Friday, April 1, 2011

The Longest Jetty in Australia?

We drove home from Booleroo  through Port Germein - a small port-town, half-way between Port Pirie and Port Augusta left-over from the Great Age of Wheat.  We drove that way because of it's big jetty, and because we were told we could find ice-cream there. Ice-cream is a big draw at the end of a Sunday afternoon. 
            At the end of the 19th Century, Port Germein was a major wheat port, with a population of almost four hundred people, most of them, we surmised cynically, looking around us at the endless spread of empty salt bush, in the hospitality industries.  Booze and freelance female companionship at a premium.  Average!
            Today Port Germein is two or three streets of small houses, a children's playground, and a meticulously kept caravan park on the edge of a long tidal basin.
There wasn't any ice-cream.  The manager of the caravan park laughed at us and told us about Sunday closing hours, so we ate apples from Sarah's apple tree and walked the jetty instead.

Port Germein's tidal basin makes our own sand-flat look like a narrow strip of shingle on the edge of a canal.

The jetty is 1532 meters long (!!) and only just manages to peep over the edge of the sand-flat into the deeper sea-grass beds.

The local geography has led to the development of a some rather clever technology.  We were there at low tide.  Miles and I had come down from the jetty onto the sand-flat for half a kilometer or so, and ahead of us in the distance, over the shimmer of heat-haze and blowing strands of seagrass, we saw something mechanical and very tall.
            "I think it's a car."  Miles said disbelievingly.  "A car on stilts."
It was racing towards us at rally speed, and as it flashed past we saw that that was exactly what it was - a cart with an engine and a steering wheel, mounted on stilt legs six feet high.

A few minutes later it raced back past us in the other direction, heading out to the water towing a boat-trailer. The driver was wearing hip-waders.
            "Did you see that concrete block mounted between the rear wheels?"  Miles said.  "That'd give it a negative buoyancy.  You can't bring a boat up to the shore in this place - so they drive out to get it!"

Further out, we saw that this was exactly what was happening. There was our little cart, and its trailer, next to a man with a small boat, and in the shallow water on the edge of the sea grass bed, the cart driver and the sailor were trying to winch the boat up onto the trailer so they could bring it in to shore.
            The boat wasn't having any of it.  A stiff wind was blowing the boat broadside to the trailer, and the driver of the cart didn't seem to have the wit to swing around and line the cart up to match the way the boat was pointing.  Instead, he climbed down into the water and with the help of the boat owner, tried to physically shove the boat around into the trailer against the wind.  With the full force of the wind coming broadside, the boat blew onto the sand and grounded there. The men hauled and bullied and pushed till their faces were red and swollen, but the boat was solidly stuck.
            The driver of the cart climbed back up and drove around in a circle to meet the boat at right angles - almost precisely the worst way to do it.  The fisherman hooked the boat up and they both hauled - and the winch line snapped with a crack.  The driver climbed down, retied the line, climbed back up, and hauled again.  This time he snapped the winch.
            It must have been exhausting out there, battling the boat, and the wind, with a rising tide slapping hard against their legs. They were angry and tired and frustrated and the peanut gallery of engineers up on the jetty couldn't have helped any. They were growing rather redder in the face than bullying a boat called for, in fact, so we thought we had better leave them to it.
            Which turned out to be a successful strategy, actually, because as soon as the engineers in our party had exhausted their private wit and headed back down the jetty toward dry land, the driver abandoned his shipmate and buzzed back to shore in his cart and came back with a fresh trailer - and then lifted the whole process into Keystone Kops territory by re-aligning the thing at 90 degrees to the boat - just as the first unsuccessful time round - and starting the whole rigmarole all over again.  

We left them to it.

Back on the shore, we took a spin around the playground.  The swings were extra-swingy and the rumbley suspension bridges were hair-raising.  It was terrific fun, but we wondered how on earth the play equipment had passed muster with the regional council - I'm 5'6" and I was too terrified to come off the monkey bars by myself, and Miles almost broke an ankle falling off a set of swirling standing stones.   Mr Tabubil, despite being twice the recommended maximum height, went down the helical slide on his stomach and came out the bottom with a severely pulled muscle in his upper back.  He didn't feel very well at all.  But you can't blame that on the council.

Yes, that helical slide.  He is a clever one, isn't he?
            Sarah is a physical rehabilitation therapist, and she was able to confirm that there would be no permanent damage worse than a broken ego. 
            Later, going home in the car, Mr Tabubil looked up at me and offered a wan smile.  "I've got friction burns on my elbows."  He said. "And gravel stuck in my shoes.  And I spun around so fast I almost threw up.  All in all, that's a pretty satisfactory visit to a playground, isn't it?  Isn't it?"

Yes, Dear.

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