“Now, I knew if I could get the thing to Port Melbourne, I could get it onto a fishing trawler owned by a man who owed me… favours.” She winked and all three men reddened once more. “He could fill the catch hold with water, he could keep the beast wet, and I knew my cousin Graeme would recompense the man generously for his efforts on arrival. But, as you say, how to get it there?
“Well, first I had to catch it. And if I caught it, how would I keep a hold of it? I told you I was droving sheep, and that was on a farm that covered hundreds of acres and also had a few hundred head of cattle. Because of the cattle, and the risk of drought and feed drying up, old man Bentley, who owned the land, had recently invested in a big Leyland hay truck. Now that thing had a flat bed of more than twenty feet in length, and Bentley was away in Melbourne for a fortnight, so I had all the farm and all the gear to myself. Plus a few young farmhands who’d do anything I said for a bit of extra coin, or a glimpse down my shirt.
“So that night I started to fashion a frame up on that flat bed truck, built of sturdy wood that had been put aside for a new shed. It took some doing, but I built a box back for that truck and I lined it with tarpaulins sealed with tar. I figured that would keep the beast damp on the four or five hour drive from here to Port Melbourne.
“It took me half the night and all the next day, but that truck was finally ready. I sent one of the young farmhands down to Port Melbourne to warn my fisherman friend that I was commandeering his vessel and to wait for me. Then I drove that truck across the paddock to the firm side of the creek and backup it up, new rear doors open to the water.
“I had another couple of those young men with me and I told them what we were about. They thought it all nonsense, but the promises I made ensured they did anything I asked. And I had my dogs. Now remember, I told you they were a smart pair.
“So the truck was set up, one huge trap. I just had to get the beast into it. Remember that half a sheep carcass that started all of this? Well, from that I knew the beast enjoyed the taste of mutton. So I drove a stake into the water right by the bank and leashed a sheep to it. The creature bleated and carried on, clearly terrified, and I felt sorry for it. But there are lots of sheep and, as far as I knew, only one Euroa Beast. Then I took another sheep and leashed it up inside the truck, right up near the cab, so the beast, should it take the bait, would have to go right up inside the new box back I’d made.
“Then me and the farmhands and the dogs all went downwind, and hid behind the truck.
“Hours we sat there, the sheep bleating, nothing else moving, while the night got dark and long. The lads had all but fallen asleep, and I let them doze, when I saw a hump out in the water, sleek and long. The dogs began to tremble, but I calmed them and I think they knew what we were about. The hunt was in their blood.
“The smooth hump came through the still creek water again, nearer this time. Then again, only twenty out from the bank. And then a monstrous head arose, dripping. That report of it looking like a bulldog was fair, but not accurate enough. The thing’s skull was almost the size of my truck’s cab, broad and thick. It had bulging eyes, one to each side of its face, not much nose to speak of, and a wide mouth like the most terrible toad you could imagine. That mouth split wide and inside was pink and wet, with several rows of sharp teeth, one behind the other, all backwards facing. If that beast took a bite of you, you’d never get free unless you were halved like that hapless sheep before.
“Now talking of sheep, that one on the bank thrashed and tore at its rope and did you know a sheep could scream? Not like an animal, but like a human being, in mortal terror, it screamed and the dogs growled low in their throats. The farmhands woke, gasped in shock, and I quickly calmed men and hounds alike. ‘This is it,’ I whispered. ‘This is where we catch it. Be patient.’ And so we waited.
“The Euroa Beast emerged cautiously from the water, dripping. Behind that enormous head, two giant shoulders rolled and it pulled itself forward on a pair of short forelimbs, thick and slick, with webbed, clawed feet at the end like an otter. Its body was indeed sinuous and long, smooth as glass reflecting the moonlight. It seems to have no fur or scales, but skin like a salamander, mottled muddy brown. The colour paled down its flanks and its belly was light as cream, spotted and smooth. Still more and more of that body came out of the creek, more than twenty feet behind those powerful shoulders and I feared my truck would never hold it.
“And then we all jumped, because though we’d come to ignore the screams of the sheep, and the echoed answers of its brethren in the truck, we had become mesmerised by the slowly emerging body. So it was a shock when the beast snapped up the tethered sheep like a lizard catching a fly.
“It bit clean through the rope and the poor farm animal thrashed and kicked as the beast tossed up its head and chomped once, twice, and the sheep was silenced as the monster swallowed.
“Then things went wrong. All we needed was for the beast to enter the truck for its dessert, but the sheep in there, in its panic, had broken the rope. As the first sheep was consumed, the second bolted from the truck and ran. The Euroa Beast swung its huge head to watch and I thought all was lost. What would tempt it into the truck now?
“Well, my smart dogs were on the case. Like lightning they tore away from me and circled one to either side of the panicked sheep. They turned it back and began to drive it directly for the slavering monster still half in the creek. The beast watched with canny intelligence, not scared, but cautious. And my dogs drove that sheep, leaping and screeching in fear, right by the monster’s maw. The thing snapped for it, but the dogs had judged it right and the sheep was just out of reach. Now the monster had its blood up and wanted that meal. My clever dogs turned the sheep and drove it directly back up into the truck and the giant Beast of Euroa lumbered after. Its back end was heavily muscled like its front, two more thick, strong legs, the body between at least twenty feet long. A tail of equal length whipped and slid behind it, topped with a shallow sail of fin, making the whole creature more than forty feet long from nose to tip of tail. It would be cramped in that truck, and it would have to curl its tail to fit.
“So those dogs ran that sheep up into the truck, followed it in, and the beast powered after, surprisingly fast on land. It charged up the wooden planks into the back of the truck and the sheep screamed in pain as well as terror. ‘We have to close it up!’ I yelled at the farmhands, but they were frozen in fear, useless. I feared for my dogs and half the monster still hung out the back of the truck. But then my dogs saved the day again. They both danced either side of the monster in the truck as it crunched and swallowed the sheep. It didn’t know which way to turn, its hunger split to both sides. Then with some unspoken knowing, one dog ran to the other and they both shot out of the vehicle. The monster twisted around to chase them, pulling its back into the vehicle as it turned.
“My dogs leapt free even as I kicked the planks away and slammed the new doors. Thankfully the farmhands had found their mettle and the three of us leaned hard into the wood as the beast slammed into it. Between us we managed to secure the thing with chains and pegs I’d designed for the purpose. The entire truck rocked on its springs at the creature trapped inside thrashed and crashed. The wooden beams flexed and creaked, threatened to burst free, but I hoped my carpentry was up to the task. Thankfully, before too long, the beast accepted its fate and stilled.
“And that’s the end of it, really. I drove all through the remainder of the night and got the creature onto my friend’s trawler and he spent weeks transporting it to Scotland and the estate of my cousin, Graeme Baird. It lives happily in a loch there now, well-fed and cared for, never in fear of being hunted again.”
Kylie sat back and drained the last of her beer. The three city men sat silent for a while, all with something of a smirk twitching at their lips. Eventually Peter tipped back his head and laughed.
“You spin a yarn of some imagination, I’ll give you that!”
“You don’t believe me?”
“As if anyone would!”
Kylie smiled. “Well, you’re welcome to head out to the wetlands and search, but just know that you were warned. There’s nothing to find there now.”
Peter smiled. “I’ll buy us all another beer, you deserve something for that tale.”
Kylie watched as Peter went to the bar. She waited patiently, knowing Bazza would play his part to corroborate her account. Sure enough, when Peter asked for four more beers, Bazza reached up behind the bar for glasses, instead of down below. With his overly emphasised movement, Peter’s eye was drawn up and Kylie saw him stiffen as he saw the large black and white photograph above. A small sign below the photo said:
Graeme Baird, Baird Estate, Scotland.
In the photo, Graeme stood smiling, one hand raised in an enthusiastic thumbs up. In the distance Castle Baird stood proud. Nearer, just behind Graeme, a large expanse of water glittered in an afternoon sun and lounging on the bank, half in, half out of the water, lay a huge, sleek beast with a head like some monstrous cross between bulldog and toad.
Kylie leaned back in her chair and waited patiently for the beer she had been promised.