Stinker’s History: The adventures of ‘Clanka’ – Part 4

Clanka was a master mariner; a great friend with a love for the sea and his family

THIS story is Part Four of an ongoing series on Ronald Barry ‘Clanka’ McLean.

To read Part Three, pick up a copy of last week’s paper or jump online to the News Of The Area website.

Part Four – The good, the bad and the damned dangerous

‘CLANKA’ was very protective of what he considered to be local fishing grounds.

Outsiders were discouraged from moving in.

It was in 1956 when the Daigo fleet arrived, carrying Italians from Sydney.

There were four boats in the fleet – Italia Star, San Francisco, Falcon and Karla – which were all working from Sydney up to Newcastle in the springtime for tiger flathead on ‘the Paddock’, a very productive local fishing ground that was all mud and grit.

On this particular day the Italian boats were moored out of the wind in Coal Shaft Bay on Broughton Island.

Clanka and his mate Eric Tarrant were working the island for lobsters when they noticed the boats.

In Clanka’s diplomatic way, he yelled to the visiting trawlermen: “Piss off!”

This demand was followed by a bullet he fired from a .303 rifle right through the wheelhouse.

The Italian crew dived for cover.

The message was clear and the boats fired up their motors and steamed off in a real hurry.

The ‘Bosto’, at 30-odd feet, with a three cylinder Perkins, was worked by Clanka for prawns off Newcastle.

The little boat had just enough power to tow the net to catch enough prawns to make it worthwhile.

Jim Chalkley recalled those times on the Bosto.

“I went with him two days in a row,” Jim said.

“We never got much prawns but we did have some fun hand lining those black tipped sharks, there were heaps of them around.

“Next day Clanka goes on his own and he walks straight overboard.

“He tripped or stumbled and went overboard.

“Luckily he grabbed the wire on his trawl net.

“With knee boots and all on he pulled himself up the wire back onto the deck.

“That would take a bit of doin’.”

Jim described Clanka as “wiry”, “raw-boned” and “strong as an ox”.

As well as being a physically impressive specimen, he was also known for an astute business decision.

“I saw him one Easter when he was working up here on the Big Gibber trapping snapper, shortly after he first got the ‘Shamrock’.

“Working on his own, fish trapping on the 52 footer, he went flat out from Thursday to Monday without any break at all, no sleep.

“In that week before Easter, when the prices for fish are sky high, he had 94 boxes of snapper which he hid on the ice downstairs in the boat.

“To keep them all quiet in Nelson Bay, so that no one would suspect him, he put five boxes through the local co-op, put some more ice on his hidden fish and steamed them straight to the Sydney market where he unloaded them the same day and steamed back with the top dollar in his pocket.

“No one knew he had ‘em.

“He made a killing.”

On another occasion Clanka had been down at the Boatrowers pub in Stockton after a day’s prawning.

He left the pub drunk, which I gather wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.

Motoring out to sea on the Hunter River, he was heading north, back up to Port Stephens with the automatic pilot on, when he went to sleep.

Instead of coming inside the heads to the port he overshot the mark and went between North Head and Cabbage Tree Island, straight through the surf up onto Hawks Nest Beach – which, not surprisingly, woke him up.

For three hours he tried reversing off the sand, but every time he got it off and turned square, the sea would push the boat back further up on the beach.

The ‘Shamrock’ finally got off the beach, with the help of a couple of mates when the tide came in, allowing Clanka to get the nose around and drive off bow-first.

It was at this time that he was having an argument with the Waterways Authority about the thickness of the wood which was used in the keel.

The Authority reckoned it was 1/8 inch too thin but Clanka argued that if his planking could stand that amount of pounding by the surf, then it must be seaworthy.

That’s the way he got it registered.

It wasn’t previously registered as it was still going through court.

Nothing angered Clanka more than the law, just mentioned, introduced by the Maritime Services Board (MSB) on July 1 1972 concerning beams, planking and ribbing.

The law effectively placed restrictions on the types of fishing vessels working the open seas off the coast of NSW.
The $45,000 ‘Shamrock’, 55 foot long and powered by a 220hp Mercedes diesel, was built twelve months before the regulations were introduced.

Now, along with numerous sea going trawlers, it was grounded.

The MSB informed Clanka that the planking was 1/8 inch under size and the ribbing was 1/4inch under.

The only water that the boat could work under the new law, was inside the port, an area that the boat was not designed for.

Maritime threatened that for every day that the Shamrock fished outside the heads, in the open sea, Clanka would be fined $240.

As expected, Clanka took the Shamrock to sea in defiance of the law, however he had to dump his catch at sea when he received a tip that the board’s representatives were waiting to arrest him if he brought any fish into port.

It seemed to him that he was being “bankrupted by bureaucracy” and being starved out of the industry.

Not one to give in easily, the problem was confronted head on and reached a peak when MSB attempted to board the Shamrock by throwing grappling hooks onto the deck.

Clanka watched them and then put the boat in gear and took off, dragging the Maritime vessel along behind until they were finally cut free.

Finally in October 1972, following extreme media pressure and intervention by MSB President of the Board, Mr W. H.

Brotherson, it was reported that Clanka had received a Certificate of Survey enabling him to work his boat.

“Since there is some doubt over the matter, the Board has decided that Mr McLean’s boat should be surveyed under the old code.”

It was back to business, and it was within a fortnight that Clanka towed the ‘Anna-E’ off Shoal Bay beach after the trawler had been washed ashore during a fierce storm.

It was Clanka again who ferried an aeroplane back to Nelson Bay.

The plane had landed on Broughton Island and overshot the ‘runway’ which was roughly marked out among the rugged, swampy terrain.

The rabbit and mutton bird burrows that honeycombed the island didn’t make things any easier.

By John ‘Stinker’ CLARKE

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