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ALBERT DORRINGTON

THE LOG OF A BULLHEAD SHARK

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover 2019


Ex Libris

As published in
The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 13 December 1905

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-06-06
Produced by Terry Walker and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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TO begin with, my people are a sour-tempered lot; if it wasn't for old Uncle Jack and his jokes, the family smile would have a hard time keeping its teeth wet. Since my earliest recollections I have always been a young bullhead shark. I first saw water and sky near Twofold Bay, where the 'whale-busters' help to fatten a lot of my brothers.

I have met the big herds 'blasting' off Cape Dromedary; I have raced under their mottled jaws, swum and frolicked within their ten-knot thrash, and played the giddy sea-urchin from Port Jackson to Cape Howe.

I wouldn't like to be a whale; I'd sooner I be a prawn or a black bream. The whale is the deep-water fool, all blow and no bite. Uncle Jack—he is known from the Bomberoo to the Hawkesbury—cultivated a taste for whale beef when quite a youngster. He could scent the blood from a harpoon-flange, and make a feast before the 'buster's' flenching knives and 'cutting- tackle' got to work on the wide ribbons of blubber. He was generally in at the death of a bull whale; round and round the big thrashing mass he would fly, flashing under the oil-drip, guzzling and gorging, his eye always fixed on the 'buster's' terrible flenching knives.

'Rocko,' a Coogee gray nurse, got stranded last season, playing the goat at a kill off Eden. 'Rocko' never would wait until the harpooner had sighted his gun. Behind the gun is a well or bucket from which the rope comes tearing as soon as the gun is fired. 'Rocko' didn't know this, and the rope slacked and buckled, tearing him to pieces.

Whale fat makes us lazy. Prawns are good appetisers after you have been rolling all night in the glare of the South Head light. My sister and I used to make it lively for the whale calves. They are silly, inoffensive splodgers. Uncle Jack taught us the trick of baiting calves. It's good sport in deep water, but you want a wise old stager behind, like Uncle, to plan the attack.

'I'll look after the old woman,' he'd say, 'while you youngsters skirmish under her lee flipper. If she hits you with her tail, my son, you'll require a poultice as big as a hen-coop to straighten you.'

I would begin the attack by ducking under mamma whale, but in a flash she'd drop 50 feet to the sea floor. The calf would sink by her side; then my sister would play shark-poker and raise the old lady with a sharp nip under the port fluke. Uncle Jack would be on top, his shadow standing sharp as a knife in the sunlight. All of a sudden he would skim down with a savage whirr, and as he bit and tore, right and left, blood and oil would rise to the surface, so would the bitten calf. Ask mother if you don't believe me.

Uncle Jack got very rusty whenever the Green Cape sharks walked into the fun. They are the laziest, hungriest lot of mud loafers this side of Norfolk Island. When the weather was hot, and the dry westerlies scalded the face of the water, the young sharks, pointers, hammer-noses, and bullheads, would make for old Bluey's Bower, about a mile from the Spit Punt. Bluey is an old, blind shark, full of yarns about Sydney Harbour. He is almost as old as a full-grown whale, and as savage as a sword fish. He remembers the Dunbar,* and the night she broke up. He was scouting off the Gap until the heavy seas smashed open the loose barrels of pork and beef.

[ *1857; 121 of the 122 on board the three- masted cargo and passenger clipper-ship died when it crashed into the rocks at Sydney's South Head. It is still the worst peace- time marine disaster in NSW history. —Terry Walker.]


Although Bluey is quite blind, he follows the young sharks around Middle Head. He will sand-root, and play possum if he hears a young dog barking on the beach. A lot of nice young dogs have never been registered on account of old Bluey.

The trainers at Randwick used to send racehorses to the Coogee Beach for swimming exercise. They were delicate creatures with tender legs and hoofs. Bluey rushed through the surf one morning, and dragged a beautiful stallion into deep water. Its skin was soft as the throat of a seal, and it fought and plunged until a big wave rolled it over.

Bluey prefers a fat, comfortable, brewer's horse. Thoroughbreds are hard eating—all the flavour has been galloped out of them, he says. I was never much of a sand-scraper myself. I hadn't the courage to sneak around the piers or surf at Bondi, nipping children's legs. The beach always frightens me. Some of the shoals on this coast would shave the skin off an ironclad.

Sydney Harbour is all right when you've earned your navigator's certificate. I've been hit with a dredge bucket, flogged almost to ribbons by the propeller of an outgoing tramp. If you put a Papuan or Torres Strait shark into Port Jackson, he'd be like a wild nigger dropped in the middle of George-street. The traffic would break his heart. If he dodged the punts and paddle steamers he'd break his dorsal gaff-tops against a bridge-trestle or a gun-boat.


The Dago fishermen are a bad-tempered lot from a bullhead's point of view. They put a lot of simple faith in their iron hooks, pork-baits, and old clothes-lines. You'd think the sea was made for them if you saw them at work trawling. Uncle Jack, thank goodness, knows how to deal with trawling nets. He waits until they're hauling in the catch and then he takes a stroll through the net and winds it round the North Head; ask mother.

Uncle Jack knows every fish in the harbour. I have seen him round up a shoal of wandering mullet, like a sheep dog, and turn them back to their spawning ground. He will follow a derelict schnapper or jew fish until he satisfies himself that it doesn't intend to leave the Australian coast for good. Uncle keeps tally of the mullet steals; he likes to know how the youngsters are coming on.

No one could induce Uncle to visit the Glebe Island abattoirs. He liked the taste of the water, but the butchers are turbulent fellows. One day, he was lying off the island getting ready for a bullock's head to go astray. Somebody threw a rock at him, and—oh cuttlefish and prawn: a half-naked slaughterman took a running jump off the pier and landed feet first on his back. Uncle got a terrible scare; he never outgrew the nail marks the slaughterman's boots left on his shoulder.

Next to butchers and working dredges Uncle hates naval manoeuvres; things are always going off and disturbing his nerves. Big-gun practice gives him neuralgia if he doesn't take a 30 foot dive and go to sleep until the noise abates.

Last year Uncle Jack and mother were scouting off South Head, inquiring after a shoal of mullet that had gone astray from Balmoral the night before. Uncle was poking round a pile of drift-weed when the Thing floated past and out to sea like a lost launch. Mother followed it suspiciously.

'Bite it and see if it's nice,' said Uncle sorrowfully.

'All right, Jack,' answered mother. 'But if it starts to pull my fin, I hope you won't forget that I'm a poor widow with a large family.'

Mother sailed in quietly and said 'Good evening, sir,' to the Thing.

The Thing didn't answer.

'Looks like a whale, Jack!' shouted mother. She rushed in and bit it somewhere in the middle. Then she rolled over with tears in her eyes.

'What's the matter?' demanded Uncle huskily. 'Cramps?'

'No, my teeth slipped,' cried mother. 'It's like biting a grindstone. I've got a pain in the jaw.'

Uncle side-stroked towards the Thing, then backed away suspiciously. 'Looks like one of those new racing sausages that bustle about on Saturdays,' he said. 'I don't like the look of it.'

Suddenly the water grew white near Uncle; an old cat-shark swept by, then swirled away violently, making a jump that almost upset mother.

'Hulloa!' shouted Uncle, 'what's the matter, Mrs. Cat? Have you seen the new sausage-fish over there? Go and get your teeth into it.'

'Sausage-fish!' screamed the cat-shark, 'what do you call yourself, Jack Bullhead! If that thing happens to bump a rock—Oh my goodness!' She stood off about two hundred yards spluttering and blowing. 'Hoosht! It's the missing torpedo!'

Uncle Jack and mother took soundings at ten fathoms.

'I've heard a lot about torpedoes,' panted mother. 'I hope those naval lieutenants won't allow it to go fooling round the coast. It's disgraceful.'

Uncle and mother slipped away towards Port Hacking.

'Speaking of food,' said Uncle, 'I've swallowed pebbles and pieces of sea-horse, but I haven't quite recovered from the last Christmas pudding I picked up. A woman dropped it from a picnic boat at Clontarf. "Good gracious!" she said, "What shall I do?"

'I wasn't in a hurry to take it; you never know where a big, fat hook is hiding. But when the woman began to wring her hands, I took it as a guarantee that she wasn't an ordinary fisherman; so I closed on her pudding with a gulp.'

'Serve you right if it had been full of dynamite!' cried mother. 'A bullhead shark ought to know better than eat Christmas pudding.'

'Don't know about dynamite,' gurgled Uncle Jack. 'I felt for hours after as if I'd swallowed a gasworks. You could have hauled me ashore with a schnapper line. It was as bad as when I swallowed the tin of kerosene. The oil wasn't so disagreeable, but I fell into a kind of kerosene delirium. I fancied I was a champion motor-launch. I raced a police-boat from Watson's Bay to Pinchgut, and walked in.'

'Kerosene is a fine stimulant,' said Uncle, sorrowfully.

#


A shoal of mullet sped by like an army of silver leaves. They swirled southward in half-moon formation. As the left-wing raced round, a couple of Bondi 'Tiger' sharks rose inside the hollow, and drove then back toward Watson's Bay.

'Those Bondi brutes are always shepherding the mullet!' cried mother. 'When they are not mud-scraping they are interfering with other people's food.'

'Come away,' whispered Uncle. 'The tide is shifting. I could do with a bit of garfish for supper.'

Mother sulked in the wake of an outgoing steamer. 'I can't get over that mullet-drive,' she said, angrily. 'If I could work that torpedo, I'd give those two Bondi tigers a lift.'

A dog-fish came into sight, crossed the steamer's bows, and winked boldly at mother as he slipped past.

'Whaling season on at Eden?' inquired Uncle Jack.

'Don't go in for whales now,' answered the dog-fish drily. 'I don't mind bumping a crayfish or a handful of prawns, but just now I'm off whales. Ugh!'

'Tastes differ,' sneered Uncle. 'Perhaps you'd like a bit of sausage-fish. There's one lying off the South Head.'

The dog-fish dived and circled for a moment.

'If you could spare a bit of salt, I'd be very glad,' he said after a while.

'What do you want with salt?' demanded Uncle, sternly.

'Oh, it's always safe to drop a bit on a torpedo's tail!' he shouted, pleasantly. 'I've seen sausage-fish before to-day. So long.'

And he was gone like a flash before mother could give him a wipe with her tail.

'These dog-fish get up pretty early,' snorted Uncle Jack. 'I often wonder how they manage to keep themselves wet.'


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Administered by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.