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It’s the Pirate’s Way for Me(ad)

As a young man I passed through HMAS Leeuwin and left as the inaugural recipient of a non-prestigious award – Most Improved Junior Recruit – for the 73rd Intake. My family never considered attending my passing out parade.

At HMAS Cerberus I was booted from medic training for something to do with attitude (not that my 2nd cousin Ken who was a Chief Petty Officer at the school had any input) and not long afterwards the Royal Australian Navy disgorged me *cough* with a less than glorious farewell.

I was then occasionally a commercial deckhand on trawlers. I spent three months living on a small working trawler doing five day runs for tiger and king prawns from Northern Queensland into the Coral Sea. It was an interesting lifestyle between solid work and almost solid boozing.

One night, after leaving Townsville ahead of a long-awaited storm, we were forced to race for Palm Island to wait it out in a quiet bay.

There is little as disconcerting on a trawler than slipping sideways down the face of huge waves with both stabilisers out on the arms sending shudders through the steel deck. It’s a dangerous work environment. Ideally, you want to punch into the swell or, if you’re desperate, turn the motors off and bob like a cork.

Palm Island is an aboriginal reserve with a terrible history and a no liquor policy. Luckily we were a liquor free boat, I guess. However, the locals crept on board under cover of darkness while we slept. Slowly, they pulled out the secured anchor chain onto the steel deck. None of us woke. I slept directly below. The skipper slept on the other side of the wheelhouse window.

At the end of our anchor chain was a small rope. They cut it and took the anchor… and we woke outside the bay in the arms of that storm. Luckily – and there was some luck – we made it back into the bay.

After that I moved back to Tasmania and did some work on scallop boats where the grueling monotony was driven through nearly all weather. Wide-toothed dredges and no quota was the era of greed in the industry. In that period, I worked on several wooden and one steel boat.

On one occasion, we began to sink on a small wooden trawler off Flinders Island and I spent nine solid hours pumping the bilge until we got back into the Tamar River at around 9am. Unloading was by hand onto the wharf (or double handled onto a flatbed truck). And, no, I haven’t worked on a fishing boat with either a toilet, or a derrick for unloading catch.

Those were the years that devastated the Tasmanian industry. Scallops used to live on top of a thick bed of other fresh scallops; their scallop meat was pristine white. Now, all you see are mud coloured scallops because they live in the crap right on the bottom. We used to do 10 minute runs along the beds and dig huge channels into the layers of living scallop. Now, it’s about grabbing a few fish from that filthy stinking sewage mud. I won’t eat them.

In that period, I also worked on a larger round-hulled fishing boat where we needed gumboots to get out of bed in the fo’csle. Punching into waves on the way home would have me sleeping in mid-air on a top bunk with about six-to-eight inches to the underside of the deck as we steamed through the treacherous path from Babel Island in the Furneaux Group back to Bridport. She was a genuine lady. With a choice between sailing on wood or steel… there is only wood. If I recall, she may have sunk about two years ago.

In 1998, after leaving prison on six years parole, I spent a number of long nights unloading orange roughey as a part of a contract crew at the Hobart Wharf. We got around $2 per kilogram unloaded & iced (from memory) whether it went six ways or twelve. And whether it was a large catch or small. That’s hard work with bugger all pay and it put a hole in my eardrum that took over a year to heal. But it was probably the closest to working on the sea that I wanted approaching forty.

So I’ve always loved the sea. And ships. And pirates. It’s the pirate’s way for me(ad). Now, where did I put that bottle of lunchtime rum?

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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