Swimming with Sharks

By | 1 February 2012

Jim, ex CBC boy and long-term Semaphore resident,
reminisces about his old mate, poet, Francis Webb, 1925 – 1973.


Frankly i didn’t know if he was
telling the truth
or simply weaving a web
laced with lies & deceit
but as i sat there smoking
cigarettes in his Semaphore backyard
he pointed out the Jacaranda tree
where Francis would hang his red Speedos
out to dry
he’d just sling them over that low branch
just above head height
& he talked about how the colour contrasted
wildly with the green
& he described in detail the aqua blue
full-face diving mask he’d wear
& how it was slightly frayed
around the edges & how it left red welts
across his face that lasted for an hour or more
making him look somewhat grotesque
& i drifted with the smoke . . .
& thought of nothing but him

i was jolted when he said that Francis
had the biggest snorkel in Semaphore ––
i laughed aloud & commented
that i thought Francis was definitely gay
& went on to say how he’d smashed
chairs to toothpicks in the past when
challenged on that point
but i was told smartly in return
that Francis loved a challenge
& how they’d dive the Semaphore reef
& harpoon sharks on steamy summer afternoons
& how Francis could swim for miles
with an ease & natural grace that most
sporting men envied

but he told me too of his dark side ––
one incident that quickly came to pass
was how one broiling January afternoon
when too many long-necks had been emptied
& thrown with wild abandon into the overgrown
buffalo grass
that the landlord had appeared looking stern
& began a lecture on moderation & temperance ––
it was all too much for Francis
who waved his harpoon in his direction
& screamed desist you bugger desist
& began to chase him around the backyard
with a stream of other even more foul
& cutting obscenities
& how within the hour two coppers
arrived on a motorbike & sidecar
booting it up the driveway & waving their
truncheons at Francis who by this time was
staggering exhaustedly around the backyard
in his once white ‘y’ fronts & wielding
his own weapon
calling the landlord a cunt repeatedly
(& rather loudly it should be said)
much to the utter disgust of the
woodcutter who lived next door
(who was always thought to have called
the police but who of course ––
on later questioning
would never put his hand up ––
though some did suggest it may have been his wife

it was shortly after this event that the
harpoon was strapped to the last pylon
on the northern side of the Semaphore jetty ––
just below the waterline at low tide
(suffice to say that the charges were
subsequently dropped perhaps due to the
lack of substantial evidence)
but they say too ––
that sometimes when the water clears
& the Semaphore sun is bright
that if you swing out far enough over
the jetty railing
you can see a leather belt with a brass
buckle about a metre below the waterline ––
but as for that harpoon
it is no-where to be seen.

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