When Dad went Fishing


New Year's Eve was the day our peaceful holiday changed. In fact, Mum wanted to pack up and go home when she saw who arrived.

My family had been camping at the Warrington Beach Domain since Boxing Day. During the week, more and more people came and put up tents on the sandy ground. The Samoans were the biggest party. They came in several cars, and a couple of pick-ups. There wasn't just one family: all sorts of ages and sizes mingled together.

Mum told us not to stare, so we went round the other side of the car where she couldn't see us, and watched the men pitching the tents under the big line of macrocarpa trees.  More people came than they expected. They drove back to town for some wood and some canvas, and built another shelter on the spot. The women started cooking almost as soon as they arrived. We could hear them laughing and making jokes all the time they were working.

Their kids set up a volley ball net, and it wasn't long before we joined in the game too. Whenever they had a bit of an argument, one of the bigger kids would threaten to tell Auntie, and that soon put a stop to it.  My sister Narni said, "She must be pretty tough."

Some of the Samoans went diving off the rocks for paua. A lady gave Mum some, but she reckoned it was tougher than leather. She was a bit crook after that, so she wouldn't try any more.

On other days they'd go out with their fishing rods. That was when Dad got talking to them. New Year's Eve and fishing go together in my memory.  I'll tell you why when I come to it.

Sometimes Dad took his rod and joined them, but he said it was hard to understand what they were saying, they all spoke so quietly. Mostly they caught an oily blue-grey fish, called Kahawai.  Mum told Dad if he wanted to eat it, he'd have to cook it. She wasn't going to
touch it.

When the Samoans first arrived, we wondered where they were all going to sleep. But the kids all bundled into one tent, the women into another, and the men in a third. A few even slept in one of the pick-ups. Before they went to bed each night, they'd gather under the macrocarpas, around a bonfire, and sing, and play, and pray together.

The night air was so clear you could hear them, right across the Domain.

We were too shy to join in.  Dad would sit under the awning, in his deck chair, with Anna on his lap sucking her thumb.  Narni and I would lean on him and listen. We could hear the guitars strumming, and the singers making up neat harmonies as they went along. The stars would blink in the sky as though they were too tired to keep their eyes open. Just like us kids.

It was a real peaceful time.  

*****

One of Dad's workmates owns a crib near the beach, and a boat. Mum always reckons Gregor's a bit crazy. On New Year's Eve he invited Dad to go out sea-fishing with him. It was arranged for the afternoon if the tide was right.

In the meantime, the people who upset Mum arrived. They came in a motorized caravan, along with a whole host of trucks and cars. We thought at first they were out from town for the day, but they began to put up some makeshift tents. Most of them were Maori, though there were some Pakeha with them.  Their kids were all sorts of shades.  Dad took one look at them and said, "It's the Mongrel Mob."  He rubbed his forehead.  "I suppose they've got to have a holiday too."

Mum looked up from her camp stove. "Don't you go off fishing with them around."  Dad just laughed and said, "Look, they're not going to attack anyone in broad daylight.  They're just people."

"They may be just people, but they've got a pretty poor reputation," said Mum. "What happens if they decide to have a big party tonight and you're out fishing somewhere?"

"We're not going deep sea fishing, girl."  It was then Mum started talking about packing up. Dad called it nagging.  He told her in the end that he'd arranged to go, and he'd look a bit of a joe if pulled out just because the Mongrel Mob were around.  Mum stopped cooking lunch then and there and went inside the tent.  She picked up her book and ignored us all for a couple of hours.

Gregor turned up on the beach with his boat in the afternoon. He and Dad hauled it down to the water's edge and put their life jackets on.  Gregor's face was badly sunburnt, his bald head covered with little black and red spots.  Dad said he should have a hat on. He just laughed. "The wind'd blow it off in two minutes."

The sea seemed calm. The sky was light grey. Though it was quite warm, Dad and Gregor wore heavy jerseys. Gregor had said the day before, "It gets pretty breezy out there."

Narni and I climbed onto the big rock at the north end of the beach.

"Those Mongrel Mob people are spread out everywhere," said Narni.  I looked.  They
seemed to be doing the normal sorts of things people do at the beach. The fathers paddled with the toddlers, or chased after the bigger kids.  The mothers sat and talked and sunbathed.

"Their dog looks real mean," Narni added.  It was a whitish colour, with a rather square head, and a short tail.  Dad told me afterwards it was a Bill Sykes. The dog belonged to one of the taller Mob men, and went barking round Dad and Gregor as they launched the boat.  They pushed into the water and Gregor started up the motor.  The boat puttered out through the small waves for a minute or so.

What happened next was a real surprise.

Though the sea still seemed calm, a large wave wrenched up out of nowhere as though the sea objected to being sailed on.  It shoved the nose of the boat up into the air.  Dad and Gregor lost their hold and tumbled into the bottom of the boat.  They hadn't righted themselves before a second wave rose up and tipped it over.

Narni and I jumped up trying to see Dad.  The boat turned round and round out of control. Gregor's head bobbed up, and then Dad's.  We were scared stiff the boat was gonna hit one of them as it spun.  They were standing on a sandbar, but the waves had become so rough they couldn't move back to the shore.  Gregor tried to grasp the boat as it turned but couldn't catch hold.  It was too dangerous with the motor running.

"Where's the life saver?" yelled Narni.  

I didn't know what to do. I couldn't help Dad, yet it was the one thing I most wanted in the world.  I felt fixed on top of the rock watching my father's life dwindling away.

There was a thudding across the beach.  First one, then another of the Mongrel Mob men went racing towards the water.  They tore off their jackets and their trousers and ran into the sea. They waded separately through the waves, then held hands when the water became deeper. The two Maori guys reached Gregor first, and began pulling him closer to the shore. Dad seemed too tired to hang on.

"They're leaving Dad!" shouted Narni.

"No they won't," I wanted to say, but I couldn't open my mouth.  Gregor managed to half-swim, half-wade through the waves.  The two men turned, back towards Dad. I saw him go under, and it seemed forever before his head appeared again.

They grasped him between them and began to drag him towards the shore.  He could hardly breath and his eyes were wide and fearful.  Now the lifesaver appeared.  He had a canoe and began skiffing it towards the men.  He passed Gregor, who was making good progress on his own, and headed for the other three.  He stopped to see if they were all right, then canoed on past them, heading for the boat.  While he turned the engine off, Dad and the two men hit the beach.

Narni and I raced towards them, our legs and arms cut and chipped after sliding down the rock.  There were people everywhere.  I was glad Mum was still back at the tent reading.

Dad lay exhausted on the sand.  Gregor was sitting with his bald head in his hands, gasping, "The jerseys were weighing us down. We couldn't swim. We couldn't move."

Narni grabbed Dad and hugged him, but I felt a bit embarrassed with so many people around.
I moved closer and put my hand on his shoulder. The tall Maori ruffled my hair and grinned at me.

"Thanks, fellers," said Dad, when he got his breath back. "I didn't think I was going to make it."

Narni ran off and I soon understood why.  While we were sitting on the beach, with Dad getting his breath back, the life saver dragging his boat back to shore with a rope, Mum came rushing up.  Narni had gone to get her.  Anna was stumbling and running along behind, trying to keep up.

Mum hardly knew what to say.  Dad told her about the rescue, but she just stared.  The tall Maori smiled and said, "Not as calm as it looks, eh?"  

Mum shook her head. She whispered, "Thanks."

We helped Dad back to the tent. Mum took his wet clothes off and wrapped him in their duvet. He drank about three cups of tea in the next half hour, then dropped off on Narni's camp stretcher.

*****

The hectic party Mum expected didn't happen.  In the evening we saw some older Samoans go over to the Maori camp.  There was a lot of talk before they went back to their place under the macrocarpas.

We were really keen to know what had happened.  Later on the Maori started drifting in twos and threes over to the macrocarpas with their kids in tow.  Some of them carried guitars.  They sat down together and sang Samoans, then the Mongrel Mob, and sometimes both together.

Narni and I were desperate to join them, but we didn't like to.  Dad woke up and came outside in his deckchair as usual.  A couple of Samoan fishermen drifted past.  "Hey, brother, you coming over for the singing?" one asked.  Dad looked at Mum.  She didn't seem too keen, but I guessed she felt it would only be polite after what the gang had done for him.  He stood up. Mum brushed some of her back and picked up Anna.

"Come on, then," she said.



© Mike Crowl 1989



 This story was first broadcast on NZ's National Radio's children's programme, Ears, in 1989.
Post a Comment