Sundays, Too Far Away

Our extended family loved crabbing. It seemed that every Sunday between 1969 and 1972, we were loaded into the family vehicle for the one hour trip north to Port Parham.

I hated it – the scarring started from the time that I wore my new Dunlop sandshoes there (no, not the Volleys, these were the cheaper version without the herringbone sole). The tide was out about half a mile that day, which meant a long walk through the sticky, sloppy, soupy sand flats, dragging the innertube that contained the grey metal bucket in one hand, clasping the crab scoop in the other.

The closer I got to the water, the deeper my lilywhite bent matchstick legs went into the mud, until my shins disappeared and the mud lapped the bottoms of my footy shorts. As I wrenched my left leg, then my right, my feet were bare and my shoes were left behind. With the older members of the Schwerdt clan already knee-deep in St Vincent’s Gulf, all I could do was cry.

I still had to go every time, but I never returned to the water again.

Parham was not easy to get to. It was a few miles off the Port Wakefield road, just past Dublin and back then, access was via unmade roads and tracks. The initial track was broad, flat and bumpy, and could be taken at relatively high speed, say 50mph. No seat belts back then meant that the four kids in the back of the XW Falcon were both rocked and rolled.

Closer to the beach, the path narrowed to a furrowed, twisting mile of barely a car width, needing a vehicular command greater than I would ever have, but second nature to my father. We took this bit a bit more slowly, say 49mph, the powdery pathway a minor impediment in his expert hands, until we hit the beach.

It was here that the Elizabeth, Willaston and Hamley Bridge limbs of the family tree assembled, all of us traceable back to either the fifth or ninth child of the original Schwerdt couple. I got to know some of my distant cousins from the fifth child pretty well, but they were a bit more down-to-earth, rough-and-tumble than me (Willaston will do that to you). I was Adrian Mole to their Shannon Noll. Disappointingly, I didn’t really get to connect with their first cousins, the Elizabeth East Schwerdts – three outstanding footballers (Pat, Stephen and Eddie) and multi-talented sister Bernadette, on their occasional visits.

Of the women, only my grandma Elva, herself the daughter of a Semaphore fisherman would venture westward into the briny. Mum, who inconveniently was allergic to seafood, was in charge of gathering the wood for the fire that would be needed for her to later turn the blue crabs into red ones in the cut-off forty-four of boiling seawater. The other Mrs Schwerdts would also make camp and they’d all have a good old-fashioned catch up.

I can’t remember what I did while I waited for the crabbers, but it wouldn’t have included my sisters and probably involved the Sunday Mail, a MAD Magazine and maybe some firewood gathering.

Whenever I was there, I spent the whole time resenting being taken away from the Sunday Channel 9 Footy Show, with Max Hall, Wally May, Bo Morton, KG, Kerls, Gary Window, Dave Darcy, Ian Aitken, Ted Langridge et al, missing out on the “edited highlights” from each of the previous day’s five games in the SANFL. Who would get the nod for the Viscount Goal of the Day? It was even worse when Centrals had a good one the day before, as I couldn’t relive the exploits of Cracka Haughan, Dean Mobbs, Kevin Johns, Sonny Morey, Gary Jones or Sally Saywell on our Thorn 3-in-1.

I’d also miss the wrestling, hosted by Jack Little, telling us who was coming up soon at Thebarton Town Hall. Was Playboy Gary Hart on? Has Ron Miller turned bad? Was Wallaby Bob still the McMaster? I’d never know.

The VFL Replay, with commentary from EJ (and two others whose voices I remember but whose names are long forgotten) would go on without me as well, while I stewed for longer than those blue swimmers would later on.

Sometimes the crabbers would make a couple of trips to and from the water, talking in mystical tones about dodge tides, north winds and whether or not to also put out the nets. (I also hated the nets, especially when they came home still full of trumpeters, leaving me to remove their bloated, poo-filled remains during the week).

My only fond reflective remnant of these outings is the time around the camp fire at the end of the day, the various family members sharing oft-told yarns, accompanied by Coopers on ice, West End and Southwark long necks. My grandpa, “CP”, back then would have been roughly my current age, my parents in their thirties. Unbelievable in hindsight.

I couldn’t even take any pleasure from the sharing of the collective catch, as I too had inherited Mum’s aversion to crabmeat.

The day often didn’t wrap up until well after dark. Sleep was impossible until we hit the (pre-Gilbert) macadamised surface, generally around Lower Light, darkness adding to the motoring degree of difficulty endured on the way in. We’d pile out once we arrived back at Underdown Road, maybe time for a bath, then on with the striped, home-made flannelette pjs, then bed.

I love my Mum and loved my grandparents, but my gnawing resentment about what I would rather have been doing gave me yet another reason (and there were plenty) to fail to connect with my father in any way whatsoever.

Once at High School in 1973, I asserted my right to stay at home rather than go on the family crabbing jaunts that continued well into the 80s. I followed my own interests to the exclusion of everyone else’s, but I’d been well schooled. When Harry Chapin released Cats In The Cradle soon after, I knew just what it was about.



About Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt

Saw my first SANFL game in 1967 - Dogs v Peckers. Have only ever seen the Dogs win 1 final in the flesh (1972 1st Semi) Mediocre forward pocket for the AUFC Blacks (1982-89) Life member - Ormond Netball Club -That's me on the right


  1. Ripper yarn Swish. We “yabbied” but didn’t ever “crab”.

  2. I am absolutely not a beach person I have to say, the crabs have big nippers for one thing. I would rather look at Rhododendrons in the mountains or at least when they are in flower.

  3. Dave Brown says

    Top story, Swish.

    Great thing about the XW was the key would work in any XW. We got in someone else’s car and started up the engine in a shopping centre car park one day before we realised our mistake.

  4. Great yarn, Swish.

    Port Parham is not on any world’s great beaches list. I doubt it’s on any great beaches of the east coast of St Vincent’s gulf lists. I used to seriously imagine that I could start walking through the grim water, and a few hours’ later, come ashore at Ardrossan, with my hair dry, but my soul broken.

    I saw Ian Aitken at a bakery near Diagonal Road a few years’ back, and thought that’s Ian Aitken, even though I’d not considered him for at least two decades.

    I really like what you’ve done with “the (pre-Gilbert) macadamised surface”

    Earlier today just prior to the wife and boys flying out from Singapore for the last time I said to Kerry that we should visit Victor Harbor soon. We’ve not been there for five or more years.

    This is a better option than Parham.


  5. Swish,
    In the mid seventies, my old man sung a few lyrics of Cats in the cradle then explained what the song was about.
    He said it reminded him of his relationship with his father.
    He said he wasn’t going to let it happen with his kids.
    It didn’t.
    When I decided to follow North Melbourne in 1977, my dad gave up Footscray and followed North.
    He later said ‘I could’ve supported Footscray or I could’ve supported my son, so I chose my son.’
    We learn from generations before.

  6. Tom Martin says

    Nice one Swish, a vivid reminder of just how miserable a kid can get when subjected to planned family leisure. I’ve also felt the deep emptiness of donating a sandshoe to archaeology in the mud flats.

    I’m with Mickey (and you no doubt) on Port Parham. There’s not much to redeem that stretch of coast, except maybe that it should always keep Port Wakefield safe from naval invasion. Should the good folk of Kangaroo Island ever rise up against their mainland oppressors, the amphibious troop carriers will have to land somewhere south of Semaphore.

    Your story reminds me of a day I spent ‘crabbing’ with my brother and sister on the Yorke Peninsula. We filled a bucket with the dun, measly sand crabs you find under rocks in the shallow at high tide and proudly took them back to the house expecting that they would be received by our parents with a round of applause and prepared for our dinner. When told they were inedible, we unanimously decided after our initial disappointment that the right thing to do was to put them all back where we had found them. I’m sure you can imagine the horror and the tears when we discovered that almost all of them were now decidedly ex-crabs.

  7. Never ventured into the Port Parham mangroves myself Swish. But saw the sign many times on our countless trips up the Port Wakefield Road to Yorketown and later to Kadina.
    Is the turnoff before or after Wild Horse Plains (top of my list of favourite place names)?
    I was a great Harry Chapin fan back in the day. WOLD, Taxi etc. Teenage existentialist angst. Unfortunately I failed to learn the lessons of Cats in the Cradle when I became a dad, to my lasting regret.
    Nice one Swish.

  8. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Thanks for sharing your memories of SA’s pristine beaches.

    Dips – vice versa for us

    Peter – never heard of Rhododendron mornay though

    Dave – probably not our car, it spent most of its time outside the Parafield Aero Club bar

    Mickey – Parham was probably your local seaside venue, wasn’t it? I dunno where Aitken materialised from, he was just there one year and forgot to leave.

    Matt – Pay it forward (which I’m sure you are doing)

    Tom – I couldn’t see what anybody saw in that place, but to our mob it was where they gathered, a bit like Mass without the collection plate, but with added shell grit.

    PB – Just after the Dublin Hotel, before Wild Horse Plains. Harry went alright, didn’t beat about the bush.

  9. Luke Reynolds says

    Can well relate. Growing up on a dairy farm, there was nothing worse than missing the Sunday footy panel on Channel 7 to go and shift cattle. Why did that always have to happen on a Sunday?
    Another excellent read Swish.

  10. A brilliant yarn. Thanks Swish.
    I am yet to see that part of the world north of Adelaide.

    For the Dawsons, it was rabbiting. My grandfather kept
    ferrets in his back-yard. Our family must have traipsed
    through what felt like every field from here to Ararat with
    ferrets and nets in hand.
    And, since childhood, I have never been able to even
    consider eating rabbit – in any form.

  11. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Swish entertaining read Swish I love that you have so many childhood memories you are a mile in front of me

  12. King Karutz says

    Great read …. Hungry now …

  13. Yes Swish it was a good read, I remember parham with fond memories , and also remember the day you lost your shoes , Yes there are a lot nicer places in the world but we were not fortunate enough to have a choice so I guess I just made the most of it. There were a lot of good and ( bad ) and I also don’t have a relationship with the man called our father as you have no happy memories. I played sport all of my childhood life, cross country, netball, hockey, softball. I remember fondly when you took me to the football at Centrals they played Port and because you were going for Centrals I thought it only right I go for Port lol. I have been a Port supporter ever since. You talk of “CP” what a great man he was. I also remember the day he took you and I to get our sports shoes what a great day that was I thought I was the bees knees . Our mother we all love her, life was hard but always provided well . I guess genetics plays a big role in how we turn out and no two minds think alike. I accept people for who they are and have come to realise after working hospitality all of my working life is to never to judge a book by its cover , because behind every cover there is a story to be told. love you Swish (Mark)

  14. Toni Schwerdt says

    “Boy”… (Swish)…. great read. I remember you hating the crabbing trips. I actually felt sorry for you as i knew you despised going. I can see you standing infront of our National colour tv watching footy shows right up until last min of mum packing up the anodised cups in vinyl zip (for the glove box) for our journey out there. It was fun for me as your little sister to go to paraham as i loved the adventures of going to the creek and seeing my cousins. I remember you not hanging with your sisters and yes it was Mad magazines, i remember you folding the back page in a special way to show me a completely different picture, it fascinated me. I remember the crappy side of crabbing too being the bog, seaweed, aeroguard sandwiches and the dreadfull job of cleaning the nets at home in the back yard. God i hated that part. I always hoped dad would pull over in the car at lower light so us kids could share a bottle of Big Boy lemonade in green bottle with the plastic character on top . I remember when you stopped going to paraham. You swapped dunlops for a black duffle coat with wooden buttons and watched your footy. You did however do my head in at times kicking your neatly folded socks (that mum had just placed on end of your bed) down the hallway as if it was a football, always hitting me or our sisters in the head. Cricket overs also with socks. CP, but i will always call him Poppa loved that coopers thats for sure. I got very sick at the crabbing beach in 1974 and after a long time recovering i did return but it was never the same for me. Its my only memory of us altogether as a family being at the beach. Life was far from great growing up but our Mum always provided and cared and loved us..P.s… “Thanks for taking us out mum and dad”…. Thats alright children (swish n mollyjane will get this lol).

  15. What about put ur back to the back of the back seat and shut up when we got in the car

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