A letter from Jack Bates on fishing with the Burnham boys


Tues 9th Sept 1997.

Stephen brought Myrtle here and took me to see the boat in the fisherman’s shop and yard at Port Melbourne. It had been stripped right down and started painting in ‘Burnham’s blue’.

The son Dugga said he had seen me on the video (didn’t mention shark had no body). The father says he remembers going for netted fish which had been let out of the pen, also the tractor killing young George.

I only remember going with car and trailer with truck load of couta and not doing the right turn from the side road, just after the fish market started along Footscray Rd.

The first time I was outside was on the 27 foot boat with Wal and Stan longlining outside for red spot flathead. We had gone by Corsair Rock going out. Coming back I was on tiller under sail and said to the boys I wasn’t enjoying this as 8ft of nose was out of water, 10ft on water, and stern 8ft out of water, with about 6ft of air space. They said not to worry as Sammy Warren had lost his dog overboard and it had swam home. I said I had two little kids home.

That night the Queenscliff fishermen rang and told them they were on the wrong lighthouse. We should have been between the reef and shore. The Rip has a wave that breaks backward on rip tide. Coming back in we had to go past pier before making Sorrento side, as the tide was faster than boat.

One trip with 27ft and 24ft together, this one (24ft) got a couta on fan and engine ran hot, and 27ft wasn’t strong enough to tow, but Stan got it going, just below Quarantine pier.

It was a great sight to see, and be with 20 couta boats, outside (50rb?) circles to Flinders or lined up astern, sometimes touching, in Rip for schnapper. Steamer in or out, all had to up anchor to clear channel for it.

After Yarra flood, the coloured water stretched from Heads to Flinders.

Stephen, Vin can give you names and dates of engines and boats. Colin and others started with speed boats but couldn’t bait longline travelling. Time of fish shop and cooler? Time of Safeways?

Boats, houses.

I think it was Sept 1935-6 when I first went to Rosebud and built a house for my wife and one for Harry’s wife (Harry Parsons). They were on abutting blocks, 5th Avenue. Cost £1 per ft land.

Wal helped building and cutting bracken fern 30″ high and close enough to stop you walking through. 1st completed one in 3 weeks and got roared up by building surveyor because he didn’t see frame. No water main. Bore and pump 30ft down.

Wal took me out for 1st schnapper, 34lb off jetty at dusk. Wal had his boat engine started by blowtorch, but seldom used. Sail off pier. Vin’s was Huon Pine built Lacco. Stan was using the clinker double ender life boat off steamer, 20ft, deeper than Vin’s, was fitted at Harry’s yard with engine. Wal & Stan stayed with us while doing it.

The little boat, 17’6″ was Vin’s original & used a lot by Harry & Jack. 27 footer came from Westernport. The boys put us on marks and watched us.

Fish & sharks.

We did not discuss number or size of fish caught (see video) as there was only about twelve professionals between Mornington and Portsea. Ice was got at Rye ice works.

The first 20ft shark, about 3ft girth, was brought in from Pinnace and swam square off our stern, as we crossed bar of channel off Rye. It was just under surface and the barrel sat on stern.

We prodded it up bank & Wal said to first lady who wanted some, “I wouldn’t eat that lady, that’s shark.” The boarding house keeper cut fillets like whiting off back & the rest towed out.

We started with 20ft chain to barrel, 4 gallon wood and 100ft sash cord. After losing a few we put another buoy on extra line. We found the big ones would roll around the chain, then straighten their bodies. Finished with fencing wire in 9″ loops. Could get five or six 10ft per season and they would run or stay under the boat, not going up or down. Finished sending boxes of liver only, (all colours) to market and Nicholas analysed them before paying. Later new Australians bought it as well as stinga flaps.

Truck load crays Flinders. Biggest 14lb for New Year at 1s6d, when 2s. Wal said it was too dear and won’t sell.

I remember Charley, boys’ father, telling us to lay down in boat when a shark’s eye looked like a wild bull. Many a time they did that. But we were young then. They could glide out of the water and take a gurnard we had thrown over, without making a ripple. One towed us up channel off Blairgowrie as a steamer came up. We signalled the pilot by standing on the nose and pointing down. He missed us, and crew had a look.

The biggest stinga we had was caught by the Corner. I had two with me (one a prominent barrister). It was 6ft across, and they asked if it was dangerous. Replying “yes” they both got up the mast. It was too big to handle and was cut off. Moving a quarter mile up, got a 9ft shark and they flew up the mast again, and Stan came over in his boat and shot it with his rifle.

We found a shark towed, or was pulled, head first best. Vin beats this but can’t prove. A 26ft shark took six 12lb schnapper off last hooks and rattled line marker flag like football.

Stephen, I rang Vin Mon 29 Sept 97. I’ve got some boats out of order and can’t read my writing with names of people and type of engines. The 27ft was first time I went outside. I had four family relations down yesterday, one I hadn’t seen for 30-40 years. I’m the last of the Oldies. I reckon I feel it. Your Burnham family brings back a lot of memories of the Old Times. Did you or Vin forget the double ender life boat? Wal and your Dad stayed with us as they altered it at Harry Parson’s yard. It would be just after the war & Vin mightn’t have been back.