It was a tranquil summer day on the water. The time of day when the afternoon nor’easter had not yet worked up the energy to encroach on the late morning’s zephyrs. The sun angled through light cloudcover , creating sparkling reflections off the water; the harbour’s ripples slapping lightly against the side of the boat. Another day on the water.
Fishing off Stockton with Dad seemed to be one of those constants in life that were always there in my mind. We had been fishing together in the same spot since Mum had first deemed it safe enough for me to go out in the boat. First, I had to pass my bronze medallion, and be able to fit into one of the old yellow life jackets that lived permanently in the bottom of the old tinnie along with the torch that no longer worked and a mess of tangled fishing line.
“Clean the boat out before you go,” Mum would yell in a half-resigned tone of voice when she saw the cover removed and the boat hitched onto the car.
“All right love, it’ll just get messy again while we’re out, I’ll do it when we get back”.
The tinnie never did get cleaned. It just sat in the driveway with its tattered blue tarp draped over the top awaiting the next outing like a faithful dog.
For Dad, the outings were a chance to escape the mundanity of the working week and mowing the lawns on weekends. For Mum, who wouldn’t be seen dead in that boat, it was a time to have a break from the routine drudgery of house work, to play her favourite records in solitude on the old record player. A “bit of me time” she would call it.
The first fishing outing for me was a rite of passage; a sign of growing up. Over the years the trips became a chance for me to learn valuable life lessons through an exchange of views between two blokes. I came to understand during those conversations that although Dad was a labourer with few qualifications, he had an intelligence about him and a worldly understanding of things gained through reading and listening to his fellow immigrant workers at Big Harry’s Place, as he used to call the BHP. He had come to this country as a teenage boy without being able to speak the language of his new country, equipped only with a battered leather case of hand-me-down clothes which his uncle had given him. Dad was a proud man and a good father and worked hard to provide my education.
The fishing outings were not about the fish, which was just as well. Fish very rarely spoilt our day by being caught. If the odd suicidal bream did end up in the boat, then usually it would be thrown back anyway. There was always the opportunity to buy the catch of the day from one of Dad’s mates when we stopped in the Washtub on the way home for a cold drink. All Dad’s mates fished out near the heads where the water was cleaner. No, our outings were just about being on the water, a man content with his lot and happy to share it with his boy.
The first fishing outing for me was a rite of passage.
In those days when Dad was still at work, he was so proud of his employment and his employer. I look back on that time in disbelief at the loyalty he held. I have never experienced that loyalty to employers as my own career has progressed down the years through a series of job changes, both forced and sort.
That all changed in the mid-eighties when the first waves of retrenchment rolled through the BHP. Dad was one of the first to go. He was devastated. It was like he had been betrayed by an old friend. Mum and I tried to support him and let him know that he was so much more than a man who went to work each day and bought home a pay packet each fortnight. He was Dad, and Mum’s life partner.
Being a resilient man Dad was positive and went straight out to try and find other work. However the mid-eighties was a time of industrial and economic downturn and people didn’t have enough cash to employ a local handyman. The ignominy of lining up at the CES was about as much as Dad’s pride could take. He slowly became less willing to join conversation and no longer visited the Washtub to catch up on the latest news from his old work mates.
Mum tried to get him interested in social outings and other activities, but in the end thought she might be making things worse by nagging too much. In a change of tack, she asked him to start doing the weekly fruit and veg shopping. This got him into a routine and made him keep contact with the people who ran the corner fruit shop and newsagency.
It became his routine to buy a two-dollar lottery ticket each week on those trips to the local shops. The ticket, a symbol of hope, would reside on the fridge door under the Big Banana magnet until replaced by the next week’s offering.
Luck for Dad did change one day when he dropped into the newsagency to be greeted with the question of “Joe, is it you who has the winning ticket from last week?”. Dad of course never looked at the numbers and had no idea until he returned home.
With his winnings, Dad bought an old fruito’s truck and started a home delivery service for the local shops and became a much-loved part of older people’s lives in Stockton until he was no longer able to drive.
We kept up the fishing outings as Dad got older. We fished the same location, sometimes with or without bait. It was never about the fishing.