Western Australia journal part 2

Monday 29 March

As the deep-sea fishing, which was just about the first thing we booked for the holiday, has been postponed again because of the persistence of the Fremantle Doctor, Rob, the owner of the boat we’ll be fishing from, the Reefwalker, has offered us a bonus – a free trip out with him to check the cray pots. So we’re down by the jetty at 7am ready to brave the swell of the Indian Ocean. Of course I have left my non-vomit pills in Perth (and equally inevitably I find them tucked into a rarely used pocket as soon as we get back) but apart from a vague queasiness as we drift while Rob repairs one of his pots I don’t embarrass my pommie self.

We catch 5 crayfish/rock lobsters in the 4 legally permitted pots, and throw back 7 or 8 which aren’t yet big enough. As we dock, Rob kindly presents us with the biggest creature – he’s not allowed to sell them so he keeps two and gives two to the ‘work experience’ crewman Steve, whose job was to reel the pots in. Our lobster gently expires in our freezer, which I find oddly upsetting.

We got back to the apartment by 830am (a blessed coffee in hand) and have a relaxed breakfast and crossword on the terrace. We decide to go for a beachfront walk, but seeing a family fishing on the shore we end up buying a handline and some bait and catching tailor and bream off the jetty for an hour instead. Bree, naturally, is far more skilled, landing 5 fish (she managed one on each hook on two occasions, but both times one got away), but I was happy with my brace.

A relatively healthy lunch at Angie’s (a fantastic, air-conditioned and always-empty café we’d somehow ignored up to this point) followed, and eventually we went back to the jetty for more fishing but didn’t have as much luck – until dusk started to fall and the fish started biting. Of course this is when we ran out of bait, so I ran to the supermarket and bought the best bait substitute I could find – frozen, cooked prawns. The fish weren’t fussy, and as darkness drew in, the fish we caught got bigger – the three biggest, a catfish, a bream and an estuary cod (which had a whole, smaller fish in its mouth as we pulled it from the water) were both over a foot long. After a while Bree was left to fish alone as I managed to toss my reel into the fast-moving current. Idiot Mark.

Tuesday 30 March

Fishing was finally on, so at 530am we joined Rob and his wife Ilse along with seven other fisherfolk. The journey out to our first fishing spot, about 10km north along the coast, was beautiful – the moon setting to the west as the sun rose in the east – but pretty chilly. This soon changed as the sun appeared over the dunes in a cloudless sky, the temperature making its way swiftly up to 34 degrees and the winds died away almost completely. As soon as we cast our hooks overboard, Bree’s assurances they’d be biting our hands off were immediately justified as she landed a substantial dhufish within a minute! I – a mere beginner – landed a 70cm pink snapper, at least 20 pounds of perfect fish. At the expense of some of the skin of my fingers, but I didn’t care one bit.

As it turned out, this fantastic start was a bit of a false dawn, and we went from place to place to try and find other productive fishing spots. But apart from what must have been a large shoal of skipjack trevally we only found odds and ends thereafter. We caught a (poisonous, inedible) gurnard each. I managed a skippy, and Bree caught the final fish of the day, another pinky which she generously gave to the one poor guy who failed to catch anything.

Apart from all the above, a moray eel (annoying, released) and an octopus (chopped up into bait) joined the party as well as a Rankin’s Cod (nom nom) which was a good 500km south of its normal range. As we powered back to Kalbarri and another check of the cray pots, we glimpsed a pair of dolphins leaping out of the surf on their way north.

Back at the dock we divided up our haul. We only caught four keeping fish between us, but the snapper and the dhufish were the day’s crowning glories. Rob gutted and filleted them for us and we packed them into our pair of eskys (old-school polystyrene coolers), covered them with ice and then (having rather cheekily stayed in our room a full 4 hours beyond check out, for free somehow), drove off southwards on the return leg to Perth.

Some final notes from Kalbarri: my spotter’s guide was active thanks to all the roos and a large number of sea creatures, several pink and grey galahs, emus on the way and cockatoos on the way back. We also saw a sign in the bush that could have been designed to lure us to our doom – ‘Genuine Italian Coffee and Kangaroos’. The whole trip was an Aussie school holiday in a nutshell.

The drive home to Perth was pretty straightforward but felt long after 8 hours on a boat (and it took a good 48 hours afterward for dry land to stop rolling and yawing). Roos were more of a worry after dusk, though we only saw one by the side of the road during the ‘shortcut’ north of Perth suggested by Rob during the fishing trip. Once again Bree was a star chauffer – I took the first 2 hours drive and she handled the rest. Bed was exceedingly welcome.

Wednesday 31 March

Family day! First port of call was Bree’s adopted grandmother in St John of God Hospital – in excellent spirits after a hellish nine months and still displaying a flawless Lancashire accent after 60 years in Australia. Lunch was from Chicken Treat, the ubiquitous KFC substitute of alarming popularity, at Bree’s parents’ place, accompanied by many, many old photos which featured pretty much every family member naked at some stage.

In the afternoon I was thrilled to save a massive $255 at Booragoon shopping centre  (okay, so I spent $158 but that included a perfect spring jacket – Bree was jealous of my bargain-magnetism) and we bought presents for members of the recently-discovered dynastic link. By the time we got back to base camp, the parents and Bree’s nephews had arrived to help us eat the products of our fishing trip. I played a bit of soccer with the boys in the fantastic park over the road, whilst Len cooked and women gossiped about shoes and shopping and the like, probably, before we tucked in to some truly amazing snapper and dhuey (along with some the best chips of the holiday so far, and there were a LOT of chips).

After the hordes left we all made our weekly appointment with Australia’s finest reality hospital doco before another deep and lengthy sleep.

Thursday 1 April

The other side of the family takes precedence today, and we go and meet Bree’s dad in his surgery. The tone is set as he immediately asks Bree what drugs she wants. He obviously knows her pretty well. And vice versa, since the exchange is completed with a bottle of Bundaberg rum. It’s a brief visit, small talk only (though even so I’m able to glimpse some insight into aspects of B’s personality, I reckon) but we arrange to meet up again before we leave.

We drive up to Cottesloe for some lunch at the Blue Duck (many oysters, including the frankly over-egged Kilpatrick (bacon? Barbecue sauce? Come on…)) and then walk back along the near-empty beach and buy an ice cream so big Bree gets the fear. Spotter’s guide addition of the day: sulphur-crested cockatoo.

Bree’s cousin Jussie hosted us in the afternoon with wine, cheese and crab and prawn cakes made by her mum. We chatted while Amelia (2) and Zoe (5) entertained us. Zioe may be possessed – she can make sounds priests would exorcise. I didn’t find any promised redbacks (my tally of deadly Aussie insects and reptiles, and situations of extreme peril related thereto, was extremely disappointing throught) but enjoyed the lorikeets squawking and flitting around the palm trees in their backyard. We drove home (thankfully Bree was driving as I’d been generously lubricated by our gracious hosts) and flopped in front of the TV with a slice of cheesecake – a recurring theme – before, once again, flopping down for an early night.

Friday 2 April

A 7am start, bolstered by a McMocha at McCafe (not at all bad. I’m not sure I like that), and by half-past we were pulled up at the Darling Range showgrounds and admiring a gorgeous, sleek ex-racehorse called Pickles. This was to be his very first hack performance at a show – Bree’s old friend Georgina, with whom she used to show horses in her younger days, had only been riding him 5 weeks after his glorious racing career (total prize money: $200k) had run its course.

Bree took to Pickles like a duck to a starring role in animated movies, much to the delight of George who was able to concentrate fully on squeezing into several improbably tight items of clothing, and of her mother Annabel, who could focus all her attention on the no-longer-centre-of-attention brand new baby Vinnie.

I even got in on the act; after Bree had fixed all Georgina’s slapdash horse-tarting (including make up, for heaven’s sake) I gave Pickles a brush and polish, not that he really needed one. No longer required as a stable girl, George was able to give all of herself to riding and Pickles recorded an excellent third in the novice class and a second in his size for three valuable qualifying points.

Lunch on the go was followed by a sunbathe and swim at Port Beach (low-rent in Australian terms – a golden/deep blue paradise to most Englishers) in Fremantle – the water was perfect, possibly too perfect as we both managed to get a little fried. The rest of the afternoon was spent back at Geddes Street, with me being useful and productive (fixing a blind and running round the park) while Bree kipped.

After some crayfish mornay and fish cakes from our remaining Kalbarri bounty, we went back to Freo to meet my cousin Kate, who’s working in A&E at the Royal Perth Hospital. We went to Little Creatures, the no-longer-microbrewery Bree is fond of, and were forced to eat a second dinner by archaic Good Friday licensing laws. Chips!

These strictures also meant it closed at 10pm, so at least our new early night habit wasn’t inconvenienced. On the way to Fremantle we saw the strangest bit of hooning – a dude in a souped up car swerving between lanes of the Canning Highway. Fortunately for all our safety he was indicating in advance of each swerve. Very considerate.

Saturday 3 April

Bree bought a horse. Well, 1/3 of a horse, in partnership with Georgina and her mum. Only $500 for a generous share of Pickles! Plus upkeep, of course, but as an investment in her homeland it’ll be worth every penny.

A chillout morning was followed by a tour around Perth’s delightful city centre. I wanted to buy a t-shirt, so naturally I ended up over $300 worse off. We popped into Saba, so I could check how much I’d saved on my new jacket (which I bought in a Saba concession in a department store) and accidentally tried on a $370 blazer. Reduced to $260, mind! Bree basically begged me to buy it over lunch at the Forum Café (old-school Italian – I didn’t know crab sticks came in such big chunks) and despite the sleeves being a teeny bit short, I succumbed. ‘He’ll get years of use out of that’, said the shop dude, Bree and her grandmother, and I guess I will.

I spent the afternoon building a bathroom cabinet – typical Ikea, lulls you into a false sense of comfort at first before getting hugely frustrating and slow. In the end I needed to use a small file as a hole-borer. As I was finishing up, Bree’s former brother-in-law Mat arrived with his boys and drove us to Subiaco Oval for my first ever experience of Australian Rules Football.

We took our places in the almost-empty stands and they were excellent seats, three rows below the press boxes – and with ten minutes to kickoff I took Milo to find some chips for everyone. More of an odyssey than I’d envisaged, to be honest; he insisted on getting Chicken Treat chips and it took us 15 minutes (and five requests to various security staff) to find the bloody place. We finally got back to our seats several minutes after the siren that initiated play.

The game was great – not of the highest quality, and the Eagles lost 89-86 despite scoring a goal a single second before the game ended. But it was fast-moving, exciting and unpredictable, and with Sam explaining the rules and decisions (along with the world’s most negative old grumpy bastard’s running commentary to my left) I had a pretty good idea what was going on.

We got home quickly on the train (vast numbers of people happily and easily transported across town – you don’t get that at Wembley) and a cheeky cab before taking the boys to Mat’s place in  Thornlie, where Sam concluded the evening by spectacularly breaking the fluorescent light with an errant basketball. Thence home, to prepare for our journey to Margaret River – wine country – the next morning.

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