An encounter with Outback life gave Randal Oliver a new insight into an old biblical truth contained in the ceremonies of ancient Israel.
In outback Australia, bull catching is part of everyday life on a cattle station. Over the years, stockmen have perfected the skill, and are renowned for their sophisticated, calculated and risk-free methods of doing so. They run up to a frothing, bellowing beast, get purchase on its tail and in accord with the laws of physics, it drops to the ground.
At “Woodstock,” a cattle station in northern Queensland, a ringer called “Tossa” invited a couple of green, city kids to join him in catching a “cleanskin,” an unbranded and wild bull from the scrub. They expected a tranquilliser gun, but got something a little more familiar.
Through bonnet-high grass the colour of gold, and around tall paperbarks, Tossa carved a track to “Murphy’s old place,” the Toyota ute taking it all in its stride. Murphy had long since departed, and his place had yielded to his neglect. It was a bit beyond it, its rusty skewed roof bent low to the ground, the walls long gone, the sort of thing you see in nostalgic, romantic depictions of the Outback. Just behind it was a beautiful billabong, the like of which you imagine illustrating a Banjo Patterson or Henry Lawson anthology. But after just a moment to ponder the pan-sized fish that inhabited it, Tossa, not so taken with the view, urged the pair to return to the ute.
The trio journeyed deeper into the scrub until Tossa spotted a target, an adult Brahman bull, silhouetted in the dust. It was a magnificent, black animal, with a fine set of half-metre horns and a menacing look in its eyes.
Tossa turned off the unbeaten track and cut the engine. Silence. The beast and the boy, like two duellers, eyed each other off through the bug-spattered windscreen, just 10 to 12 metres separating them. For the two city kids, the adrenaline was pumping hard.
Tossa whispered, “This is the best bit.”
Before the two visitors had time to think further, the bovine moved a metre forward and stamped a defiant hoof, kicking up dirt.
It was on. Shoving the ute into gear, Tossa advanced and the bull turned and ran. “First,” Tossa explained, “ya have to wear it out.” So they did, giving chase, bouncing over termite mounds and through saplings. The scent of tea-tree flavoured the air. The ute was going where no man had gone before. On the ute’s tray, Tossa’s dog, PitBull, barked, eager to enter the action. “Get back, there!” Tossa yelled. “Not yet.”
After several more minutes of bush bashing, the beast began to slow and Tossa gave the word. Instantly PitBull leapt from the tray, hurtling toward his mark. The ute skidded to a halt and Tossa also leapt out, running after the dog and into the fray.
The tourists were happy in the safety of the cab, snapping photos, thinking Tossa had it under control, wondering when he would pull the tranquilliser, or reinforcements would come hurtling through the trees.
Through the swirling dust, PitBull leapt for the swinging head and grabbed hold of the brute’s ear, and hung on. This was the distraction Tossa was looking for as he tried to get behind the raging bull.
As Tossa reached for the tail, the beast caught a glimpse of him, and quickly turned to face him, head down, eyes glaring. Like a befuddled goose, Tossa flapped his wings about, dancing this way and that, ever just out of reach of the burly head and the airborne dog.
PitBull sank his teeth in deeper, retrieving the beast’s attention, and in that instant, Tossa lunged in and took hold of the flailing tail. With a flick and a twist, he drove his weight to the ground, somehow bringing the beast, 10 times his weight, down with him. Tossa grabbed a belt from around his waist and went to hobble the rear legs.
Sensing the situation was under control, the youths tentatively exited the safety of the ute and made their way toward the cloud of dust. As they approached, the bull regained a foothold and rose up, charging off toward the safety of some nearby scrub, with Tossa, one hand on the tail, the other on his hat, in hot pursuit.
The tourists, growing in unfounded courage, scampered from tree to tree, getting to within seven metres of the combatants before the bull saw them. As it lowered its huge head, red eyes steaming, dust billowing and began to paw the ground, the two realised their mistake. From behind the bull, Tossa grasped the situation and casually offered an understated warning. “Watch yourselves.” They heard, “Flee!” and turned to do so, when blessed PitBull regained his purchase with the beast’s ear and re-averted the animal’s attention.
After several more attempts to “toss” the bull onto its back, Tossa yelled to the more composed of the tourists to “Get the ute.” Which he did, without demurring. As soon as it was close by, Tossa let go of the tail for the first time, called the dog off and leapt in—and drove straight at the bull. There was a dull thud and the vehicle shuddered. The beast bellowed and dropped to its knees, dazed.
Tossa exited and reunited himself with the fallen tail. He secured its rear legs with his belt, narrowly avoiding having his skull split by thrashing hooves. Following yelled instructions, the tourist then took hold of the coarse tail, strung it between the animal’s legs, and rocked back, hanging on, as if his life depended upon it. Which it did.
“It won’t go anywhere now,” Tossa said, as he walked to the back of the ute to prepare the hoist. But suddenly alone and holding the tail of a very angry mound of muscle, the tourist was suddenly feeling vulnerable. The bull was breathing heavily, his head with its massive horns swinging madly about. Its front legs were still thrashing and the animal began to rock, trying to right itself.
Fortunately, before any damage was sustained, Tossa suddenly reappeared, removed a second belt from his waist, and strapped the front legs. Then, suspecting that the fight was lost, the bull’s bellowing eased. Tossa stood up and the tourist released the tail while his other half clamoured out from the Toyota. All three paused in breathless silence, sweat-soaked and grimy, but victorious.
With this experience so vivid, and being a bit of a Bible student, I reflect on how, in the days of ancient Israel, following the command of God, such a mighty beast might have been taken and sacrificed, for one can be sure it wouldn’t have gone quietly to its death on an altar. In those Old Testament times, the Israelite nation was commanded to conduct sacrificial offerings of animals.
The sacrifice of a pigeon or a goat could be sufficient for the atonement of a person’s sins, but the sacrifice of a bullock was the most significant. This sacrifice was offered as the means of atonement—done for the forgiveness of their sins. Sometimes it was the sacrifice of a lamb, a ritual that foreshadowed the One who would later die in order to save them. With the death of Jesus on the cross 2000 years ago, these practices are no longer needed.
Christ is a living sacrifice, taking the place of the sacrificial animals when He took the sins of all people of all time upon Himself and died. I don’t know if our experience on that Queensland cattle station in anyway resembles that of an Israelite sinner seeking an animal for slaughter, but one thing I know for sure, as I picture a priest wrestling his unblemished cleanskin to the altar of sacrifice, I can rejoice knowing that God through Jesus has made the way to life a whole lot simpler.