Hard not to personalise this article when I’m dread-filled at the inevitable … and sharing my horror with a stranger too who’s looking on in wonder at the pre-teen girls before us, struggling against a swift incoming tide at the mouth of the Prosser River, Orford. Well let’s make that the new mouth … the sandbag mouth.
It’s make-over complete, huge bags of sand stretch seaward and form the river banks, where once the river ran lapping at shallow banks on either side.
I speak to a couple of young fellas also looking on at the girls, now scrambling up the steep sides on the other side, before readying to swim back to our side. They know who the girls are and tell me, and I tell them that I know the dad of one of them.
The stranger, a local and I talk for a bit and without any suggestion from me, is critical of the million-plus dollar works at the Prosser mouth.
“Nothing wrong with what it was,” he says, curious at my activity with the camera taking stills and movies.
“Hopefully they’re not for the coroner,” I reply as the lasses, perhaps 10 or 11 years, make their way out of the area. I call to one of them and give her my name.
” I know your dad. Tell him that I was very worried at you swimming across the neck like that. The tide was sweeping you in. If you swim there on an outgoing tide, you will get swept out and maybe won’t make it back.”
The girls make a promise they won’t swim on an outgoing tide and disappear, and I hold my camera to film a boat returning from the bay, making fast headway to maintain steerage in a stream in a narrow, steep channel.
“If those little tackers were in the channel, that boatie wouldn’t have seen them,” I say.
And there is concurrence that it is only a matter of time before tragedy visits the Orford River mouth.
I have made many visits since the Dinosaurs that built it were put into their cages with a promise to return this year for the final stages of it’s facelift. And it’s really all to do with a few boats on jetties on the river and a seasonally-busy launch ramp. For sometimes the mouth silts up and boaties are either locked out or locked in.
Until completed the warning and stay-away flags still dominate the site. But the stay-out signs and flags are ignored by kids and kin and older dudes who prefer to walk the solid sausages emplaced by the dinosaurs.
“Its much easier going than in the soft sand,” a woman comments, believing me perhaps to be someone with a camera for the construction company, “anyway, everyone is outside the flags.”
“They’d be there for legal reasons,” I deduce audibly, “if anyone drowns outside the flags, nobody gets sued … maybe.”
Above the din of playful, family, barking dogs, gleeful tiny-tackers and a boat motoring out to sea, I hear the squeal of the delight of kids trampolining on a soft-spot on the bags. They have found the patches, many of them, on the sausage bags, where their innards appear to have subsided and have been repaired. The aforementioned stranger has already proffered an explanation for the patches.
“It’s bloody Shackies. They’re coming in at night with sharp knives and slicing the bags.”
Really? Well thanks to mayor and now parliamentary contender Mike Kent, there’s quite a demographic distinction between Orford and the rest of the residents in the area. In his turnaround support for Tassal expanding its fish-farming activities onto the east-coast, Kent in a pejorative, offensive tone got onside with one demographic and off-side with another by referring publicly to the latter as ‘Shackies’.
“I don’t think shackies would be up to late-night river-mouth slashing, mate. Mostly older dudes in bed by sundown.”
He’s not convinced and when I tell him I’ve been an Orfordian for 30 years but a resident not a shackie, there’s a distinctive atmosphere and I head back to my car, camera swinging in hand, loaded with scary images of little tackers, unsupervised, fearless and frenzied at the new challenges ahead in the new swiftly-flowing Prosser River mouth.
Now let’s get political. What if? What the?
I have discussions with another resident and will supply his name in ‘comments’ should he agree. He’s been about for yonks and his work suggests he knows boats and the sea, better than the average dude … and the politics of seafaring.
He too shares my view that it is only a matter of time before rescue sirens and ambos visit the Prosser River mouth. He too is a regular witness of child-adventuring and daring and tempting the natural elements of fast tides and ignorance of inherent dangers.
I see these kids, sometimes struggling to get across the river-mouth and feel like yelling against the breeze, ‘don’t swim back!’ But no, I guess I’m getting paranoid in my ageing and in this politically-correct age, I’d be prime suspect in a kids’ tale to parents that a man was watching, filming and yelling. And I see boats coming in at high speed, necessary to stabilise in cross-currents in a narrow-neck. The sun is glinting off a brine-splashed windscreen, and….
“He’d never see those little heads in the water,” says my equally observant companion.
Let’s hope that paranoia is clacking the keyboard to this story. And that safety authorities have things in hand and that kids work stuff out and will always make it home with amazing tales of ‘guess what we did today which is fantastic fun.’?
If not, and my paranoia is justified, then I have plenty of troubling shots I would be obliged to make available to a Coroner.
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*Paul Tapp: From humble beginnings in a Fingal Valley mining town, Paul Tapp’s ambition to become a journalist was denied him before being conscripted into national service and serving as an infantry rifleman in South Vietnam in 1967. His photographs and captions to The Examiner Newspaper during his service were intercepted by the Defence Force and stamped as official PR until Paul produced negatives of ownership. And thus his career began. He was the only journalist to receive the State’s major award for broadcast and print journalism, eventually pursuing a career in Government press secretariats in the NT and in Tasmania. In retirement he investigated the police killing of Joe Gilewicz in 1991, where his work was taken to Parliament by Peg Putt MHA, eventuating in a Commission of Inquiry. Latterly his probing into the disappearance of Lucille Butterworth was the catalyst for a coronial inquest into that matter. Paul continues to ‘keep watch’ and contribute material to the Tasmanian Times.