In September 1990, I arrived in Australia. It was so hot and humid that year. The days crept onwards, each hotter, each wetter. What started as daily afternoon showers turned into daily moments of sunshine, interspersed with thunderclaps and deluges. Or so it seemed to me. The sweat ran down my back and I developed a rash that itched so badly, walking was impossible and sleep became a luxury. It was all I could do not to get on the next plane back to an English winter.
As spring morphed into summer, I landed my first job and then, without really noticing, I acclimatised. The sun came out, the SCUBA gear also came out and I was loving it, leaping in off any rock platform I could find.
We barbecued almost every night and I took to reading anything I could about Australian fishing. Quite by accident, I came across Gone Fishin’ (and later on, They’re a Weird Mob) by Nino Culotta. This turned out to be like a little crystal ball for my future, not to mention a solid education into ethnic diversity.
I’m not sure I really understood those books, but I loved them; not truly understanding that what I took to be a literary caricature of Australian life, was simply factual observation by a very clever man. It was only later that I found out Nino Culotta was really John O’Grady. In Gone Fishin’, he talked about commercial fishing on the George’s River in Sydney, and his fishing adventures on the South Coast, his dealings with fishing inspectors, and his love of mullet.
In March ’91 I got a job as a Fisheries Inspector based at Sans Souci on the George’s River, where every net fisherman I met was Nino. A year later I was in Narooma on the NSW South Coast, patrolling all the lakes Nino had fished. The book was reality literature.
In August, a diving mate from England came to stay. One balmy evening we were on the beach at Dalmeny trying to figure out how to stop catching salmon and he suggested we go to the mountains the next day. We headed off at first light, and by mid-morning we were in the snow. That alone was simply amazing – from sand to snow in a few hours – but watching Lake Jindabyne, shimmering like an oasis in the winter sunlight as we drove down the hill into the town, was just spectacular. Then walking the lakeshore in a stiff and chilly westerly.
This was where my love affair with the Snowy Mountains lakes began. The start of it all. It was later that year before I managed to find my fly rod and head up for a fish. Rubber chest waders and a T-shirt on a warm summer evening, fish rising, and March flies.
This year has two milestones. First, on some date this month, I will have lived for exactly half my life in Australia; and in September I will have lived for 30 years on Australian soil. But like a moth to a flame, I have steadily moved closer to the Snowy Mountains and after ten years with one foot in Canberra and one in the Monaro Shire, I have finally moved fulltime into the Shire. Sad that the bushfires and the pandemic have slowed my trout bum dream – but that is just temporary. Soon, my wife Cristina will be able to say with a smile when asked, “Where’s Steve?”