When we lived in Victoria, Dad was a keen fisherman and he would often take us kids fishing at a river or out to Glen Maggie Weir. Trout was the most sought after fish.
When we moved to Coffs Harbour when I was 12 it was a real novelty to fish in the ocean. We used to often go down to the Jetty to fish in the evening, especially the first couple of years. I guess after that it wasn’t so cool to hang out with your dad!
The Jetty was a great place to hang out as a kid and we used to love jumping on the trolleys that ran out along the jetty which the fisherman used to transport their catch back to the shore. There was a large goods shed on the jetty and kids used to climb up on it and run from one corner at the back to the opposite corner and jump into the water. It was normal for kids to wait a few seconds for the previous jumper to surface and swim out of the way before the next one launched himself (or the rare herself) along the hot tin roof. Sadly on one occasion the younger brother of one of my schoolmates was drowned when another kid jumped too soon and landed on my mates brother’s head. I wasn’t at the jetty that day but it remains a sad incident in the history of Coffs Harbour.
A family friend owned a boat and Dad and I would often go out fishing with him and sometimes down to North Beach to water ski in the river. Whilst Dad loved fishing he unfortunately was subject to severe seasickness when out in the ocean. He suffered through it every time he went out until he finally decided it wasn’t worth it. The boat owner wasn’t a very nice man and he always struggled to find someone to go fishing with him. After Dad stopped going he would sometimes still ring up and ask if I could go out fishing with him. I went a couple of times on my own before I got sick of his arrogance. It says a lot about the bloke that he had to ask a 14 year old kid to go fishing with him. None of his kids or mates wanted to go with him.
In the nearly 50 years since I last fished off the Coffs Jetty a lot has changed. The foreshore has been beautified but the iconic cranes have gone from the jetty. So too have the trolleys and the tram lines along with the shed and the jetty itself has been shortened.
The Jetty was originally built in 1890 and completed in 1892. It was 1641 feet (500 metres) in length. Nearly 100 metres was washed away during construction by a violent storm. Cargo and sometimes passenger ships utilised the jetty over the years and at the height of its usage, over 400 ships a year called at the jetty. As better rail transport and road infrastructure improved, use of the jetty declined and in 1990, after the cranes and tramlines had previously been removed, the jetty became unsafe and was closed in 1990. As the Jetty was heritage listed and the only remaining jetty on the north coast the NSW Government decided to preserve it and a Save the Jetty fund was commenced in 1992. The jetty was reopened in 1997 after $3.8 million was spent on restoration.
I walked the length of the jetty on 2 occasions during my revisit to Coffs Harbour. On the first occasion there was a mum and dad fishing with a young child, probably about 3 or 4 years of age. It brought back happy memories. As I walked out to the now shortened end of the jetty, 2 boys were jumping off the end. The shed is long gone but the thrill of jumping from a great height is still a pastime of todays youth. When I returned a few days later with my fishing rod in hand there were two old guys on the landing fishing. As I cast out alongside them I thought back to fishing with the old man all those years ago. And you know what? Nothing has really changed in all those years. I still didn’t catch a bloody fish!