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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