Friday, September 26, 2008

Abalone balony.

IRB Training.
The shot above was typical of what happened on a regular basis during 1969 and 70 during those early days of testing. Even today despite intensive training, the surf still has to be treated with respect, as it can and nearly always is unpredictable. Warren Mitchell and John Fuller mostly wore water skiing wet suits when out and about in the prototype, but their assistants, namely us, very rarely did. The three girls, Sandra, Joy and Judith never did and were content to have their delicate bikini clad bodies bloodied and bruised by ropes and hard surfaces on the prototype. They began wearing tee shirts for protection and although this worked up to a certain extent, it did not completely put an end to the embarrassing situation depicted below. It didn't happen that often, but often enough to keep us entertained. The girls of course were not amused. It gave us the opportunity to know the girls extremely well. It could be said we got to know them completely, from top to bottom and from back to front.

" Bugger."

Sandra's parents were lucky they didn't see their beautiful young daughter after the Abalone hunt. They never would have allowed her out on her own ever again. Her classic catches quite often ended with her delicate and delightful body sliding through the weed and mud, turning her into a foul smelling, slop encased blob. Maybe she should have taken up mud wrestling........Now that would have most certainly got the pulse rate soaring.

The catch.
Our three able assistants.

The Avalon IRB.

Abalone on the hoof.

The now barren Abalone grounds.

SANDRA, JOY AND JUDY.........Sigh!!

During the spring of 1969 the development of the first IRB at Avalon was about to commence. Warren was determined to improve rescue procedures and equipment as the reel and belt required specialists to ensure public safety in the surf. Even the strongest and quickest belt swimmer could have difficulty at times reaching the surfer in distress. The condition of the surf determined whether a rescue was carried out quickly and efficiently, or became a torture test taking an eternity to complete. Warren had been a professional life guard patrolling the many beaches in Cornwall during the early 1960’s and was convinced the methods adopted in the UK should work in Oz.
The bulk of the early developmental work was carried out by Warren Mitchell, God bless him, and John Fuller. There were many problems with fuel tanks being responsible for inflicting wounds requiring stitches, wooden and aluminium keels that kept on breaking or bending, unguarded propellers capable of severing ones foot or worse, cavitation problems with certain props and outboard motors conking out and/or simply refusing to start when wet.
There happened to be several of us guys who had been surfing throughout the winter months and each and everyone of us were convinced that Warren and John were on the right track and pitched in to help. There were also three attractive females who began keeping us all company during this busy period.
There was the refined Joy with her long black hair, the cheeky brunette Judy and the ever smiling and extremely likable red headed Sandra, who we affectionately referred to as Big Red or simply Sandy. Elsewhere I have mentioned what larrikins Jude and Sandy turned out to be. These were the two mischief makers who quite often would slip into Brookvale Oval via the under 12 children’s entrance, despite both being 24 years of age. How they got away with it, God only knows, but they never failed......Refer SANDRA and JUDITH at Brooky.
In between the work there was quite a bit of play and having the girls around made that play even more enjoyable. We would sometimes call it quits and head off to the Avalon RSL for the odd beer and gin and tonic. Other times we would have coffee and a meal at the local coffee shop, or merely set out driving to destinations unknown. What the girls regarded as their favourite entertainment was being taken for a spin around the bay in the prototype rubber duck. It was quite common for tee shirt tops to end up covering female faces and the odd bikini top or bra was seen flying through the air on several occasions. “Don’t worry we’ll pick it up on the way back,” was the standard reassuring shout from the male crew. This was usually around 15 to 20 minutes later, if they were lucky. It was Sandra who renamed the duck, ‘The Giddy Boat.’
Most of these hair raising rides took place only when the surf conditions permitted, but Sandra did not seem to mind venturing out through the break on medium large days. Every now and then the boat would have no choice but to bounce over a substantial sized broken, or about to break wave. The boat would be seen vertical in mid air several feet above the waves top with one of the girls, more than often Sandra, several feet higher and still rising, resembling Buster, the crash test dummy from Mythbusters before descending with either a large splash or a dull thud.
After landing in the duck it was always advisable to quickly check ones physical condition to ascertain whether there were any damaged body parts. When one landed in the water from such a great height, the first priority was to make sure that ones bikini had not become a monokini.

"Come on, pick it up now..........Bastards."
One absolutely beautiful warm sunny day all of our friendly little group were in no mood to begin testing engines etc. and began discussing other interesting activities. The surf was almost completely flat, making giddy boat rides a little boring, so eventually it was suggested we provide ourselves with a gourmet lunch by going abalone hunting. At the time I had no idea what an abalone was, let alone what one looked like, but seeing how there’s a first time for everything, I decided to give it a bash, so to speak.
We proceeded to a section of reasonably flat rocks just south of the swimming pool, complete with plastic buckets, knives, snorkels, flippers and face masks and planned our strategy. The guys would enter the water and do all the diving and hunting whilst the three girls would remain adjacent to them on the rocks, with the buckets. The idea was to swim to the surface with an abalone and bowl it in the direction of the girls, whose job it was to catch it then deposit it in one of the buckets. There was an abundance of reddish coloured fine weed all over the bottom and growing on the rocks, making the abalone almost impossible to see as their shells were also covered with it. 

When out the back body surfing, I quite often would swim down to the sandy bottom and back up again. When underwater all you would see was the sandy bottom quickly disappearing as there were no defining features to gauge distance. However, when diving around rocks surrounded by seaweed and small fish, with the aid of face masks, the many features give one the impression of vastly improved visibility. The rocky shoreline headed off in both directions before becoming a blur then vanishing into the gloom. God knows how many times, just at that precise point where the blur becomes nothing, large undefined shadows would be either noticed or imagined moving around, then disappearing. Praise the Lord that Spielberg’s ’Jaws’ had not been around then, otherwise visibility would have been further reduced by a brown coloured haze of organic material emanating from below the waist.

If one looked closely a 6 inch circle of grey and red weed would be detected ever so slowly moving along the bottom or up and across the rocks. It would be immediately pounced upon, prised off with the knife and taken to the surface, then thrown in the general direction of our three bikini clad female assistants. Joy and Judith would make a half hearted effort to catch the slippery slime covered delicacy as it headed directly towards them, but more often than not, the abalone would end up skidding along the rock surface. Joy in particular would only pick up the creature between her forefinger and thumb, then proceed to wipe every trace of the fishy smelling slime from those two digits. Judith wasn’t that fussy, but let’s be honest, she simply could not catch. On the other hand, Sandra would hurl herself horizontally in either direction taking catches that any specialist slips fieldsman would have been proud of.
Joy and Judith finished with around 3 or 4 abalone each and hardly a hair out of place, with their cozzies and exposed body parts almost hygienically clean. Sandra however, she had two buckets full to capacity and she looked as though an elephant with diarrhoea had emptied its bowels all over her. As for the fragrance emitting from the slop that encased her, it defied description, although a bucket full of year old berley comes close.
We headed back to the front of the club house, Sandra leaving a snail like trail behind her, and commenced preparing our gourmet lunch. Shortly afterwards some members came from inside the club complaining of the foul sickly smell that was rapidly spreading through the building. We pointed out that it was only Sandra. They simply nodded knowingly and returned to the club. When she finally went for a swim in the surf I am certain dead fish were seen floating on the water’s surface.
We trimmed the edges of the abalone then proceeded to thump the Bejeezus out of them with a piece of three by two hardwood and into the pressure cooker they went along with two cans of Tooheys Draught. 

A few of these......
......into this...... 2 of these......
......equals this.
I cannot recall how long the cooking took, but John was convinced they were ready. We took our positions on the surf club verandah and began our long awaited gourmet feast. Two of the guys thought they were a bit of all right but there were not too many comments from the others. As for me, I had my first taste of this highly expensive delicacy and at the time I simply could not find words to describe its taste and texture.
Many years later Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee could not have described it any better when he said, “You can live on it, but it tastes like shit.”

Footnote: When I last visited the same spot off the rocks in 1997 there was not a single solitary abalone to be seen anywhere. Some of the locals told me it had been like that for many years.
Don’t it make you want to go home?

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