Almanac Life: The Pelican




They sit atop the streetlamps along the beach boardwalk, not even bothering to offer a sideways glance as we stroll by. Ten metres or so above us, it is as if they know they are lording it over us and in more than just a physical sense. You can almost feel the contempt and disdain with which they regard humans. Pelicans are neither an ugly nor a beautiful seabird, but there is no doubting their imperious countenance. Up close, they are huge. And I should know, because my dad and I once caught a pelican while fishing.


When our family spent a year or so in Eden when I was a child, my dad bought a small fishing boat with what proved to be an unreliable outboard motor. If you are living on the shores of Twofold Bay, owning a boat of some description really is non-negotiable. I was only nine years old, but it was no effort for me to haul in flounder, leatherjacket, flathead, whiting, bream and various other types of fish. We once caught a baby hammerhead shark which, at the time, was the most mysterious looking creature I had ever laid eyes upon. I stared at it in open-mouthed wonder as my dad unhooked it and tossed it back into the blue depths. On another excursion we caught a metre-long mako shark. Once on board, it wriggled dangerously around the deck until my dad put it out of its misery with a large screwdriver. At home, we feasted on flake for a week.


Following our shark adventures, Dad decided that we might try some trolling off the back of the boat, so he bought a colourful, fish-shaped lure with six or more hooks. Once out on the bay, my dad’s friend threw in the lure, dad gunned the engine and I gripped the fishing-rod tightly. From the heavens, a pelican suddenly appeared and spotted the trolling lure. Before we realised what was happening, it had dive-bombed majestically and successfully – and found itself hooked.


Dad circled back to the bird. It had ensnared itself through the beak, a wing and its webbed feet and was now flailing about in distress. Remarkably, the two men were able to haul the pelican onto the boat. But the bird was a mass of tangled fishing line and hooks. It flapped about haphazardly, attempting to snap its beak and take a piece out of the three of us. Damn, it was a giant. My dad and his friend worked frantically to disentangle the pelican while I stayed as far away as a small boat bobbing about miles from shore would allow.


Eventually the bird was freed, but the bloodied hands, arms and legs of my dad and his fishing buddy told the story of a bruising and bitter encounter. Mr Percival had not been at all pleased by his predicament and did not proffer any gratitude upon his release. “No more trolling” were my dad’s words as the pelican gained altitude and disappeared over the horizon.


Decades later, I recall that day clearly. They may look smugly self-satisfied as they sit on their lofty perch, but I have a secret of which pelicans are unaware: I once captured one of their friends. And I also have another secret: do not walk directly beneath their line of fire.


To read more from Smokie click here.


The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in 2021. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order HERE


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About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. Nice.

    Loving the titles. Definite article + Subject. Beautifully understated.

  2. My boys are forever offering quick soundbites of things they’ve encountered online such as, “One day you’ll buy the clothes you’ll die in” and “When you brush your teeth you’re really brushing your skeleton” but my favourite is, “Why don’t we ever see baby pelicans?”

    Thanks Smokie. When I was about six I remember Dad catching a catfish on the Murray and being curious and a little bit scared of it.

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