A childhood recollection by Gill Sanson
Gill is revelling in a phase of gardening and willow weaving after decades of health and social change activism.
I was obsessed with fishing, initially captivated by the thrill of chasing cockabullies in the Waianakarua river where we spent our summer holidays. I would haul them in buckets back to Camp Iona and invariably they would be upside down in the morning.
When I was about eight years old, I met a man who was a trawler fisherman in Oamaru. He collected things he had pulled up from the depths of the sea and preserved them in jars of formalin. He had seahorses and octopi and sea eggs, wondrous strange things in containers at his back door. Best of all he had a shell collection in glass cases with blue velvet for them to rest on. Each one was catalogued and numbered in Indian ink.
He was the father of a friend. I was frightened of him because he drank beer and they lived rather roughly but I was drawn to him too and wanted more than anything to be able to go out on the boat. This never happened but he gradually started giving me specimens to take home and I started my own collection. I made cards and labelled each shell with Indian ink and even had a jar of formalin in the laundry at home with fish floating forever preserved above the washing machine. I studied their Latin zoological names and ransacked my mother’s fabric pile for the same dark blue velvet material. To no avail. She gave me a piece of pale blue corduroy and I used an old wooden box from the Oamaru Peter Pan Bakery to make an approximate replica display.
Later I took to catching eels in the river with a cleverly devised scheme of placing plastic bags filled with stones around large rocks. In the excitement and flurry of lifting the rock and if I was lucky, an eel would end up in the plastic bag and make its way home to the laundry tub.
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