Murder at 40 Baskets

Murder at 40 Baskets

With the remaining days of my twenties slipping between my fingers faster than a wet fish, panic has begun to set in. Will I really complete all of my Top 30 challenges before I turn 30?!

On Friday night, I dashed to my friend Pat’s house to commiserate. She has signed herself up to a similar challenge. With more time up her sleeve, but fewer challenges completed, she understood my predicament well.

You may remember Pat from the Maccas Challenge. You might think that challenge a little less… well… challenging than some of the others, but that’s probably because Pat knew she’d be asking me to return the favour. Little did I know, when providing Pat with my challenge, that her list has a catch. You see, anyone who offers Pat an item for her list has to actually complete the challenge with her. It’s only now that I know to regret my challenge for her, “Break the law”.

Pat enjoys the outdoorsy life in Sydney’s beautiful Northern Beaches. So, after a night drowning our respective third-life-crisis sorrows, we headed out to greet the new day with an excursion to a little beach called ’40 Baskets’, nestled along the shore of Sydney Harbour.

Little did we know that we would both tick off a challenge that day… and little did we know it would be one of the most traumatic days of our lives.

My older brother, Ryan, set me the kind of challenge older brothers are expected to set, “Catch, kill and cook an animal of some variety”. My urban lifestyle doesn’t provide me the motivation or storage space for fishing equipment, so Pat was certain to help me there too. We gathered up our supplies, fed ourselves, bought food for the fish, and headed straight for the 40 Baskets pier. Pat reassured me that it is almost impossible to walk away empty-handed from 40 Baskets, which at this stage of the game is exactly what I needed to hear.

40 Baskets is named after 40 baskets of fish which were sent to a contingent of New South Wales troops detained at the North Head Quarantine Station after returning from Sudan in 1885. It was not named after our catch that day.

As any fisherman would tell you, fishing is a real lesson in patience. I have next to no experience, but you’d be surprised how far a bit of sewing experience will take you when it comes to fishing. Also, having only ever fished with a hand reel before, I was excited to learn how to cast. Pat must be a great teacher (and I must have the motor skills of a primary school child) because I caught on to casting surprisingly quickly.

We got plenty of nibbles but, after an hour of fishing, the most I’d managed to catch was a giant piece of seaweed (which my shortsightedness allowed me to believe was a fish until Pat’s laughter drowned that hope forever).

Nori for dinner?

I would like to think that a bit of nori might count as catching, killing and cooking your own dinner… but I suspect the flora, rather than fauna, nature of the thing would have rendered that a massive fail.

So, we fished on, and not long later a new hope emerged… in the form of ‘Hope’ the fish. I jerked the line as instructed and then started reeling the sucker in. What do you know?! My first ever unassisted genuine catch! (This little fella didn’t count…) I even have video evidence!

Pat waited until the moment I’d brought him in to mention the fact that she’s never actually kept any of the fish that she’s caught, and that she’s always thrown them back. This was news to me! Here I was thinking I had an expert on hand to show me how it’s done!

Unfortunately not 😦

What ensued was trauma of the highest order – and not just for the fish. It was almost enough to turn me vegetarian, even where volunteering at Edgar’s Farm Sanctuary failed!

I will spare you the graphic details, but suffice it to say this guy ended up with enough stab wounds to make Jerry Orbach turn in his grave uttering a pun far wittier than “Looks like she took a stab at fishing”.

I’m sure I saw him take his last gasp for air while in my hands, and I will admit that it took me a lot not to burst into tears.

I’ve always believed that in our consumerist society we’re far too removed from the reality of where meat really comes from. I’ve always said I’d be willing to kill my own if it came to that, because I believe it’s hypocritical not to.

So naive.

I would learn later (after furious googling) that research shows that fish are unlikely to experience pain in the same way that humans do (if at all). But, when you’re responsible for taking the life, it’s not hard to anthropomorphise the whole situation.

We hid the fish, and our guilt, deep within a esky full of ice and got moving. I knew I’d have to eat him at some point. Just then, however, I couldn’t imagine eating any animal ever again.

Googling would also later revive my guilt, but assuage both of our Top 30 challenge concerns, when we learned that with a tip to tail size of 24cm, our little fish called Hope didn’t even meet NSW regulations for silver trevally! With a lack of fishing licence to boot, we’d well and truly completed Pat’s challenge of breaking the law. (For those who might mock us, however, the 24cm size makes little Hope legal in every other State and Territory of Australia).

Once arrived at my parents’ house for the Mothers’ Day weekend, I managed to wrangle to help of my Dad in learning how to “clean” my new little friend. I thought I would struggle with it, but it’s amazing how much easier it is to slice and dice a dead animal after you’ve watched its slow, torturous death at your hands. “At least,” you think to yourself, “At least it wasn’t all for nothing”.

I still have mixed feelings about the whole thing, but I can report that little Hope was delicious. In a feat of biblical proportions, he even managed to satisfy the hunger of 5 people (for a few minutes at least).

Fish and Chips

It’s unlikely that I’ll rush to go fishing again, although I suspect that I’d have an easier time of it next time (after learning the correct place to stab if you’re going to seal the deal with speed and precision).

When I called my brother to give him the news of my success, he replied “I hope you’ve learned something about consumption”, and I think I have. I don’t know that I’ll ever change my omnivorous ways, but I think I at least have a new-found appreciation of the many thousands of sacrifices that have been made for my benefit.

It’s the ciiirrrrcllllle, the circle of liiiiiiiiife……

Have you ever gone fishing or hunting? Did the experience traumatise you or are you a steadfast carnivore to this day?


7 responses »

  1. Amanda, well fished. I had a steak sandwich and Michael had a prawn and chicken caesar salad at the marina today as we watched the mindless fish swimming below. Our lunches were delicious. We eat to live!
    And here’s food for thought. If you go to there are a total of 19 seaweed recipes and 2626 fish recipes. That’s gotta count for somethin’.

    • It really was his own fault. If he wasn’t so delicious I wouldn’t have had to eat him! It’s a nice view from on top of the food chain!

  2. Well done. I’ve been hunting in Zimbabwe although I didn’t actually shoot an animal myself. We killed, skinned and ate an impala and warthog (not all at once). The guys I were with tried to break their own personal record for the fastest time for skinning an impala. They didn’t break the record but did it amazingly quickly. It didn’t traumatize but it was a new experience.

    We also bought a goat in Central African Republic and killed and ate that. The idea of stunning the goat with the blunt end of an axe to the forehead before we cut its throat didn’t exactly go to plan. I can still hear that goat bleating to this day. However the goat’s liver pate and bartbecued goat were lovely.

    You have recorded the fact that you and Pat have broken the law. As a law graduate I think you know that this evidence will hold up in court!

    • Wow that’s some serious hunting! I suppose if you didn’t get that impala a lion would have anyway 😛 The idea of pâté grosses me out beyond measure but I’m sure the rest of the goat was delicious.

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