Getting priorities Strait

The Islanders have really got their priorities Strait up here. Some times the regional Councillors go missing for days, weeks sometimes. They may just drop everything to fishing, even though it’s annoying for me trying to get that quote I need, the ever grinding quest for the front page pic and the front page story, I can’t blame them. In the greater scheme of things, they may have their priorities right.

Let me illustrate island priorities with an anecdote.

I recently attended the 40th anniversary  lunch of the Aboriginal Hostel Association, and organisation that provides temporary shelter to transients, homeless, or people travelling fro remote communities on the outer islands.

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There were passionate speeches, dancing and feasting on kupmurrie wild pig, crayfish, prawns, sop sop and all the other amazing array of island food.

IMG_8491In comparison, a few days later Australia’s Governor General Quinton Bryce arrived up at the Strait, to grace us common folk with her ‘excellency-ness’ (at the expense of tax payers).

Now its not like the GG didn’t get a a genuine, warm welcome, she did, but…

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Let me put it this way, the canapes before lunch were spring rolls and deep-fried dim sims (Ok there was also smattering of California rolls and some curry puffs too).

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And the Kaurareg Elder who gave the ‘Welcome to Country’ did manage to still stick a knife in,

“We were driven from this land by gunpoint, but our connection to this land is through our blood and our culture survives through song lines and dance. Since then we have been put in the too hard basket.

“From human being to another, I appeal to you to help our struggle for equality as it still seems to fall on deaf ears.

“Due to the short notice of your arrival I could not organise the Kaurareg Elders to be present, nor did I dress up for this occasion as I thought it important for you to accept me the way I am,” he said.

Hmmm, need I say anymore…

After the speeches and dimmy canapes, GG ended up up at the army barracks for a late lunch with Defense and emergency services.

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Now here’s the kicker…

The Australian Defense force laid on a lavish lunch of corned beef and pickle sangers on a platter with a centerpiece to die for.

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YES That’s an orange speared with toothpicks of cocktail onions and artificial cherries. A far cry from Hostel banquet of crayfish and kupmurries roasted wild pig…

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Living in a fish bowl

Since becoming the editor of a regional newspaper in a remote location, many hundreds of kilometres away from the metropolitan, I have  found myself oddly at the centre of a hub of activity.

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It’s very different to my time in the wilderness of freelance journalism in a city.

Previous to this job, I conducted most of interviews via the phone or internet from my kitchen table, usually in nothing but my underwear, a bottom feeder, jostling for contracts from magazine editors and digging around for leads on juicy stories.

Now, as an editor of a paper, I am constantly hunting for the new front page story, its like a drug, nothing else matters, then as some as the front page to the page page is laid out for the printer, there’s just enough time for a post-coital cuppa joe and a ‘arhhh’ of self satisfaction… But then it starts again, the chase – the next front page.

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I’m acutely aware of position of influence I have in this small community spread over an immense area on Australia’s only border with another country. People approach me to write stories far more than I need to look for them. I am even courted by ‘Big’ papers like the Australian and TV channels who want to pry on-the-ground info out of me…

I frequently have breakfast with a Parish Hall restoration committee, or the Rotary, have a coffee with the Police Inspector, talk with regional indigenous leaders on a first name basis and have candid phone calls with federal politicians. The Mayor leaves messages on my answering machine. A far cry from my previous Hunterseque past.

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But just as importantly I need to attend with the local parents and friends evenings, weddings, funerals, birthdays and school sports carnivals.

They have a love-hate relationship with me, everyone has an agenda, no one wants to be crucified by the press and in a small community. I have to walk a tight rope of attending to all these often opposite viewpoints, so I don’t get crucified – literally. The more earnestly I champion one cause, I so often have to champion the opposition to it to avoid appearing biased one way or another – despite what my own political leanings maybe. It’s a far cry from the drones writing for two third’s of the country’s press owned by Murdoch. My boss gives me a pretty free reign on my content and I try to honour that by being impartial as possible.

But I do take delight in following certain protocol of this family owned newspaper group.

“Never use the word honourable in prefacing a politician’s name, they are many things but not honourable,” my boss often says.

He also says I don’t need to wear a suit when dealing with dignitaries, in fact one of my bosses makes a point to wear shorts and thongs for the poli’s but dresses up for the local Elders.

It’s good to see my boss has his priorities worked out, similar to many of the islanders…

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What’s in a name(us)

One of my all time favorite dishes is Ceviche, which comes from Peru. It’s a cold, raw fish salad, where the fish is ‘cooked’ by marinating it in vinegar and lime juice.

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Torres Strait Islanders love their fish and they have a version of the ceviche called namus or numus 

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However, I doubt they got the recipe of South America, its more likely it arrived in the Strait with the Japanese pearl divers and their dish of Namasu which is much the same thing as ceviche and numus. It seems the Japanese got it from China around 700AD. There seems to be versions in East Timor and Samoa,I guess great ideas get around.

What’s in a name, it’s a great recipe. I visit to the pier the other night was fruitless for me, but a Priest and his family from PNG who I have become fishing buddies with, hauled about 50 Queenfish using lure and jig lines, so they gave me five.

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I followed the Strait recipe below, but put it on a bed of steamed sliced sweet potato and sprinkled fried corn kernels on top, similar to how the Peruvians serve it. Bloody awesome.

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Here’s an Islander version of the recipe

  • 2 fillets of fish, sliced finely (trevally or other pelagic variety)
  • 1 large onion, chopped finely
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • peanut oil (enough to coat the bottom of a small saucepan)
  • soy sauce (Old Cathay is a favourite but use what you have available)
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 2 chillies (optional, but if your game use birds eye and chop finely)
  • brown vinegar
  • castor sugar
  • 1 orange, chopped in quarters and sliced width-wise with peel still on
  • 1 red & green capsicum, sliced or chopped
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • shallots, chopped (for garnish)

Method:
In a large mixing bowl (use glass or ceramic) place sliced fish. In a small saucepan or wok heat up the peanut oil until hot and pour in the mixing bowl. Stir the oil through the fish thoroughly. To that, add the chopped onions and garlic. Mix well. Stir in the lemon juice and vinegar (about two capfuls). By then the fish flesh should be turning a little white as the acidity of the lemon and vinegar start to “cook” the fish. Mix in the sugar (about a teaspoon), chillies, orange and red and green capsicums. Add a little soya sauce for taste and to add some colour to the dish – remember not too much. You can also add salt and pepper to taste, but you probably won’t need much salt because of the soy sauce. Refrigerate overnight or for at least four hours. To serve: place the namus in small bowls lined with lettuce leaves and garnish with chopped shallots.

Here’s Samoan version that adds coconut cream at the end.

  • 500 g white fish fillets
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 lemon, sliced
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 400 ml coconut cream, if it’s not too rich or 1/2 cup coconut cream, if it’s rich

Directions:

Cut fish into cubed pieces.
Sprinkle with salt then lemon juice.
Cover and chill for 2 hours or overnight or until fish whitens, stirring occasionally.
Put in onion, coconut cream, tomatoes and cucumber, and garnish with 1/2 lemon slices.
Serve chilled.

Fisherman tails…

OK, so on the fishing front I have totally redeemed myself.

Maybe its because now, thanks to advice from the locals, I study the tides, the moon, the winds, pick my times, use different bait for different situations and have my lucky spot.

Yes it could be a combination of all those ingredients or could be that I have just been dumb-arse lucky.

First I caught a huge Snapper on the late night shift, then the next day on the sunset shift I caught another Snapper, a Jack Fish and a Coral Trout. The local Bronze Whaler shark, a lazy eight footer that lives under the jetty, made an appearance and very nearly robbed me of my Snapper off the line. A heart pumping kicker to the adrenaline rush of hooking dinner.

After the endless frenetic pace of manning a regional newspaper single handedly, dropping a line has become my daily decompression. The salty seabreeze, the blood-red sunsets that drain away to the spectacular big-sky of the Milky Way, while the Strait laps and licks at the legs of the pier, all give me a huge, collective sigh of relief.

Sometimes I catch myself, saying: “Fuck me this is beautiful.”

Beautiful in its simplicity, life reduced to an all-consuming lowest common denominator, that only Mother Nature can dish up. I would insert a photo of the glorious sunset here but I am too busy soaking it up – sorry.

Figured I’d let Otis set the sublimeness:

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My time on the pier also provides for some off-the-cuff networking opportunities. I hear about juicy story leads, island gossip and plenty of ones-that-got-away, fishermen tales. Just the thing for an ever-hungry newspaper hack looking to fill endless inches of column space, just as one paper is filled, another deadline looms…

one of my catch, now on ice

some of my catch, now on ice

A couple of Islander blokes came up looking most envious at my haul, one of them having not caught anything. So remembering the generosity of other fisherman to my empty larder and the Ailan Kustom where nobody goes hungry, I gave him my Coral Trout, despite never having the luxury of tasting one. I just knew karmically it was the right thing to do.

“Cheers Ba’la, my wife will love this.”

I wondered if he told her if it was caught or gifted.

Not long after they left the universe repaid my generosity with a big White Trevally, so now I have freezer full of fish, none of which I have paid for, ready to feed my family when they arrive in a couple of weeks. Now I’m, no Bear Grylls, nor do I wear Khaki or camo print, but there is something ‘bloody’ satisfying  about catching your own protein to feed your clan.

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Done and dusted...

This was a Jack Fish, which is often used as live bait, but I think its a good eater, obviously…

Life is good.