Saturday, April 4, 2015


It's absolutely gorgeous weather in that early autumn kinda way, when the dastardly easterlies cease their bullying and mornings are stilled with mist on the harbour. In about an hour the moon will be eclipsed although apparently no soul knows yet for exactly how long. It's one of those events that even the boffins cannot work out until after it's happened.

A helicopter chugs, full of tourists. back and forth across the Sound between Whaleworld and Breaksea Island.
In the main street an LED traffic sign is parked up, advertising free life jackets for salmon fishers.
There are folk dressed in khaki buying coffee and quinoa at the wholefoods store, with red poppies and 'ANZAC Centenary Volunteer' emblazoned across their uniforms.
Out at Sandpatch, that wild place where my Mum and I and others used to go to scream/swim/sit/fish, people line the new boardwalk a hundred metres above the beach and read the interpretive plaques. 
"Can you see the salmon?" I hear someone ask.
Birds work the water when the school comes in. From the top of the hill, we can all see that the people on the beach are in the wrong spot, that the school of fish have arced into the next channel. There are sighs and breathy excitement from the perch.

Someone told someone else in a moment of loose-lipped late-night vulnerability that towns with the Southern Ocean and an IGA in common are a really great place to visit over Easter. It's a Hemingwayesque paradise, they said, red-faced. The weather is sweet, they said,  the whiskey is pure and great big fish throw themselves into white plastic buckets to escape a worser fate than being eaten by another fish.

This stuff is all true but it makes me so grumpy.

I've just spent the last few weeks interviewing commercial salmon fishers who are facing the end of their tenancy on a particular beach and consequently their lifestyle as they know it. The two families have fished there for two or three, even four generations. They have four years until the local council knocks down their shacks.

I've heard:

"It's a lifestyle choice. They've had their day."

"We've fished here since the 1940s."

"They shouldn't be locking up their shacks. Get rid of them. That beach should be open to everyone."

"Knocking down the shacks will kill my Dad. Mum's just died. Why couldn't they just wait until Dad's gone?"

It's a complicated scenario. The recent closure of the commercial herring fishery has compounded the difficulties these fishers face. Normally they'd rely on the herring if the salmon season was bad but this year was pretty shitty and then they lost the herring market too. This week the ancestral salmon fishers are moving out of their camps. Their shacks. Their tents. Their caravans. Coming back next year depends upon a whole lot of bureaucratic circumstances.

In the mean time, if you are looking forward to the 'experience' of catching a salmon for your holiday down south ...
Well, good for fucking you.
Please be careful on the rocks.


  1. You know I saw a group of fishermen with a wheeled-esky brimming with big salmon yesterday at OB and I felt a certain resentment. The same day we sat in the deep channel out the back alongside a massive but calm school of salmon who seemed to be evading the plethora of amateurs. They actually made our trek with surfboards under arms quite difficult because they were lining the shoreline.

    Amateur fishermen are greedy pigs who don't appreciate the seasons. They take but they don't give back - except to toss their toxic cigarette butts and plastic bait bags off the rocks. I'm with you on this - I'd rather see rusty fishermen's shacks lining the beach.

  2. I guess it doesn't have to be an 'either, or' binary, and sometimes I set up one thing to the exclusion of another when having a whingeing spray. But it does seem that tourism and gentrification are seduced by the myth of the 'authentic experience' - a way of life that is promptly steamrolled by tourism and gentrification.

  3. I still don't think I fully get the details of exactly who's losing what and why.

    1. Like I said I'm fond of setting up unhelpful binaries. I don't think anyone has lost anything, yet.

  4. You said it right there Sarah - they come for an 'authentic experience' but they are so city-fucked they miss it and destroy other people's peace and the environmnt in their hunger.

    I really can appreciate that we all need to get out of the city and go 'wild', but they just don't get it - and haven't got time to either. And many are just so fucking rude in their selfishness. I have no problem with them if they come down and slot into OUR way of life, but they impose theirs, which is the one I thought they were trying to get away from FFS.

  5. Though I don't doubt that if some multinational developer wants to put in a resort and a canal development, suddenly that will be fine with the powers that be.