Gary Shipman is a local legend with a strong passion for wildlife. Not only is he a seasoned fisherman, but he has an uncanny ability to communicate with birds. Gary and his family have lived on the Coffs Coast for his whole life, and he shares his interesting story with FOCUS.
What was life like growing up in Glenreagh in the ‘50s and ’60s?
My family and I moved to Glenreagh from Lowanna in 1950. It was a hard but good life, but things were much simpler than they are today. I walked to Glenreagh School for about two and a half miles there and back. I caught a bus to Grafton for high school and left school at 14 to help my father fencing.
The truant officer picked me up and sent me back to school, because I was too young to leave school. I went back to high school in Grafton and folded my arms and wouldn’t do the work, so the Principal, Mr Orme, let me leave. I started work at Taylor’s mill in Glenreagh for 5 pound 2 shillings and nine pence ($10.58). When I left there, I went to mills in the Eastern Dorrigo area for eleven pounds ($22.00).
We had dances and balls at Glenreagh, Nana Glen, Coramba and Grafton I went to, and the sport I played was football. I played with my father, Jim Shipman, in the 1960 Orara Valley winning side for Reserve grade, and the same year they won the 1st grade as well. The publican, Frank Feighan, taught the young around the town to box, and I didn’t mind a fight.
When did you move to ‘town’?
I got married in 1964 to Jenny. We moved to town in late 1965, after living at Cascade for 1 year and Lowanna for 1 year. We had Tania in 1964, Simon in 1966 and Damon in 1970. We were blessed with nine grandchildren: Christopher, Shaurn, Allie, Shannon, Marcus, Tarsha, Jay, Tye and Bayne and love nothing better when we have our big Good Friday and Christmas seafood lunches with the whole family.
We moved to our present address when my father-in-law asked us to move in and look after him, which we did for 25 years.
We went camping a lot in those days, and took Dad with us sometimes. We went to Station Creek or Red Cliffs at Brooms Head in the school holidays when we could, if work commitments allowed. We went with other families, such as the Nolans, Creers, Websters, Skewes, McPhersons and others as well and had a great time fishing, crabbing and the odd beer or two. I loved to take the kids around the area and teach them worming and fishing. My two sons love fishing and worming and still go with me.
Tell us about your years with Orara Valley.
My son, Simon, started playing for Orara Valley when they restarted in 1983, and we became involved with running the club for about 12 years.
I would catch fish and donate them for the seafood raffles at the home games and the Coramba Hotel after the game. I would buy crabs and prawns for the club and do the trays up before the game. I was a selector for a few years, as well as a committee member.
We had some really good events with the club in those days. The biggest disappointment with the club was in 1990 when Terry Corfe went over for a try to win the Grand Final, and the referee wouldn’t award it. It happened in those days with only one referee, and now they have four and still get it wrong with all the television and commentators. Oh, for the old days!
Tell us about the other big love in your life – your birds.
I loved fishing and birds from an early stage and probably got the passion from my mother. When I was young, I had a frog mouthed owl for a pet and when I would walk home from school, the owl would wait for me to do my chores and then I would take him around the farm and lift the tin up and he would get the mice from underneath. When we moved to our present address, the birds were always around, as my mother in law also fed the birds. I have lorikeets and people from around send birds that have been hurt to me to try to fix them. I also have turkeys and ducks that I feed wheat to. There are numerous birds that come to the house at feeding time.
I love looking after them, feeding and talking to them. They say that to feed birds helps blood pressure. The large volume of birds on the patio was not helping Jenny’s blood pressure, until my son, Simon, who is the owner of ‘Ossie O’ (Outdoor Screening Solutions) installed our screening systems, so now we have full control of the birds’ visits and the added bonus of protection in inclement weather.
You worked for the County Council reading meters; what was that like?
I started for the NRCC in 1967 as a linesman assistant and went on to meter reading and as the disconnection officer before leaving in 2007. It was a good job, and it went from Northern Rivers County Council to NRE, then Northpower and then Country Energy. When I was meter reading, there were quite a few dog bites – but I never blamed the dogs; it was the owners.
It was a lonely job being a meter reader; no one wants them to come, as it would mean a bill for them. I’m glad I’m not there now with the increases in price, as well as the big increase in the service availability fees.
We understand that since retiring you’ve developed an even greater passion for fishing and worming?
I have more time for fishing now, but when I first moved to town I loved fishing for mainly Blackfish and Jewfish. On the night of my sister- in-law’s 21st party, some of the guests said that I wouldn’t catch Blackfish at night. So I went fishing in my suit and caught 8 Blackfish off the railway bridge – and cooked them for breakfast the next morning.
I went to Station Creek a lot, and the reason I am a good fisherman is that I would study them. I applied for a professional worming licence years ago and did that weekends and holidays until I retired. I still love worming, but the seas have knocked the beaches around in the last 3 to 4 years. The biggest Jewfish I caught was 81 lb.
I made a lot of friends through fishing, which I still have to this day.
It is a good sport for anyone to get into. There are a lot more rules around today, and I can see the reason why. We lived in the best times for fishing. Coffs Creek was a good spot for Blackfish but since the pylons have been taken away, there is no eddy for the water to go around and it is sanded up, which is a shame. Jenny and the kids put up with a lot for me to learn fishing. They would go to bed of a night and wake up to Jewfish in the bath tub, as there wasn’t ice in those days. They would be covered with a corn bag to keep them fresh.
Who is the most famous person you have taught to catch worms? Please explain!
I took Pauline Hanson worming, and she still buys my worms when she is going through Coffs Harbour. I have taught my sons to worm, and the grandchildren are keen. There are many others I have taught, and then there are some who just can’t catch them. My prices are the best on the Coast. I don’t believe in ripping people off.
Thank you Gary.
Interview by Sam Dawson.
This story was published in issue 23 of the Coffs Coast Focus