Have you ever played tip with a buffalo? The kids in Yirrkala do it all the time. For fun.
A group of children from as young as four years old will wander through the bush and search for one of the many Asian water buffalos which roam free in Arnhem Land. Not the domesticated buffalo which plough the rice paddies in Asia, but the feral, wild, big and dangerous kind of buffalo which infest the tropical regions of northern Australia.
Once the children have located a buffalo, they line it up. One or more of the children will pick up one of the bauxite stones which cover the earth in north-east Arnhem Land and will place this stone into their slingshot.
The children will hold their collective breath in anticipation and get ready. The slingshot draws back to its full length. The fingers pinching the slingshot ease then…SNAP! The slingshot is released and the stone goes flying towards the unsuspecting buffalo which is happily munching on the grass. In the split second that it takes the the stone to travel from the slingshot to the buffalo, the children stand on full alert, their senses heightened and their eyes widened to capture the charge of the massive buffalo.
The stone strikes the hind of the buffalo and the huge angry creature charges into the bush in the direction of its attackers. The wild, muscle bound animal powers head long into the throng of children who scamper in all directions with the buffalo at their heels. In bare feet, the skip across stones and thorns and twigs in a race for their life, knowing full well that the beast behind them can squash the bonnet of a SUV upon impact and could trample them to death. They charge through spindly trees and over fallen logs while screeching and laughing and hooting in fear and glee. Slightly older children grab slightly younger children to save them from impending doom and the bush comes alive with the streak of junior humanity.
The buffalo snorts and grunts in disgust at having its lunch disturbed and sets its horns on its target – any of the children who broke it from its reverie. The buffalo has only revenge on its mind and dedicates every ounce of energy to that task.
Somehow, all of the children find safe ground as the powerful buffalo tires and ceases its pursuit. The children re-gather in a gaggle of laughter and wicked smiles, their little hearts pounding with adrenaline and gratitude. They escaped this time. They rest and recover.
Until next time.