Old Man Barra

At around the age of sixteen, I went to live in Darwin, way up in the Northern Territory of Australia. It's a small city with large tracts of monsoonal forest, mangroves and beaches intact and relatively undisturbed.

The habitats around the city are replete with all sorts of wildlife that you can see if you're only patient, persistant or lucky enough. Naturally, people are keen to exploit these these places to their own ends and fishing is one of the premier activities for Territorians, particularly for barramundi. And so it was that every morning and evening on the high tides, rows of anglers would perch on a bridge that crossed a small estuary called Rapid Creek. They'd throw their lines in for any kind of fish, but ideally the barra that swam between the sea and the tangle of mangroves that sat further upstream. And day after day, I saw these hopefuls standing there in the half light, next to empty catch buckets, going unsatiated. The tides were right, the creek full, their knowledge assumingly correct, but not once did I see them pull any fish in. Come to that, not once did I see any fish. Until one day, as I walked to the beach, alone and in the blazing heat of the middle of the day when any self-respecting fisherman is drinking tinnies in the shade.

The tide was far, far out on the shallow sea, and as I walked across the deserted bridge on Rapid Creek, I glanced over the railings. And there, swimming sedately in less than a foot of water was the biggest barramundi I have ever seen, anywhere - two foot, at least. It shimmied it's way calmly through the shallows with not an angler in sight, no hooks to snare him, out to sea for perhaps the last time, to spawn and probably die. But peacefully, in the sea, it's home, after a life- time of watching and waiting for the fishermen to leave. Well done, sir! Go forth and multiply!

Ben Foley-Jones
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