My parents tell me I was six years old when this event happened, which means the year would have to be 1942.
We were residing in the old mining town Gympie, Australia where my Father Eric had business interests and was beginning to take an interest in politics. The town sits astride a river in the beautiful Mary Valley. By 1942 memories of a frontier gold mining town were beginning to fade, The war in the Pacific was heating up so soldiers around town outnumbered the lame, halt and blind farmer folk and others who’d been passed over by the army draft.
For reasons I’m unclear Eric had been passed over by the board and was heavily involved in the town emergency planning organization of the day as part of his assigned duties. Tension was everywhere. You could see it in the faces of women whose husbands had been scooped up in the draft. Everyone stayed close to their radio, and snapped up newspapers as they appeared on news agency shelves. Headlines depicted the enemy as aliens with grotesque faces killing and destroying everything they came across. These terrifying news pictures are firmly imprinted in my mind today. Our enemies then are now our friends and business partners. Such is life!
In that context it’s hard for me to visualize Eric saying “Let’s go fishing.” Apparently that’s what happened though.
While I don’t remember the journey down to Tin Can Bay, the nearest fishing settlement on the coast, I do remember later journeys on country roads in the 1940’s. In those days there were few paved roads outside cities and towns. The dirt and gravel track to Tin Can Bay had a washboard surface which shook a car’s occupants for mile after mile of the bone shattering journey.
Cars approaching from the opposite direction left dust clouds in their wake which enveloped us as we passed. Windows would be quickly wound up in our 1939 Chevy as a car approached, and only opened for brief periods until the approach of another vehicle. Cars limping into town from a country road looked like moving mountains of dust in the dry, or mud banks in the wet.
I remember walking proudly onto the wharf behind my Father bucket in hand. Soldier crabs scurried over mud banks by the remnants of mangrove stands as we walked out toward the deep end of the jetty. My Mother Maude followed on watching anxiously and telling me to be careful at every step. She had her hands full with my brand new baby brother Barry, but took time to fuss at me, anxiously searching the jetty for danger as she labored on behind us.
Eventually Eric found a position that pleased him and began to unload fishing tackle seats and food hoping to keep us happy and occupied while he orchestrated the catch. I was given strict instructions to sit and watch. Once in a while I’d get up in boredom to be sent back to my seat with a sharp rebuke from ever watchful Maude.
Then it happened! With a grunt of both surprise and pleasure Eric began to reel in the first catch of the day. I could barely restrain myself in the excitement of it all. Mother’s hand held me down firmly.
The fish appeared in all its shimmering glory from just under the jetty to my left. It was dancing violently in an attempt to escape the hook, but when laid on the planks subsided into a state of lethargy gasping as it rested. I looked hopefully at my Father. “Could I touch it?” Eric surveyed the resting fish thoughtfully, and then nodded his agreement.
This was to be the most exciting moment of my life. This was the first time to touch a living creature from the sea. A living, almost breathing fish! I approached gingerly and touched it. Instantly it leaped into the air and I tumbled backward with fright. Maude screamed as I went over the side, and into the water.
I was unaware of the danger. With eyes wide open I surveyed the scene around me. I remember shoals of fish darting by, seaweed drifting aimlessly around me and an assortment of shells on the sandy bottom. I floated down, then up, then down. It was an exhilarating slow motion roller coaster experience and I recall enjoying myself immensely.
Then in what must have been one of my up cycles something grasped me and I emerged wide eyed to see Father leaning against a jetty post for support, grasping me with superhuman effort and fending my screaming Mother off with the other hand.
I was wrapped in the picnic rug to dry off and pampered for the rest of the afternoon. The continual drone of Mother’s voice reminded my Father of his grievous sin in allowing me to get off the seat. “He could have been killed, and you’d be responsible!” She intoned over and over again.
Eric retreated to his fishing spot with hunched shoulders to brood, hoping to redeem himself with a large catch before we made our way home to Gympie over those horrendous roads. The protective instinct sometimes causes a Mother to be more aggressive than usual. My Mother was a mild mannered person.
It was several years before we made our next visit to Tin Can Bay. By that time the war was over and Eric had purchased a covered river launch to take his family fishing under more secure circumstances. Our first trip out in his new launch was equally memorable. We ended up spending the night in the lighthouse at the mouth of the river. Remind me to tell you the story one day!
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