Marybelle on mooring

The Therapy Ship

For me, 2015 was as crap as they come. In fact, it could even be described by short words that have no place on a family site like the Lair. I lost my job. To make matters worse, no-one told me why. Then I suffered the indignity of applying for my job, complete with eight letters of recommendation from colleagues, and didn’t even get a start.

The trouble with jobs like ours is that they’re not just jobs you ‘do’. They’re jobs you eat, sleep and breathe. Mine was looking after red-finned blue-eye, a tiny fish from the springs in western Queensland which is just about kaput, so I was in deeper than most. As a consequence I fell pretty hard. I remember being on the phone to Ebb one day from Warwick, and telling him I felt like I’d lost my identity. It didn’t help that I’d applied for a couple of other jobs and got interviews but no cigar. The feedback from one of the guvvy gigs was that I was ‘too honest’. Yeah right. Maybe being 47 had something to do with it? Maybe looking like Gandalf about to jump on a Harley had something to do with it too? Neither was mentioned. The doctor whacked me on happy pills and said I should leave my guns locked up and my daughter found a psychologist. Like I said – not much of a year.

What do you do when everything unravels so spectacularly? The lyrics from an old Richard Clapton song (for those of us old enough to remember) bounced around in my brain: ‘Get Back To The Shelter’. Luckily I had one.

Adam and Marybelle

Years before I ever became involved with fish, my partner and I moved to the small western NSW town of Lake Cargelligo. Lake’s the back-end of the central-west and the beginning of the far west with a smidgin of Riverina thrown in. It’s crazy. Half Aboriginal, half sheep-and-wheat, with generous dollops of Old Testament religious fundamentalists scattered about for good measure. I’ve loved it ever since. Both of our kids are Lake locals as a result. Back then I was teaching music in all the schools: not a bad way to meet everyone, and luckily for me, most of them were still there 10 years after we dragged the kids to Brisbane and I really needed to – literally – get back to the shelter. Nobody gives a rat’s about PhDs and publications in Lake – they just like familiar faces. Back down the Newell I went, back to our little farm on the northern shoreline. I built and tidied and cultivated. Thankfully we kept it!

Just before Christmas, and I’m guessing just when the pills properly kicked in, my best mate Mick (hasn’t everyone got one?) carted me along to a clearing sale. We used to do it all the time: bid on piles of junk, drag them home, then get chastised for hoarding. Nevertheless, the Marybelle was a really weird thing to find at a clearing sale in the boonies. About 20 feet of glass-over-ply. Displacement hull (I’ve never seen another within several hundred km). A boat someone had obviously dragged all the way to the back county from the coast, sitting on a dodgy customised trailer that had been tricked up to make it happen. We guessed it hadn’t seen the water since it landed in Lake. There were dead things in the cuddy cabin and water in the bilge. No steering. I discussed it with a few mates who are also water people from around the Lake: nah, piece of crap, not worth worrying about was the general verdict.

It was a cheap sale. Most of the junk lots went for two and four dollars. The Marybelle was auctioned towards the end, just before the caravans and cars. Mick reckoned have a bid. He said even if it didn’t float it’d make a good kid’s cubby or ornament. I said I’d go to $300 but that was it, especially given I was pretty-much unemployed. There was only one other bidder – a bloke from Euabalong up on the Lachlan which is even less ‘displacement hull’ than Lake – but he bailed out at $160. Going once, going twice – sold to number 27. The auctioneer winked and shook his head. The description on the docket said ‘deep sea boat’. We waited till the sale dissipated and gingerly dragged the monstrosity two doors back to Mick’s. Ah well – could be fun, just like old times.

On board the Belle Emma and Dad

Emma Kerezsy and Dad on the water

We hooked up a Landcruiser to the Marybelle and the old twin cylinder diesel fired first or second go. You can probably imagine what was exclaimed – again it’s not Lair-friendly. We hosed out the wasp nests and dirt from the intake and the impeller pumped water. Same reaction. I spent a hot afternoon up in the cabin sorting out the drum steering, and Mick welded up a big trailer extension. Then, the moment of truth came on December 30. We found a quiet spot and backed the keel boat into the shallow lake (yeah – we needed every inch of the extension). The Marybelle floated. I clambered in and fired up the putt-putt. The Marybelle chugged to life. We did a ‘town lap’, waving to friends and anyone else who’d wave back, and then we piloted the old boat all the way back to my place and moored her to a stump in the channel. Unbelievable.

The Marybelle hasn’t stopped putt-putting since, and the smile hasn’t left my face. I’ve dragged a few lures from time to time but as yet the ‘Belle is fishless. Doesn’t matter: that’s not what she’s about. The Marybelle’s a ship – not a boat – and I reckon she’s about the only one west of the mountains. So I’ll keep putting for as long as I can, because it’s a bootload better than the alternative.

2015: as crap as they come, but it couldn’t have finished better.