6 MAY 1972, Page 24


Clive Gammon

The arrival of the Australian cricketers in England reminded me of the sybaritic way I watched the final Test in last year's series: on a portable telly beside the swimming pool at Lindemann Island off the North Queensland coast, as I alternated between simmering gently onshore and lolling in the water while flocks of lories in daft primary colours screamed overhead.

Added pleasure came from the fact that nearly all the other guests at the hotel were Australians, presently in deep stress as it became clearer and clearer that it was all up for their side. I was fascinated to see how British they were in the way they reacted to defeat. There were the anguished exclamations and outraged yells you could expect anywhere, but in the end they were succeeded by expressions of sad, hurt betrayal and gloomy prognostications not just for the future of Australian crickt but for that of the Australian nation. One of them had just the look I remember on my father's face when he came home on Saturday evening with the certain knowledge that once again Swansea Town was doomed to relegation.

After the Test match was over something terrible happened, the ultimate Australian disaster. The hotel bar ran out of draught beer. This was quite late in the evening and I wasn't present at the beginning of the crisis because I had gone fishing with the barman, who, perhaps realising what might happen, had handed over his responsibilities to an amateur locum.

We had gone to try to catch a coral trout off the end of the jetty. The coral trout could only exist in the psychedelic world of the Queensland Coast and the Barrier Reef. It is bright blue with pink spots, a burly fish that only vaguely resembles a real trout (I think it must be one of the grouper species). Anyway it is highly esteemed as a sporting and eating fish even though you catch it on a handline, and the barman was the local expert.

Even so, we caught nothing but whiled away the pleasant tropic night drinking the domestic red and propped up against an upturned dinghy. Not until it was all gone did we stroll back again.

To be met outside the hotel by the distraught substitute with his bad news. Flushed with plonk, perhaps, but nevertheless in command of the situation, my friend the barman strode in to face the .mob. Looking around him at the men who had been tried much by the afternoon's defeat only to find their solace denied them, he turned to his locum and uttered words worthy of the Duke of Wellington before Vittoria.

"Turn the music up," he said, "and serve them Stubbies."

Obediently his locum set the juke box blaring and started to open numbers of the no-return beer bottles he indicated. There was no more nonsense from the crowd. With them subdued he returned to instructing me on the techniques and tackle required for the capture of coral trout.

I hadn't gone to Queensland to catch these nightmare fish, though. In recent years it has emerged that arguably the world's biggest concentration of black merlin is in the waters around the Barrier Reef. Big game fishermen out of Cairns (though it is hard to believe) are said to try and avoid billfish of this species which look to be under 1,000 lbs in weight.

Unhappily, one of those South Pacific cyclones had hit the Queensland coast just before I had turned up and the long-range boats at Lindemann Island had been hauled up creeks to be out of the way of it. The cyclone had passed through (though programmes on Brisbane television kept being interrupted by special warnings heralded by a banshee siren) but not until the next spring tides could the boats be got into the water again.

So there was nothing for me to do except to lie around the swimming pool in the daytime and try to snatch a coral trout or two on a handline later on, and without the aid of the barman who had evidently decided that in future he would have to supervise his domain more closely.

But there would be one more trip in company, it turned out, for unbelievably, as in some far-fetchtd fantasy, both the hotel's beautiful (I do not use the word :lightly) receptionists let it be known that fishing was the supreme passion of their lives. There can be too much of a good thing. Only one of them should have been addicted. But anyway the three of us made a late night foray to the end of the jetty.

On my previous visits, nothing fishy had stirred but now, with ineffable timing, a large shoal of small sharks, three or four feet long, swam into view where the jetty light illuminated the water. And until it was time to go home I was kept busy landing fish, re-baiting hooks, casting out again. There wasn't a minute to spare.

Beautiful hotel receptionists should be kept in situ not be covered in shark blood and allowed to yell like maenads. It's curious, isn't it, how small things can put you off?