Sunday, September 25, 2011

Man Bites Shark Bites Dog

A wander through the seaways this week ...

I saw a humpback whale yesterday, leaping about by the first portside marker in the Sound. We were setting the flathead nets at dusk and I saw the whale, his body pouring out of the sea like black ink and plumes of white spray on his crashing return. Then his tail made a perfect cetacean crescent against a reddening sky. We motored out into the Sound later to look for him later but he was long gone. Not even a footprint.

I saw a stingray in the shallows too, that eve. As big as the Turkish rug in my living room, ranging along the nets, its body speckled with white paisley. I'd know that pattern, if ever I saw it again.

In the morning, we pulled up the Harbour nets to find a littler ray with its stinger bitten clean off. Its body was sliced open with little bleeding arcs. Sharper than any filleting knife, that mystery shark's teeth. Salmon trout lined up in the mesh with only their heads left.

"Bronzy," said Old Salt.

Sometimes the crab pots are full of carapaces and chewed-up claws. It usually means an octopus has got in, or maybe a leather jacket; they eat crabs too. The crabs get caught up in the nets when they go in after the herring. Sometimes the flathead nets come up with row upon row of heads and no bodies. That's the seal.

Mr Yin told me a story about watching a great white shark circling Seal Rock. You can see Seal Rock from the lookout on Marine Drive. It is a rounded piece of granite close to the coast where an old bull hangs out, his doe harem lolling around him in the surging swell. Mr Yin said this shark circled the rock for an age, hungry-like, round and round that big round rock, waiting for that old man seal to make just one mistake.

There is a five metre great white in the Sound that has been making people uncomfortable this week. He's had a go at a few boat propellers and gone along Grievous' squid lines, stealing the bait, jigs and all. Five metres. My friends who sea kayak on Sundays are sticking to the Harbour. "Are there any mussels on the shipwreck at the moment?" I ask them. One is a piscatarian, the other a confirmed meat eater. I don't think they even noticed the mussels.

To have a crack at the title of this meandering post ... my Dad came home from the fish factory one day, chucked me into the Kingswood and said, "Come and have a look at this." We drove back to the factory and he walked me into the freezer room.

It was the size of a gymnasium, with racks against the walls full of salmon or sardines or whatever was going on at the time. My wet shoes stuck to the icy floor. I can't remember the other fish. All I remember was seeing the shark, frozen solid and lying upon carpenters tressels like an exhibit right in the centre of the room. Its skin was black (and I still don't know whether this was because it was frozen) and it was the most beautiful creature I'd ever seen.

Dad said, "See if you can touch both its eyes."
I couldn't. When I stretched out my ten-year-old arms across the head of the creature, I couldn't reach both of its eyes at once. Then he said that when the fisherman cut it open, he'd found a kid's tricycle and half of a dog inside its stomach.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Worlds Colliding #1

In 2007 I arranged to meet a woman from America in the town library. I knew who she was as soon as I walked into the foyer. There was something about the seventy years in her face, a flash in her eye, the robust juiciness of a woman well-lived and strong. Pat Farrington had flown the red-eye for a rather special reunion; thirty years after the day the Whale and Dolphin Coalition clashed with gunners and flensers at the Cheynes Beach Whaling Station.
Above: This is a photograph from that day. Federal police, bikies, flensers, protestors, singers, rainbow folk, locals (the ones wearing thongs), an ex-deputy Prime Minister ... Breaksea Island on the horizon, blubber tanks in the background and right in the middle of the mob - that's Pat Farrington.

2007 ... on their way from the airport and driving through the town of Albany, her guide pointed out an old gunner standing on the street corner. Pat leapt from the car, ran over to him and ambushed him with a big, lusty hug. "Still has a twinkle in his eye," she told me later. "He's a handsome man, that gunner."

1977 ...  the protests focussed the world's attention on the last onshore whaling operation in the southern hemisphere. Back then my hokey little home town was polarised by whether or not killing whales was ethical or even viable, frightened with the real threat of huge job losses and dragged out of a past where whalers were the epitome of manhood, into the glare of more modern sensibilities. I was seven and can remember the tensions and gossip, amid sage noddings at the dinner table.

What a strange reunion of souls it was in 2007. WaD Coalition and Greenpeace stalwarts stood around on Middleton Beach and chatted with the old whalers. The Japanese were heading off to Antarctica for another season. The fight to stop whaling continued but this time, some of the gunners and first mates from Albany were on board as well.

1977 ... the local bikies were drinking at the White Star the day they heard protesters were gathering at the whaling station. They put down their beers and headed out there. Pat Farrington told me that the roar of their bikes approaching sounded like helicopters. The Feds made them park the bikes up the hill and approach on foot. The American protesters cheered at the sight of these bearish, leatherclad men walking down the road between the lines of police cars. They came from a '60s Californian culture where the Hells Angels were aligned with protest movements and general social unrest.

In Albany it was quite a different story. Gods Garbage members worked on the chasers harpooning the leviathans, or at the whaling station dismantling them into a marketable commodity. Some of them had just surfaced from the Vietnam war. Uppity protesters were not their favourite people in the world.

 The seeker, the warrior and the phantom: Jonny Lewis, Pat Farrington and Jean Paul.

Copyright 1977. Jonny Lewis Collection. All Rights Reserved.

The scene ended with a thankful lack of claret, despite the stakes. From what I remember of my interview with Pat (the file is in a dead computer somewhere), the bikies were softened up by Pat's daughter asking them if they could turn around so she could take a photograph of their patches for her Hells Angels mates in California. They laughed, turned their backs and began emptying their clobber of chains, knives and other weapons. The protest fell apart as the rainbows and dolphins graced the waters; the objective was achieved. Then the Americans asked if the bikies wanted a ride back up the hill. Everyone piled on the back of a flat bed truck. Pat showed them the contents of her bag - a collection of tiny carved whales. Bikies and Greenies swung their legs over the side of the tray and communed over those little carved critters.

They travelled up the hill towards the motorbikes. Federal police cars lined the road like a guard of honour. As each policeman saw the scene on the back of that flatbed truck, they laughed out loud and so the ripple of dawning laughter followed that strange union the whole way up the long hill.

Tonight at the shops I met up with a Gods Garbage bloke in the dairy aisle. I asked him if he remembered that day at the whaling station in 1977 and if he remembered Pat. It's strange how the old bikies get misty-eyed when I mention her name.
More about her tomorrow.

Have a look at Chris Pash's blog The Last Whale for more stories about the 2007 reunion!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

When William Hook Escaped to Waychinicup

The little boat that we used for netting fidgeted against barnacles. I held the rope and waited. Weed coaxed Moennan away as the rest of the camp slept. She limped over the rocks and clicked to her dog.

We sailed to the east over an oily, heaving sea. The flames of burning Michaelmas Island grew smaller until we rounded Rock Dundar and then there was only the glow in the sky. Weed clung to the gunwale, terrified by the dark sea. I could not make her sit trim. She clutched that stone of grey pumice. It was the shape of her heel, something else I have seen her hold when she is too scared to run.

Moennan watched ahead. She held Weed’s hand sometimes, or I saw her run her hands through the coarse hackles of her dog, run her hand against his grain, ruffle up his spine and hug him to her.

I found the inlet. Bound by stone, the rush of tide in the channel bore us through into quiet, breathing waters, ringed with granite, flowering with orange lichen. We spread skins in the belly of a huge cave that curved into the mountain, and slept.

In the gloom of the next morning, I woke, wretched and sore, the long night of half dreams still soaking my body. Being in the lee of the mountain meant no warning of the squall that ripped across the sky, rubbing out the cross of stars. Taraba, that brave yellow cur, whimpered and crept closer to the side of the cave with every thump. The stone on which we lay ran with water. Muttonbirds kept up their crying. The penguins sounded like babies that would not thrive.

I knew Bailey come from the island to find us. I rolled over and found the warmth of Moennan, peered past her oiled hair to the dark sea, looking for the quicksilver splash of oars. I listened for the grind of keel against granite. We shall live like oystercatchers, I thought, red-eyed bastards watching the water surge, gambling our lives on every wave.

There was a big moon, and then another returning, her belly swelling. All the time we lived on the quiet water I did not question the Maori’s lack of kindness in keeping me from my people. I was glad for the peace.
At night, we fished.
I was the tallest girl, the tallest thing on the whole inlet and above me the stars blazed and the quarter moon glowed the water. I forgot my sadness, my loss and the angry tinglings of my diseased sex when the little boat grunted on crunchy coral and I spread my toes over the thwart of nets and punted out into clear water again.
Heke forced a stick into the soft sand of the shallows, moving it in a figure of eight to ease it in, looped the cork line around the wood. The boat lurched with his weight and I spooled out ragged net, while he rowed.
Later, we went back to the stick.
    "Feel this," he handed me the cork line.
     I took the wet, muddy rope in my hand. I felt fish hitting the net, a sharp tug, then a flutter, a lighter hit, as they struggled. So I knew there would be a few.
"Hauture," said he.
    "Madawick," said I.
I woke when the air was still and cold. The wind stopped. It was time to pull up the nets.
   I left my skins to squat a little way from camp, drove a neat hole into the gritty sand with my stream. I watched the dark loom of the Maori.
"Get up, Tama hine." He shook the little girl.  "See this ...  something in the water," 
He stood just on the lacy edge of the water and strange blue lights shot out of his toes. Hot blue bullets fired away from his legs.
    I heard the girl breathe in, quick.
    "Fire in the water, Hine."
Each step into the sea, as we pushed out the boat, made the fire flare. Every stroke of the oars made a sparkling rush of sun diamond water in the inky brine, and then the dripping airborne oars traced arcs of wild colour beside the boat. Shrimp became brilliant drawings, stars falling through the sea.
Still dark and starlit, with the moon gone, no light yet but the glow of a new day. Fish flew away from us leaving a comet tail of blue fire in their wake.  The Maori rowed and rowed, straight past the stick that held fast the net and none of us dreaming folk even noticed, until we were well out into the centre of the inlet.
"There be no fish," he told me. "Net is lit up like a Chinaman's birthday."
I could see every single mesh illuminated, soaring up towards Heke's grappling fingers and swooping down into the water, gilt with glittery magic.
We caught a few, yes, some gleaming skip jack and fat mullet. By then the sky was lightening and all the fire creatures melted back into the secrets of the inlet.
After we ate, Weed and me walked over the mountain to the woman’s place, to show her for when she is older but there was a fire burning inside the stones so we didn’t go in. On our way back we broke some touchwood from a rotten tree and found some grubs. I showed Weed how to peel a stick from the tree and push it into the ground so the people whose tree it was did not get angry.
We came back to the cave. Heke, his rough face gentled by the sliding down sun, saw the grubs and the blue flowers in my hair and laughed and laughed. He picked a grub from my hair and ate it. Then he picked out a blue flower and ate that too.