Monday, November 3, 2008
I wanna be a fishergirl
This time on my way to the estuary I drove out alone, at night, with a brand new windscreen that I could actually see through - until fuses started blowing and the lights stopped being nice. After that it was the sliver of moon, some white line hallucinations and possibly the warm radiations from Venus that got me there.
I coasted down into the hollowed out basin, a geological anomaly of rainbow layers of Plantagenet siltstone (spongolite rock) washed away by watery millennia, to the drumming music of rain and shot tie rod ends. Old Salt had lit a little bonfire in anticipation. A good thing for a tired soul is a fire spitting with raindrops and a decent cup of tea.
"You've obviously been eating a lot of carrots," was all he said in respect to my dark arrival. Old Salt had already set nets for the night, out in the middle of the barred estuary. It was my job to help him pick up at dawn.
The lightning storms and glassed off water of the previous week were replaced by howling easterlies, constant rain and other rhetoric. It's the kind of misty rain where for an hour or so, I think I am waterproof, until the moment of realisation that I'm absolutely soaked through - a bit like drinking really.
The pre dawn alarm clock jangled some ditzy electronic muzak and I crawled out of my tent to meet the gloaming. The tinny was talking, a metallic splash against her sides with every little breath of water.
We pulled up a lot of mullet that morning. Old Salt reckons it's the wind on the water aerating the sea. This estuary has the highest level of nutrients out of all the south coast estruaries sampled in 1988 and at the time it was attributed to the spreading of good ol' super phosphate on surrounding farmland. (Estuaries and Lagoons of South Western Australia, Number 4, E.P.A, 1988). I'm not sure whether this increases deoxygenation or not.
I just think we are a little bit blessed.
"Mullet!" Comes my refrain when these fat, gleaming, perfect fish splash to the surface. I begin to sound like the energiser bunny's victim an hour later when we are still pulling in mullet. They hit the nets hard too and then roll in them, so they can be a job to get out. "What's wrong? Your battery run out?" Old Salt said. "Oh mullet!" He mimics me. "Look another mullet! Yay! Oh Joy! I just want to know where the fucking bream are, they fetch eight bucks a kilo."
The water is muddy from constant turbulence and silt. Pale stretch marks lace her reaches. Water slopped over the stern. I hate that, it makes me very unsteady on my pins. In the end it was getting so windy and the fish so prolific, we hauled the rest of the nets in and unmeshed on shore. The wake water churned golden olive, boiling behind the boat.
Old Salt started telling me poaching stories while we wrestled mullet out of the mesh and iced them up in bins.
"Pullet, Axel and Nails decided they were gonna shoot the mouth of the ---- inlet. They were all at the pub skyting all about it and then off they went, close to midnight. Pullet told me, 'No one knew who I was coz I wore a balaclava!'"
This cracked me up. Anyone who has ever laid eyes on Pullet knows it is not his face that is instantly recognisable but his enormous girth.
He told me another story about his father, an old school poacher of legend. The fisheries inspector in those days rode a bicycle, with the intention of a silent arrival to witness nocturnal fishing crimes. He rode that bicycle twenty kilometres one night to catch out Old Salt Snr and waded out through the mud of the inlet, the old fisherman watching from the shore, to pull up a whole corkline. No net, just a corkline.
It is in one of the same fishing inspector's annual reports, available from archives in Perth, that the enmity between the two is in print forever.
" - - - came in to pay his fishing license today and threw five shillings on the counter. He said nothing and nor did I."
Some days, mornings like this, I feel very lucky to be witnessing the tail end of these briny dynasties first hand and listening to their stories. After unmeshing, I drove the 150 kilometres back into town and put some bins full of iced down bream and mullet on the truck for Perth. "It's great," I told my Dad. "You get to see all the empty bins of the other fishermen and check out how much they are catching."
He laughed. "You are sounding just like the rest of that bloody mob!"