Salty old life

I may have a little seawater in my veins…

My dad was a marine engineer who worked on oil tankers and spent large stretches of time away from home. As a six year old I can remember Mum piling the three of us into the backseat of the old Holden station wagon and driving down to Pinkenba or Lytton, at the mouth of the Brisbane River. Her home-made Cornish pasties will always be comfort food for me because I associate them with sitting in the car wolfing down tasty meat and slightly soggy pastry as we waited for Dad’s ship to dock.

I realise now that Mum must have been just as excited about his safe return as we were, but at the time I didn’t give it any thought. She was always the last to get a hug as we claimed him for our own. She’d spent the last three months dishing out discipline and order. Chaos reigned from the minute Dad hit the shore.

Occasionally he had to stay aboard as officer of the watch and we’d visit him on the ship. On one of those occasions I managed to fall over the side of the tanker. Luckily for me one of the Thursday Island deck crew followed me into the murky water and I didn’t even have time to be scared. I do remember being cranky because I (a) lost my new yellow thongs with pink daisies and (b) knew I’d have to be driven home so I could get changed and would therefore miss time with Dad…

Today I headed down Lytton Road again. In forty years the barren wasteland has been transformed. The oil refineries and fertilizer factory have new neighbours, wide sealed roads, a gazillion trucks and an air of bustling self-importance. I was there to check out a boat that was to be raised out of the water on a three hundred tonne boat lift – one of those massive moving sling affairs. As I drove into the shipyard I felt as though I was back in my childhood. The smell of diesel, the towering sides of vessels on hard stands, the burnt orange shower of sparks from an angle grinder, the laconic swagger of men in blue overalls was so familiar.

If I hadn’t chosen to fly aircraft I would have been just as happy driving boats. If things go according to plan I may just get to do both!


13 thoughts on “Salty old life

  1. That must have been an impressive but rather sad sight, Brett. I remember that incident…

    Boat purchase is progressing. I had no idea there were such confusing regulations with multiple interpretations to be worked through. Aviation suddenly looks easy!

  2. Hi Helene, hope the boat purchase is on track. We were tasked to go and help HMS Nottingham when she had her mishap. She actually hit Wolf rock on the eastern side of Lord Howe. I have a couple of pictures of her anchored there and down by the head when we arrived and before they towed her to Newcastle.

  3. Lovely reflections on good time memories. Write more of those short stories Helene, I’m hook. Sorry about the thongs, “you lived”.

  4. Cathy, I remember being fascinated by the RN’s rescue of HMS Nottingham, the destroyer that ran aground off NZ. Hard to comprehend a ship large enough to carry a destroyer!

  5. Considering that these are the largest ships ever operated bt the RAN, and loaded aboard a 50,000 ton ship, THEN lifted out of the water, yesd, it was pretty impressive!

  6. Good for you. If you were in Melbourne you could check out a heavy lift ship which has just delivered 27,000 tons of HMAS ADELAIDE to be, to Williamstown for final fitting out

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