Fish, Friends and Fellow Students


I was lucky to have such clever school mates, who taught me things never taught at school or from my parents. Little things, like lying on my belly on the river-bank, with my neck and head protruding over the edge of the bank, so that I could grope with my hand in the hollow just under the edge and tickle the belly of a carp. I was never good enough to through one out of the water, but have seen it done. It’s quite amazing what you can learn from school mates when there are no private schools and you have to rub shoulders with the great unwashed, who somehow knew things your parents would never tell you. I suppose that the compulsory public school system saved our society from having to invent two codes of rugby, one for the working class (League) and one for the middle and upper class (Union), or the reverse if you live in Kiwiland.


Whilst carp in Australia are quite muddy, untasteful and a pest, there is a place in the world, actually where I come from, where it is quite tasty and very desirable - namely in the Czech Republic. Twenty-one and a half of these Republics would fit into Queensland. The grandma of all Czech cooks, a Mrs Magdalena Dobromila Rettigová, confirms that carp is the Christmas dish – and particularly on Christmas Eve. The country is full of ponds where carp are being grown and in the middle of December all the carp are “harvested” and every inhabitant of this land has a carp for Christmas Eve dinner. This habit is not universally practised in the neighbouring countries. In the days when few people had bathrooms, they kept the live carp in a bucket, later, when bathtubs were available – they had him splashing there till Christmas Eve (the tub was only used on Fridays for bathing – remember oldies – Friday the Night of the Bath?). I am talking about the period just before WWII.

 If you keep three carp scales in your wallet money will stick to you into the next year.

My next “carp” experience happened a long time afterwards – on one of my visits to Canberra. I wandered to the garden behind the Australian National Gallery facing the lake called Walter Burley Griffin and came upon a small child with a fishing rod in his hands, who seemed to have a really lucky streak as he

pulled out a meal-size fish every few minutes. His father, reading a book and holding a net in one hand, came to the party each time his son caught a fish, helped him pull it out, and threw it into a bag. Seeing that it took me half a life time to catch any decent fish, I asked the father what kind of a fish it was and was it edible, to which he advised me that it was a carp, certainly not edible as it was full of benzene. Many of the roads around the lake were sloping towards it and carried dirt from motor cars into the lake.

After this experience, I am ready for the true Australian fishing adventure, described by me in a separate essay on Canberra and Kosciusko.