Make sure you break a goanna's legs

2nd February 2021

At an art's festival in Perth, I was talking to an elder couple who introduced themselves as Uncle Ned and Connie, and Uncle Ned began talking about the time he had to break a goanna's legs. He said that he, as a young man, was on country with his family. They caught a goanna for dinner and Ned’s aunty said to him, “Ned, break the goanna’s legs.”

He didn't know why but he didn't ask any questions. He sat down and tried to bend the bones with his hands. The animal, however, was ginormous. The legs were simply too strong, and finally, after five minutes or so, he gave up.

“Did you break the legs, Ned?” the aunty said.

“Yes,” he said.

“Put it on the fire then.”

So he did. The men—the uncles, cousins and Ned—got shovels and scraped back the fire, making a hole in the middle of the pit, which they then put the goanna. Next, they shovelled the ashes and burning embers back on the animal. Now all there was to do was wait.

Slumped in chairs, they relaxed around the fire. They told yarns about the day and about the summer at large. The brother talked about the rains and the full waterholes. Meanwhile, the goanna was cooking, quite horribly. Turns out, when you cook a goanna whole, you need to break the skin so the expanding air inside the animal can escape. Given young Ned hadn’t broken the legs (and, in turn, skin), the goanna was blowing up like a balloon.

The men, of course, were unbeknown to this. They continued to spin yarns and then eventually, they quieted as they stared pensively into the flames. The wood cracked and the embers rose in the smoke, dispersing above, before they finally dissipated. It was relaxing and everyone was at ease. Until that is, the goanna, still expanding, ruffled in the pit, causing a big stick on the burning pile to bounce off. The men looked at each other. What just moved? Was it still alive? They were on edge.

The goanna’s limp legs finally stiffened like a blow-up mattress unfurling with the built-up pressure. Then, quite suddenly, the animal miraculously stood up, rising out of the ashes like zombie.

Uncle Ned was already on the end of his seat when the goanna, who he thought was dead, popped up and seemingly stared right at him with half-cooked eyes. Naturally, he screamed. “Ahhhhhhhhh! Still alive, still alive,” he screamed.

At the art's festival table he finished the story, saying, "I've never run a 100 metres so quick. That's why you break a goanna's legs."

I sipped my beer and thought, that was a good story. Why didn’t I know that about goanna’s? Everyone should know this. But, of course, I knew. I knew why. I sipped my beer again. Uncle Ned was quiet now and I said, “Tell more. Go on, Uncle Ned,” I said. “Tell more.”