Stinker’s History: Harry ‘the Mayor’ Larcombe

Harry ‘the Mayor’ Larcombe and mate Wally Ward.

OVER the following three weeks I will be recalling the life and times of one of Port Stephen’s true characters – Harry Larcombe.

The extract is taken from a book I wrote some time back which tells the history of the characters and pioneers who visited Broughton Island from the mid 1880s.

The book, ‘Broughton Islanders’, was first printed in 2009, has been reprinted on another two occasions and remains a best seller.

Part One – Patches and Goldie

Harry Larcombe was born in Newcastle in 1920.

These were tough times, nothing it seemed worked out for him.

Harry felt that society had rejected him when he was sacked from his job and was knocked back three times when he applied for social security, with no explanation.

Two weeks later his mother died.

Harry was alone, penniless and sad.

His only friends were his faithful dogs: Patches and Goldie.

Sitting with his dogs he knew that he needed to do something.

That something, he decided, was to find a place where he didn’t need money and he could escape what he called “the rat race”.

Harry’s thoughts went back to his first visit to a beautiful little hideaway cove on an island just south of Port Stephens.
Memories flooded back to when he was fishing near Broughton Island when a grumpy storm blew up.

Howling winds and a building sea forced Harry to scurry into Esmeralda Cove for shelter.

That first sighting of “Paradise”, as he called it, always remained indelible in his mind.

Sitting miserably in his Newcastle home staring out the window on a cold, rainy, winter morning, the answer to his dilemma became clear.

“I know where I’m going,” thought Harry.

“Back to Broughton Island.”

When summer rolled around a boat was organised and Harry arrived on the island soon after with a small bag containing his meagre belongings slung across his shoulder.

At last, a peacefulness not experienced previously.

A gentle breeze greeted the island’s new resident as a flock of seagulls landed on the beach and chattered excitedly as Harry trudged up the sand with his dogs.

The dogs would prove to be great company and serve as blankets over the following cold months.

With a couple of sheets of pale green corrugated iron, a crude hut was erected.

Two windows, covered in cobwebs and encrusted with salt, permitting very little light to filter through, were fitted.
That was the least of Harry’s concerns – he was happy.

A couple of lizards needed no invitation and moved into the shack.

An odd family you may think; Harry, two dogs and two lizards.

As Harry became more established a rusty iron framed bed was added and oddly enough a suit was hung on the wall for “those special occasions” which never seemed to come around – he didn’t wear shoes.

Harry went fishing and caught many big snapper over the close reefs.

He trapped rabbits and dug in a garden growing fresh vegetables.

In the evenings, by the light of a candle, he loved to read western comics, cowboy paperbacks which were brought to him by the island’s visitors.

The same generous visitors also provided Harry with an occasional supply of bread and food, even a few beers.

It would seem that Harry’s idyllic island life had no problems.

Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Just on sundown late in the summer months, Patches chased a rabbit to a cliff edge.

However, when the rabbit made a sharp turn, Patches kept going and tumbled over.

With a hurricane lamp in his hand and a tear in his eye, Harry searched for his mate long into the night and finally found him lying lifeless at the bottom of a steep cliff.

Heart broken, Harry knelt beside Patches, giving the dog a final pat.

Just as he did, Patches’ right eye opened and his tail twitched.

The dog smiled.

Carefully Harry cradled his friend back into his hut, where over the next month he nursed the dog until its broken ribs mended and its bruises and cuts healed.

Finally the dog returned to full health and Patches was back doing what he enjoyed most – chasing rabbits.

Another time Harry’s foot became badly infected after stepping on oysters.

When his foot continued to swell local fishermen reported his condition and a helicopter was dispatched to land on the ridge directly above his hut.

The pilot and a doctor on board climbed down the embankment preparing to carry the patient to the waiting helicopter.

Harry however refused to leave the island because he was worried that his dogs would starve without him.

“I won’t go without the dogs.”

The rescue crew looked at each other as there was no way that the helicopter could transport Patches and Goldie.

The only solution was to treat the patient on the island, which is what happened when antibiotics were administered and the chopper left for mainland.

By John ‘Stinker’ CLARKE

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