> Skip to content

Article  •  25 May 2018

 

Wild hunger

Dr Gregory P Smith on the real price of food in the wilderness.

For ten years a man calling himself Will Power lived in near-total isolation in northern New South Wales, foraging for food, eating bats and occasionally trading for produce. But who was this mysterious man who roamed the forest and knew all of its secrets and riddles? Some people thought he might be Jesus. Others feared he was a more sinister figure.

The truth was that he was neither miraculous nor malevolent, but he was, most certainly, gifted. And when he finally emerged from the forest, emaciated and close to death, he was determined to reclaim his real name and ‘give society another chance’.

Today, Dr Gregory Peel Smith, who left school at the age of fourteen and shunned society for the isolation of a forest, has a PhD and teaches in the Social Sciences at university. 

In the following passage from his memoir Out of the Forest, he describes an emotionally turbulent hunting experience from his time in the wilderness:

 

I woke up on my back with a large snake on my chest. Surely it was going to sink its fangs into my throat and leave me to die in the ferns and the dirt.

I’d slept in enough roadside ditches to know I shared Australia with an all-star cast of nasties, not least taipans and eastern brown snakes. They’re pretty much a slithering death sentence, especially if you have the misfortune of waking alone in a forest with one on top of you.

I can’t say that my life flashed before my eyes that night as I lay there frozen, but even if it had I probably would have looked away such was the waste it had been. One thing was certain, though: I wasn’t yet ready to die. I stilled every cell while the snake continued to explore my body and after minutes that felt like years its cold, scaly weight slipped off my left flank.

Cautiously I sucked in some air, rose to my feet, took a burning stick from the campfire and waved it around like a homeless Indiana Jones. There, on the forest floor near the edge of my camp, I saw it: a huge diamond python. One hundred per cent non-venomous. Just passing through.

The snake didn’t stand a chance as I lunged and gripped tight behind its jaws. Dinner! I hadn’t eaten in days. My terror was replaced by excitement as its body whipped and curled in the night air. I found my pocket knife, hacked the wide, flat head off the twisting creature and slung its body in the branches of a bush to deal with later.

I loaded up the fire with plenty of wood for the rest of the night and in the flickering amber I gave solemn thanks. I’d only been living in the rainforest for a few months but I’d developed a reverence for the natural world and deep regard for the spirituality of all things. I told the snake I was sorry that I’d had to kill it and how grateful I was that its flesh would sustain me. I vowed to never forget it.

I woke again just before sunrise eager to return to the business of the snake. The rewards for keeping my cool during the horrors of the night were even more apparent in the grey dawn. Suddenly I had at least a few days of food and I’d obtained an item of potential value – the scaly skin. I’d also been given something mystical and immensely powerful. Namely, snake blood.

After carefully separating the reptile into its component parts of skin, blood, meat and bone, I spent the rest of the day harvesting fern leaves for the coming night’s bed and gathering wood for the fire. Later on, when the sun slipped behind the mountains to the west, I threaded strips of snake onto sharpened skewers I’d made from gum-tree twigs, and dangled them in the flames. As I chewed on the meat and gazed exhausted into the dancing flames, I had no idea I had just opened the door to a nightmare more frightening than any giant serpent. And it felt as if it might never end.


Out of the Forest Gregory Smith

Gregory Smith was homeless for much of his adult life and lived for many years as a recluse in a forest in New South Wales. He now has a PhD in Sociology and teaches at Southern Cross University.

Buy now
Buy now

More features

See all
Article
Read these books before your kids go back to school

Books for first timers, experienced students or parents at home.

Article
Australia’s top 10 kids’ books of 2020

Here are some of the best selling books of the year.

Article
DK Catalogue 2021

Be inspired by DK's vast array of wonderful books in our 2021 Catalogue. 

Article
Why Renée Treml’s picture books should be on every Aussie bookshelf

One art form that has always celebrated Australiana is picture books.

Article
5 Reasons We Love Little Gem

(and You Will Too!)

Article
New Year’s reading resolutions

Tips to help you pick a reading goal and achieve it.

Article
The 50/30/20 rule

In Financially Literate Youth, Marlies and Jai Hobbs offer practical advice for managing your finances.

Article
Fuel your fierce

Brita Fernandez Schmidt offers three tips for harnessing inspiration.

Article
Six stages of separation

In Breakup Bootcamp, Amy Chan walks readers through the first steps of dealing with heartbreak.

Article
6 incredible book series to get your 7-year-old hooked on reading

Inspire an eternal love of reading with these accessible series for new readers, featuring large print, fun images, simple vocabulary, and best of all, captivating stories!

Article
The allure of fantasy

The author of City of Lies discusses revisiting Silasta and exploring the traumas and triumphs of her characters in the sequel.

Looking for more articles?

See all articles