Fishing the southern bay and outside in the early days


unclevin21fterAn afternoon chat with Uncle Vin

Afternoon talk, between Vin Burnham (plain type), Doris Burnham (italics) and Steve Burnham (bold).

(Note: There is a video of some fishing from the 1950s in the videos section (link on left side of this page). That’s him in the stern of his boat, with Harry Parsons, at right (photo courtesy of his son Neil Burnham).

Vin: Dad started fishing. First of all he was in the navy.

Me: Was that the Victorian navy?

charlieburnhamnavyresizedOh I don’t know. It could have been the Victorian Navy (Charlie pictured at left in his Navy uniform). He was on the Cerberus (picture below of the crew of the HMVS Cerberus, circa 1900 … Charlie is 3rd from right, back row).

Anyway, then he got out of the navy and they moved to Sorrento and opened up a fruit shop. And that’s where Uncle Wal, and Aunty Doll, Aunty Iris and (your) Dad were born, at Sorrento; I’m pretty sure that’s right. And Uncle Roy I think and I were born here. They had this fruit and vegie shop at Sorrento.

In those days of course there were a lot of people coming down from Melbourne on the Bay steamers. They had a railway across to the backbeach, and they’d get on the pier, get on this railway, chuff off to the backbeach and have a day there, come back and go.

Then, when Dad moved up to Rosebud he was at Hindhope, sort of managing it in a sense. Hindhope then used to go from the thicket, which was just a bit above Hope Street, back to First Ave and then down to the highway. That was all Hindhope. I don’t know what it was then, just a farm, they used it for grazing I suppose. The same as the thicket opposite us, but that went up to Eastbourne Road, and that went right back to First Ave. A chap by the name of Keith McGregor, he ran that, he had a few cows, and a few fruit trees, just a, you know, a small farmer. And Hindhope was much the same as that.

Anyway, they sub-divided all the frontage down at Boneo Road and along the Highway, and Dad bought one of the blocks there, and that’s where the fish shop was. We had an old wooden house there for years, and when I was about 11, Uncle Wal and Dad, like, your grandfather, hopped to and made cement bricks all the time, then eventually put that other house up that you’ll remember.

I remember Dad saying he remembered the cement bricks being made.

That’s right, yeah, Dad would have helped a bit. He was a bit older. You know I can remember it all. I was about 12 when we moved in, so (your) Dad would have been about 16, so he would have helped make them probably.

That would have been in the ’20s sometime?

fishshophouseI was born in ’17, so that would have been around ’27, ’28 (the ‘fish shop’ house at right, picture taken in the 1980s). Anyway, power then came to Rosebud about that time too. We didn’t have water, but then we got electricity, and ..

What, you didn’t have water to start with?

No. You had tanks and that, see, no power really for years. And, then when power came of course, this Billy Goodger I was talking about, a young chap, or well, he’s in his 70s now – we go fishing, I go fishing occasionally with him – it was his father who worked in the Herald office, he was the electrician at the Herald office, and he put all the electric wires in.

Into the house?

Into the house, yeah. Yes he did all that.

I remember that being on the outside of the walls, in pipes put on the wall.

Yeah. It went up the wall. See that (the house) wasn’t lined. It was only a cement rendering on the inside of the bricks. These days they usually make a brick veneer, and put wood in and so on, or put double brick. So, Dad started to fish then.

What after the house was built?

Yeah, I think after the new house was built.

And why did he start, why go into fishing?

Oh, just used to the sea I suppose, you know, after being in the navy, and used to the sea.

Doris: He was fishing Vin before he went into the new house. He used to fish before then.

Oh yeah, when we built the house he was fishing. I think after he left Hindhope he was fishing then, I think he started fishing then. He may have even fished from Hindhope, I’m not sure Steve as to that.

He only had a, about a 15, 16 foot open boat with an outboard motor on it.

An outboard?

Outboard motor, on this square sterned thing. Something like our net dinghies, something like that. And course he knew nothing about engines. That generation didn’t. You know, if it didn’t work, he’d row, he wouldn’t mess around. Instead of cleaning the plug or something he’d row in or row out as the case may be.

He didn’t have a sail?

No he didn’t. Uncle Wal put a sail in. When he left school he had this 10 foot dinghy. That’s what he fished in for quite some years, a little 10 footer. I got her after. I used her for my first two or three years of fishing, that same dinghy, and of course then as we grew older we started to get better boats, bigger boats, and of course the engines got better. We had the Rugby engines for a start, petrol engines.

There wasn’t a motor in the 10 foot dinghy?

No, no, but there was a sail. Wallace put a mast up. Drilled a hole in the front seat, and all you’d do, you’d put the mast up with a sheath in the top of it, and the halyard down, and when you wanted to put it up you’d put the mast up, pull up on this halyard and then tie with the halyard and then that would be your stay. If you wanted to tack around you had to put the stay on the other side. It sailed quite well, it was a handy little dinghy and it moved along quite well.

That was with what, a standing lug sail?

Yes, lug sail. That’s all.

Like Dad had in his boat.

Same thing, but there you had the double, you know a bit bigger sail, and you had a pulley through your mast, and a pulley round to your spar, yard, and then back up the mast again, you know, double for leverage, but the same principle though. Well then, from there, we bought – I’d started fishing then (your) Dad was fishing and Uncle Roy … no Uncle Roy wasn’t, he’d gone up to Mildura way, up Lake Cullulleraine, wood cutting.

So what ages are we looking at now then?

I’d be about 18 then. Roy was married by then, and he’d gone up there. Roy was only about 20 when he got married, very young. Mary was only about 18 or something.

Yes, it would be just before the war.

Oh yeah, a few years before the war. Because we had all our boats built before the war.

Wait a minute, he got married in … in ’39.

Oh, well he must have been away before..

Yes, well that was when Iris was married. He come down to be groomsman for their wedding, and married Mary while he was down, and took her back with him.

Anyway we bought Uncle Wal’s 16’6″ boat, that was a beamy little boat, one Mitch Lacco built, with a Brooke’s marine, the first marine engine we had. Up ’til then we had these Rugbys.

So what were the Rugbys, were they …?

Four cylinder car engine. The Rugby was a car, very smooth running, reliable engine. Petrol. You didn’t have diesel in those days. The only diesels were these great single-cylinder thump-thump engines, you couldn’t put them in a boat.

Anyway, er, we bought Uncle Wal’s, I would think around about ’34 or something like that. Sixteen foot six, with a mast and sail, centreboard and all. A very beamy little boat.

Was this bought off Laccos, or made on order?

No, Mitchy built it, we ordered the new boat off him. See they were fishing as well, Mitchy was fishing as well as boat building.

They were in Rosebud?

Yeah. They did go, they were originally in Rosebud, but he went over to Queenscliff, and he built over at Queenscliff for a number of years over there. And then Peter Locke took over the building of the boats. Peter ended up, he built our big boat.

The 27 footer?

The 27 footer, Peter Locke built her, while Mitch was back in Rosebud building over here. So that’s how that started there. And by then Ken was starting to get old enough to start building, and he then built our, er Stan’s boat, (your) Dad’s boat … you’d remember it don’t you, or do you? a 20 footer (see picture). You may not.

dadwithboat-8That was a 20 footer, a nice boat too. And then the next year we bought my boat, which is similar, another 20 footer. And both of those had … I think (your) Dad’s might have started off with a Clay, I think we did, I think we started with a Clay engine, a twin cylinder marine engine in Dad’s, and then we put a Rugby into mine. And then when we bought the big boat it had a Rugby in it. See, imagine driving the 27 footer Steve, I mean it didn’t have a lot of power in reserve, but it went alright.

So that’s how we ended up with the three boats. Well then of course, when we went away to the war we pulled all the boats up on to the foreshore and covered them up, and (their) Dad used to go down and throw water in them and, you know, try to keep them from opening up. Try to keep some water in. They stayed there on the foreshore for three or four years.

Yeah. Not painted or anything…?

No. Just in the shade. They kept alright. It didn’t affect them. Then of course, when we came back from the war and started fishing in earnest again we could see that we needed … different ideas, so we put the shop up, you know, we did have before the war, we did have a little box of about, er, 6 foot square ice box, with a heavy lid that you used to set up on a tackle. You’d pull the lid up and get your fish out. It was just a big ice box. You’d put a hundred weight of ice or two hundred weight of ice in and put your fish on top. Anyway, we built the fish shop. Jack Bates built that for us. (See also ‘Letter from Jack Bates’ by clicking here.)

But before the shop did you just send fish up to market?

Yeah, a lot.

And how did it get up to market, by road or …?

Oh, that’s a story to tell.

The very early times I can remember, there were two chaps called Jim and Bill Williams, they were living over the other side of the creek, above Eastbourne Road, in the swamp area.

Just up from the Chinaman’s Creek?

Yeah, south of Chinaman’s Creek. And er. Their house was a limestone house. I think it might still be there. You know where the new (retirement) village is, opposite that, the other side of the creek.

Around Cootamundra Ave

Yeah, somewhere about there. And they had a couple of white horses, and a dray, or lorry thing, and they used to take them up to Mornington. About six o’clock at night they’d leave, half past six, and they’d go on up to Mornington, get the train there at about four, half past four o’clock, and they’d go up into the market that way.

Four in the morning?

Yeah. And of course if you happened to miss them, if you came home late, like you often do in the summer time, you’d be fishing of course, and you know, a lot of fishing was done sunset onwards, and of course you’d miss your carrier. It was alright if it wasn’t like the weekend. You could ice them down, box them up. But often you’d get tickets – fish condemned – in the summer time.

And that then changed. I think our first carrier was Len Dunk. He had the Shell garage, down there. Would you remember Len Dunk?

I remember the name, I sure do, was he down nearer McCrae?

Yeah, towards McCrae, near Murray Anderson Road. Where the Shell garage still is. You remember Warner Hingston, he had the Shell garage, yeah well that was Len Dunk’s (then).

He then started to carry them up. He had a truck, and then he started to take them up and he took them for a while, and then he gave it away …

Straight to the market?

Straight there. Yeah. And that was a lot better. And then we had various carriers after that, we had a series of them… a series of them, yeah. Old Bill Peterson from Sorrento, he did it for a few years. No there’s been a series of them. Ted Johnston was our last carrier.

So, er. No, everything changed. Well then, as I say, these diesel engines … the first one we saw, we went up to the Melbourne Show and they had one in a huge tent, a boat of about 20 foot, with this diesel in it. And of course they started it up, I think it was a single cylinder, and the water was going (motioning outwards with hands) like this from side to side. Thump thump thump thump, you know, headed.

But then next year or year after they brought out these multi-cylinder, twin cylinder and four cylinder. Much smoother. That’s when we started, we bought the Thornycrofts. The big boat was under-powered, for going through the Rip there at times, you know, you couldn’t make headway. If there was no breeze you had to wait for the tide to ease.

So you still had sails then …?

Yeah, oh yeah. Oh sails made all the difference. I mean it didn’t take much breeze and you’d sail over the tide without any trouble, but if you were motoring over the same tide, oh it took a lot of battle. No, the wind made all the difference.

Were they gaff or lug rigged then?

Gaff rig, oh no all of ours were gaff rigged, we never had the, er. See the trouble with a Marconi rig, you have to have such a high mast. Yeah, whereas the gaff rig, you got a … well that sort of had about a, what, I s’pose about a 14 foot yard up top. The boom was about 20 foot. Big lumps of, you know, heavy brutes. And of course she had, I think triple halyard if I remember rightly. See, a heavy sail, thick canvas it was originally. And so you needed all that rope, halyard, to haul it up. Actually we had two halyards, two, you pulled together.

Oh one for the peak and one for the throat ..throat, yeah. And the boom just lay alongside. You know, we had a collar around the mast, a leather collar, and a fork around it, and that’d stay there all the time, you’d push it to one side, just push it out the way.

And a bowsprit too?

Unknown-1Yeah, that’s right. We did get rid of the bowsprit later (Uncle Wal’s boat at right, with Mrs Paterson), because it made it a bit awkward, when we were buying fish at Queenscliff, we used to go over there and buy crays off Joey Wells, and also couta often, so we ended up taking the bowsprit off because you know over there, with a bit of a swell, it wasn’t always easy. So then it’s easier to get in to tie up against the pier and that, so we took it off.

See sometimes it was that bad, you’d get a surge in the pier see. Now that they can go into the creek it’s not so bad, but in those days we had to lay alongside the pier, you know. And I’ve seen a two inch rope, a two and a half inch rope, snap. She’s a heavy boat, and she’d run, and boom and bang she’d go. It made it awkward, landing. So, that’s why we took the bowsprit off her.

So did your boat, the 20 footer that you had, have sails as well?

Yeah, yeah. (your) Dad’s first one too. Oh that’s, I was going to come to that. We then, after that we then bought this boat off Jim Everat, a fisherman over at Newhaven. He had it moored there. And we went over and bought it off him. And it had, as I say, the Rugby in it.

gaffingstingoThen, when we were going outside we found like that we had to, see we could only longline, in the early days, from the first of May until the end of October. Which, you know, a lot of the winter months was useless to us. And so we realised then that we had to go outside and catch couta and flathead, we had the shop already, we’d built the shop, and we wanted you know, the cheaper fish as well as snapper and whiting.

Snapper and whiting weren’t enough to keep …?

Well, we could only hook snapper, see. You couldn’t longline see, all the summer months. October, November, December January February March, and April you couldn’t longline. You had to hook. Well that made it hard. Yeah.

So we decided then that we had to work outside, so we then looked at the deisels, and we bought the Thornycroft, first Thornycroft deisel and put it in.

Is this after the war?

Yeah, a bit after that was. It’d be probably, oh, I didn’t get home until ’46, and we’d built the shop about ’47 … that’d be around about ’51 or 52, that we bought that one. And then we bought your boat, got it built. Alec Lacco, by then Ken had gone, gone over to Newhaven there, and Alec was boat building. He started off opposite Uncle Eddy and Aunty I (Iris) there, in a house, he had a house there. Got flooded out, so he ended up moving to Rye, and he built them at Rye in that, those particular days. And we ended up putting another Thornycroft in her, so we had two boats then to work outside.

We found then that over, well we could longline a lot of flathead, October November you’d get 10 or 12 boxes a boat a day of reasonable big flathead, fish around the pound and a half, average. You’d get a lot of those. And we used to market them as well as selling them in the shop. We’d go through about five or six boxes in a day in the shop – they were popular.

And you’d get a lot on the longline?

Longline. Yeah, we had a permit to longline outside. We had a permit to carry the longline from the moorings to the heads, we weren’t allowed to use it up the bay. If you were going to go up the bay you had to leave your longline out. But it was alright if you’d go out, which we did do, we never did any other longlining. And so that gave us a good supply of good fish, and couta. See we get, on the way out you’d find you’d get 10 boxes of couta, or if flathead weren’t plentiful you might stay on the couta and end up getting 15, 20 perhaps 30 boxes of couta. And you’d market them and sell ..

Outside, or would you get those inside?

No outside. The ‘cliffers always fished out for couta. Most of them were couta boats, and cray boats, shark boats. But most of them were couta boats. They’d go and get their, you know, as I say anything from 10 to 25, 30 boxes of couta a day.

They used to have a quota, didn’t they?

They did. They did. Yeah. We didn’t, ’cause we weren’t members of it.

Oh they had like a co-op?

Yeah. Queenscliff co-operative, so they would work a quota. If couta were plentiful, they’d limit it perhaps to 10 boxes a day or 15 boxes to keep the price up a bit.

Well how long did it take you to get out, I mean how far out would you…?ethelfishpic1smaller

Oh, well we’d be moored at Sorrento, yeah we moored there. And we’d drive down to Sorrento, get aboard and, depending on the tide a lot, but usually in about an hour you’d be at the Heads. You’d always try to get out there at break of day, ’cause that’s when the couta’d be best. And you’d catch your couta, and often enough you’d use your couta for longline bait. You might get over 10 boxes of couta, you’d trim a few off and cut ’em up and bait your longline, shoot it, and perhaps go coutering for a bit longer while its down and then haul up, and perhaps do three or four shots and then come home.

But was that far off?

Where we were working would be another hour’s steam out from the heads, yeah. Straight out, more or less straight out. It was around there that we worked all the time. You know, you got to know it, or the limits of it. If you got too far east or too far west or too far in or out, you wouldn’t do any good. If you got onto that ground you’d get them pretty regularly.

Yeah I wonder if it’s still worth looking …?

Well, Roy and I went out one time, and I think if I remember rightly got two and a half boxes for the day. And, well they’d gone. They got very scarce.

So, your Mum died when?

She died when she was only … 56. No 62. Yeah, Mum died at 62. Now what it was I don’t know, but Doctor Frank was the doctor, wasn’t he?

No, Dr “Trinca”

Doctor Trinca, that’s right. No he was the police surgeon, wasn’t he, he ended up. Alfred Trinca.

One day Dad had taken him, he was a keen fisherman and he had a little boat, and Dad had taken him and you know he was very happy, very pleased to be taken and that, so when Mum was sick Dad some how other other, I don’t know how, got in touch with him and “oh send her up” and so she went up. Anyway, the report was, she died of a…

I don’t know what it was; I think it was cancer…

I think it was. Yeah. You look back now and you think well it was probably cancer and they didn’t know the name or didn’t use the,.. but was something like a bowel or something… or it meant,…


Inflamed, yeah. But I can’t help thinking it was probably cancer. But she was only 56.


62. 62. Uncle Wal was 56. Yeah, Uncle Wal was 56 when he died.

And what year are we looking at there. What year was that?

I was only 19. So that would take that back now to ..

’33 or ’34 it would be

Yeah. That’s right. We were just getting on our feet. We’d bought an ambulance, an old ambulance, a Dodge ambulance. And we were using that as a truck, for going fishing and that in. And it was alright too. And of course Mum was very pleased that then she could have a ride in this very nice car. Because we had originally bought an old T model Ford. That was the first one we bought.

A truck?

That’s right. A truck yeah, with a little tray on it. And, that was the first one. And this was a bit light and small. And then we got this ambulance. And as I say, by then I think we’d got Uncle Wal’s boat, we were starting you know to get a bit … four of us were working, or three of us. Our Dad wasn’t doing much. But three of us were working, and we were starting to earn a bit more money, and then Mum died. She always wanted to see, very keen on going travelling and that, but never really got much of a chance to look around.

So your Dad was he fishing still?

Yeah he was fishing, but he more or less used to, you know after Mum died, he used to more or less look after, and do the cooking, and look after that.

Oh he was a character, with his cooking, you know …

What were his specialties?

Oh, bubble and squeak. And blancmange.

He’d always make a double lot of vegies, potatoes and that, so he could have this bubble and squeak, cut up with meat and you know, and fry it all up together. Of course both Stan and I, we used to get indigestion. And he’d say, what’s the matter with you. Don’t know what’s up with you young blokes. He never had indigestion in his life. Never. He died at 79 you know. That’s right.

charlieburnhamsmallHe must have had a cast iron constitution then…

He did. He must have done. He could eat anything.

I’m the same. I can eat anything and it doesn’t worry me.

Can you? Oh well you’ve got it like him too. You’re lucky. No, we all suffered to a greater or lessor degree.

Anyway. It was more or less after that that we got the boats going. And started to build the business up, the shop bigger and better.

Were the boats pretty expensive to save up for?

To buy – my boat cost £100, and then another £10 for the engine. That was a second-hand Rugby.

But what was that, like a week’s or a year’s wages?

Oh yeah. That took a lot of earning. Oh yeah. No, the wages in those days, as I can remember it, was about £2 a week. Thirty shillings to about £2 a week. And I know we were earning average in the first year about £2 10s a week, so we thought oh well, it’s better than wages.

So really a £100 boat …

yeah, a year’s work, to earn it. So I suppose a modern one now, a year’s work now would buy about the same. Some things got a lot cheaper, there’s no doubt about that in comparison. I mean engines, and watches. They were very dear in those days. And they got cheaper. I mean you could buy a 2s 6d watch at Coles, but they didn’t last long. No. Good watches and that were dearer. I mean our first car, we bought a Holden, and that was 600, I think. Yeah it might have been 800. Pounds of course. A new car. But that took a lot of earning.

And say, when you ordered the boat, how long would it be before it turned up?

Oh not that long. No. About, five months or so, and it was all finished. If they could get on to it, you know. But perhaps they had another one on the go. They’d put, two was the rule, on the er … they’d start one off, get the keel going, and ribbing it up, and then they’d start another one going. And then while one would be working on one boat, or two perhaps, doing a bit of ribbing, and laying the planks on, and then somebody else would be working over on the other one cutting out the keel and rabbetting it out and getting it all ready there. You know.

And your Mother was German, was she?

Yeah, German, she was Fankhauser. Born in Australia. Oh no, er, she was a, Schukraft.

Oh so she didn’t like have an accent or ..

Oh no, she was born and bred in Australia. Just as Dad was. See Dad was, really was er, his parents were English. His father was an Englishman, his mother was an Irish woman. And, they came out here. I think, my grandmother wasn’t, they weren’t married when they came out. So they’d been out a good while. And then they met and married over here. And lived in South Melbourne.

I can remember Dad complaining about how he didn’t like … because they’d robbed his mother, when she arrived as a young girl in Australia. I can remember him saying that. Yeah, saying well, they robbed her.

What was his name, George, wasnt it, your grandfather?

George, yeah.

Whereabouts in South Melbourne did they live?

Near Clarendon st, but I don’t know exactly where. I wouldn’t like to say. But near Clarendon st. Dad was born there. Dad often talked about when they were going into the city, going into Melbourne, they’d take their boots off, the road, Clarendon st was that muddy, that they’d always take their boots … go up barefooted, ’til they crossed the Yarra, there was a bit of an old bridge over the Yarra. Then they’d go down to the river and wash their feet, put on their socks and boots, and go on. Clarendon st, you know was only mud.

I think there was a bit of a swamp there …

Yeah that’s right. That’s right Steve. You never hear that. A real swamp.

But then your Dad moved down … oh he was in the navy

He was in the navy, I don’t know just where he met Mum. It must have been while he was in the navy no doubt. But then she lived at Doncaster. But somehow or other they met, I don’t know just how…

Doris: I have an idea it was on one of the picnics…  Vin: was it?  lydiaresizedI got a feeling that she told mum that she used to, you know, the orchardists picnics that they had down the bay, on the old Hygea and that, she’d come down, and met Charlie down here somewhere. I couldn’t be sure of that though.

Mum and grandma Burnham (Doris’s mum and Vin’s mum) went to school together at Doncaster, yes they were mates at Doncaster you see.  (Lydia Burnham, nee Schukraft, is second from left on back row. Her mother-in-law, George Burnham’s wife Matilda, is on her left. This picture undated, but Matilda died in 1917.)

The orchards there…  Yes. And we took, Alf Finger’s house

You’d remember it Steve, you wouldn’t I s’pose,

No, it was just a shed,

Doug and George Finger, they were orchardists too, at Wantirna.

And, when we arrived, and were you know, unpacking, Mum said “That’s Lydia Schukraft down there. I’d know her anywhere.” And they hadn’t seen each other since they were girls, but she said, “That’s Lydia over there” and we went across and talked to Lydia, and sure enough that’s who it was.

And she was married by that time?

Vin: Yeah, yeah. I remember it and I’d probably be, ’cause you were…

Doris: I was six, so you’d be about six.Unknown-4

He tells me I threw apples at him…

Vin: Yeah, so we’ve known each other quite a while Steve. Seventy odd one years. (A bit earlier than this, but that’s Doris at right, aged three.)

When I was a kid I remember going with Dad to visit someone, a Mrs Fox.

That was George Fox. He was a fruit grower up at Main Ridge, an orchardist up there. He grew fruit. And then he more or less took on, I think he was hired, or he may have been … he was married to Jim Emmet’s sister. You’d remember Jim Emmet. Oh no. He married Jim Emmet’s sister. She was George Fox’s wife. So George took on the agency for T&G, insurance company. And he used to go around selling various policies.

This Mrs Fox live in McCombe st though.

Oh that’s right. She did too. You remember (your) Mum and Dad’s house in McCombe st. Straight opposite that. Yeah, Jim Emmet’s. And Mrs Fox came to live there, for 20, 30 or 40 years.

Well she gave Dad this old kitchen clock. (note: an Ansonia, and this is now on my mantlepiece)

That’s where that came from! George was a cricketer. He was a good cricketer, used to play for Main Ridge. And of course Dad used to play, and your Dad, played for Rosebud over the years, so you’d get to know them. A lot you’d meet playing cricket and at school and .. You knew your district in those days. You know, Sorrento and Rye, you knew most people there.

People used to get out and see people, have a game or something. Play cards, you’d have Sunday picnics and everyone’d go.

You remember I told you about this fellow called Ron Burns, and he was reminiscing about his father coming around to play crib.

That’s right. Bob his name was. He used to have the house near the Catholic church. The other side of Rose st, going towards Rosebud. He had a house there, which Harry Cook originally….

Going right back – Harry Cook was an estate agent from Brunswick, or Coburg I think. He used to come down fishing and shooting with us – we’d go out shooting rabbits and foxes and everything – and he bought this first boat, a 20 footer, that Dad used to work. He left it down here for us to look after and use, and when he’d come down he’d go out fishing with us. And that was Dad’s first boat. So, Uncle Wal had first one 6′, 7’6 or so.

And then Dad got this one, Harry Cook’s boat, and he used that for two years, it had a Kelvin in it, a petrol engine, two cylinder, quite a good engine. And then I bought, well we bought like, this 17 foot net dinghy, from up Mordialloc. A chap had this open net dinghy, and we got Mitchy Lacco to put a deck on it, and a mast. I had a mast on it and that, and I used that for about two years. After I’d used a 10 foot dinghy for about two or three years, and really it was a bit small, you couldn’t go out in much really. So we got that, and that was the next boat.

So then when Harry Cook took his boat back, he got tired of coming down, we then built the new boat for Dad, the 20 footer. That’s where that came in. And then next year we got one for me and then the war came and so that upset everything for a while.

And then when we got back we got the, we eventually got the 27 footer for outside, and then we got the one built for (your) Dad, the one you’ve got now. That was (…’46, ’47…) that could be about ’62.

I’ve just ordered a headsail for that..

That can’t be cheap though, these.. it’s not, no…

We used to, usually you’d have about three jibs. A little storm jib.

You’d set the storm jib down to the stem?

Yeah, not out on the bowsprit, no. That was in a big breeze. You’d take it to the stem and then you’d hook onto that, and then on the next jib we had you could also do that or you could pull it out the bowsprit if you wished. And then the next one, the big jib we had was the big one, and went right out. They were just rolled up under the deck.

I remember finding a canvas lug sail in the rafters of the cray shed, when I was kid. It was on a square bit of timber, still laced to it.

That might have been one off my old boat then.

I don’t know. But I got all excited and went down and got the 24 footer yeah? and put it up and put it up, and I was so surprised how well it worked.

ethelfishpic2smallerOh yeah. They would’ve been my old …. We more or less rigged our sail up, er… Lucy Lacco, that was Mitch’s daughter, she used to do all the sailmaking for Mitch. When you bought a boat you’d buy it with sails. See, she’d do the sailmaking, you know, you’d tell her what you wanted, and she’d make it. And, she probably made that sail, I’m pretty certain she would have. I don’t know whether uncle Wal tried it but I think probably she made it. It was just to save petrol. See petrol was pretty dear in those days.

The next time I went out fishing with Dad, we came in and I was keen to try the sail out. So we came to the gutways and I rounded up and started the engine. And then he sort of said ‘oh, it brought it all back’. See he remembered sailing into the gutways and then starting the motor…

Or quite often you’d pick up under sail. Nine times out of 10. If it was blowing hard you wouldn’t. In case you missed, and you’d end up going over, normally though… See on a normal day’s fishing, say we’d sail over, when we had to hand line, we’d sail right across to off Mud Island, the back of Mud Island there in the deep water, and hand line there, you’d use different marks. Different grounds. And you could fish, on good days, you could hook quite a few boxes on one spot, big snapper. Not uncommon. Another day you might only get a box, but then you’d go somewhere else and get another box.

But if possible you’d sail over there, do your fishing and then sail home. You might have a southerly, a good breeze to go out with, well then when you’re coming home you wouldn’t make home quite, but you’d make about the corner light. Then you’d sail until you’re inside the channel and then you’d put about and sail until you got to about the beacon, then beat in again, and just sail and beat in until you could do it. And nearly always you’d pick up under sail, unless as I say it was a real strong breeze.

So you’d certainly clock up some miles without starting the engine.

Oh yeah. No, it was quicker than a motor. A motor isn’t that quick. Later on as you got bigger engines and then the deisels had a bit more power, they would push them.

See, they’ll take a certain speed, every boat. The bigger they are the faster they’ll go. You know the longer on waterline. And after that you’re forcing. You’d use three times as much power to get a fraction of a knot faster.

That’s like, your boat I think was built more for sailing, finer.

Yeah. The 24 footer was a solid boat, she was very beamy, and what we call a bluff bow. But before that, nearly all the couta boats were much thinner, lighter built. So they’d sail better. They were deeper, or longer, slightly different shape. But that 24 footer was a good boat. You know in many ways she was a better boat than the others. Carried her weight better. You could put more weight in that.

That’s right. I don’t think I’ve got enough ballast in it.

No she’ll take plenty of weight, that one.

That’s what I was going to say. You know how people talk about say Tim Phillips down at Sorrento and the revival of the couta boats and things. Were they always called couta boats before this?


Let’s put it this way. They were fishing boats. And you’d use them for all things. But they did, as I say, most of the ‘cliff boats used to go coutering.

But what they’d do is go out, do their round, and come home. And if there was no couta about they’d come home, tie up and go up the pub for the rest of the day. A terrible lot of them would do that.

But what we’d do, we’d go coutering, and then we’d longline. If there was no couta about we’d longline, and if the flathead were good we wouldn’t worry much about the couta at all. We’d longline. But the ‘cliffers didn’t longline. Oh no, they couldn’t do it. ‘It was madness’, you know. It was too hard. ‘You’re silly.’

Yeah. They didn’t longline at all. But they’d hook a few, they’d sometimes fish and hook perhaps three or four boxes. But the water there was about 230 feet, if I remember rightly, but by the time you’d pulled, and certainly you’d get a double header often, by the time you pulled that up, and dropped him down and the line took a long while to get down again. Perhaps, if they had a good day, they’d get three or four boxes, but we could get 12 boxes in the same time. It was just madness.

Course the longline would get a lot more hooks on the bottom.


I suppose the couta fishing would be a lot more sailing about, on the go?

But it was still hard work Steve. When you’re coutering properly, you stand in the stern of the boat, if you’re single-handed, and you’ve got five lines out. You got your outrigger on the right side, you know, keeping it out a bit. And…

One of those para-vanes sort of things?

longliningresizedNo, oh no no. You had what we called an outrigger, which was a piece of broomstick which stuck out about two foot six, which you had into your gun’le, or splashrail, usually your splashrail it was, you’d have a hole drilled there to take it, and so it wouldn’t go any further. You’d taper it down so it stuck there. And then you had your line coming from the end of that tied up here, see, and that was sticking out as I say about two foot six out there (standing up, motioning as he’s describing all this). As I say, say that’s the stern of your boat, you had your two lead lines, and then you had your three fly lines.

Two weighted lines?…

Weighted lines, yeah, one on each corner of your boat more or less. And then your fly lines.

Were they all tied to the hawse?

Yeah. Some were a bit further back. But you’d spread them, right across. Then when the couta started to bite you’d rise them up, what we’d call rise them on these lead lines. You’d bring them up and tie them so they’d sit out on the fly line way. And your longest fly line would be roughly, what, that was always the outrigger. That was your longest one because as you turned that stuck right back. (Always turned to starboard, so outrigger on port side). And that would be ’round about 45 feet. And then the next one would be about 35, and then you’d start to get shorter. And this last one, you’d have him about eight or six feet behind the boat. That’s all, yeah.

Once you got them rising, you’d get one on the lead line and you’d pull him up, you’d see a fly one go, you’d flick him off, and you wouldn’t let it go right back, you’d just flip him back and use him as a fly line. You’d have 30 feet of fly line, so you’d just tie him at that, and grab this bloke. And by then all your flys would be full. You’d just drop a little bit of white bait, about two of three little cuts of white bait over. And you’d just leave her tied, so she’d keep in that circle all the time, round and round, and you just every now and again drop a bit of bait, and that kept them up.

Just tie it off to port and the short line was on the outside all the time?

Yeah, on the outside and keep her going round to starboard. And you wouldn’t touch any line but these two.

You had a rail, about 5/8 inch steel which was about that wide (both arms out) and come up about that high (mid-thigh height) and go along, slight dip in there (in middle) and then up again and then down again into a bit of wood. And that was then on to your fish pound. You’ve got your ledge of wood say, and there you’d have your pound with your fish, couta in it. That held about 30 boxes of fish. Right across the boat. It’d be a pound of about that wide. And you’d be standing aft of that.

There was usually as much as that (room behind pound to stand in), so that you stand here, there’s your stern, so you can pull the fish up and bang (acting hauling in and swinging line back onto rail), drop him. And there was no barb on the hook. And you’d just let him hang down and of course the hook fell that way (hooked onto rail, eye of hook pulled down) and he’d drop off. Lift that out, drag that, two pulls, bang. He’s off. And by then there’s another one on the short line.

So that rail was to get the fish off, quick. And you never touched any of the other lines barr to get your lead line out of the way. If you still had lead line you’d pull him up, and use him also as a fly. So in other words you’d have all fly lines out.

You’d never ever pull all the fish out at once. It’s the way that the couta are. The last one to have a fish, or if they’ve gone off a bit, you’d leave him there. And that would attract others.

One day I was out fishing in the bay, they used to come into the bay occasionally. You’d get them a lot of times off Portsea, or down below Portsea. But one year, a couple of years actually, they came into the bay. Usually about March. And I was out hooking at the wreck one day, and George Jarriss had a party out, about seven or eight guys with him, and they were trying to catch them. They just couldn’t get any. So he ended up switching off the motor and just watching me catch them. And he said, I think someone timed me I think they reckoned I got 27 couta in one minute. So as I say, it was just bang bang bang bang bang.

I remember catching couta in the bay, but not that many.

Yes, in the bay, and we got quite a lot of big ones. We got quite a lot of littlees of course.

So going out of the Heads, you would have to time that up with the tides?

No, you wouldn’t have to. You go along the edges Steve. If you went through the middle you wouldn’t push through, on a strong tide, a real strong tide. So you went around the edges, you went around either… we usually used this side. Of course the ‘cliffers always reckoned we were mad, because over the Nepean side, um Lonsdale side, was much safer for getting out. But we got through all right.

Wal and I had a, not exactly a fright, but we were glad to get out one day. We shipped one clean over her. Right over. Seas break, stand up. We did … Wal was inclined to be rash. He’d take chances. Instead of going further along to get out he went straight through. And we hit one sea that came right over us, and of course I had to hop-to to the – of course we had this big square pump in her, well you remember that, a four inch pump.

Was it into the case?

Yeah into the case, yeah. And I hopped to with that, and that could move the water.

That would have filled her up, wouldn’t it?

Oh yeah. Floorboards floated. No, lucky it was a deisel engine. I mean if it had been a petrol engine she’d a swamped, you know bung and we’d a gone, once you get side on you’re gone. But the engine kept going, and so we got out.ethelfishpic3smaller

It would take a few hundred strokes to clear the water out wouldn’t it?

Oh yeah. But it’s amazing how quick you can get though. We also had a engine driven pump Steve, an inch … I think we had one of those on your boat.

I think that’s what the holes are for in the side.

Yes that’s what it’s for. An inch pump. I rigged this up, I got the idea that we could do it, and we used to put it on the flywheel. And we had a leader, and you’d just, a rubber wheel and you had to tighten it up to the flywheel and the flywheel would spin it like mad, and pump her out. And we had that on too, and of course Wal put that on too while I was pumping and we soon got her empty.

Did you make the pump?

No, buy the pump. It was this sort of pump you used to get. You mount that on a hinge. See you had the pump here, and the other side the hinge, you mounted the pump so that it’d lift up like that, and then just lever with the lever. I think we had it in the box if I remember rightly. You’d leave the handle sticking out and you had a U thing, and you’d pull it down and force it under this thing. No they were quite effective.

So anyway, you got through that one.

Jimmy Shapter next time we saw him, he said ‘You blokes are going to drown yourselves, you shouldn’t have gone over there’. He was a couta fisherman, an old timer there.

mefishingresizedAnd then another time Wal and I were going out, just before Easter and we badly wanted fish, and Wal said shouldn’t we be out, and it was one of those dirty days, ‘shouldn’t we be out, they’re all sure to be out’. So out we go. And we get around the Nepean, and a big sea breaking out across the middle of it, and a big sea running down towards the Schank, and we’re still following down. They were a huge sea, right before the south-east set. Big sea rising. And it took us I would say four mile before we could cross over. We had to go down and down and down. And then we got out over it and outside of it, and there we were …

You could go around it? Why …

Yes. Well, the tide, big tide, coming out. The wind against the tide, see. Anyhow, we go out, and we worked, pretty hard …

But you had to come back in though.

Yeah well when we came back in, the pilot boat thought they’d accompany us in. First time they’d ever done it and the last but they used to do it for the ‘cliffers. Anyone who was in trouble or otherwise they’d accompany them. But they come home with us. We didn’t ask them or anything, they must have seen us and thought those blokes’ll drown themselves, so …

save themselves a bit of time and …

yeah, so they came right until we got inside. Gave us a toot and turned and out they went, which was you know, very thoughtful of them.

Was it worth going out?

Oh it was about eight boxes, which wasn’t super, but we needed the fish. But again, I think it was Regy Lyall (Wells, Jim’s son) said ‘oh you blokes’ll drown yourselves going out in that weather’. They’d all gone down, they used to go as a fleet see, there’d be in those days about 20 boats operated in a fleet, and they’ve all gone down to the heads and turned around.

One bloke might head out then they’d all go. But on that particular day they’d gone down and gone home again. As I say Wal was a little bit rash. Reckless.

So your Dad was just looking after things at home then? He died of bowel cancer didn’t he? Yeah.

I remember my Dad saying he was very sick for a long time.

Long time, yeah. They took him up to Melbourne of course, he was up there and operated on, but there was nothing they could do. It was so advanced, so they just sent him home to die. No, he wanted to die. You know, he said ‘oh why can’t I die’.

So a lot of the early fishing, it was enough to go out for couta and flathead. What about, as I remember a lot of, going longlining for snapper in the bay?

That was later … you were doing that as well … but that was later though Mum. And we didn’t do much netting either. We used to net of a night in those days. Go over to Mud Island and net there. And we were after flounder and garfish more than anything. And then we started the netting later on when we started with the Portsea, fish netting and that sort of thing, that was later.

(Written note from Vin: We longlined for snapper in the bay first, using Harry Cook’s boat before the war.)

Earlier on we’d get snapper in the bay. You’d go along the reefs of an evening, and somedays you’d get four or five boxes of little snapper, you know, about pound and a half to about six pounds, seven pounds. Occasionally you’d get big snapper there. In the year of the flood, I think it was the ’36 flood, we were hooking big snapper all along the reefs. Big reef, Moran’s…. (list of reef names), any weather you’d get six or eight boxes. And in a morning, you know, you’d go out in the day and get four or five boxes. They were as thick as thick. The flood was bringing them down.

I’ll never forget, I was taking a load of fish up, had about 40 boxes which was the load for the old truck, the old Morris, and blowed if we were only snapper in the market. And I think it was Charlie Hill, an agent, said to me …

…I’ve gone, you know we used to take a few to each selling agent, one might have 10 another 20 and so on. There was Borrett and Hill, and who else, Dusting, VFL. Anyway Charlie said to me, keep out of the way, he said, Green (Green was the chief inspector of fisheries) ‘Green’s after you. He reckons you’re longlining.’

And I said ‘oh I’m not going to keep out of his way. We’re not longlining’. So I looked for him, and I found him in the market, and I said ‘I hear you’re looking for me Mr Green.’

Yes he says, yes. And we’ll get you too.

‘What about?’

Oh we know you’re longlining, he said. We know you’re good fishermen but you’re the only ones, look at all those fish, he said, no one else has got’em.

And I said well, there’s a simple explanation, the snapper evidently have come down our end of the bay because of the floods. Which they had done, there was no doubt. The water was that thick, it was too thick up the bay. And I said, if you’d like to send the inspector down he can come out with me. We were hand lining, not longlining. I said you can come out with me and, you know, see what we catch.

Anyway, there was an old chap from the Titles Office who lived down at Brighton next door to Green. And apparently he must have said to Green, he used to come down on holidays, he must have said to him that he was coming down to go fishing with us. And Green said, oh yeah. Anyway, when he went back Green said to him, how’d it go? Oh he said, we did well. There’s a lot of fish down there, and you can just hook them. He said oh were you hooking them, he said yes. You know, go out on the reef, as I say, six boxes, middle of the day.

You wouldn’t think of going out one time. Like when I first started to fish we used to fish of a night for snapper. Only of a night, never through the day. But we altered that, once we started to fish around the Corner, and up in the middle, you know they’d bite all day, anytime. Depends on the tide. So we’d fish through the day, it was just the same, but you know when Dad was first fishing and uncle Walter, ‘oh no you didn’t catch snapper until it was after dark’.

Anyway, after that of course Green relented. Well he had no option. He probably had inspectors checking over from Mt Martha with binoculars. No, I’ve hooked 24 boxes, in one place in from the fairway, on one tide. Big snapper. That’s up above the Corner pile. I still fish the ground. Up about three mile above the Corner, there’s a bit of heavy ground there. And I had another chap with me.

Bill Wortley came out with me. He used to come down for about a fortnight’s holiday every year, or three weeks. Very keen fisherman. And we were catching a few sharks, a five foot shark and gummy shark as well, Steve. And you know it was getting near dark, and we thought oh we better go in. Oh he said it’s the first time in me life I’ve ever been glad to go off when the fish are biting! His hands were cut, he had all, oh spikes and cuts from the line.

When you said you were netting for gars and flounder, was that on the shallow side of Mud Island or …

It’s all shallow round the island, anywhere you go. But there’s grass beds on the west side, about three or four foot of water, they were good for gars. The gars’d be better on the beds. Flounder are better on the sand. But you’d get good flathead, a few rock flathead, and big yank flathead and that on the grass. And then as I say the sand for the flounder.

But as I say we used to net the flounder and gars here as well, see, of a night time. You’d stamp your feet as you go along, and you’d hear the gars rise, you heard them and then shoot for them. And on one occasion we were down near the, just the other side of the creek I think (Chinaman’s Creek, West Rosebud) and oh a beautiful splash. And we thought oh that’s nice so we got the net around that. You know, full of crabs! Boxes of the brutes. Never seen the likes before. Must have been some, movement or something. Of course in those days they were rubbish, you might get something for them now. Big money. In those days we just dumped them, and glad to get rid, you know, they were a nuisance.

We’d do a bit of mesh netting out here, near the moorings, I’d row it out when things were quiet, just before dark, and go out about 10 o’clock and the next morning and get it in. You’d get quite a bit of fish, a few flathead and yanks, and .. yeah? .. quite a few. Just out there. Also a few whiting, you might get a box or box and a half. Some days two boxes.

And this particular time I got a lot of crabs. I was going down the next morning and pull it up, these great big swimmer crabs. Anyway, it was a cold morning, in winter of course, and I was having a job getting him out of the net and unmesh him, and he got me. The darned thumb, I think that thumb, and I said you cow. So, I wedged a bit of wood in the claw and he got me on the other thumb. He had me on the two thumbs. And he dug in and wouldn’t let go, oh he dug. So I just had to get me knee on him like that, and smash him up. Course he still wouldn’t let go, oh no. I had to work my thumb, worked down to the bone to get off. Nasty brute. So that’s a little experience that you remember. It was as cold as anything, and you hands ache.

Who was it I think Jack Ross was telling me how he had a hook through his hand yeah, not uncommon and had to smash down the barb to pull it out or something …

No, I got one a similar way. We used to use double-headers for snapper. I was fishing for lumpy snapper on the reefs there, at the bottom end of the beacon, getting a few around about three or four pounders, and I got this school shark, about a five, six foot school shark. I got him up, I was going to whack him, and I missed, I didn’t get him right on the snout. If you get ’em on the snout they just lay over, and I got him, I missed the snout and he rolled back in. And of course he dived. And the double-headers were about six foot long, and one was about four foot long. And darned if he didn’t pull that hook into me.

And that would’ve hurt.

Oh you bet it does. And there was the hook stuck in like that. I forget which one, it would have been one of those fingers. That one probably. I said oo blimey I had to go in now. I couldn’t fish with it, or I tried to fish longer but it hurt. So I had to go in and, at that time Aunty Doll used to work for a Dr Bartley, he was a retired doctor who lived on the foreshore, er, Ninth Ave was it, no Broadway, somewhere about there. I’m not sure which side of Jetty Rd, one side or the other. I think it might have been a bit further on. And so I went down to him.

‘Nasty isn’t it, oh lord’, well it’d be about a 5.0 hook I suppose. Oh and boom, up and he pulled it right through!

He pulled the eye through?

No no the barb. The point. Pulled it up and said that’s nasty and twisted it and pulled it, and got the barb right through. He pulled it up, see it was dug in, and he cleared the barb and boom … didn’t tell me or anything. And it was done then. It hurt but it was over, and then there was nothing to it. He cut that, and pulled it out.

At least it was stainless I suppose. Or… no it wasn’t … In those days no Steve. Oh no they were all just steel. It was all over then, once he got it out.

When did you finally put the sails away?

When we got the deisels. When we doubled up with sails, even in those days the mains’l used to cost us, about $400, for the big boat. Now, we could motor all year, and probably only used $100 worth of fuel. And a lot of these new sails, you didn’t have the nylon and that, you just had canvas, and they’d rot. About every four or five years they’d have to be renewed, because you couldn’t keep them dry. You know, they weren’t dry at all. So about four years you had to renew a sail. You know about $100 just for each year, just for one sail. Fuel would only cost you about $100 for a whole year.

I suppose with this new headsail of mine’ll last for …

Oh modern sails, different story altogether. And much lighter. These were very heavy. If I get rained on I don’t have to worry. No they’re marvelous, modern sails. They’re so much lighter for a start, and they don’t rot.

No it’s the same with the nets. See we originally used to have all cotton nets. And same with longlines, we used to have cotton longlines. Often a longline would be rotten by the end of the season. Yeah, you’d be starting to lose fish because the line was rotten. Every year you’d have to replace some line.

We first started on the braided nylon, and that would last for three or four years. But the worst part of it was that they tended to get a bit tangly, so you’d have to end up remaking them about every second year or perhaps third. Just to untangle it? Yeah.

But the nets, with the old cotton nets, you know, you’d have to have them up drying. Nine times out of 10 a good day would come, and there’d be a few fish about, you had to hurry up to get it down again, go out. Course if it was a nylon net it just sat in the boat all the time. If there were fish it was there at the ready.

With the cotton nets didn’t you preserve them, boil them with wattle bark?

Wattle bark, yeah. It had its purpose, and made it harder to see, and at the same time preserved them.

That’s funny to think that the darker brown would be harder to see.

But the white shows up though. See they were all white cotton nets, and that shows up like mad. But strangely enough, when they started mesh netting I was looking at the, or reading in the fisheries or somewhere, that the Japanese had found out that the colour that the fish couldn’t see was pink. So, when I was meshing I used to dye all my nets pink. Go out and buy dye and dye them all pink. And I’ve had fish come out of it and swim straight back into it. No it was good. It made a lot of difference to it, the colour.

You’d think they’d have pink nets now.

Well they do. No before that we always used to think that tan was the best. But no. Pink. But of course these days it’s amazing what they do come up with.

That’s like I think Ken Lacco was saying that in Japan they’ve come up with some computer thing that can tell how much water pressure is on the hull all the way along ..

Yeah. No it’s amazing what they can come up with.

(later, looking at photos)

That’s aunty Ethel (his), and that’d be Arch Short and Reg Short, those two. This’d be Rayson and, they’re Dad’s sisters. That’s her married name? Yeah. Rayson, and, what was the other one Mum?. Aunty Tilley, no that’s aunty Ethel, Short, aunty Tilley and …. Rachael and er …. anyway they were Dad’s sisters.

(Written notes: Ethel married A Short, Tilley married A Harroven, Florrie married P Rayson).

George? No uncle George was the eldest son, he was the oldest son, and then Dad, Charles, and then Walter, remember… the one who lived down the beach.

That’s right. He lived on the beach. He had a doubler ender. Two double enders. Two. Did he? Yeah. Did he go netting in them or… No. No, he didn’t do any netting at all. The old ‘salt cellar’ Steve. It was about that wide midships (arms out, not stretched), and they were little cranky things, and oh they were easy to row. But if you didn’t park yourself right she’d go over to one side. Oh she was a very tender little thing. She wouldn’t actually tip over, but very tender. It was terrible. Uncle Walter used to lay her over on her side and then he’d ‘swim’ the snapper in, the big snapper. He’d lay her right back until she was, about that far above the water (open thumb and finger), and flip them in like that. Right on board.

Well then he had another double-ender. That was a row boat, he only rowed that everywhere. How long was that?

Oh, only ’bout 16 ft. About a 16 footer. They were much the same, but (this one) more like a little ship’s boat, about 16 foot long, but a much better shaped boat. And he put a little, er … oh I thought I’d remember that.

Henry Dunn, he was the chap who did our refrigeration. He was an engineer and fridge expert. He put the fridge in, the first one was the er … you know that, what was it, Sunrise? Mum what do you call that we used to use? For cooling things up.

The washing soda?

Yeah, not soda, what ….ammonia. Yeah. Ammonia. He put the first one, in the shop. It was only a one ton plant. He made it up himself, and it worked well, but it wasn’t big enough. He had to enlarge the fridge. See you’d only get 70 boxes in and it was nowhere near enough, if you had 100 boxes you wouldn’t get them in. So we had to put a three tonner in next time.

But, Henry Dunn put this engine in for Uncle Walter. He was a good mechanic alright. Anyway, if it went bung I’d say, oh what’s wrong, do you want me to have a look at it? and “Oh no no, Henry’ll do it.” Course he couldn’t go fishing for a couple of days. And I said I could probably get it going, ‘oh no no’, wouldn’t think of it. I could have fixed it, you know, really, but oh no no. He didn’t think of anyone else bar Henry.

But you can understand that, they knew nothing about engines. None of them did. Like it’s all done by experts … yeah … like computers now I suppose. Well pretty much. I wouldn’t know a thing about a computer, you know but the kids, even young, Neil’s own girl young Shari she knows twice as much as I know about it.

[Everything stopped for tea]

There were some flash cars, in those days, I don’t think they’re even made now. And they used to go down to Portsea nearly every weekend; they were well-to-do people. And we used to sell the fish on the corner. And on their way home they used to buy fish. We used to know they’d stop and buy fish. You’d wait for them and anyone else. You’d get pretty well anyone who went past. You’d get, eight or 10 cars, on a Sunday. They were few and far between. Very few of them in those days.

I remember, the first I can remember was Harry Baker had an old T model Ford. And another bloke, no relation, another Baker he had a T model Ford.

I remember a picture in the fish shop house with a T model and a tree …

No that was Burt White’s. Under the tree at the corner. (Note: see here for the picture)

No old Burt White. He was a bootmaker, shoemaker you know. Factory outlet, he had a factory in er Sorrento I think. And, no that was a T model, old Burt. He was a keen fisherman.

And, I er, just talking of him, old Ax was a Norwegian, he lived on the foreshore down past the creek, on his own, he was just an old bachelor – well, probably he wasn’t old at all, he was always looked on as old. And, old Burt, he used to fish, for a living, professionally but he’d only go out hooking on the reefs. And old Burt, he was fond of his drink, a bit keen on his drink, and old Ax didn’t mind a bit either.

So one day Ax, Burt I think went over to him, picked him up and said ‘We’ll go and catch some flathead Ax’, so he’d take him out into the channel and they were drifting around catching flathead. And a steamer comes along and starts to blow, ‘Get out of my way’. Well Burt tried to start the engine. One of those silly little single cylinder ones, you know. And it wouldn’t start. And the steamer’s getting closer and closer, and old Ax says ‘I think I’ll take the dinghy Burt’ (laughter) and he hopped aboard the dinghy and rowed away. Yeah! And of course Burt got it started and got out of the way. But ‘I think I’ll take the dinghy Burt’. Oh dear. He was a funny guy.

And we used to fish for whiting in the last, about the middle of August onwards, we’d go down to Hudsons down there. And .. a few fishermen would go, old Busho (Bucher) and Mitchie Lacco and er, Peatey (Jack), and us, uncle Walter, quite a few. And a few from Rye and from Sorrento, and there’d be a dozen or 15 boats would get side by side on Hudsons, and everyone getting, oh 300 whiting a day was usual average when they were biting. And at the end of the day, you’d count up and see who got the most.

Anyway, this particular time old Ax was late coming out. And Billy Hutchins, that was Pat Hutchins grandfather, Mick’s father, he was fishing near where Ax had come out, and Ax pulled up a big leatherjacket. “That’s him Ax, that’s the one.” ‘What one?’ “Yes,” he says, “bout an hour ago. That leatherjacket came up, put his head out the water and said ‘Where’s old Ax?’ And I said, he’s still in bed. ‘Oh’, and down he went’.” (laugh)

It’s amazing the things you’d hear, you know. Yeah.

Old Ax. I remember another calm day, we out fishing, not far apart. Calm as anything, and it was hot, and not much breeze. And Ax was sitting there, and he must have been nearly asleep. And a gannet dived right near his face, boom. And Ax jumped up “oooerr!” He said ‘I thought it was a bomb’. (laugh) Frightened the life out of him.

Ax was his first name was it?

Axel, Axel. I don’t know what his other name was. He was always known as old Ax. Yeah, Axel So-and-so, a Norwegian name.

So Mitch Lacco was fishing from Rosebud then?

Yeah, in those days, yeah.

And he built his own boat I s’pose.

Oh yeah. Yes. He’d make boats, use it and he’d sell that boat, soembody’d say ‘oh I’ll buy that boat off you’ and then he’d go and make himself another one. In the winter time, see. He’d fish in the summer, and build in the winter.

(bit of a break, then turned tape on to..)

… Mum has died by then. What year was that? Er. ’49. After the war. Yeah after the war.

(another break in taping, then …)

Pot Luck used to be a ground, about three quarters of a mile from the Hovell Light towards Mornington. And I’d been longlining and we shot across, you know, without realizing, and picked up five or six snapper on successive hooks. And another day I shot through it again and got more. So I used to hook it as well. And old Mitchie learned the mark, you know, fishing there. And he came over one day and the two of us were fishing there, about 50 yards apart. Getting a nice few snapper.

And old Mitchie he got a nice big fish on, and I was watching him. And he used to lift them all up with the fin. I always gaffed them in. You often had these hook gaffs, you had to get them and hook under them. We’d use those sharp pick gaffs. As soon as you saw it, bang, and you’d get it in. Much easier.

Anyway. Mitchie got about eight or nine fish, and he hooked a nice fish and just got him up, nearly aboard, and he dropped off, landed and over he went.

Course, Mitchie never swore. But still, he’d throw his line down in disgust. And he threw his line out, and next thing he goes up forward underneath, and comes out with a gaff. So, that’s alright.

Next fish he gets on, he’s bringing him up, and he’s taking him around and trying to get this silly gaff into him. And the snapper got off! And he threw that down, and …(laugh) … it was so funny.

You wouldn’t want to laugh aloud though.

well… and he threw the gaff down and he never picked it up again. Lifted them all aboard.

That’s like a friend of mine once pulled up a big, very big flathead, and said Look at that, look at that, and he …

… dropped off! yeah. (laugh) didn’t get aboard. yeah.

Yes the things I can remember. I remember throwing a darn snapper in board, and it landed on the engine box, and it was still going over and went overboard. I was hooking, you know, hooking and getting a few. And over, a good you know, 12 pounder. The cow; lost him. And three minutes later I was looking back and he comes up, floating. He’d got enough air into him, and he couldn’t go down. So I hurried and pulled up the anchor and the lines and went back and I got him.

Yeah, just slipped off the engine box, oh you wouldn’t have known my (old) boat. It had a very big engine, a Blaxland in it … (air drum???? hard to make these words out]

Did that have like a gear stick coming out of the box…

Yeah that’s right. The gear stick was in the box, and I used to rig up, for longlining, I used an extended gear stick, and I drilled a hole in the floor to take the gear stick and keep it there, so you could put it in or out of gear there, reverse or anything, for longlining it made it easier.

How did the snapper get air into him?

If they get air into them they can’t get under. They’ve got a bit of an air bladder in them, snapper. Only … though quite a lot of flathead have an air bladder. The only flathead, you know of all the flatties … you’ve got the black flathead, or rock flathead, you’ve got sand flathead and stinky (????) flathead … and none of those have got an air bladder. Only in the deep water, where they need it. When you’re out longlining, or trawling, when we used to get trawling with Mick Hutchins, and the first net, you know, came up, and you’d pick it up and they’d float the line up. It’d happen all the time.

Snapper would do the same. Sometimes you’d get five or six snapper floating on the surface, they’d get a bit of air in them and they can’t go down, and they’re just lying on top.

But they’d eventually get rid if it, would they?

No, they die eventually. I’ve found, like after a blow you’d walk along the beach and sometimes you’d find a few nautilus shells and not uncommonly a big snapper. Still swimming, but they can’t get anywhere. And you’d just, you know, wade out and get him.

Are they air sacks like what pike have in them?

Yeah. Same thing. Like a kidney shaped thing, or no, like that shape. A sort of styrofoam like thing. I don’t know just how it worked with them, but in the very deep water, they seem to need them.


See the slideshow ‘Seine netting at Portsea’ by clicking on the ‘videos’ link at top left.