'I HATE LOCH SPORT' The words were scrawled roughly in the sand. I'd been seeing these signs for several days now and I wondered who would have such contempt for the place I'd retired to. Loch Sport is a small village nestled between Lake Victoria and Lake Reeve in the Gippsland lakes system, Australia's largest inland lake system.
My wife and I had retired to Loch Sport, a quiet little backwater sixty four kilometres from the nearest shopping centre. The climate is mild with only the occasional frost in the winter and the summer heat is tempered by the lakes plus the onshore breeze from the Bass Strait which is on the other side of Lake Reeve. The static population of less than one thousand people comprise mainly of retirees like ourselves, weekends and holidays the population can triple with holiday home owners.
One day whilst walking along the beach I came across the author, a young man viciously scrawling his message in the sand.
"Why do you 'Hate Loch Sport' mate?" I asked, he had been unaware of my presence and looked a bit guilty.
"What's not to hate about the damned place" he belligerently replied.
"Well I could think of a dozen things 'not' to hate about the place; but tell me why have you taken such a dislike to the village?"
"It sucks, there's nothing to do here, my old man's too busy working or building the house, Mum works at the plant farm all day and I'm stuck here on my own. No one want's to talk to me because they think I'm not all there."
"Oh! why do they think that then?" I queried. "By the way, my name's Tony, what's yours?"
"Lennie, I used to suffer from epilepsy, I had an operation that left me a bit slow thinking ... but I'm not stupid!"
"I'm sure you're not Lennie, I can understand your boredom though, there isn't much for a young person to do here as far as entertainment goes; but surely there's other things to do. Do you go fishing?"
"I've tried but there's no fish out there, you need a boat to get to them and there's not much chance of me getting one of them is there?"
"Dunno about that Lennie, there's plenty of fish when I go out. Tell you what, you be here about four o'clock and I'll take you out in the boat; have you got a fishing rod?"
"Only the old man's surf rod and he don't let me use that unless he's with me."
"Don't worry, I can fix you up with some gear, see you at four o'clock then?"
"Yeah, that'll be great, see ya then"
When I got back to the house, I told Tansie about my encounter with Lennie and that I was taking him fishing this evening.
"The poor lad, I can see how he hate's the place given his situation. It's nice that you've taken an interest in him; another stray under your wing." Tansie was having a dig at my inclination of helping unfortunates, both human and animals. My belief is if you can help your fellows, why not do so.
At four o'clock I ran my tinnie up on the beach where Lennie was waiting. "Ready to go gettum Lennie?"
"Yeah, you sure they are out there?"
"Yep, here, put on these waders and we'll go pump a few sandworms for bait."
"Sandworms, are they any good?"
"Sure are, they would have to be the best bait for just about anything around here." When we had on the waders I got the sandworm pump and the floating sieve out of the boat.
"Let's try over here, it's usually a good patch as long as we don't over harvest it. I'll pump and you can pick out the worms and put them in the bait bucket." I started pumping and soon we had quite a few good ones in the bucket. "Want to give it a go Lennie?" I asked.
"Sure, it looks like fun Tony." Soon he was pumping like veteran fisho. With enough bait for the evening we shucked off the waders and climbed into the boat.
"Why do we take the waders off Tony?"
"Good question Lennie, if you fell into the water and it got inside the waders, you wouldn't be able to get them off; if you were out of your depth you would drown. When we get back I'll let you try with them full so as you can see for yourself, like they say 'a lesson experienced is a lesson learnt'."
I started the outboard and motored over to one of my marks and dropped the anchor. "This is usually a productive spot at this time of day so lets bait up and go fishin' mate."
"How can you tell where to fish Tony? this place looks like any other around here."
"Ok, see that big pine tree up on the hill?"
"The one right behind Lundy's place?"
"Yep, see how I've lined it up with Lundy's roof? now look over to the left and see the two white houses lined up? that's how I know where we are. Now days a lot of people use satellite navigation to find their marks but this is as good as any for around here."
Soon we were hooking into the bream and it wasn't long before we had a good bag of fish. Lennie hooked on to a screamer. "Slacken the drag and let him run Lennie, the more line you have out the quicker he will tire, then you can wind him in." Lennie played him for a few minute and finally wound it into the net; a nice size blue nosed bream.
"Wow, would you look at that, what is it, he looks different to the others we caught?"
"That's a black bream, the same as the others, it's just that he's a lot older; see his big blue nose? that shows his age. He would be one of the cock fish, they are the one's that keep up the stock levels."
"If I keep it, will there be others to keep up the fish levels?"
"I would put it back myself Lennie, we've got plenty for a good feed; it's up to you."
"You're right Tony, it's more important to let him breed more fish for later, don't you think?"
"I think you've got the right idea Lennie, it makes me mad to see these buggers taking undersized fish by the bucket load, one day this place will be fished out; putting back that big one will help to
push that day further away." We pulled up anchor and headed for the boat ramp, with the tinnie back on the trailer we started to clean our catch.
"There's two ways to clean these Lennie, the hard and messy way and the clean and simple way, we'll do it the second way." I picked up a bream and laid it on the cutting board, taking a cut just behind the gills I sliced a fillet off each side leaving the guts still in the frame. A slice to removed the rib cage and I then flipped it over and run the knife under the skin to remove it, taking my tweezers I removed the epiperal pin bones.
"There you go mate, the 'easy' way, want to have a go?" He grabbed another bream and commenced to fillet it, with a little guidance he was soon doing a fine job.
With the fish all done we cleaned up the remains and fed them to the ever present gulls and pelicans. "Now for the wader test, slip them back on and wade out a bit and let them fill up with water."
Suited up Lennie waded out a bit and sat down to let the waders fill with water, once filled he tried to stand up, the weight of the water made it quite difficult. "Wow, I see what you mean now, Christ, you wouldn't have a chance if you fell overboard, would you?"
"Nope, not a chance mate, same goes for gum boots, when they're full you can't get them off; two no noes for a boat."
I dropped Lennie of at his place, a very happy young man. "See you tomorrow at four if you want to go out again Lennie."
"Thanks Tony, that'll be great, I had a good time today, thanks again for taking me out."
"Sounds like the young man enjoyed himself Tony, how did he behave in the boat?"
"Good Love, he's pretty quick on the uptake, dunno why folks thinks he's not all there; he picked up everything I told him without any problems. I think it's just because he has a poor image of himself and his slow manner of speaking that people get the wrong idea about him."
"Could well be that, are you going out again with him?"
"Yeah, I've arranged to pick him up at four o'clock again. Do you want to invite him for tea one night?"
"Yes, that'd be nice; I'd like to meet him. Perhaps Monday evening would be ok."
We had another successful fishing trip the next day and as we grew closer Lennie opened up and told me of his frustrations. Because there wasn't any employment opportunities in the town, he relied on a partial invalid pension; that grated on him because in his own mind he was quite healthy. His other option was to go for the dole, that meant he had to apply for jobs which he had no chance of winning because of his lack of transport. He had been saving as much as he could to buy a car but that seemed a long way off to him. All in all he was frustrated beyond belief.
We arranged to meet the following morning and take the tinnie and explore the lakes; something I had been wanting to do since we had moved to Loch Sport. Lennie was just about beside himself with enthusiasm. "Gee that'd be cool, how long will we be out Tony?"
"We'll make a day of it mate, I'll get Tansie to pack us some lunch and a couple of flasks of coffee to keep the inner man satisfied. I reckon we could make a big dent in a tank full of petrol."
"Can I pay a bit towards the juice Tony? I feel a bit of a bludger sponging off you like this."
"Lennie, having you along is good company, I wouldn't be getting to enjoy myself tomorrow if you didn't come with me; as far as being a bludger mate, don't consider it. Without bragging, I'm well off, I sold my company before we retired and we live quite comfortably, so don't worry about being a sponge."
Early next morning I loaded the tucker and spare fuel can into the tinnie and set off to pick up Lennie. He was waiting outside his house for me, his mum had packed some sandwiches and some cake for him so what with Tansy's contribution we weren't going to starve. Down at the boat ramp I backed the trailer in and Lennie slipped the boat off and pulled it into the shore. I ran the car back up to the car park and locked it up. By the time I had got back to the boat Lennie had everything ready to take off.
"Right, here's the plan, we'll take a run down the Lake Victoria past the old oil rig jetty, Trouser bight, Emu point and down to Point Wilson, then over to Ocean grange where we can drift over a few plastic lures for flathead. Seeing as how it's a nice day we might even have a dip if it gets too warm; then over to Paynesville for a look around then right up the lake to Blonde bay, have a sniff around there then do Tom's creek where we can wet a line and see if them big blue nosed buggers are around then head back for home. How does that sound to you?"
"Sounds good to me Tony, let's go gettum."
"Ok, you can drive and I'll try to teach you how to be a good boatie; there's rules that are International, so if you were driving a boat in Mexico the rules would be the same as the one's here. I'll also show you how to be safe on the water as well. As we go along I'll tell you what you need to know, then I'll drop a few questions on you when you don't expect them, fair enough?"
"Great, teach away boss."
We started out with the safe boating procedures, how to get out of trouble, emergency requirements, safety equipment and then on to the rules of the road buoys and markers. Lennie asked questions and I could see he was very interested in the subject.
Rounding Point Wilson we headed over to Ocean Grange where we drifted for flathead. Lennie had the first hit and as he played it to the net I warned him of the spikes, "The spines down the back and the two gill rakers can give you a lot of pain if they catch you so be real careful." We finished up with four good sized flatties which we filleted and stored in the Esky. Starting up we motored over to Paynesville.
"What's that big island on the right Tony?"
"That's Raymond Island, there's a chain ferry to get to it from the mainland; we'll see that as we around the end of the island."
As Paynesville came into sight Lennie remarked that it was a lot bigger than Loch Sport. "Why couldn't the oldies have bought a block of land to build on here?"
"Probably the cost Lennie, prices here are about three time more than Lochie, lots more people as well; some folk prefer the peace and quiet of Loch Sport, I know I do."
"Yuk, this would do me."
We did the tour of the waterfront and then headed back up the lake passing Duck Arm. "What's this place Tony?"
"That's Duck Arm I think, let's go take a look." Lennie pointed the bow that way and we did a slow run around.
"Wouldn't mind a house up there" he said, I had to agree there was some magnificent houses up the hill. "Bet there pretty pricey too."
"That's for sure mate, you're looking at top dollar there."
A long run up the lake, past Loch Sport and on to Blonde bay; nosing inside with care due to it being very shallow I told Lennie to run the bow up onto a small mia. "We'll wet a line for a bit and see what we can catch." Still using soft plastics we cast out and did a jerky retrieve. I had a hit and missed it then Lennie had a hook up.
"Jesus, look at the bugger go, wow that's the best run I've ever had." After playing it he wound it into the net.
"Another blue nose Lennie, not a bad fish either; what do you want to do with it?"
"Let me kiss it and let it go."
"Ha, you've been watching too much Rex Hunt mate, you wouldn't want to kiss one of them fathead you caught, that's for sure." True to his word Lennie gave it a kiss and let it go.
"Lennie, I'm proud of you, you'll make a good fisherman yet." I pulled in a couple of takers and Lennie one taker before we move out and went around to Tom's Creek; a slow running narrow creek about thirty foot wide lined with heavy reed beds each side.
"Run the bow into the reeds Lennie and we can fish out the back, keep the plastics on and see what's around." Lennie turned ninety degrees to the bank and gunned the motor pushing us firmly into the reeds. With the motor off we commenced to ply the water with our lures. Lennie had two takers before we headed for home I missed a couple but enjoyed watching the lad having fun.
On the way home I quizzed him on boat rules and safety, he hadn't missed too much, and folks don't think he's all there? it's a pity they don't take the time to get to know him.
"Would you like to come to a barby at our place on Monday evening Lennie? you can ask your oldies if they'd like to come as well."
"Thanks Tony, that'd be great, I'm sure Mum and Dad would come as well, they keep on asking me about you."
"Right, five o'clock, drinks supplied, might even chuck some of them flattie fillets on the barby."
Five o'clock, Lennie and his folks arrived and Lennie made introductions all round, I introduced Tansie. "Tansie, that's a nice name" said Jo, his mum.
"Yeah, it's a bit unusual, I don't know where it came from though."
Drinks in hand we sat around getting to know each other; Terry was trying to juggle his Bobcat business and at the same time build their house. There wasn't much work coming in so there wasn't much cash to put into the house; they were living in a small portable garage which didn't make life any easier. But, they were the type to shrug their shoulders and get on with it. Jo had a
job working on a plant farm outside of town, hard work but it didn't seem to faze her at all.
All in all it was a nice evening, Tansie had minced up some fish fillets from the freezer and made some of her award winning fish patties; a nice salad with coleslaw and we were all well fed. I suggested to Lennie that we might need to replenish the freezer, something he was very keen to do, we agreed on four o'clock the next day.