Farming Gone Wrong!
In 1973 l was 10 years of age, l was living in Springvale South a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria. We had been back from Malaysia around 18 months or so, and as far as l could be l was relatively settled. We by now had our first family pet, a beautiful tortoiseshell cat called Jasmine. I had, had pets of sorts in Malaysia, but none of them were particularly specific to being classed as ‘domestic live at home pets’. The fish, were more of a house pet. So to have a cat was absolutely fantastic, and more so because she and l bonded pretty well.
I also had Henrietta the Huntsman this year, but this was slightly later on in the year, but l had a real thing for bugs and creepy crawlies and was always bringing stuff home like caterpillars and spiders and all sorts of other things which usually freaked my Mum out. I used to read comics and it was during one of these moments that l came across the item ‘Ant Farm’ for sale for 75 cents and PP – How awesome this would be!!! But this time l wouldn’t tell Mum, especially not after the disastrous Sea Monkey event!
The previous year l had bought a small packet of these strange looking creatures from another comic and was delighted when they arrived and added my contents to a small bowl in my bedroom, filled it with water from the bathroom and just let them be.I never thought of telling my parents l figured what was the point, it was doing no one any harm right?
I was always a tidy kid, my bed was always made, and l swept the carpet myself meaning no one had to be in my room, and l did have a sign on my door that said Keep Out! However, Mum was always curious as to why her Son did have such a tidy room, and always snooped. She came in that one time, saw this bowl of murky water on my table and then instead of looking at the contents simply flushed it down the toilet, and when l got back criticised me for not telling her l had a goldfish, that had died as was stinking my bedroom out?
They didn’t smell, l had followed all the instructions perfectly well, that was just Mum exercising her Mum Rights – all Mothers do it every now and again, she just did it more often, l was going to have to be cleverer in the future!
So, no more sea monkeys!!
But this was going to be different, this was going to be my ant farm and l wouldn’t tell her about it! I would have to hide it from her, and the only place she never had any reason to look under or even at was my bed!! That was military precision, back then l used to have blankets and a bedspread, so l could hide things in that place as long as the bed was spot on!
Lukcily for me, l was able to arrange with the local sweet shop where the parcel would be delivered to ONLY let me know when it arrived and to NOT tell my parents. I used to pop into the sweet shop on my way home from school, back in the days when sweets were real sweets! So if my parcel arrived, l would be able to get to it first!
Oh and how excited l was when the guy in the shop told me my parcel was there! I remember racing home that day to set up my farm! My first and only ever ant farm in 1973 didn’t arrive with anything apart from a sandwich style house, two slides of plastic and four pieces of frame, which l slotted together very easily!
I then ran outside and filled my farm with dirt from the garden, and then l went looking for some ants, which were easy enough to find. Once done l popped them into the new house and boom boom, job done. Every day l would watch my ants work together and make their crazy tunnels. It was brilliant, and every day when going to school, l would put my farm under my bed and go to school, no one ever knew.
It all started to go a little wrong, when l made a couple of errors one week. It was a combination of ‘little things’ that occured that l wouldn’t find out until the next week, when the smell started to become an issue – not from the ants, but from the other under – the – bed – pets l haven’t told you about yet.
I used to feed my ants sugar which they loved and would collect the granules and then run down to their nests through the tunnels. With such a healthy abundance of food, they bred and produced more eggs and pretty soon if honest my small ant farm was increasing in size and soon l had loads of ants and a bit of a problem. However l would sort it out soon enough l figured. So l simply just added loads more sugar and in fact one morning when putting the sugar in l put too much in and the mound was right near the top of the entry point!
That will keep them going for a while l figured and promptly put them under the bed, and then moved all sorts of other bits – food wise into my caterpillar farm who were always hungry and always eating and always escaping and l had to keep picking them up from around my bedroom and put them back into the plastic boxes.
This one morning, there was an awful smell coming from one of the boxes, and when l looked into it, l realised not only had l not fed them, but worse than that, there lid had no air holes, so they had died!!
But l was already late from setting off to school, so not thinking, left the lid off and promptly went to school. That particular day, it was really, really hot and unbeknownst to me, more things died and started to decompose really quickly in the heat, and the ants in their cunning wisdom preferred the smell of the dead caterpillars rather than their sugar ………… but so too, did a huge colony of ants outside the house who happened to find their way into my bedroom and raided the ant farm of their sugar whilst my own ant farmers were gathering the remains of the bugs farm!!
But l didn’t know that then, l only found that out when l got home and my Mother was demanding to know what that smell was in the house? Which l tried to make up excuses for once l started with l couldn’t smell anything and maybe she was imagining it? But l couldn’t avoid smelling the pukey smell of dead caterpillar – it really is quite a pungent aroma, and my Mum had a very keen sense of smell, and with her ways knew her loving Son was up to no good!
“The smell is coming from your bedroom!!” She snarled at me, “Anything you wish to say BEFORE l open this door??”
“Um, well, erm, l have a couple of caterpillars and you know a couple of other things …..”
“What other things???”
“Erm, well a few spiders, some cacoons, some bull ants, erm, some bugs and ah, mm some centipedes, some witchetty grubs and some stick insects and ……”
Mum went a very strange colour before she went red or purple, hard to say what the particular colour actually was “And, and what??”
“My ant farm.”
“Your ant farm? What bloody ant farm, where did you get an ant farm from, how long have you had this ant farm, and how long have you been collecting these things, where are they??” The door swung open, and the smell was really awful, the heat that came out of my bedroom was like a small volcano.
That wasn’t really the problem in all honesty. You see l had a light grey carpet, and if there were things on the carpet you could see them very, very well and what we saw was almost all of my floor covered in ants!
“Ooops!” Was all l could say.
“Ooops??” My Mother exploded, “You wait till your Father gets home my boy, you will NOT be able to sit down for a week!!” [Which actually proved to be very true, l was seriously wallaped, so much so l ended up having to take three days off school!]
However, my Mother simply shrieked and went nuts at me, she kind of snapped. Once l recovered from that l was told to clean up the mess and throw away all the animals, and to get the ants out of my room! Which proved more of a problem that you might imagine. Most ants are pretty determined when they have found a food source, but Australian ants seemed to be more so.
As it was Dad had to get a pest controller out to curb the ant problem, and l guess the only positive to come out of the negative, was that the colony that had come in was a massive ant nest, that would have had to be destroyed anyway as it was undermining the house foundations, but that wasn’t seen as a positive then, as it cost more money than we had for the month to sort out.
I was grounded for a month, was awarded no pocket money and even the money l earned from collecting ally cans [aluminium drinks cans] l had to give to him so as to pay off the debt l had cost them. I did pay it off, and it took me a year to do so, as l was also sold off to the local neighbours to do weeding for money.
But, l was never allowed to buy anything from comics ever again, in fact l wasn’t allowed comics again until l was nearer 13, so it was quite the learning curve. My bedroom door from that point on always had to be open. In many respects had it NOT been for Jacko that day when l discovered Henrietta, l probably would never have been allowed to keep her either. But, l was and she proved to be a really good mate as l have said before.
I still have an avid fascination with bugs, but don’t keep anything, they have a place in this world, and it’s not under some 10 year olds’ bed!
Ahh, they were the days!
Thanks for reading … later this week, skunks and guinea pigs.