Friday, September 7, 2012

Stretching the truth

Last night out at the inlet I recorded some more of Old Salt's stories. It led me to thinking that I should do this with some of the other old fisher men and women but the 'taking' of oral histories is a strange process. Old Salt knows well enough to trust me but some of the others don't and probably view my endeavours with some suspicion. They'd have to read the manuscript to know that I am on their side and some of them read nothing but the weather and the seasons (yes, and that is why these folk are a source of my constant fascination.)

From my own experience and learnings of recording oral histories, there is a relationship of trust that has to be developed and maintained before, during and after the recording. Then there is the technical stuff: don't wear bangles or noisy clothing; make sure the subject is comfortable and willing to stay the duration; ask leading questions, not ones that end in a 'yes' or 'no'; do your research. One of the most interesting instructions and something I've stuck to ever since is that you should never ask an interviewee to tell their story before you start taping. If you do, they will tell it to you in vivid, gorgeous detail. When you begin recording, your interviewee will be rehashing, editing and reciting and all that rawness is gone forever.

Anyway, most of the rules get thrown out the window at Pallinup.
I love the yarn below, because it is just so bloody funny ... a story of Old Salt's Dad, one armed poacher of legend, getting busted for undersized black bream in the 1950's.


  1. Hilarious - another great fish-tale. If anything freezing would make the fish bigger because water expands when frozen. These old guys sure were good at telling whoppers - quite convincingly too. I have this idea that a coke or beer can was used as a gauge before the caliper version came out for crayfish, maybe not....

  2. "What chance have you got? What chance HAVE you got?"
    Reminds me of a line from the song A Boy Named Sue.

  3. Silver bream. Goddammit. How could I make such a pedestrian mistake?
    Tarwine, not black bream. Sorry 'bout that.

  4. "Why don't you use a tape measure?" Good question Sarah.
    Met Jon Doust at the Brisbane Writers Festival today. What a character. He effectively sold Albany as the centre of the writing world of the planet. He was on a panel talking about the place of "old cultures" in new writing. Sue Woolfe and Brett Caldwell made up the panel. They were a great mix - about as different a three as you could find. At one end Jon's dysfunctional youth and off beat sense of humour at the other the 15 year military background of the surprisingly insightful and sensitive army history of Brett Caldwell and Sue Woolfe in the middle - the white girl living in a remote aboriginal community in NT for a year with her daughter and all her assumptions being smashed. That plus Drusilla Modjeska in conversation Robert Dessaix (wonderful) and then lots of writers from Oceania speaking French. A good couple of days.

  5. Thanks for that great BWF missive Mr Hat.
    Glad you saw Doust in action.
    Yes, the south west corner is home to all sorts of creative riff raff - musicians, artists and writers. I keep putting it down to the dramatic landscape. But I think also that 'outposts' or places far flung often crank because they have to create their own entertainment.