Monday, September 8, 2008
* Same Tribe As Me
He was burly and sad and smelt vaguely of mutton. He handed me an apple and talked about fish.
“They’re not real salmon y’know. That was all Captain Cook’s fault. He looked at one and said ‘Well...they’re kinda like a big salmon really’ and the name stuck. They’re actually an overgrown herring.”
The fisherman looked to me for a response. Folds of skin nearly obscured his keen eyes. Scabby cancers colonised his nose. “You eat an apple just like I do.”
“Core and all?”
“Yeah...don’t those seeds taste good?”
* Dogs of the Past
Red flowering gums flared crimson when salmon flew in silver swathes along the coast.
With fires on the beach and a sticktapping clever-man, Mineng sang the dolphins in.
An old linguist who was really a Count wrote all about this.
Twertwaning; ‘old past dogs’ were dolphins who worked with the people.
Dogs of the past drove the salmon right up to the lacy waters’ edge to be speared and gathered.
Dogs of the past gobbled a warm meal of regurgitated pilchards for their efforts
like kelpies falling on chop bones.
In reality, she was a decrepit failed restaurant venture, tethered in disgrace at the end of the Deepie but that night was the pinnacle of the old whalechaser’s career as an eatery.
We weren’t supposed to be there, something about asbestos and public liability but my father was the caretaker, so...there we were.
Candles glowed in the jarrah-lined innards and a strange, longhaired man played guitar on the iron stairs. Cast iron cauldrons of Dahl and rice sat steaming on tables beside huge mounds of baked salmon covered in lemon and strips of bacon.
Dad wanted to introduce his daughters to the woman he would later marry. Together, they’d put on a feast. My guests, my silent beau and the ancient, drunken Scot, were the escape plan if things got too strange.
We slid into red velvet booth seats, shared green ginger wine, peeled away silvery salmon skin, and broke flakes of juicy flesh from the bone with our fingers. The taste of bittersweet iron made my teeth hurt.
When Hector finally succumbed to his Drambuie on the booth seat, (crumpled kilt, legs askew, it was not pretty) Ben and I climbed back out into the clean night air and stood together on deck. Under the full moon, yachts flew like white moths across the harbour on their annual autumn migration.
* Her Dad
“Dad always said ‘Never shoot here when it’s onshore or too rough. Don’t waste your life or your gear. Most of all - don’t be greedy.’ The bastards got it all wrong – look.”
She gave me the binoculars with shaking hands. “Net broke. Too bloody greedy.”
Black marks on the white sand below looked like itinerant seaweed but then I focussed in on dead fish – tons and tons of dead fish.
“Look along to the main break, where the inlet comes out.” Surfers sat upright in the water, the tips of their boards just visible. But there were other tips too, gathering around them like black leaves. Fins, the fins of dead salmon. The surfers sat on their boards in a sea of dead salmon, patiently awaiting the next set.
“This used to be our patch. This would never have happened if Dad was still alive,” she said.
* This place is not civilised yet
It’s a beautiful thing, to see a green wave rise up and reveal salmon in its window. There’s a boardwalk, toilets, interpretive plaques – but this place is not civilised yet.
On a still night, I can hear the swell from my bed, roaring, a pestle grinding rocks into sand. The names of the prisoners who built the original stairway are visible on a low tide, carved into limestone tablets. Water boils in sucky holes and the rips stretch a turquoise scar right out to sea.
“Where’s the pirate treasure, the skeletons of drowned sailors?” My friend skips across a tiny beach. We share a mutual goosey moment when we find the white cross poking out of the wild rosemary. Nearby crouches the decomposing four-wheel drive that landed there in 1994. Both of us stand in the sand and stare up the dizzying cliff.
Trembling, hundreds of stairs later, I can still see the shoal of salmon. The white lace of a broken wave regularly obscures the black drifting disc.
A dark shape moves in from the deep. The salmon circle into a solid grain, trying to become impenetrable. They fail.
The Noah breaks up the outer rim and wriggles lazily into the centre like the triumphant spermatozoa in that vital moment. The salmon fold away from the darkness, creating a lime green channel in its wake.