The big fish stories have been with us since Jonah and the Whale to Alex Hood’s Bill Jinks and the Whale.
The “Whalers” of the Darling are recognised as a breed on their own. Henry Lawson met one.
“Above Louth we picked up a whaler, who came aboard for the sake of society and tobacco. Not that he hoped to shorten his journey. He had no destination.
He told us many reckless and unprincipled lies, and gave us a few ornamental facts.”
Just like the blokes at the bar or publican at some isolated Outback pub. They mesmerise you for hours with their encyclopaedic knowledge, holding an audience better than a university professor.
Such men, the ones mother banned, and our grandfathers, are the great storytellers to youth. It was at their knees that the yarns “of the old days, Back-o-Bourke” were heard.
Real stories, not the foreign fairy stories of books, but fantastic stories from men who had been there, to this place larger than life — the Great Outback, where giant fish straightened bends, kangaroos delivered mail for Cobb & Co, one man drove 5000 goannas to Yantabulla, floods covered a thousand times the area of the Holy Land and where time stands still, It is this time that is important.
In a society that has just chalked up two hundred years, anything of any substance in time, has to be the magical one hundred years or more – that’s about as far as we can go.
Aboriginal storytellers have a longer time frame. They tell of Baiame who made the Darling, the Mundaguddah in the Culgoa, the Warwai in the Barwon, the Ngatji who made the white opal and Kabungadah who was responsible for the gold and red rock-opal in the Outback.
While traditionalists have the exotic greasy Limpopo River I am promoting our Great Grey-Green Darling River and the rich, but often neglected, heritage of this River of History. To present these stories an identifiable and believable character has been created. This is Swagman, who has doubled as the spearhead for a regional tourist promotion. He tells of one of the great fantasies of Darling riverlore: the giant fish <196> the whales <196> Colin Cod.
Colin is the oldest — He’s hundreds of years old — The largest and the wisest fish In the Great Grey-Green Darling River. He lives somewhere — Between Bourke and Wilcannia — In the deepest, darkest hole, In the Great Grey-Green Darling River. Fishermen, jolly swagmen, and the odd bod They all tried, really hard — to catch Colin Cod. But, a flash city feller, seeking the fame, Raided scrap bins behind Chinese cafes. He shoved all the goodies into an old chaff bag And pushed, deep inside, a sharp ship’s anchor. He’d pinched it, of course. What a crook thing to do! Lift the second-best anchor From the ferry to the Zoo! Then he loaded the lot, with his flash little swag, Into his-brand new shiny yellow Suzuki.
Rhythmic prose varied with rhyming couplets, verses and repetition — the storyteller’s great asset for remembering — also provides cues which encourages audience prediction and participation. This has proved valid with audiences of 6 to 600.
Peter Dargin © 1996