Week 33 Saturday 12 January t0 Friday 18 January 2013
This week’s guest columnist is Willy Dolphin Tom Cannon, the bard of the Bristol.
Chasing bubbles through the grey dawn light in smooth water
Hands reaching forward pulling liquid volume in near silence out past the breakwater
Save for increased heartbeat and the splash of the machine working rhythmically
Another morning, slicing towards the yellow buoy, Kevin to the right, Lester the red back capped in front
Chop beside and Mick behind slowly winding up
The best kept secret the beautiful bay, still in the early morning
No Southerly Buster as the group tread water at the buoy looking towards the pylon
Head down the machine begins to wind up as I look forward chasing the bubbles!
– Tom Cannon
Just around the corner from the buoys and the beach is what is known as The Crystals, a popular snorkelling and fishing spot, and scene of The Great Oyster Heist of 1885. In his excellent book Williamstown Mysteries & Other Happenings, Bruce Tait writes: ‘In the late summer of 1885 a syndicate of Melbourne businessmen hit upon the idea of cultivating oysters in the waters of Port Phillip Bay, deciding that Williamstown offered by far the greatest potential for the cultivation of the popular delicacy. The location was in the crystal clear waters at the back of Hannan’s Farm, just to the east of the rifle butts…
‘Under a veil of secrecy the syndicate distributed between 150 and 200 six bushel sacks filled with the parental bivalve. The operation was completed in such an unobtrusive and discreet manner that people living near the beach had no idea what was occurring. But local resident Samuel Waycott was more intrigued than most. After a few days Samuel’s curiosity finally got the better of him. Ignoring the possibility of a shark attack, he dived into the cold waters and found the Crystals’ floor was dotted with oyster shells. Samuel gathered as many as he could and set out for shore, keen to sample the delicacy for the first time…
‘The syndicate caught word of the oyster-find and a few days later Constable Norgate of the Water Police, accompanied by a member of the syndicate, discovered Sam in the process of filling yet another bag. Sam was to be charged with stealing oysters to the value of 2 shillings and 6 pence but the syndicate, not wanting to publicise the fact that a bed of oysters lay in the waters off Williamstown, did not press the charge. Samuel Waycott walked free from the courthouse.
‘The case was widely discussed in legal circles. Most legal men were of the opinion that, had the site been settled upon, a clear case of theft would have been proven. For the syndicate the cat was well and truly out of the bag now, as news had spread of a bed of oysters at the back of Hannan’s Farm. Any thoughts the borough could boast yet another new industry were soon crushed, as a number of locals had by now also acquired a taste for the mollusc, and within a short space of time not one single shell from the original sacks of of oysters could be found.’
365 Swims snorkelled The Crystals recently and found zebra fish, angel fish, a bull-nosed stingray, spiky sea urchins, abalone shells, a tyre or two, some bottles, a golf ball – but no oysters. Bruce Tait’s book is available from Hobsons Bay libraries. Recommended reading.