Gilgies and boats

Because our property was in a low lying place, really in the gully between two sandy rises, the council had decided to put a drain for the swamp through our property. This drain always had water in it, and usually quite a bit of water too. Looking back I think the water would have been several feet deep and about four or five feet wide.

Gilgies are like yabbies or marron. They are bigger than yabbies and smaller than marron, and are like a freshwater crayfish. I know now that you can cook and eat them and they are delicious, but for a Dutch migrant boy who had never seen anything like it in my life I had no idea of that. But we used to catch them regularly. It wasn’t till thirty years later that I learnt that gilgies and yabbies are good to eat, though a marron is better.

Take a Sunshine milk powder tin, which my Mum used regularly, punch a hole just under the top rim with an old nail and a rock, or Dad’s hammer if I could find it, tie a bit of string to it and throw it in the drain. We’d always tie the other end of the string to an old cast iron water meter cover that was lying around our place. Leave it there for a few days and a gilgie would make its home in it. Pull it out by the string and then there’d be a big gilgie in there waving its nippers at you!

The first times we did this we found out that those nippers were sharp and the gilgies could easily draw blood. A lot of little wounds were made better by a band-aid! After a while we worked out that the way to handle them was to grab them by the body just behind the nippers. Then the gilgie would wave its nippers with complete futility because it couldn’t get to its tormentors and do any damage. We learned a lot from those gilgies, and though we threw a lot of them back I am ashamed to say that there some that we forgot and they just died. We’d discover them days later when we went to play with the tin and it had a fairly strong smell!

The Bible story we were read at family devotions one day was that of Moses as a baby being put into a basket of reeds and floated down the Nile River in Egypt at the command of a cruel Egyptian king or Pharaoh. He was rescued by an Egyptian princess and he became a prince of Egypt and was trained by their best commanders and eventually led his people out of Egypt and to their own land which had been promised to them by God. Which shows that God does have a sense of humour!

But this of course gave us an idea! Why not take the galvanised bathtub and get my little brother …? So we did. The bathtub was just the right size. My brother did not object. After all, he was only just over a year old and was quite enjoying the excitement. We put him in the bathtub and we floated him down the entire length of the drain from the front fence to where the drain went under the fence to the big paddock. We were just in the process of getting him out when my Mum found us and she was not happy! I don’t remember the consequences but I can’t imagine that we got off lightly. I think we gave Mum a bit of a fright!

This is the very tin bathtub that we used to float our brother down the creek. Source: Private collection.

© Copyright Willem Schultink