Fishos

Kyeemagh is an Aboriginal name meaning ‘beautiful dawn’. Thing is, by the time the Tin Lid and I cruise down in the Holden the dawn has long legged it, replaced by a scowling, irritated howler of a day, spring in name only.

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Scorched winds shake the beast, rustling the duco and unnerving the driver, whose hair tangles in the slipstream that burls through the car from five gaping windows. The Tin Lid is staunch in his acceptance of the five horsemen of the apocalypse and their climate-born reign of terror, happy to keep filing forward into the maelstrom in search of The Boat.

It is all about The Boat. His first time at sea; the Cowboy’s first-time first mate and chief bottle-washer. We had sparkling plans that dripped with flat-calm azure seas, a light breeze and palm fronds, open waters and sandy bays. But they are fresh victims of a gale that scours the seas, whipping up sand and spray 500m on shore.

So we find ourselves at Muddy Creek, a shuffle-up of dirty water that snakes lazily along the borders of Kyeemagh and Banksia, beneath the roaring bellies of outbound jets. The Brighton-Le-Sands Amateur Fisherman’s Association is the landmark, the bit we all know for its flash 80s signage:

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It is morose, tired and locked-up tight, a moment caught in time. Notices flap angrily on a squat Besser-brick block, Foreclosed; Until Further Notice; Member’s Only. There is grit in the air, and the putrefying stench of mangroves and diesel. The water is slack, slick with oil and barely supporting its wallowing clinkers…

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But the distance has captured The Boat and the Tin Lid has begun an animalistic wail that is stoppered only when he is delivered into the clutch of his mariner crew:

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As they motor into the tempest with only seedless grapes and ginger beer I wonder idly if a broad-brim-hatted three-year-old could tip the delicate balance in high seas, but am soon distracted by the bones of what was Fishos, one-time thriving cultural hub, albeit with slight scent of fish…

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Empty-eyed and retired, she is like a salty run aground forever, sadly listing back into the creek, silent but for the clack clack of tip turkeys as they squabble over the debris. 

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The boat yard sprouts a little more life, but is the preserve of a wily few with hard-clung-to keys for shiny padlocks that cluster like haemorrhoids around a rusting chain-link fence. And there are signs in abundance, manifestos for the suburban trailer-sailors:

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A chalkboard with a nub of chalk dangling from a strand of twine, its blurry scrawl almost illegible, belies the sense of community it inspires. It is a trip log, where each and every skipper signs-out on departure. If they fail to sign-in on their return it is assumed they are in difficulty on the water and require assistance, and someone will head out to find them.

Of course, this premise relies on any number of factors; that the skipper remembers to sign back in, that the chalkboard isn’t wiped clean by onshore gusts of ocean, and that visiting 50s speedboats reliant solely on broad-brim-hatted children and ginger beer have seen this board and added themselves to it. Oh, and that there is someone there to read it…

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TS Sirius, a utilitarian bunker that adjoins the boatyard offers a skerrick of solace – an Australian Navy Cadet unit right here! Perfect for open-water rescues in cyclonic conditions, reliable, big-boated and undeniably attractive in uniform – but the concrete is moth-eaten, honeycombed out by time. There is no epaulette’d admiral barking orders here, no swarm of sailors to save the day.

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The best I can hope for is a bloke in a tinny, back from an afternoon’s squid fishing, who seems interested only in the sinks:

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In this incongruous place, a concrete wasteland, forgotten yet not forgiven, it seems strange to smell the ripe aromatic tang of oriental greens, yet out the back, beyond a playground that may or may not have been imported from Soviet Russia during the Cold War, is a lush emerald ocean, conical hats bobbing in it like buoys:

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Bok choy, choy sum, on choy and Chinese broccoli vie for light, fat with water and love. The scent of coriander, parsley and mint make my mouth water, despite the festering mangroves, and the rich alluvial soil crumbles seductively beneath my toes. It is no stretch to imagine Muddy Creek as it once was, teeming with life, unencumbered by industrial decay and the social stoush endemic in the economic collapse and involuntary administration of community organisations.

Yet, in this moribund place caught in the thrall of an angry sou’easter, there is a moment of bright, bright joy –  it is written on the face of the Tin Lid as he returns from his first time on the high seas.

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Perhaps this is the ‘beautiful dawn’ Kyeemagh whispers of?

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