It is always privilege to see these animals in the wild…at arm’s (and fingers) length.
*See first sentence
**So what’s keeping all the water in?
***A 22 kilometre tunnel