Saturday, 20 December 2014

Fresh Fish in the Desert

     These days, of course, you can probably get anything in Alice Springs although, since it is almost exactly in the centre of Australia, you are likely to pay a lot more than on the coast. Sixty years ago, however, things were a little different. If, for example, you wanted to eat fresh fish, you would need to have it flown in from Adelaide protected by ice packs. It would also mean exchanging one load of protein for another, for it would cost you an arm and a leg. But one man found a way around it. His name was Charles H. Chapman, who started the Granites gold rush in the Tanami Desert in 1932, eventually controlled the entire Goldfield until he retired in 1954. Prior to that, he set up his retirement headquarters not far from Alice Springs. I shall now quote from a contemporary article.
     He built himself a very lovely home just outside of Alice Springs and - underground water being abundant - likewise constructed a most unusual amenity in the "Dead Heart" - a swimming pool right against his front verandah.
     Mr. Chapman then decided that fresh fish would be very nice now and again. He therefore climbed into his big Humber car and drove a hundred miles out to the Hermannsburg Mission, on the Finke River. There he persuaded sundry native boys to enter some of the pools which linger there, even in the longest drought, and catch several silver mullet  alive for him. [This is obviously a local name for a local fish.] Placing the eleven fish that the boys caught in a petrol-tin, Mr. Chapman drove back to Alice Springs and decanted his prizes in the swimming-pool - much to the amusement of local sceptics, who prophesied failure. That happened about two years ago [written in 1954].
     To-day, whenever he takes the fancy, the mine-owner can catch a fish of anything between one and three pounds in weight; the original eleven have multiplied so greatly that at intervals he is compelled to thin them out somewhat.
     Meanwhile he gets his mullet breakfasts free in a wilderness where fish are an absolute rarity!

Reference: Anon, "Fresh Fish in the Desert", The Wide World,  August 1954 (NZ), p 205 (This issue would have been July 1954 in the UK.)

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