Legends from our own lunchtimes

Monday, December 01, 2008

Feeding the Fish

It's coming up to that time of year when our closest relatives used to go away on holidays.

Uncle Moss and Auntie Dawn would take their tent and most of their worldly belongings and set up camp at Tallebudgera, and for all too few weeks I'd be allowed to join them, spending every waking hour exploring the Burleigh bushland, fishing, swimming and generally staying as far away from anything that remotely resembled authority as I could.

Part of the routine for campers was the late afternoon fishing session at the mouth of the creek. People would line up shoulder to shoulder right at the bar, where the river meets the surf, for a chance at catching whatever it was that fed at dusk on an outgoing tide at the edge of the surf!

I can't remember anyone ever catching anything in that location, but it was a great way for everyone to see the last of day off.

"Feeding the fish" we used to call it, which is exactly what we call it when youngsters visit our place and spend a goodly portion of their time amusing themselves by hanging over our goldfish pond. Our pond, for those who haven't visited the home of the Biting Midge, is neither large nor small, in fact it's exactly in between.

It's deep enough to scare the daylights out of a small child if they fall in (which they regularly do), and cause terrible stress among their parents, particularly as we tend to keep a type of goldfish that comes from somewhere in the Amazon and is rather partial to young white flesh. It is shallow enough though so that they if they were clever (which they never are) they at least have a sporting chance, and could probably escape an entry without getting their shirt wet, although to date none ever has.

Of course for us getting wet was almost compulsory no matter what the activity on those camping days, and so it was almost unusual one balmy summer evening all those years ago, that as I had my fishing line dangling in the mouth of Tallebudgera Creek, along with forty or fifty others of all generations, I was standing on dry sand.

I should not proceed further without explaining that the mouth of the creek is rather rapidly flowing on an outgoing tide, and just before the bit where we all "fed the fish" there was a deep and slow moving swimming hole, which tried to empy itself each ebb.

On this particular evening a middle aged swimmer had strayed too far close to the current at its perimeter, and soon found himself tumbling and gagging, breathing foam and sand, and being swept in the direction generally described as "out to sea".

He did what most people in that situation would do.

He went into a blind and very noisy panic.

I can hear his screams of terror as I type, burned as they are in the very core of my brain, and intermingled as they were, with horrifying gurgles and splutters as he went down for the second time, knowing full well that once more and he was doomed.

The fishermen stood in silence to a man. Watching bemused as the poor fellow was swept struggling and spluttering, eyes wide with fear, past each and every one of them in turn. Heads turned to follow, mouths agape, altogetherly reminiscent of a giant laughing clowns sideshow attraction.

As the ocean loomed closer the screams became even more desperate, if that was possible.

My father, who was next but last in the line of fishermen, decided that he couldn't let the poor fellow disappear.

"Stand up" he called, from the comfort of the sand.

The drowning man screamed louder, thrashing more violently. So violently that he appeared to have grown several more limbs among the foam.

"STAND UP YOU MUG!" he shouted with a tone which was unmistakably assertive to say the least.

The thrashing stopped.

The man fell silent. He struggled to his feet in water that was barely shin deep.

He stood without moving.


In 1960, society at large was perhaps a little less caring, a little less sensitive maybe, than it is today. I watched, covered in the same blanket of silence in which he had found himself, or maybe I sniggered just a bit with the others, as he waded ashore, trying to make himself invisible.

My life had changed.

I had seen the eyes of someone who wished he had drowned.

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