Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sailing the Good Ship Vesperosa

Text from a Toa Sister

"Nothing but cool alloy sculptures left.
Me house exploded.
i reckon i can say
i take the 
biggest explosion by a Drummond girl prize."

Friday, November 25, 2011

Punch and Judy (With All the Scary Bits!)

While Ken handed out pamphlets at the markets for his travelling Punch and Judy show, I asked his partner Kirsty, "what is it about Punch and Judy? What are your theories?"
She replied that kids are always being told what to do and how to behave, Constable Care style. When they are exposed to Punch's reprehensible, ridiculous buffoonery that involves him making the same mistake over and over again, children are happy to claim the moral power to let him know where he is going wrong. So they teach themselves ... Nice hey.

Here are the details for Punch and Judy in Albany and Denmark:

ALBANY, this Saturday, Nov. 26.
11 am & 2pm
St Johns church hall
York Street.

This Sunday, 27th
CWA Hall
Mitchell street

Kids $10.00
Adults $12.00
Family (4) $40.00

Enough of Flames

 Enough of flames for a little while and back on the WineDark Sea... except to let you know that the Toa sisters are all okay. The weather in Margaret River has cooled down which will make it easier to bring the fire under control, today. The Denmark fires sound like they have settled down a bit too. I woke this morning with smoke from 50 kilometres away filtering through my curtains.

Last night we fished for flathead and then motored home at night, past the container ships.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Wildfire #2

One sister is leaving town. "My kids are getting more and more upset. They're getting all the old folk out of the hospital. The school's shut down. It's so smoky here. We're leaving."

Annie's house was obliterated yesterday. She's lost everything* and is running on a strange kind of adrenalin when I talk to her. I'm still waiting for her to crash.
"That house would have exploded ... the fuel tins I stored under the veranda, and my best motorbike too ...but my Nissan Urvan - the fire burnt in a neat circle right around it! That is my best car. I'm so stoked. Also, you'd never credit it, someone gave me a fire fighting unit the day before yesterday!"
"Well, that's not really useful when you've gotta race in, grab your paperwork and leave," I said.
"Yeah ... especially because there wasn't even a hose attached!"

My other sister (I have lots of  sisters in Margs) is contemplating the fire front heading for her house as I write this post. She's in town and has been convoying cars, dogs, boats and furniture from her forest block all day. "You wouldn't believe the gusts. Fifty, sixty kilometres an hour. Then it just stops and we think everything's okay. The fire is making its own weather system. But now the wind has changed and its blowing the fire front towards the town. Everyone is freaked out."
She's worried about her landlord/neighbour who is refusing to leave. "He's like the captain of the Titanic, the stupid bastard. He's out there getting pissed."

On my last phone call, the sisters were okay but seriously rattled and tired after twenty-four hours of drama, sleeping with mates, community briefings and stressing out over horses etc. One sister wants to break a few DEC kneecaps but as I reminded her, "You'd hesitate at the crucial moment, darl. I know you too well."

Tonight ...  the FESA incident controller Roger Armstrong told the community meeting that conditions were unlikely to get better. "It'll be traveling fast, the sky will go dark, it'll be very scary, and there'll be a lot of noise," he said.

*except her Urvan!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


 I was driving into town this morning and listening to the fire warnings on the radio. 'Catastrophic' was the potential scenario handed out to country north east of here. This is a new warning that morphed from the Ash Saturday disaster. Before then, Australians only had to deal with 'high' or 'extreme' fire danger.


Driving again in the afternoon, I heard that a fire was burning out of control near Margaret River. The announcer gave warnings about Caves Road. Shit. I rang my sister who lives in a little wooden hippy shack in the forest there. Her phone was dead. I rang two other sisters. "She's okay. She evacuated." Finally Annie rang me. "I got my tools and some clothes. (She is an extremely well dressed mechanic) But I think my house has just burnt down."


The directions on what to do for people living on Caves Road brings home how truly terrifying this fire is:



It is too late to leave. You need to take shelter in your home and actively defend it.
Take shelter inside furthest away from the fire front and make sure you can easily escape.
It is best to shelter in a room with two exits and a water supply such as a kitchen or laundry.
You must seek shelter before the fire arrives as the very hot radiant heat will kill you well before the flames reach you. Protect yourself with long sleeves, long trousers and strong leather boots.
If your home catches on fire and the conditions inside become unbearable, you need to get out and go to an area that has already been burnt.
Do not leave in a vehicle or on foot as this is deadly."*

* http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2011/11/23/3374565.htm
Images: Perth Now.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Day in the Sound

 A day in King George Sound fishing for King George whiting is a kind of healing after a winter in the estuaries. Any grumpiness produced by murky inlet waters, muddy seagrass, angry crabs and obscenely early mornings are forgotten as the Westerberg skims the offshore briny and settles into the turquoise dream of the whiting grounds.

Triangles of white sails lie against the islands. Fish shaped like silver sickles, like big bluegum leaves, come up in pods of three. The water in the red bin glistens with whiting mica and far away, I can see the flashes of swell crashing into Breaksea Island. My skin tightens with sun and salt but I just cannot turn my face away from it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Interview With a Fisherwoman #3

When she was two years old and living on the island, her father would put her in a wicker basket and lower her on a rope down the long walls of granite to the groper hole. 
He was a strong man and a lighthouse keeper. 

He would climb down after her and together they berleyed up crabs and abalone roe.
Some of the groper were as big as he. He’d climb back up the rock with the tracer over his shoulder, hauling the creature out of the sea.
“We used to eat fish every day, and rabbits. Loads of rabbits on Eclipse Island. The Kestrel only came out every few weeks with supplies, firewood, kero, flour, all that stuff, so we ate whatever was around.”

As a family they worked sharking at Hammelin Bay and rarely went past the little island for prey. It has always been a popular holiday spot and I think netting is now banned there. “So many sharks! Right where everyone swam and mucked about.” She showed me a photograph of her as a kid, surrounded in shark carcasses slung from racks and lying in the sand at her feet.

Black and white photographs of huge sharks, the images peeled at the edges, sometimes a date, names and other details neatly typed on a separate piece of paper and glued carefully beneath the fish – I see these pictures often when talking to older fishers. 
Far from macho posings, the commercial fishers tended to take pictures of women wearing shady hats and aprons, or children with bleached, wild hair sitting astride a monster that they hooked off the beach or dragged out of the salmon net. Women and their daughters have always been part of the action.

“I was snigging salmon up the beach when I was two years old,” Ms Mer tells me proudly.

Image: Mulloway. Robert Neill. 1841.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Interview With a Fisherwoman

I drove out to meet a fisherwoman on a day when gales and hailstones battered the whole south west of the continent.
"Tray back Landcruiser. White." She said she would meet me by the caretakers shed. I drove along puddled gravel roads, past the colourful weatherboard fishing shacks that squatted side by side like uncertain teenagers, until I found her.
"It's the wild woman of Borneo!" she said, leaning out of the ute and taking off her black wraparound sunnies. I could have returned the compliment. Ms Mer was older than she sounded on the phone. Her hair shone snow white from beneath her beannie but her eyes were clear, pure blue like a sun-glad sea. She'd spent so many years at sea that her irises could have been made of the stuff but there was also a bit of steel in there and something else; a humanity, a steady reckoning, kindness.

We rumbled past more shacks. "They keep all us professionals out the back here, out of sight," she told me later. "Right at the end of the track. We have to keep all our gear out of sight too, in case it offends the reccies." She means the anglers, inland farmers or city dwellers, who lease shacks for their holidays. Solar panels perch on reccie roofs like raptors and hot water systems are wrapped in tarps to keep out the salt spray. They nail signs by their front door: Gone Fishin', To the Manor Prawn, Hideaway or Merv n Averil's Castle.

I was impressed by the lack of signage to Ms Mer's shack. That and the monster of a diesel Lister chugging away in the shed. "Gotta have it. There's no mains power out here. I need it to make ice." She makes block ice to keep the fish cool when she is out at sea for a few days. "Been through a few of those motors since 1971, three ... maybe four." 

Her garden was smooth beach stones and succulents. Long white socks hung in the garage next to her 'changing room', where all the fishers got out of their smelly gear. Up a carpeted ramp was the door to the house. She showed me into a large room with huge windows looking over the sand dunes and then the island out in blustering, choppy sea. Inside, armchairs were cowled in crocheted rugs. Shelves and shelves of books: hymn books, Lynda la Plant, more crime fiction, Australiana, Readers Digests, Hammond Innes. On the bookshelf was a yellowed photograph of her and a fellow nurse from the Vietnam War, grinning into the camera with urchin innocence, the Vietnamese child on the stretcher smiling too, swathed in bandages and sheets. 

The Everhot was firing and beneath it two lizards lolled on the warm tiles. A polished kettle hummed on the hot plate. She turned off the radio. "No good news anyway." Ticking clock. The roar and roar of that wild sea.
"Cuppa tea, coffee?"
"I'd love a coffee. Missed out this morning. I had no milk."
She sniffed when I said I wanted sugar. "Sugar!" She hunted around for some. "I don't have sugar in anything. Never have liked the stuff."

Ms Mer had made a barley mushroom soup, some coleslaw, pickled beetroot and plateful of crumbed herring morsels and she placed it all on the table along with bread and butter. Faded brown flowers spread over the table cloth. She sat down opposite me, the teabag still dangling from her cup, and fixed me with her blue eyes. She'd taken off her beannie and her white hair framed her like a pixie cap. "I hope you like the soup. You're not vegan or anything?"
"I'll eat anything. But especially herring."

"I'm not such a great cook," she shrugged and smiled.
"But this is lovely! It's a feast."
"You know, I never married. Got out of that one nicely, hey? Never a man who would cook and clean for me while I went fishing. I don't even really care about houses. Houses are just places where us guys sleep when we're not aboard a boat."

She showed me a photograph of a classic West Australian fishing boat, slung up on a lift, about to enter the water, surrounded by men in flannelette shirts. "That's my old boat. I sold her and bought the one I got now. That's just after I built her. Bond wood. Not a plank boat. Plank boats are a lot of work. When you get them out of the water every year, you gotta paint them, caulk them ..."
I started to tell her about the Pearl and then decided not to.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Lorna Fencer Napurrurla

Please, please have a look at this post by the Northern Territory's Bob Gosford on the art and life of Lorna Fencer Napurrurla.

Kangaroo Tucker. Lorna Fencer Napurrurla. 2004

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sunday Markets

"I bet you're gonna miss the markets," Old Salt said to me as we set the nets in the evening.
"Yeah, I will. But I'll miss being out in the boat more."
Old Salt and I have been fishing for the Sunday seafood markets for three years now. We start on Thursdays, baiting crab pots with trumpeters or the filleted carcasses from the previous week, setting nets for herring and bream and whiting. Saturdays I clean fish on the stainless steel table in my backyard to the strains of Johnny Cash or the Sundowners radio show (Not! According to health regulations we have to clean fish on the boat. But no soul would buy it if they saw the state of that boat, so it is a bureaucratic nod to the healthies that we theoretically fillet onboard and realistically fillet somewhere cleaner.)

Before the seafood markets we sold fish to the Perth markets for two years. But the Sunday markets are now my favourite financial staple, my one social networking event and the source of such joy juice as great musicians, clean, locally produced food and really, really good coffee. It's all in one place! Right on the sea shore, where the fishing boats are moored next to million dollar yachts. On Sundays we eat like gourmets - fresh Albany oysters (the Oyster Boys love crabs), asparagus (she loves black bream), local beef, strawberries (they love black bream too), obscenely yummy marinated fetta (he loves fishmeal for his biodynamic compost operation) and fresh pink lady apples (I think they like cash more than fish, though they do dissolve at the prospect of King George whiting).

Stormboy has learned his addition and subtraction as the cashier. I weigh and wrap up the fish and crabs. Old Salt leans against the table and, by the pure power of his charisma, attracts conversation with other old salts or lovely ladies in the queue.

We rarely have left overs. People complain because they come in an hour after we open and Old Salt and I have sold out. This happens most Sundays and I have to explain to cranky punters that we don't buy fish in from other fishers. We catch it all ourselves and we don't freeze anything either. Get in early and you'll know that your produce was still wriggling twenty four hours ago, so fresh you'd slap its face.

As you may gather, I'm quite proud of our seafood stall. It's unique in our corner of the world, where fish can end up in supermarkets a week (weeks?) after it is caught and still labelled as fresh. (Believe me, I know how that system works and it is not nice.) That's before the imported seafood comes in from from dodgey international fisheries. Our fish shop is a good argument for sustainable fishing practices as well, servicing a small market, heavily regulated by such handsome characters as our fisheries officers and concentrating on 'run' fish, rather than the sedentary fish which tend to get hammered by anyone with a boat.

I'll get on to why I am going to miss fishing so much. This post began as a story about a squabble between Old Salt and I, and morphed. Sorry about that. As the drunken gravedigger said to the coffin, "I'll fill yer in later, mate."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011