Saturday, December 6, 2008

Duffy, the elusive Trout, the Gaden hatchery, brave Steve Whan, private enterprise, multipliers and Satanism

Back in the good old days of country living, there was nothing so grand as getting out the .22 (or even the .222), or a rod and line and net, and go killing things.

There was always lapin to be found in abundance, and the occasional 'roo and plenty of native fish. Once upon a time you could find fat bellied Murray cod lurking in deep holes in the upper reaches of the Namoi river, a source of endless intrigue to local fisher persons. 

Occasionally we took out the .303 to remind the creatures of the law of the .303 - the law that so enamoured the Breaker - but truth to tell, if you hit a lapin with a military weapon, there was damn little left for the pot and not even a whiff of the myxo to remind you of the poor bunny's sad future.

But Dorothy you might say, this is pretty unseemly and retrograde behavior, and you'd be wrong. In the good old days, when people were poor, a bit of Alaskan living off the land went a long way towards freshening the diet. There was nothing so tasty as a lick of catfish in the griddle, embedded with the flavorsome taste of river mud.

But you see also there was a rule - that you ate the things you killed, and you only killed the things you would eat (myxo infected lapins aside). Hunting as a sport way above eating  - you know, let's toss this one back in creek to show what good conservationists we are, and let's set a few hundred deer and a couple of gobblers loose in the back paddock - was the kind of tosh reserved for squatters and landed gentry. (Somehow I'm always reminded of Ken Loach's excellent film The Gamekeeper, in which a gamekeeper goes about the business of keeping the toffs in pheasants, then goes home to a pork pie).

There's always an interesting class, political, cultural and social dynamic at work when talking about hunting and fishing, and as usual we can rely on Michael Duffy, esteemed columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald, to ignore all of them in anything he writes.

This week sees Duffy embark on a mind numbingly arcane and dull piece of local political gossip, entitled "Fingerling good: the fishy political tale behind closure of trout hatchery".

The story involves the off and on again existence of the trout hatchery at Gaden, which the NSW government announced it would close in its mini budget, and then changed its mind after all the anglers and the Monaro locals squawked like stuck pigs. Much of the rest of the column reads like a piece of puffery for local Labor member for Monaro, Steve Whan, whom Duffy presents as a knight in shining armor valiantly battling the stupidity of Macquarie street and eventually saving the fingerlings and thereby humanity.

Duffy presents all this in a light hearted vein, as if crossing the Agatha Christie-like mystery of the tale with the comedy stylings of a Jerome K. Jerome.

Sadly it ends up neither (neither fish nor foul) but as just another example of the knee jerk stupidity of the current government, in that they could have done something sensible to get this squattocracy rort off their books, but failed on every level.

But what we do have as a result is first class evidence that deep in the soul of the Duffster is the heart of a wannabe English squire. The Honorable Duffster, esquire, meet Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, man of leisure, whose natural and sure instinct was to take the lads hunting on first news of their mother's sad demise. 

Sure the Duffster might have written an interesting story about the way trout fishing was introduced to Australia, and how the trout has basically taken over the waterways of Tasmania (as well as being implicated in the death of several native species). So that the landed gentry could cast a fly and reminisce about their long lost lives trout fishing in mother England like yeoman of old.

Sure he might have written about the very dodgy fate of species like the Murray Cod, battling introduced species like the bony carp and climatic conditions (though like his bete noir, global warming, the Duffster would probably see such perils as a figment of their fishy imaginations). He might even have written about the hard times facing even hardy fish like the catfish or the yeller belly or the bream, all native species and all facing freshwater blues.

Sure he might have written a tirade about privileged groups seeking government subsidy for their own fancy elitist pleasures, when they might have used some good old fashioned elbow grease and private enterprise to set up and run their own hatchery. (Instead the Duffster has discovered the power of the multiplier, suggesting that $600,000 spent on the hatchery produces $70 million a year in local income. Sheesh. Talk about consultancy hucksterism - source of figure please, calculations of benefit please, evidence this isn't just another piece of nonsense the Duffster would expect to decry when it came to talk of conservation, the Murray Darling basin, immigration and global warming).

No, in his heart, the Duffster aspires to be an English squire, and it's possible to have a vision of him, booted and flied up, heading up to Oberon to cast a line in search of the fierce game fishing offered by the noble trout. No doubt we can look forward to further tomes, about the importance of introducing fox hunting into the upper reaches of the Hunter valley, and the ongoing benefit the noble lapin provides to hunters seeking a little sport and a decent French stew (despite the efforts of all those nativist ratbags to kill off the dear little bunnies with their evil brews). Yep, let's stop these ghastly scientists and agri business dudes, and save the bunny for the pleasure of hunts persons everywhere.

So what can we establish from the Duffster's column:

Subsidy is a force for good, and if you can prove it's only a fleabite, so much the better. Never mind if the fleabite indulgences produce a state heading to a lower credit rating and lost services.

Government has a hand to play in doling out money to lobby groups and local agitators, never mind the effectiveness of policy.

Private enterprise needs only to be talked about if and when government can't be persuaded to hand over the lolly. (The Duffster pointedly notes that talking of selling or leasing the fingerling hatchery to private interests was a con job designed to sugar coat the government's cruel indifference. They just needed to hand over the cash, in the same way that Obama needs to bail out Detroit. Is Duffy a closet agrarian socialist? Can the next step be industrial socialism? Are his readers on the right aware of his brown speckled pink fleshed tendencies?).

Foreign fish are welcome in Australia's river systems - as John Howard put it, we will determine which fish can be released and which fish can be saved and which fish will be damned forever.  What this country needs is a damned good Englishman, like Pickwick and his club, a good port, and a bag of trout (I'm still checking to confirm the accuracy of reporting of this little known speech).

Well Steve Whan has saved the trout. Now we only need to save the Duffster and England. Can someone send him off on a round the world tour of trout fishing spots? Perhaps he could even go salmon hunting. Perhaps a bear might mistake him for a salmon. I know, I know, it's feeble fun, but then the Duffster's column this week is exceptionally feeble. 

How does the Herald put up with him? How do its readers? Is the gossip that the Alan Ramsey spot at the head of the page will be replaced by Miranda Devine true? Will we have to re-title this blog to include the doodlings of Miranda Devine? Has sacking the Kirk done enough to save the empire, or will rampant stupidity continue?

With Brian McCarthy to replace him, and a new lapdog editor to be appointed, it's a safe bet that an ongoing boycott of the Herald is the best way to save the few remaining brain cells left in the noggin. The Herald is now so relentlessly down market that even the Murdoch press laughs at it.

Talk about wabbit season. Meantime, on to the score:

For a dull parish pump column that even residents of Monaro would fall asleep reading: 11
For celebration of parish pump subsidy and the role of government in handing out lolly to local lobbyists: 11
For enthusiastic celebration of angling, fly fishing and the survival of foreign trout in Aussie waters: 11
For enthusiastic support for the government spending money on frippery and squattocratic amusements at a time of financial peril: 11
For never asking why trout have difficulty breeding naturally in Australia, though noting the fact at the start of his column: 2
For using multipliers, when to a Duffster multipliers should be a form of Satanism: 2
For sending the fish and chips wrapped in his dull musings to a perfect sleep: 10

Damn, as usual, the Duffster was heading to a perfect score, and then his Whitman-esque tendency to embrace contradiction gets in the way. Never mind that he redefines parish pump as a kind of excruciating dull parochialism not even Steele Rudd could make funny, the Duffster's heart beats soundly and steadily in step with the landed gentry and the National party (or whatever it's called wherever it continues to tread the land).

And surely the Duffster will keep rising to the surface, hunting flies, and ferreting out obscure sources of rage, while managing to ignore anything that gets in the way of stories he has to tell. Surely the noble carp, best eaten smoked, and a good fighter, freely available in any local dam or river, will be the next piscatorial marvel to enhance his column.

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