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The Big Catch

A silent, still night on Darwin Jetty … fishing … it wasn’t my idea of an eventful evening, but Bernie wanted to fish … and after “fishing” him out of the local lock-up the last night, I presume the last thing he wanted was another “eventful evening”. I won’t go into the details of Bernie’s jailing, many and varied are the layman’s path to chokey, injured pride being the usual penance for the journey … I will just say that even in those more tolerant times of yore, if you’re going to get plastered and still drive, make sure the other car you run off the road is not the local copper! … But tonight it is better to go fishing!

Trouble is, Bernie had that unfailing knack of attracting attention. Perhaps it was the too loud voice that carried, the unfortunate practice of an uncivil comment when commentee was not out of earshot, bringing a wincing to the eye and a moving away of the vulnerable body before – the – fight – starts.

And there we were … on Darwin Jetty, fishing.

Someone once said (perhaps it was me) that fishing is akin to a sadomasochist waiting for the thrill of the dentist’s drill to commence! Translate that as you will. But there we were, the night was still, the water calm and every man-jack of fisherman tense for the first catch AND jealous as only fishermen can be, waiting for the BIG-BITE … that BIG BARRAMUNDI!

I was admiring the argent reflections of the harbour lights on the waters, taking no part in the fetish of fishing, leaving Bernie to bait-up and check the hand lines at decent intervals (laid down in the hand-book of code of ethics for fishermen … it is a thin book!) … I was dreaming, I had just sighed, when that annoying, too loud whisper that was Bernie’s trademark …

“Hey, Jay! … this line’s got something on it.” My interest was aroused … as were others nearby … I know … I saw the sudden jerky twitch as the antennas were shifted “into the wind”.

“It’s gotta be something big … feel that!” … Bernie quickly let me feel the line … and just as quickly took it back and started to haul-in.

This is the highlight of action for the spectator fisherman, that proof-of-the-pudding time and much speculation and exaggeration is spent on the deed! Bernie excelled at both!

“Could be a bloody big Barra!”

He mused out loud to the gathering audience. Who, strangely enough, seemed to shove their hands deep into their pockets at this juncture, such are the habits of fishing envy that you can tell the degree suffered by the depths of fist in the pocket … the hunching-up of the shoulders and uncontrollable rocking back and forth on the heels. None but the most hardened fisherman can show such cruel cynicism for other’s catches. Tell the yarn of your biggest triumph and with certainty, another will, with snarling lips dismiss it with a greater triumph on a lesser strength line than your own .. that is how “fishermen’s tales” were perfected.

“Yep!” … called Bernie over his shoulder … ”Big Barra’ … maybe shark!” And he strained on the line to show the weight on the business end.

By now, all those who had been on the jetty (about twenty persons) were ranged along the edge of the planking gazing down to the silvered line as it dipped and strained out of the sea. Now and then one or another would remove a hand from his pocket and “feel” the line, then add his “expert” speculation to the pool of information as to the breed of monster at the other end. Of course, as any seasoned Darwin fisherperson will know, the tide in the harbour goes in and out like a fast flowing river … adding tension to the line … Bernie pulled hand over hand, slowly, methodically … the line “sang” and the spectators leaned over the edge.

” Whatever it is,” Bernie gleefully in formed us, “ … it’s bloody BIG!” … fists plunge further into pockets .. ” Gotta be the catch of the night!” he added mischievously …

Oh the bitter bile of jealousy bites deep in fishermen! … and he hauled in hand over hand … till a wake could be seen to break the surface …

“There she is!” someone shouted and Bernie gave a sudden, nervous tug on the line that made the thing “jump” with the jerk!

“What is it?”

“Can you see it?”

“Get it up, man … get it up! … you’ll lose it!”

Bernie, addled by a feeling of simultaneous heroism and panic, quickly heaved the thing out of the water toward the jetty … there, in the sallow wash of the one single jetty lamp-light, the realisation of the “Big Barra” came to light.

It was nothing but a pair of greasy, clogged, heavy with mud workman’s overalls. They remained suspended there halfway between the jetty and the water, like a leper kept at arms length … a deep silence prevailed … so silent one could possibly hear the chirping of crickets way over the other side of the bay at Mandorah …

Everyone was peering over at the catch, seemingly mesmerised, the whole lot of them dumbfounded … then … as if on cue to the stage directions of an invisible director …

Bernie looked to me, looked pleadingly to the others … who in turn, all together, turned their scornful, disgusted gaze on Bernie, who dropped the line and could only mutter … ” I .. I “ … and they turned away as one and silently walked away, forever unforgiving that such a hoax could be played on their good persons … fists came swiftly our of pockets and much low muttering could be heard up and down the jetty.

Bernie and I quickly and humbly gathered out tackle together and stole away into the gloom, to slake our humiliation with a “cuppla beers” at The Darwin Hotel.

Bernie wiped the modicum of beery foam from his upper lip … “The blokes in the cells had more understanding,” he muttered sadly.

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  1. Uta Hannemann

    This was a Big Catch alright. Great story! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  2. Joseph Carli

    Hello Uta…yeah, well it doesn’t hurt to keep up a supply of distracting yarns and tales…after all, the situation “out there” is pretty chaotic and dire….a little cheering up goes a long way…Trust you and Peter are well?….

  3. Kaye Lee


    I realise that most of your stories aren’t true and that they are meant for entertainment but, if this one IS true, then you are not understanding the crisis we are facing. You can’t collect together with tens of people wanting to “feel the line” and watch the non-catch. Going to the pub to drown your disappointment is unbelievable. If the pub is still serving drinks other than take-away then they will face huge fines and possible imprisonment.

    Please don’t be so irresponsible. My son, who is the most ardent fisherman known to mankind, understands that right now, his entertainment is not the most important thing.

  4. Joseph Carli

    You still here, K ..?…..Crikey…haven’t you got a home to go to? …..just joking!…you’re doing a super job worrying and warning for all of us….tell you what..YOU supply the medicine, I’ll supply the entertainment…ok?…let’s work together on this thing…with all of us pulling together, we can win!

  5. Kaye Lee


    My daughter is the director of a long day care centre. They banned parents and grandparents from coming in so she has to greet each of them downstairs and carry their babies or hold the hand of their toddlers as she takes them upstairs. Today, one of her charges had to undergo testing for CV. One of the fathers who came to pick up a child when he is supposed to be in isolation told her he was told it was ok.

    My husband is on the frontline at the pharmacy dealing with the desperate people who can’t get in to see their doctor or can’t get to the hospital. We have NO protective equipment.

    Every time you hear about what is open and what is closed, you will always hear that pharmacies are open and childcare centres are open. Do you understand that it is my family that is putting their lives at risk to make sure they are seeing to the community’s needs? And that neither of those businesses are getting any consideration or help?

    By all means, continue entertaining people with your fictional anecdotes. But understand there are people, including my family, who are continuing to work, putting their lives at risk, to keep society going.

  6. wam

    Another true wharf story, joseph.:
    The last day of term two 1969 I went down to the stokes hill wharf an hour before the 6 o’clock high tide . Got a couple of squid in the drop basket and landed a skinny. I cut off a fillet, gave the rest to an old bloke, and went home to get ready for school.
    That night I bought a darwin stubbie, staggered onto the drunks flight and had the fish and beer for breakfast with my dad.
    A classic darwin breakfast and thoroughly enjoyed by the old fellow.

  7. Kaye Lee

    Fantastic anecdote wam. 1969 was a great year.

    Relevance to our current situation? Zero!

  8. Joseph Carli

    Wam…you sound like a true Darwin lad!

    Kaye………….I had intended to not post anything more on the site, discouraged as I was by so much animosity directed against myself….But after some time cogitating over the situation, I went back to some of those posts that drew so much ire and viciousness and read through the comments to try to find rhyme or reason for such a cabal of hatred.

    What I did find among the scree of verbal noise was that there were some who thanked me and kindly welcomed my stories and tales…not many it is true, but as I posed in that recent story of the young couple, the lady with the thalidomide arm…even if it is only the 1% that read and like the stories, then that small percentage is powerful enough to move Heaven and Earth to a better place in the heart of humanity…so it is to that 1% that I come back to lay my humble wares down for their consideration.

    Perhaps I am deluding myself…I am not vain enough to count my scribblings among the greats of the writing fraternity…perhaps I am as the aged mummer..the old boater-hatted and caned song-and-dance man with an act too long in the playing upon a stage that like vaudeville, is deserted save for the last few aficionados that give applause to a hollowed house, their clapping echoing against the now laboured breath of the pancaked, sad-faced clown at both the end of his act, his career and an era…yet still undefeated..

    But may I just add a small observation that I am currently interested in…

    Snugged into the base of Peter’s Hill just to the East of Eudunda SA., a stop-over shelter for those who brave walking the Heysen Trail, is the partially restored cottage of the Marschall Family, a Wendish family that joined many other like folk in the new German settlement of “Peter’s Hill” (now abandoned) in the early years of the settlement of the State…

    If you stand in the door of the cottage and look out, you will see a vista of rolling dales and hills away to a far horizon…You will also see two cemeteries…the furtherest one being a smaller family cemetery of the Huppartz Family, about a kilometre to the west…the other closer one is just down the slope a ways and is the Pioneer Cemetery with by far the most people buried there…In that pioneer cemetery, there are sixty eight people buried..of which forty two are children. There are only one or two headstones, the rest are simple slate slabs oblong in shape with about a foot or so sticking out of the ground with a number carved into it…you have to go to a framed list by the entrance of the cemetery to see who is buried under which number…I claim no kudos for the action or research in bringing this sad period of history to your attention…let the actual numbers speak for themselves..but many have trod this road of plague and pestilence before..the loss is the same, the finality and heartache is the same, the only difference is the era…time has wiped away the tears while the birth of a next generation gave hope for the future. I leave you to plead your own case of concern and unselfish action toward the suffering..and if I choose to try and shine a little light of humour or entertainment on the tangled vicissitudes of everyday people then all I ask is for a little space, a little make-up and some footlights to perform in front of…..

    Let the play begin!

  9. Joseph Carli

    The Little things…

    Bodkins and bobbins and little things you need,
    Hatpins and napkin rings or whatever you please.
    Boxed and tied with ribbons and bows,
    Tho’ why for these days, God only knows.
    For that world has passed for need to sew,
    Socks and pinafores, aprons..ricrac in rows.
    “Where the remote!?” is now the cry..
    “Where the laptop?…Where the phone named “ i ”?
    The day is gone where a passage of quiet,
    Would presage not unease, but a healthy diet
    Of patience…music or meditation on life,
    And wine, friend or lover in company with thy,
    Neither gone nor forgotten from the sight of eye,
    Ever our company..ever our thoughts occupy.

  10. Barry Thompson.

    I did not notice any timeline on this story that indicated it occurred during the present corona virus.
    Also, it may be but a figment of Joseph’s imagination.
    Give the bloke a fair go.

  11. Kaye Lee


    I agree. Yesterday was a bad day for me. I am very worried about my family and there were also significant work pressures. No excuse for being churlish. I apologise Joseph. You do tell a good tale.

  12. Barry Thompson.

    Kaye Lee,
    I could tell you were under a lot of pressure by what you wrote. I and my wife are in our 70’s and have been venturing out only for medical appointments, scripts and groceries. We both appreciate the risks frontline health workers are taking when they would probably rather be in the safety of their own homes.
    May you and yours stay safe.

  13. Joseph Carli

    I understand completely, Kaye…yes, in these times of strife and uncertainty, let the best in our natures come to the fore, I say…please try to not let the pressures of a dire situation bear too heavily upon your shoulders…we need the sharpest minds and the deepest sensitivities to rise to the occasion.

    Barry, that little incident happened back in the seventies…now, they’d lock him up and throw away the key!

  14. Kaye Lee

    Thanks Joe. Stay safe.

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