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Friday, October 12, 2012

The jumping of the sharks

A friend of mine used the header containing the words "jumping sharks" in one of her feisty political articles. At least I regard her as a friend, though I've never actually met her, and she might tell me to go visit the aquarium and take a leisurely swim in the shark pool. But this isn't about her.

   It was when my older sister Lyn and I were about nine and seven respectively. All too rarely we would stay a few days with Aunty Kate and Uncle Harry in Gladstone (pop. then 7500). They lived in a narrow lane on the seaward side of the main shopping street in town. It was an open, airy house and you could see a broad sweep of the bright blue harbour from their kitchen.

   We loved these little holidays – not enough of them from our point of view (and probably our mother's). Aunty Kate would walk with us down to one of the two local picture theatres and then walk home. We'd see a movie, and walk back on our own. We thought that was big bikkies because there were sometimes cars in the main street, driving along – three or four a minute, unlike Calliope, which would have averaged three or four an hour.

   On this occasion, we were going to see Walt Disney's Peter Pan down at the Regent Theatre, with its vertical neon sign in several hues that read – you guessed it – REGENT.

   This was hugely exciting, and we were not disappointed in the movie. I fell in love with Tinker Bell, though even at that age I could see she was a right little sod and would be ... well ... a handful. 

   I vividly remember when Hook, that evil swine, was creeping up on Peter, half-snoozing at the top of the hill, arms folded under his head. I was also screaming like every other kid around me as Hook, or his wicked black silhouette, got closer and closer to the top. Why wouldn't Peter open his eyes?

   'Peter!" we screamed, utterly terrified for him and nearly busting the canvas seats in our consternation.

   The idiot took no notice at all.

   Peter, you will be relieved to know, escaped. I've forgotten how now, but maybe it was something to do with that relentlessly ticking crocodile, with whom we had something of a love-hate-fear-awe relationship, given his determination to swallow the villainous Hook. We heartily approved of that bit.

   But hey, I don't want to give away the best bits of the movie if you've never seen it. It was the one and only time I ever did, and maybe at the age I am now, it's probably best I never see it again. Things don't have quite the same magic as when you're seven and when, for us bush kids, movies were a great novelty.

   Anyway, we came back to Aunty Kate's at Oaka Lane, having safely negotiated the crossing of Tank Street all by ourselves.

   "You should have seen it, Aunty Kate. It was...(words failed me – there were none grand enough) ... good!"

   She smiled at me. She always had a soft voice.

   "No. I was happy sitting here in the kitchen, watching the sharks jumping out there in the harbour." 

   Sharks jumping in the harbour?

   In spite of the wonders Mr Disney brought us with his cartoon, I was utterly entranced by the idea. To spend the afternoon on the canvas deck chair watching as massive grey sharks leaped high amongst the choppy white caps in the ocean seemed to me a wondrous enterprise.

   Why hadn't she told me about it before? I spent quite a lot of time in the last days of our holiday on the little porch looking and looking for even just one shark to thrust its great bulk high into the air, but none did I see.

   Not even one.

My perception [at age 7] of what I should see


Aunty Kate lived to 101 years of age. It would be nice to claim or to have extracted some longevity genes from her, but as she was married to Dad's brother, I got no genetic benefit from that. Her maiden name was Howard, and now, for the first time in my life, I have made the connection with a less fortunate Catherine Howard, whose wifely head Henry VIII had chopped off when she was only 20 or so.

   Aunty Kate got her 100th birthday telegram from the Queen, I was told, though I never saw it. Luckily the Queen isn't too au fait with the new technology, because all too soon, she'll probably just dash off a quick email on the laptop for the centenarians before jumping into bed, and that won't be anywhere near as good as a real telegram.


  1. I showed this blog to my lovely sister in law (my husband's sister) to persuade her into this type of communication (she uses her computer for mundane things like banking!). She was enchanted. Anne P.

    1. If she enjoys writing, it's a wonderful way to do it. You just have to expect that few people will read it at the start, and that you are doing it primarily for yourself and your family.

      Amazingly, your family grows as you write, if it's interesting enough!

      Let's know if/when she does it. I presume she's seen your excellent blog?

  2. Wow! Is that the same shark that was after Alice in Port Phillip Bay? Bewdy!

    Another, as Anne said, enchanting story from your childhood on farms and by the sea, that always brings such similar memories and nostalgia to me. Walking home with my cousin up the dark road of our small seaside town after seeing 'The Wizard of Oz', feeling VERY afraid of the Wicked Witch of the West. Looking from grandma's windows hoping to see whales passing. I DREAM about oceans full of huge sea creatures, but they are usually not scary like your shark!!!

    Inspiring writing:) Now I want to get on with my story "From Boomerang Street". That was where grandma lived.

    love, Julie M XXX

    1. Write that story. We know how well you do write, from this wonderful guest posting. Oh, and your Ph D thesis [me, i.e., I read it] which was beautifully written, all 92,363 words of it, but not quite the same style.

      Living near – or even better by the sea as kids had an enormous effect on our lives, didn't it? [I guess that's a silly statement really, as where we live as children always does, no matter where it is.]

      I never dreamed about sharks.

      Aunty Kate, being one of the most industrious of people, would hardly have been sitting watching sharks at any time. No doubt when we were out she would have been busy dealing with any mess we kids had made, polishing and cleaning with one of those new-fangled things that made a lot of noise and were a bit frightening. Vacuum cleaner. Yes, that's it. I stayed out of any room she was vacuuming, to avoid any risk of being sucked up that pipe.

      They also had those electric lights, that came on and went off just by pulling this long cord. That sure beat our kero lamps.

      She wasn't by nature a shark-watcher, but for many years after, it never occurred to me that she might be kidding about her afternoon's activities in the kitchen chair, gazing across the harbour.

      It captured my imagination mightily. I was a sea-gazer, that's for sure. I still am, aren't I?


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