I was taken by the eel story in an edition of Friday Five before Christmas. Friday Five is a newsletter published by a small map making company and bookshop in Western Victoria. It took me back to the “olden day” memories of when I was fairly young and used to enjoy fishing and eel chasing in the local streams and dams around where I lived. So, I submitted this story to the newsletter for publication.
I was born and raised in the Dandenong Ranges at a place called Silvan. It was a tiny town then in about the mid 1940’s and 50’s. It is still a tiny town as I pass by the place periodically checking on old haunts. It currently boasts a primary school, a post office and one operating shop and church I think. It seems it has grown smaller over the ages as it used to have several shops including a grocer, butcher and a garage. Do we remember what a Grocery Shop was like?? It did have a coffee shop at one stage when an enterprising couple converted the local Anglican Church into a café. I don’t recall having to kneel to receive a coffee as one had to do to have communion in the church when it was operating according to its original purpose.
What has all this got to do with eels you may well ask? Well, it was a tradition in our household to go fishin’ and huntin’ with my father and older brother. The fishin’ part being relevant to the story about eels. During the warmer months of the year, the better fishin’ time, my brother and I would spy our father getting some fishing gear ready on our large veranda. Father was trying to be discreet but failing because of our intense scrutiny of his comings and goings. Those times were often when storms might be brewing and the fish were feeding better. He would protest for some time about our insistence in wanting to go with him and usually gave in to our somewhat plaintive pleas to participate.
You see, in those days, the “olden days”, it was the practise of many households to supplement the larder by fishin’ and huntin’. It was explained somewhat passionately to our mother that we would come home laden with fish or rabbits depending on the time of the year. In that way she would intercede for us in getting our father to allow us to go with him. Often the promise was something along the lines of, “don’t worry about tea as we will bring fish back and then you can cook them for our tea”. A traditional household you see with mother in charge of the kitchen.
The main places we fished were the Woori Yallock Creek and the Yarra River. We usually always collected a bag of blackfish and eels and occasionally some trout. One particular night we arrived back home as pleased as punch with a sugar bag full of fish and quite a number of those pesky eels. The procedure that usually followed was that when we arrived home, after the usual bragging about who caught the biggest and most fish we gentlemen would retire to the garage to clean our catch. Our mother retired to the kitchen to get the stove hotted up and the pans on to cook our fresh catch to feed the happy hungry hunters.
The usual practise with eels was to loop a string over their head and hang them from a nail on the wall. This way they were easy to skin and clean properly. On this occasion we had decided eel was to be on the menu and after cleaning a few we took them into the kitchen for the esteemed cook to process and we retired back to the garage to complete the processing of the remaining catch.
It was a dark and stormy night by this stage of course as we dutifully returned to the cleaning task. Suddenly the air was pieced by a series of loud screams. It was definitely a woman’s scream and obviously emanating from the kitchen area of the house. Being brave souls we instantly dropped our tools and seemingly in an instant and in unison as a threesome, arrived in the kitchen to see what catastrophe had overtaken the cook.
There we found a sight to behold, our mother dancing around the kitchen floor trying to avoid several squirming eels that were madly wriggling around the floor. It seemed that the extreme freshness of the product coupled with the hot frying pans had created a reflex action causing the eels to escape rapidly from the hot oil and end up on the floor. Of course they were skinned, gutted and beheaded so I am sure they felt no pain. I am not sure what the RSPCA would have to say about such happenings these days. Not so sure the cook was very happy.
Anyway the story ended well. We were relieved to find that the cook was really OK if not a little shaken up. Order was finally restored and a great evening meal enjoyed by all, except for the pesky eels perhaps. I think the cook was somewhat reluctant to cook the brutes after that which was perhaps understandable.
To conclude my story on eels. On occasions we caught very large specimens which we judged to be not as nice to eat as the small ones. They were usually very fatty and took a lot more wrestling to the ground during capture and the subsequent handling for dressing them. And of course we needed much bigger bags to carry them in, the normal sugar bag being a bit small. However we had Dutch immigrants on one side as neighbours and Italians on the other. Both lots of neighbours saw the monster eels as a delicacy and we would give them away to them at times of plenty.
On several occasions the Italian neighbour would wander back to his place with a pair of gifted eels and I can still picture the scene. He would grab the brutes around the middle and trot back to his place. One eel in each hand with their heads and tails dragging along the ground. That makes them very large long eels if the neighbour was a giant, which he wasn’t. However I did some recent calculations about how long the eels may have been given he was an average sized Italian farming man with very strong hands. Without having to use Mr Google I arrived at a length of around 1.4 meters or 4 foot 6 inches in the old language. And we are talking about the “olden days” of course.
No photos to prove either tale so you will just have to accept the story as not being Fake News.
Warning: Don’t look down if you are squeamish !!!!