If talking about the weather is Britain’s obsession, then I’d argue that Australia’s national hobby is yabbying. A crustacean El Dorado, trifling physical labour, kids, and refreshments. Generally yielding inedible miscellany. I love it.
After five long years we’re back in Kimba, and Friday lunchtime the ute of my old mate Bazz clunks towards a dam on the Ballumbah Hill Road.
An exploratory net is thrown in, my boys leap about, and between sips of beer, Bazz and I slap at the late April flies. Out here flies never holiday, never bugger off up north for winter. I remember wearily waving them away at nearby Buckleboo during footy season as I rested in the forward pocket, while some spectators insulated themselves with stout.
Dragging the net onto the bank Alex and Max skip and shriek.
Bazz declares, “No yabbies, sorry boys.”
Pointing at the wriggling aquaculture Alex says, “Are these tadpoles?”
“Yep. Big ones. They’ll soon be frogs.”
Max asks, “What’s that funny one?”
I instantly see my teenaged-self staring at whole-page advertisements within the horror comics I enjoyed briefly. I blurt, “Sea monkey. It looks like a sea monkey.” With exotic smiles and bewitching humanoid figures, sea monkeys belonged in Lost in Space, inspiring Dr Smith to more mission-threatening selfishness.
Sea monkeys taught me a lesson about the cruel gap between advertising promise, and consumer reality.
Thirty yabby-free minutes later, rattling to the Kimba Golf Club, the boys are singing the song they’re inventing, bemused by their own pulsing imaginations,
“Sea monkey, sea monkey, sea monkey….”
In opening the breezy afternoon Adelaide’s Tom Lynch forgets physics, which demands a drop punt, and instead sends a tragi-comedic dribbler across the face. It’s inexplicably ridiculous.
Fremantle commences its Behind-Fest as Mayne pushes it right. Then Mundy to the left. I’m sure Ross Lyon could watch a grim, sleet-soaked, third division Yorkshire derby that ended 0-0, and he’d say, “It were rubbish. Constant attack are useless. Too many goals.”
After nine and a half horrid minutes Jenkins gets Adelaide off the duck.
If we still had a VCR (Betamax) it would’ve been wasteful spending eight cents on electricity recording this quarter.
The tide’s turning at Coffin Bay. It’s just outside Port Lincoln, which produced Graham Johncock, Byron Pickett and brothers Peter and Shaun Burgoyne. All came from the Mallee Park Football Club.
We’re in the shallows of Long Beach. The boys, running and splashing, running and splashing. Their Mum then urges them to slow down, look and spot the details. Now they see them. Gazing down microscopically, their world inflates like a gaseous giant.
Sand crabs. Pale. Scuttling. Burrowing. Alex scoops some up. They escape, and tumble into the Southern Ocean. Like all younger brothers Max wants to follow, but is anxious as he’s not held a crab before. He jiggles and hesitates.
And then on his palm is a little crab. With curiosity and a pocketful of courage, a crustacean dances across his hand!
This is why we’ve driven seven hundred kilometres to a gentle, enlightening beach.
Second term opens with more of the same. To watch a match involving the Dockers is to observe two sloths; one willing and one captive, wrestling under a sodden army blanket.
Recent re-includee Cameron shows poise, and should still be at the club in a decade. Tom Lynch enjoys absolution by collecting plainly, pirouetting twice and snapping precisely. A Renoir in an abattoir.
Behind play Spurr flattens Betts and donates the Crows another. Meanwhile, The Dockers inch up to ten behinds.
Matthew Pavlich gets another minor score after the siren. He’s presented well today during a season in which many saw Pav not as Australia’s (New Zealand’s) favourite dessert, but month-old cheesecake.
So, our boys haven’t ever swung at a gold ball, but they’ve now driven a golf cart. Is this wrong? Ahead of tomorrow’s round Bazz wants a hit on Royal Kimba’s back nine.
I’m cart captain, but in turn and on my lap, Alex and Max steer and stomp the pedals. On the 12th Max accelerates up the fairway, but detours through a bush by the ladies’ tee. Crackling twigs and leaves shower us.
We’re only in Kimba three days, but the accomplishments accumulate like boy scout badges. They help in the garden, and Bazz takes them out on an electrical job, and a couple hours later they burst through the screen door. As apprentice sparkies, Alex has fifteen dollars, and Max juggles some toy trucks, bought with his earnings.
On the 16th Bazz pulls another drive left. “What’s going on?” I ask as the cart bounces along the rough. Not for the first time in the decades I’ve known him he self-analyses, “Bad golf made easy.”
We’re halfway across Australia, on a near-desert plateau, but this trip is a sea-change.
To commence the second half Betts is slung when not in possession, and then at the opposite end Ballantyne misses. His team-mates are secretly pleased.
Successively, Eddie provides a signature pocket-snap, and Brodie Smith delights with an equally emblematic missile from beyond fifty.
Halfway through the quarter Fremantle have kicked fourteen behinds, and only two majors. Goal scoring is as natural to the Dockers as it is to garfish (grilled).
Obviously using the Chicken Salt (yes, it’s now a proper noun) hoarding as a target, Tom Lynch guides through his second.
The Crows are in control. Rory Sloane continues to play footy the way Ringo drummed for The Beatles: possibly without constant finesse, but with a charismatic enthusiasm that kept things moving along.
In the final stanza the home side accelerates away early as if wishing to escape this dire opponent and direr affair. Adelaide produces some sunny moments, but it’s an oddly cheerless conclusion, and there’s a mechanical, Samuel Beckett-like inevitability. The last three goals go pointlessly to the Dockers, but few will mourn the passing of their season, and their turgid game plan.
I look forward to seeing the Crows and Dogs at the Docklands next week. Can you get Chicken Salt there?
If you’re six you run from the holiday cottage to the Coffin Bay jetty in three languid seconds. Max does this each morning.
Late Anzac Day, we’re on the jetty. It attaches us to the glimmering water, welcoming contemplation and quiet gratitude.
Along the jetty there’s ladders, and Alex hovers above one. He wants to drive into the water. The deeper water. Most of his swimming has been in a Singaporean pool.
I can see the bottom, but it’s a scary step from the lower rung. A pause, then with a triumphant splash, he chests the water, dog-paddles about in innocent, furious circles, and scrambles up into the golden light.
At sunset of our final day on the West Coast I think of my old friend John Malone, and his poem, “Jetties” in which he notes that,
from jetties, dream from jetties
tranquillity. They are
walkways into and out of
the mind. Umbilical
chords attaching us to the sea.