Scorpion Coast

Autobiography written by stormin222 on Wednesday 28, January 2009

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My childhood in Australia (non-fiction with a bit of embelishment)

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4. Swimming with the fish Now I know that you, the reader, will know that sharks are fucking dangerous. In fact the only thing more dangerous than sharks is the risk of being trampled when someone on a Perth beach shouts "shark". It happened to me a couple of times and on one occasion when I was not even in the water but some way off the beach getting an ice cream. It really did. I was just being served at the kiosk when the shout "when up". Just next to me was a man aged about 30 and I am assuming his kids were in the water. He simply ran over me. But sharks, and the potential of shark attack were always on you mind although a rare event. Carl had made a good friend called Christopher Lamming. Chris's dad did something for the government, I don't know what but his car had a huge badge on the front driver and front passenger doors. Whenever other cars sped past and saw the badges they immediately slowed thinking he was a policeman. They must have also assumed that we were recently arrested delinquents in the back, but for the fact that we always had huge grins on our faces since we had seen the same process of speeding and braking several time and knew what to expect. Chris and Carl had bought these huge spearguns manufactured by an Italian company called, I think, Nimrod. The spearguns available from Nimrod varied in size and naturally enough, Chris and Carl bought the largest, the Filabistrio. These guns were Nimrod Filabistrio's and they looked like bazooka's. A classic long cylinder shape with a pistol grip halfway along. Attached to the outside by a series of "C shaped" collars were the actual spears themselves. The interesting thing for me was that they where pneumatic. The worrying thing for me was that you had to pump them up before using them. You see I completely misunderstood the nature of the "pumping up" process. To use them you would, before entering the water, screw into the back of the speargun a pump, and then, "pump away" until the thing made a farting noise. Then, after removing the pump from the back, would take the spear and push it backwards into spear gun from the front. When reading the instructions, I though that you had to pump them up each time you fired a spear and the thought of franticly pumping as a shark accelerated toward you did not attract me in the least. I watched Carl testing it once and finally understood the process. Because there was and presumably still are a lot of sharks of the coast of Perth/Freemantle, when entering the water to go spear fishing. You would take with you a small pole, yard brush thickness, and about three feet long, with a spike at one end, and an eight inch loop of rope at the other. The loop would go around your wrist and you would hold the pole in the same hand. This was to be used if any nosey sharks came along to sniff you. You would simply poke them with the spikey end and they would go away. It was essential to have this pole since the beach is too far away for a swift exit. On this one day, Chris's dad gave us a lift to the beach with the customary cars speeding and slowing down, and kids grinning process, dropping us of with all of our equipment at a beach about twenty miles south of Freemantle. With arrangements to pick us up in the late afternoon, Chris's dad left and the three of us made our way onto the beach and to the waters edge. But for the occasional man and his dog and a couple shagging in the dunes, the beach was empty. Living with dangerous creatures there is always of course, the danger of harm. But, if you abide by the rules, then, the risk of harm reduces considerably. So, we as usual entered the beach through a well trodden and very wide path. To stray onto the dudes would risk snake bite, and as already mentioned to enter the water would risk shark bite, going to the kiosk for ice cream has its own hazards. To this day, back in the UK, I almost faint when Tina enters the garden shed in bare feet. It is relatively harmless thing to do in the UK of course, but old habits die hard and the fear of a snake or spider bite shall always be with me. On this occasion Chris and Carl had wetsuits, diving belts (lead weighted belts), 10" knife in a scabbard strapped to their calves, flippers, mask and snorkel. I had mask and snorkel. They had fucking huge pneumatic spearguns. I had a three-foot brush handle with a spike on it. They were well prepared. I was shark food. So after much pumping and farting noises we entered the water. Carl was understandably anxious about his performance on the water. Anxious because all previous test of his newly acquired gear had ended in abject failure. This was because he made the foolish decision to test his gear in the swimming pool in our back yard and failed to keep it a secret from myself and Jillian. Our back yard extended about sixty yards from the back of the house and was a simple oblong shape bordered by a six foot high picket fence. At the back of the garden was the chicken coop in which mum kept about eight hens and it ran from the fence on the right to about three quarters along the back fence. The back fence was about 30 yards long. The swimming pool was about half way to the chicken coop and as you looked at it the garage was on the left and to the right was a large tree. The pool itself was a perfect circle and was approximately twelve feet in diameter and about five foot deep. It was a cheap construction of tin and plastic and was designed to be "free standing" but as I think I mentioned earlier, dad and myself dug the ground so that only six inches protruded from ground level. Carl would put on all of his gear, wetsuit, diving belt, flippers, mask and snorkel, and would enter the pool and lay face down on the water breathing through the snorkel. Jillian and I would sneak up the garden with one of my mums measuring jugs, dip it in the water and pour the contents directly into the top of the snorkel. If Carl was in the middle of the pool Jillian and I would link arms and acting as a counterbalance Jillian would allow me to reach further. Shortly after buying the gear Carl had told me about the technique of blowing water from the snorkel should it fill up whilst in use. This technique enabled you to remain face down in the water whilst clearing the snorkel. As soon as water entered and made the familiar gurgling sound, one would expel as much remaining air from your lungs and thereby force out the water. The effect is like a whale blowing. But it doesn't work if your smart arse little brother held by his sister is pouring water down the spout. After a lot of blowing Carl would surface coughing and spluttering and looking a bit peaky. In the meantime Jillian and I would run and hide behind the large tree on the right until Carl cleared the snorkel standing up, and then, resume the test. Jillian and I would then repeat the same process. Unfortunately for Carl, the visit to the beach had been arranged in advance and he hadn't time to perfect his snorkelling technique. This particular beach was selected because it had an old wreck about three hundred yards offshore. You see we wanted to kill something, anything. Because the waters of most of the beaches where featureless, that is to say, no rocks or seaweed, there was no reason for fish to be there. So it was essential that we swam to a feature, any feature, and in this case there was the wreck. But no-one had told the fish about the wreck, so there were no fish there. This was of course no consequence to me since I didn't have a speargun. So unless I was to master the technique of swimming underwater at thirty miles an hour and poke the fish up the arse with my three-foot stick and spike, I wasn't going to catch anything anyway. We lingered on the surface for some time occasionally diving in desperation to find a fish. At one point whilst diving I am sure that out of the corner of my own eye, I saw another eye looking at me. I came from a part of the wreck that looked as if it were an old barrel overgrown with seaweed. I descended to investigate and rattled my stick inside the barrel to see what would happen but nothing did happen and because my lungs were bursting I rose to the surface. Diving (that is diving without breathing aids) was something that I had perfected a full year before and found that I could stay at the wreck a lot longer than the other two. It simply hadn't occurred to me until then, that Chris and Carl could not stay underwater as long as I could. But there was something that did occur to me. I had noticed that after entering the water Chris and Carl had arrived at the wreck a full five minutes before I had. This was due to them having flippers and me not. This left me feeling vulnerable. To help you understand my thinking, Ill remind you of an old joke: There are these two hunters, out of bullets, and standing on the African plain when they notice that a Lion is stalking them. The first hunter drops his backpack, opens it, and pulls out a pair of running shoes and proceeds to put them on. The second hunter says, "you're wasting your time, you will never outrun the Lion". The first hunter replies, "I know that, but I only have to outrun you". My situation is looking bleaker by the second and is not helped when during a moment scanning the top of the water Carl breaks surface about six feet away looks at me, and in a clear but slightly raised voice says "shark", and then begins to hydroplane to the beach. I follow in a similar, but slower, fashion. There is no sign of Chris. Again, a full five minutes after Carl arrives at the beach, I make my way from the water. Carl is sitting down still trying to catch his breath, but he is frequently standing up and looking out to sea. He is obviously concerned about Chris, and now I am safe, I am too. Carl tells me that Chris swam over to him whilst underwater and very excitedly pointed and through bubbles shouted "shark". Carl did not see the shark himself. After what seemed like an age we observed a snorkel slowly making its way toward us. It was of course Chris. He rose from the water and waded in triumphantly holding a pure white shark about 14" long. He had seen a shark. A small one. But had not conveyed that part of the message to Carl very well. I mentioned how I had perfected diving earlier. At that time, there was a large great white (fucking big shark) snatching people of the Perth beaches. This thing was estimated by those that saw it to be eighteen feet in length and understandably it was at the back of everyone's mind whilst at the beach, including a Freemantle beach called Coogee. Coogee beach was, I thought, quite a pleasant place. There was grassed areas off the beach and behind the dunes. There was a shop that sold "Peters pies" as well as the usual beach fare and soft drinks. There was also a small caravan park where adults could get drunk at night and make a lot of noise. Getting to the actual beach itself, like most beaches, involved a long walk through the dunes along a well trodden route of about 500 yards. The beach had a jetty of about 100 yards long with small diving platforms at either side, they were about one 75 yards out to sea and 30 yards from the jetty itself. Depending on the tide, they would be either standing one foot above the water, or awash with the water. The important thing here is that the diving platforms were not connected to the jetty. During most Saturday afternoons a gang of us would swim out to the platform with a Coke can filled with sand. The can would be thrown into the water and we would take turns in swimming down to get the can. This was done without any aids like flippers or mask. It was you, the sea, and your trunks. It took quite a bit of swimming to get down to the seabed and get the can, and if the platform was awash with water, and therefore deeper, a lot more swimming was required. The more we played this, the more our lung capacity would grow. Often the round trip could take over two minutes and sometimes we would think someone has finally drown when they would just break the surface to everyone's relief. Like many games it involved several elimination rounds with retirements created through simple exhaustion. So in order to keep the pressure up, as soon as a swimmer returned with the can, it was thrown into the water, and after a suitable time allowing the can to settle on the sea bed the next swimmer would dive in. On one memorable occasion there was a group of us including my surfing pal Peter Doyle and Malcom, I was fifth in the queue and the platform was awash. Everyone before me had succeeded and it was my turn. I was either going to be triumphant or drown. I would not come last. It really was worth dying for. The can went in, and I went after it. As I descended I scanned the seabed but with a combination of not being deep enough and not having a mask, I saw nothing for some time. Then just as my lungs where bursting a faint red glow appeared, it was the can. At this point my body was saying "surface" but my pride was saying "a few more yards". My pride won. But it is not easy to judge either speed of descent or distance when underwater without a mask, so with each push of my hands and kick of my feet I seemed to be closing by inches and no more. Also of course the deeper you are the heavier the force of water trying to push you to the surface. With the muscles behind my shoulder start to cramp up and my chest, both tightening and burning, I get the can. Planting my feet on the sea bet I push as hard as I can and ascend at speed. By now I can sense my brain telling my limbs to keep moving but I cannot tell if they are. I swear my lips puckered and broke the surface a good three feet before the rest of my face, and when I breathed in a passing seagull had to correct its angle of flight. But I got the can, and that's all that mattered. I resumed my place on the platform in preparation for the next round. Whilst waiting for my next turn I looked at the beach to see that it was about half full. Busy, but with plenty of space and was adorned with the characteristic pure white sand typical of the beaches of Western Australia. I focused on a young family with parents aged early thirties and two children of about five or six years old. I was intrigued to see that the parent's swimwear seemed to be cut from the same cloth, something I never seen before or since. The children had matching hats and were playing, of course, sand castles. The father, unfortunately for him, was going bald and even more unfortunately seemed to have forgot to protect his bald patch, which looked from one hundred yards away to be turning salmon pink. In fact it looked like the bull's-eye normally found at the centre of an archery target. The sand castle however, was taking an impressive shape with six walls of about five foot long and about a foot high with large towers at the junction of each wall. In the centre was another shape but I couldn't make it out. One of the children was as busy as their dad but the other seemed to be sulking and was sitting approximately half way between the castle and their sleeping mum. Not far away, I could see my mother with her friend Mrs Doyle. They had made their own way here and by pure coincidence we were at the same beach. They seemed totally engrossed in conversation and since conversation has always been mum's favourite hobby, I am assuming that she was enjoying her afternoon. I looked again at the young family. I could tell that the sulking boy was now shouting at his mother in an obvious attempt to both wake her, and involve her in his distressed plight. Some people on the jetty raising their voices and laughing attracted my attention. Similar to the beach the jetty was reasonably busy but there was no fishing since fishing took place either early morning of later evening. I'm not sure why, but I think it was something to do with the preferred feeding times of the fish. As I looked at water behind us and noticed that the Sun's shimmer on the surface of the water momentarily disappeared, to then reappear. I scanned the sky to look for some silent aircraft assuming that it was the creator of this phenomenon, to observe that there was none. I then looked at my friends for conformation but no luck there neither, they were looking deep into the water to spot the current swimmer who comes to the surface and immediately onto the platform with can in hand and grin of face. The can goes immediately into the water shortly followed by the next swimmer. I look towards the beach to observe that its still 75 yards away and then look to the jetty to observe that, that too is still the same distance away as it always has been. I get the distinct feeling that my brain is starting to plan ahead. A slight breeze pucks up making us all shiver and hug our own bodies in a forlorn attempt to stay warm. One of our number, Malcom (the guy we stayed with on our recent visit), is trying to engage me in conversation. I am aware that he was the last swimmer and now wishes to discuss his triumph, and whilst initially pre-occupied with my thoughts I now start to listen to him politely at first, but then joining in with his enthusiasm and making various congratulatory remarks. The next swimmer goes in. We are joined on the platform by the last contestant who now starts to throw his long black hair to either side of his shoulders and partially wetting our now dried backs. He too begins to speak of his achievements. I look once more to the water behind us. Not that I seriously expect anything to remain there but mostly to re-enact the scene again to try to further analyse what I saw, or, thought I saw. My second turn was coming up, there was the swimmer already in the water and I think, I've just seen something. Something fucking big, in the water, where I am bout to go. The current swimmer has not yet emerged and he must be getting close to, or just beyond, the two-minute barrier (if there is one). In fact, if the truth be known, he is late. As I look to the jetty, to my horror I see two or three people, not within talking distance of each other but all pointing at the same piece of water. I also noticed that one of our group, a guy with the unfortunate name of Randy Savage, had turned pale and looked as if he were about to faint. Then a large fish, looking incredibly like a eighteen foot great white, passed below the platform. Someone, quite correctly in my opinion, said, "what the fuck was that?" Well you would wouldn't you, and so he did. At that moment I became aware of a scream. It was the scream of someone panicking and in fear of his or her life. It was the lost swimmer surfacing, and screaming, and breathing, all at the same time. He also seemed to propel himself out of the water and onto the platform without touching the platform until his feet were on it. I've seen films of penguins exiting the water in a similar fashion. Quite a feat. Meanwhile the shout has gone up on the beach and the customary exit ensued. Later my mother told me that the alarm was first raised by a well spoken but timid English woman who started to shout in a high pitched but low volume voice "shark"... "shark". Mrs Doyle looked her initially intrigued, then confused, and then realised what the poor woman was trying to do. She stood up and in a bellowing strong Australian accent shouted "SHARK". Meanwhile on the platform we were starting to assess our situation and analyse our options. None of which were good. We could swim for the jetty (the beach was too far), or we could stay on the platform. The former had its obvious dangers, but the latter could result in all of us getting sun stroke. We opted for the latter. The last swimmer was telling us that he had to delay his return to the surface because when he got to the can and looked up, he saw the dark shape above him. But we now had another problem. Randy was going into shock. He was unable to support himself and we had to lay him down on the middle of the platform using up much needed standing room. Someone also started crying but I wont go into that, since I think it was me. The debate was renewed with vigour with the occasional shout of "you fucking swim then". For some strange reason, I was comforted by the fact that some of the group were the toughest kids in school, and in a strange way reassured that bad things never happened to these guys because they could deal with anything, because they were tough. In truth, they were. Whilst there was heated debate, they were always in control of the situation. It was only Malcom and I that were crapping ourselves beyond panic. Randy was in another place. Also, and this is strange too, I felt that I was part of a bigger brotherhood. I felt that in years to come this moment would be legendary, and that I, could say that "I was there", with the big guys, one of them. It is also an example of whatever the circumstances, I could be a calculating twat. By now, the water had emptied of people and we were quickly becoming the celebrities of the day. I wondered if the people on the jetty were looking at Randy and thinking "how cool" "this guy is surrounded by panicking mates, a eighteen foot shark in the water, and he simply lies down and starts to sunbathe". If they were only within smelling distance of us, they would get a different impression altogether since Randy was now starting to smell. But I could tell on the faces of those on the jetty that they knew exactly what was happening and the level of activity told me that some sort of rescue would be arranged. But what would it be? I knew if my mother was involved, it would comprise of her shouting at me from the jetty in her Barnsley accent "it wun't ert ye", and me shouting back "it fucking will". Either way, I knew I was "in for it" either from the shark, or more worryingly, from mum. As I turned my attention back to our group I saw Ricky Barton now wearing a mask that had been kicking about the platform, stick his head in the water to take a clearer look. Unfortunately for him, he was looking left underwater and the dark shape was returning from the right. Now I was starting to smell. The others grabbed Ricky and pulled him from the water. After about what seemed a long time we all got the feeling that we were going to have to recue ourselves. Randy now seemed to accept the situation and was sitting up and talking. Ricky had given up on the idea of trying to find a clever way of rescuing us all. And more importantly, we hadn't seen the shark for some time. All of us, including Randy, were looking at the jetty and starting to make the obvious and inevitable calculations. Not surprisingly, Ricky was the first to take the plunge, and take the plunge he did, followed by the rest of us. I can tell you now that triathlon competitors know nothing. Try swimming, not to win, but swimming to save your life, with several others, heading for one ladder. Inevitably Rick reached the ladder first but amazingly when he did so, he turned and looked back at us, then started to swim towards and past us. Randy was left stranded on the platform and Rick was returning to him. A few weeks before, I had seen Ricky bullying and humiliating Randy, in front of everyone at school. Now, he was to all intent and purposes, risking his own life to look after Randy on the platform and stay with him? The rest of us got to the ladder and started to exit the water like a scene from the Keystone cops. We made it out to tell the tale. Copyright © Clifton M Bland 2009

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    Spelling needs a bit of a clean-up. On the good (dare I say great?) side, I enjoyed this thoroughly, being a waterbug my self in my youth. A great, great story, wonderfully told. However, I did not have to deal with "fucking big sharks," just snapping turtles and water temps of 60 degrees F.
    I found this memoir to be wonderfully entertaining, especially for one who does't swim a stroke! I think it jumped around a bit without a lot to connect different items. I did not care for a lot of the curse words, although I know when you see a shark, the word what the F*&^ just might cross your mind. All in all a great tale, but again, I'm not sure of the correct format for a memior. Smile
    Thanks to both of you.

    A lot of people on other sites have also commented pretty much the same, good story, no need for bad language. I shall clean it up.

    Thanks again this is just what I need.

    Clifton Bland