It was the weekend of the Daly Barra Classic and the Banyan Farm Tourist Park was chockers when I pulled in at dusk.
It had been a long, lonely drive on a road with signs that said “No Shooting”. I wasn’t quite prepared for wall to wall fishermen. But there they were, and with all the gear: tinnies, tents and caravans for the fancy. The uniform was short shorts and thongs, with a Bundy and Coke. The air was ripe with competition and under arm sweat; mosquito repellent and the kind of words you don’t use around Nana.
I was in the Daly for a few days of work and I stuck out like a hipster at a rodeo.
“Dinner’s a communal thing”, said Kerry at reception when I checked in.
“Are you happy to eat with everyone else? Otherwise I can set up a table for you on your own.”
Of course, sure, no problems, I said.
“I’ll put you with some of the nicer fellas”, she said kindly.
At 7pm, I walked into the dining hall, a solo woman in a room filled with tattooed testosterone.
Gazza and Terry waved me over immediately.
“You better sit with us”, said Gazza. “Those other blokes are a bit rough.”
We shook hands. Nice to meet you both, I said. How’s the fishing?
Gaz and Terry laughed.
“Let’s just say this”, said Gaz. “It’s fucking lucky I brought plenty of Devon sandwiches.”
I crinkled my nose.
“Devon sandwiches”, said Gaz. “Life does not get better than a Devon sandwich.”
Terry nodded his agreement.
“I even have my own recipe”, Gaz confided.
“Two slices of your freshest white bread. Make sure it hasn’t been frozen. Margarine. Devon – I like a couple of bits, but each man to his own. And a layer of tomato sauce. Bloody beautiful, that is.”
Terry winked and wrapped his mouth around the steak that had been plonked in front of us.
“I could go on and on about Devon”, said Gaz. “So much you can do with it.”
That started a debate down the table. Was it actually even called Devon? What about Fritz? Polony? Baloney? Was it the same thing?
“Well”, said Gaz. “It’s not fucking Pro-siu-to, I’ll tell you that much.”
Gaz was a Michelin star chef when it came to Devon, and he waxed lyrical about his art for our entire main course. Turns out, there are just so many ways to eat Devon. In potato salad. Pasta. You could even put it in a stir fry.
“What about wrapped around those stuffed olives on a toothpick”, said Chris from Knuckey’s Lagoon who was sitting at the other end of the table. “What do you call those? Cocktail olives. I quite like that.”
Gaz pushed back on his chair and swung his legs. His eyes rolled back in his head with ecstasy.
“Devon and olives on a toothpick? I’ll have to try that one.”
Gazza was about the most delightful man I have ever met. He could have found common ground with Kerry Packer, held court with Somali war lords, made peace on the West Bank. In that dining hall near the banks of the Daly River he kept up a gentle pitter patter of conversation that included everyone: me, Kerry from reception, the young guns from Broome who were ready for a barramundi blitz and the older blokes from Larrimah who were short a few teeth.
Gaz told me he had moved to the Sunshine Coast after a long stint on a block at Humpty Doo.
“Yep, I miss the Territory. But you know something? I left for the education. My daughter was at high school in the Rural Area. And they said she was doing great! Middle of the class. Nice girl, doing well, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.”
“She was colouring in! In Year 9! I’ll tell you what, I wasn’t much good at school in my day, but I’ll be damned if my daughter was going to come middle in her class for colouring in. Now we’ve moved to Queensland and there’s no more colouring in. She’s the bottom of her class, and I could not be happier.”
Gaz beamed with pride and Terry patted him on the back.
The conversation got rougher from there. It started with shoes: how none of the guys would be caught in anything other than a pair of double pluggers. Gaz conceded that he DID, however, have a pair of going out thongs. For special occasions. Adam from Broome said he’d laid down the law to his missus. If she wanted to get married, he was only going to do it in thongs.
Then it got onto footy trips to Bali and what really happened to Adam’s tooth brush when Craig had one too many Sex on the Beach in Kuta.
That’s when I took my leave, but I felt touched to be included for so long.
I didn’t go anywhere near the water, but that Daly Barra Classic was one of the best lessons I’ve ever had on men and fishing and boys weekends away.
I finally got it.
Fishing wasn’t about catching anything. Unless you were a Broome young gun with a competitive chip on your shoulder.
It was about talking shit.
It was about who had the biggest rod and a Shimano reel, and who forgot to bring the gold bombers.
It was about sharing recipes for Devon sandwiches and Bundy and Coke and wearing double pluggers and sweating like a pig.
It was about the time Craig stuck Adam’s toothbrush up his ass in Bali and took a photo, which he didn’t show Adam until the end of the trip.
It was about Gaz telling long stories to Terry and Terry not having to say anything much at all.
It was about male friendship, Territory style.