Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Grievous and the Blunty Boys #3

Blunty stopped at the servo and bought some fresh bread rolls. He refused to shop at the only other store in town - the shop that charged for air.
"Air! How the fuck can you charge for air!" He was referring to the main town store's policy of making beach users pay $2 to pump up their 4WD's tyres. It was the deluge of summer holiday folk, sloping in with sloppy tyres after hours or days on the white sandy beaches, that made air a commodity. They also charged with a monopoly-minded manner for beer, meat, vegetables and two minute noodles.

We got down to the bar, the ute filled with beer, food, camera film and dogs. Blunty braked on an expanse of hard white sand. He pulled a bong from behind the driver's seat. I opened my door and the onshore winds made a mess of his session. Bush green blew straight past my face.
"Sarah. Shut that door hey?"
He's perpetually polite. A true Blunty Brother. Big suck. Stashed the bong.

We called the dogs in and started the drive through the bush. Blunty's driving resembled a sideshow dodgems adventure through peppermints and wild, black sand bush tracks.  This is the Fitzgerald; country originally only traversed by knowledgeable fishermen and the Old People. Blunty's four wheel drive sounded like a Sherman tank as it chugged through the gears. The dogs grabbed at flying branches with their teeth.

 We passed a few other four wheel drives towing camper trailers, before we left the sand hills and pulled in to the hard packed bar of another inlet. "This is the Gordon," he told me. "We go fishing here sometimes. Mullet, mostly."

Blunty and I spent the next five hours visiting fishing shacks; some of them private; most of them commercial fishing shacks under government leaseholds. On each beach, at the end of a maze of treacherous four wheel drive tracks, there was usually a shack. And this shack often looked over the annual migration of whales. Whales lay all over the bays in lazy, reefy flocks with little respect for leaseholds or land ownership.

"People come out here and build a private shack. They don't pay any lease fees and they lock them up so no one else can use them. They'll all get knocked down one day when the council chucks the shits and then all the old salmon fishing shacks will get knocked down too."

We stopped for lunch at the Whalebone Beach shack, near the stone walled well that Matthew Flinders dug in 1802.
"Follow the yellow brick road," Blunty led me from the shack, up the sand dune to the top of the hill. Some soul had set bright yellow pavers into the track. He sat down upon a whalebone throne and then stood up, shuffled his thongs.
"Sit. Try it out."
I sat on the bleached ivory. I could see the East and the West Barrens; a dark necklace of mountains looking like they had forced their way out of the earth just yesterday. Blue sky - jagged mountain range -  a chalk white beach - the clearest turquoise waters - the deeper blue of the weed banks - all this in a perfect curve that went on for miles and miles.

"Every place is different, hey? It's like there is a different reason for being in each one."

On our way back down the yellow brick path, Blunty pointed out the whale skulls lying where they'd been dragged up by tractors and he showed me the succulent gardens. He stopped by a profusion of cotyledons growing by the rainwater tank. "They had amazing flowers a month ago. Bright orange and yellow."
At this point, I realised that Blunty had spent a bit of time here.
"Yeah, I stay here when I go squidding, for days or weeks if the squid are any good. They like it on that ribbon weed. A few weeks ago, there musta been thirty or forty whales outside my front door, every day. There was an old bloke here too, staying in the shed. He was a bit weird at first. He had depression or something. The doctor wouldn't give him any drugs. Just told him to come and camp here for two weeks. Bloke wasn't too happy when I turned up but he got used to me. No choice."

It was about thirty degrees and lunchtime. Blunty poured some water into honey pails for the thirsty dogs. "I like to work in all different places. Come out here squidding, then go to Pallinup or Wilsons for Bream, then to Doubtful Island sharking ... crabbing at Oyster Harbour ... Nails, he just goes to Wilsons every night. Goes to work in Wilsons. He doesn't do anything else."
"Where do you catch shark?"
"Oh ... Muttonbird, Haul Off Rock, Groper Bluff, Waychinicup, Cheynes, Bremer, Torbay ... everywhere, everywhere."

He opened up the shack. Someone had recently swept the floors and left a 'thanks for letting us stay' note and some candles on the wood stove. Two ancient kero fridges stood side by side. Every shack has one of those fridges. They are so heavy, they must have been here for decades and are not going anywhere else soon. I can just see the split windscreen Blitz trucks from the war, grinding through the Australian bush in the 1940s; carrying whole families, building materials, nets, boats, tractors and those bloody indestructible fridges to the salmon camps.

Blunty took the makings of lunch from his esky and laid it out over the plywood table. Sliced cheese, a whole cooked chicken, tinned beetroot, lettuce, butter, salt and pepper. Fresh bread rolls. A bottle of chilled lemon cordial. All this from a single man who has been camping at Miller's Point for the last month.
He felt protective over this particular shack. Someone had forced the lock to the master bedroom and even though no damage was done, "it just annoys the crap outta me. Why don't they respect this place?"

Six shacks and three swims later, we rolled back into the fishing camp at Pallinup. Crusted with salt and sun, we'd dug ourselves out of being bogged on one beach, and collected bags of rubbish from a dozen others. The dogs were too exhausted to play with each other. They flopped down under a tree and just managed to sweep the flies off their bodies with their tails.

I felt much the same but had to get changed out of my crusty clothing and wrestle the fly over my tent. I was told there would be rain.

The smoky horizon that Blunty had commented on during the afternoon began to blow over the inlet. He was spot on, hours ago. A wild fire burning to the south. The wind changed and turned fast around to the sou-west. Suddenly the whole sky was orange and a fierce, gusting gale whipped up the olive waters.

At five minutes to five, it was time to set the nets. Grievous drove into the camp, boat clanking on the trailer behind his ute across the pot holed track, his stereo blasting out The Police. Every Breath You Take.


  1. I like sharks. I always tip them out of the nets. But wrap your head around this:

    The 'sharking' that Blunty speaks of has changed a bit since I wrote this in November, due to recent changes in fisheries laws.

    Every fisher who catches shark in WA now has to log in with a Canberra-based computer and nominate the day, time and GPS that they are fishing. They are also obliged to be online the whole time they are sharking.

    Sounds sensible but in reality, this means that smaller scale fishers like Blunty have a laptop on board their tinny. (Try taking your laptop out in the Southern Ocean in a tinny.) So they don't go sharking any more.

    Only the bigger operations, with larger overheads/boats/catches/etc can go sharking now. To labour my point - these guys need to catch a lot more shark to cover their costs.

    Think about it, next time you are buying fish and chips!

  2. i love those pictures. and i want to go stay in one of those shacks. :P

  3. Gorgeous......reminds me a little of my youth. I gave up eating shark about when I took up surfing.....

  4. I agree with Blunty - how can you charge for AIR?

    There is always so much AIR in your posts, Sarah - and by that I mean open space over sea and land. I am always transported when I read them - and by that I mean carried away in my mind and spirit, not picked up by the authorities and dumped in the beautiful, antipodean colonies as punishment.

    One small positive from the Japanese tsunami - the coastal town which specialised in supplying shark-fins for the famous soup (by throwing the live shark back in the water to drown without it's fin) has been wiped off the map, but I still pity them.

  5. Yes, finning, a bad business. You can bet there are a few other places that follow the same practise though.
    Glad you are transported Tom, and not arrested, chained and brutalised into the bargain!
    I can sympathise with your karmic sensibilities Seashell!
    Thanks for your comments.

  6. Wonderful triptych of stories Sarah, a much enjoyed after work read.
    As for charging for air, that is just one of those vestiges of capitalism, namely inflation.
    Sorry, punching myself in the nose in response.