Location: Manning Valley/Great Lakes
Date: May 2008

May 29, 2008. Up at Sparrow's and off to Tuncurry to spend half a day on board Phil Roach's 30 foot fishing boat Wally III. Calm seas, slight wind and clear skies were the order of the day but I still managed to puke over the side. TWICE! So much for the motion sickness pill. That was during the first hour - afterwards I was fine... ish. Click here for the photo album or read on and click the link at the end of this article. 

Every three or four weeks, Phil checks his lobster traps of which he has about 30. The rest of the time, five or six days a week, he catches various species of fish. No, not with nets... hand-held fishing rods. That surprised me. His deckhand is Tom (a wild boy in his youth, he tells me, who apparently hasn't changed much since then). Between the two of them, using rods and reels, they can catch well over 100 kilos, sometimes within an hour or two if the beasties are running. Even the cheaper species are worth maybe $5 a kilo at the market. That's pretty good money for a few hours work. 

So, what could be a worse fate than a tsunami, or the boat sinking, or a wild storm or being eaten alive by a giant squid? Just before I left home at 4:45am I discovered that the local bridge was closed, which meant I had to take a detour that added about 15 minutes to my road trip. Phil had already started the engine when I arrived in panic. To make it worse, there were also road works in Tuncurry and a second detour! 

As I stepped onto Wally, I thought about asking directions to my cabin but... decided against being frivolous. This was to be a serious working day, not a picnic. Wally is pretty much an open boat with a one-third cabin up front. There's enough room for the skipper and little else in there: no creature comforts whatsoever. Wally is powered by a 6-cylinder Volvo marine diesel. Fishing boats are "very expensive" to run according to Phil. The tank holds 600 liters of fuel. At $1.80 a liter, go figure. 

Phil used to work in the coal mining business but quit about 7 years ago to be a commercial fisherman. When I thought about his mining background, I realized that there's a parallel between those two occupations... mining the earth and mining the sea. Another thing that surprised me about Phil is that, as rough and ready as he is (if a fisherman doesn't use at least one profanity in each sentence he could be flogged and possibly forced to walk the plank) he's highly trained. In the mining industry he specialized in explosives (for which he needed proper accreditation) and also drove those monster dump trucks. You don't get to drive a boat like his without significant training either. It's equipped with all the latest computerized navigational aids. Before mining, he worked in the boat-building industry. His father is a teacher so there ya go... brains are in the genes. 

Tom, on the other hand, spent most of his working life as a builder's laborer until about 2 years ago when he accepted Phil's offer to work as a deckie on Wally III. Tom has been a keen fisherman since he got his first rod at age 7. 

So... did I see sharks? Yes. Did I see a whale? Yes. Did I puke? Yes. Did I see dolphins? Yes. Did I get get to photograph any of those things? No... except the sharks because they were brought on board Wally via a lobster trap. They were wobbygongs, little guys but with an aggressive bite... and if they sink their backward-pointing teeth into your flesh, they hang on for dear life, and you have a devil of a job to free yourself. 

Unfortunately, I didn't have the camera prepared when the whale breached. Yep, breached - it was just like on TV... the thing leaped out of the water and did the whole twist and splash thing. "Did you get a photo?" "No." "It'll probably do it again." The pic used on this page is from the internet but it's pretty close to what I saw with my own eyes. Phil stopped the boat to allow me to photograph the giant humpback. "It'll probably surface over there." "Where?" "There." But all I could see was miles of ocean. However, there is one pic that shows just the tip of the humpback. *Sigh* Then the dolphins arrived; maybe half a dozen or so. Wheeeeeeeeee! But they too did their peekaboo tricks before I could get my camera focused. A marvelous sight, but do you think I could get them framed and focused in time to capture their playful antics? For me, personally, the whale sighting and the dolphins was a visual treat not to be missed - the first of its kind in my own experience. I just wish I could have shared it with you. If you look VERY closely you will see the dorsal fin and arched back of one dolphin. Sheesh. Tom told me about a mate of his who spent two days before he managed to capture an image of a breaching whale. 

However, I heard stories from Phil and Tom about giant whales coming right up to the boat for a stickybeak. "They're just as curious as we are, and it's amazing to see this massive barnacle-encrusted head rise from the depths, just a few yards away, and check you out with its monster eye." 

At that point, I figured the day's photographic opportunities would be pretty lean but, no, things began to happen. The first several lobster traps delivered very little. Then the guys raised one with 6 or 7 of the wriggling beasts. The larger ones - the breeders - were returned to the sea. Keeping them is illegal. Other traps yielded more lobsters, plus several  fish and 3 wobbygongs. The wobbies were tossed overboard but not before I managed to get a few pics. That's the closest I've ever been to a shark, folks... and I still have all my fingers. 

Not all lobsters were alive in the traps. Some had been eaten by fish that had also been lured into the same trap. One was a leatherjacket. I would have thought the lobster was the better equipped to win such a life and death struggle but it appears that the crustations scary alien looks are deceiving. They're wusses... however, the spikes can inflict a nasty wound if you're not careful. Phil makes his own traps, by the way. He's a very enterprising bloke... a self-made man. He must be a good bloke because he drove a Holden just like mine for many years... same color too. 

According to Phil, the day's catch was okay but not as good as it could have been. Commercial fishing has a helluva lot of overheads to take care of before any profit becomes available. The catch for this particular day yielded maybe 5 or 6 hundred dollars... thanks to 13 lobsters and a number of fish. 

When we arrived back at Tuncurry, and the fisherman's cooperative, Phil took me on a tour inside the place. The co-op is owned by all the local fishermen such as Phil as shareholders. They appoint a board of directors to run the business on their behalf. The co-op takes care of processing and shipping the pooled catches to Sydney and Melbourne fish markets, and also runs the local retail outlet and attached restaurant. I saw a bloke emerge from the restaurant carrying two plates of fish 'n chips to one of the outdoor tables. There was enough food on the plates to feed me for a week! And it looked awesome! 

Yes, an interesting day for a landlubber. I'm not much of a boat person and I'd say I have the worst sea legs in Australia. I was pretty beat when I got home from doing constant Michael Jackson gyrations on the deck just to stay somewhat vertical. But I'm glad I did it, and I'm thankful for Phil's and Tom's hospitality. They gave me a fascinating insight into the life of a commercial fisherman. It's the real world out there - a total contrast to mine as a writer and dreamer. It's a world that's constantly on the move 24/7; totally dependent upon ever-changing weather, seasons and tides; nothing stops to rest. I'm hoarse from 6 hours of shouting above the drone of the diesel engine. 

Oh, and another thing that struck me. All the local guys demonstrate great camaraderie. They're on the two-way marine radio every five or ten minutes, chatting away about all sorts of things. As Phil explained, they're all in the same game and are often out at sea in bad weather. They rely on each other for help and support, not only at sea but also in dry dock when repairs need to be made to their boats. They're a tightly-knit group and it shows. Click here for the photo album

May 18, 2008. Walkies today, just down the road to the river and Queen Elizabeth Park where the Taree Historic Motor Club hosted a show of old jalopies. No Standard Vanguards though... I think the local rag stuffed up again. The Vanguards went to Wingham. Nonetheless, the show here at Taree was pretty impressive and I managed to press the shutter button 152 times. Click here for the photo album or read on and click the link at the end of this article. 

On the way to the park, I paused to take a few pics of the local war memorial and the "lone pine" tree which was planted in 1965 from a seed taken from the original lone pine at Gallipoli in Turkey. Further up the river, I saw the rows of parked vintage and veteran cars, which kept arriving until about 11am. I arrived a little after 9:30am. 

I got excited and panicked a little. DON'T GO ANYWHERE UNTIL I FINISH TAKING PHOTOS! I reached a stage where I took so many pics I couldn't remember what I'd photographed and what I hadn't. After the Austin A30 and the late '50s Holden, I spotted a late '40s Vauxhall convertible. My eldest brother had one of those in his crazy youth. It was a bomb and an oil-burner. He met the previous owner one day who said, "Jeez, I thought that thing was worn out! I never expected to see it again!" Either did I, and was chuffed to see the old Vauxhall today still mobile. 

A little further along was a green mid-fifties Vauxhall 6. Lovely car made by GM in Britain, and considered to be a tad classier than its Aussie competitor, the Holden, also made by GM. Next to that was a black Wolseley 6/80, big sister of my first car, a Morris Oxford. Scotland Yard used to whiz around in those Wolseleys in order to "always get their man" during the early '50s. The Morris and the Wolseley shared pretty much the same body except the Wolseley had a longer bonnet/hood and was fitted with a six in-line. The Morris was a 4 cylinder side valve with about as much horse power as a lame shetland. 

Other cars on show included an MGA and a couple of MGBs. I prefer the A with its longer flowing lines, rather like the Austin Healey of the same period. The thing you notice about the old American pre-war 'Yank Tanks' is just how damn BIG they are! They were the days when you could sit in the back seat and take the dog for a walk without leaving the car. I find it curious that the rear doors are actually forward of the rear seat, with buckets of leg room compared to modern cars. And the seats were like big ol' comfy sofas. And notice the moulded timber surrounds on the windows? Those lovely old machines were like mobile living rooms. 

The second oldest car there was a little Austin boat-tail roadster. How quaint! The oldest was a mid-late-20s monster Buick with artillery wheels. I overhead the owner say that he found it in a farm shed in Western Australia in which state it had spent all its life. There were also two younger sisters of TT, the metallic blue one earlier and the metallic bronze one next to the Buick. They were the last of TT's shape (more or less) and, as far as I'm concerned, the last of the REAL Holdens. I know I'm biased, but I reckon those Holdens from the '70s are still a bloody good look. 

Oh, yes, and the old Benz. I had one like that back in the '70s but with the short snout, round headlights and a 2-liter four. She got along pretty well though... I had that vertical ribbon speedometer up to 105mph once. And only once! Frightened the bloody daylights out of me. 

And the silver/blue sports car? That's an English Singer. Don't ask me what every make and model is... just enjoy the pics. Every now and then, as I framed a car in readiness to take a pic, I overheard the old blokes nearby reminisicing about the 'good old days' when they owned this or that, and how much horsepower it had and what kinda oil they used and and and (but they didn't say anything about whose virginity they stole in the back seat hehe). For me, cars are fascinating because they're a living part of history. I love the shapes and the styles that represent various eras, many of which bring back personal memories. It's a pity I missed the old Vanguards - my dad had a '48 model - but I'm sure there will be another opportunity some time. 

Once upon a time, the British auto industry was the envy of Europe; British cars were exported all over the world. But the British auto workers and the unions got greedy. They wanted more money, less hours and whatever else. Oops! The British auto industry went down the tube. Bye bye. And you know something? It's still happening. Click here for the photo album

May 10, 2008. Another trip to Wingham, just 15 minutes west of Taree. Wingham began as the major (government sponsored) settlement here in the Manning Valley back in the 19th century and Taree was just a nearby village. But over the years, Taree became the commercial hub. Its population is now about 20,000 compared to Wingham's 4000. Wingham is much more of a country town than Taree as evidenced by Beef Week... lots of mooies in the town's central park, being judged by a bloke with a big moustache, boots and a cowboy hat. Click here for the photo album or read on and click the link at the end of this article. 

I soon discovered the difference between a country boy and a city boy, me being the latter. I'd forgotten what comes out of a bovine's bum... until... yeah, I stepped in a fresh one. Ew! From that point on, I didn't take a single step until I surveyed the immediate vicinity with great care. 

Wingham is home to the local abattoir which is now owned by a Japanese company. It's all very civilized these days. The cattle are led one by one to an area fitted with an electrified floor that sends them to Cow Heaven in an instant. There's no shortage of cattle around these parts... I see the big double-decker trucks carrying maybe 50 animals at a time. They drive right past my house. And, yes, sometimes - depending on wind direction - the smell of urine is overpowering. 

But today's show was all about judging cattle for breeding purposes and (I guess) dairy as well as beef production. Other attractions at the park were the obligatory sideshows and market stalls. One bull, a frisky young Brama, gave its handler a pretty hard time. At one stage it scattered a group of onlookers hehe. But the handler finally regained control, so he knew what he was doing. 

Lots of care is taken by owners to groom their animals to their pristine best. I spotted one young lady with a vacuum cleaner stuck up her bull's posterior. I was momentarily tempted to take a photo but decided... well, that it might not be discreet. 

Cattle aren't my thing but I do like their faces (as opposed to faeces). Those big moo-cow brown eyes and long lashes are cute. Click here for the photo album

May 4, 2008. Just a shortie today... along what used to be part of the Pacific Highway before the Taree by-pass and re-routing of the highway, and then along Breakneck Road to the Taree Lookout. It's just a short distance from here in Taree, via the Martin Bridge and south to Purfleet where you follow the road that was once part of the Pacific Hwy. It was an almost eerie experience traveling a road that once carried thousands of vehicles each day, and that is now virtually abandoned. In fact, at the Breakneck Road turn off, it is. The old highway stops abruptly. All that's left is a gap between the forest trees where the road once existed, and which I traveled many times years ago. Click here for the photo album or read on and click the link at the end of this article. 

I stopped at the intersection to photograph a pile of dumped rubbish; a regrettable feature of abandoned sites. Many of the pics on this album were taken into the early morning sun - not the best of lighting conditions but what the hell. I've posted all of them anyway. 

Breakneck Road was obviously graded recently, after heavy rain the past several weeks. The dirt/gravel road must have been a mess - probably impassable in sections. So it was my lucky day. I saw three kangaroos as well; two did the usual bounce without warning out of the scrub and across the road trick. Fortunately, I was driving slowly. But at one point I stopped to take a pic of road signs and noticed a roo behind me. You can just see him in 008. Then I zoomed in in 009. Not great shots but roos don't hang around for long, especially wild ones. 

The climb to the lookout is not all that steep so I was grateful to be able to drive there instead of WALK! I'm too old for all that sweaty business. Upon reaching the summit, I saw the usual communications tower, viewing tower and picnic tables... and the obligatory litter that some people seem to enjoy scattering. Pigs. 

The second thing I noticed was the position of the sun. WRONG! I was shooting right into it as I took pics of Taree, which looked like a little village compared to the massive panorama that stretches from the foothills to the west of the town all the way to the east coast and the ocean. I noticed a small clearing to the east which I thought might be Old Bar. If it is, it's just a tiny stamp on a humungous envelope. 

Two pics which appear to be the same are 020 and 021. I saw an eagle riding the thermal, then joined by a second. Must've been a pair. Anyway, they were miles away and appear as small dots in the pics. Hardly worth posting but... 

BTW, those sky lights in some of the pics are not UFOs... they're sun spots on the lens. *ahem*  The only available shade apart from my hand, which didn't work very well, was that provided by the viewing tower roof. So I climbed the ladder to the top and then... "oops, I don't feel confident about this". So I climbed back down. No doubt anyone who doesn't suffer vertigo would wonder what the biggie was. Hey, don't ask me... as I kid I climbed everything that was climbable, including the backyard tree which was much taller than that tower. Old age, I guess... wuss disease. 

Just so you know what I look like, I took a pic of my shadow. It appears in the image that I'm horrified by a discarded beer bottle but the pose is actually me holding the camera with my left hand and using my right to operate the shutter button. Just after I took that pic, four young blokes arrived in a flat-top ute, probably from Purfleet. After the usual g'days and 'nice day' stuff, they toddled off into the bush. One carried a cup. Wot dat for? I asked myself. Then I noticed a length of garden hose tossed on the back of the ute. It wasn't long enough to be useful as a regular hose so... hmmm. I know that short lengths of plastic garden hose are cut to make bongs. Bongs? Or perhaps the hose was used to drain the fuel tanks of other cars. Petrol is cheaper that way. "Now why did those four young blokes head for the bushes?" I asked myself. So guess what I did? Fled, hehe. I figured it was time to vamoose rather than face four giggling lame-brains emerging from the bushes and wanting to make trouble. Discretion is the better part of valor. Click here for the photo album


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