restricted access the legend of the boat
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184 • the legend of the boat I am a legend in these parts. Hardly a day goes by without some schoolkid coming to the river’s edge—on both sides—looking out into the dark waters, and uttering my name in hushed but excited tones. My story will live forever, and that’s a great comfort to me. My kind of kid wants nothing more in life, I reckon. It is not a great river, but the distance between opposite banks is substantial. And it is deep enough. Even partway out towards the middle, you can’t dive and touch the bottom. And as you dive down trying, it gets murkier and a cold current hits you hard, as if the river has two layers with the bottom layer offlimits . And down in the cold place, down where the body heats up and your skin stings, it is silty and murky and you can’t see your hand. It’s a healthy river, though—plenty of kingfish and flathead and fleets of jellyfish.You get the brown speckled sort that hang in the water like weed, and the white flat discs that propel themselves against the currents, staying still or ending up Perth/Canning River 185 t h e l e g e n d o f t h e b o a t marooned and dried out like frisbees along the shores. There’s not much beach, but where there is, it glows white as bone. Mostly, it’s reeds and paperbarks and banks that are steep. For years I played down on one of the sandy shores, not far from our house. I was a good swimmer, and since I had grown up near the river, my parents never worried.When I was old enough, I started to swim out to an old concrete boat moored in the middle of the river.Well, not really the middle, as where I went was an inlet off the main part of the river. Still, it was as far across between banks as anywhere, and that old concrete boat, which was covered in shag and seagull poop, was in the middle, and that’s a long way. I tried to reach it for years, but I wasn’t strong enough, or a little too frightened, and always turned back. But when I was twelve, I reached it, and with that slightly panicky feeling of not being able to secure a grip and swallowing some of the dark water, I managed to pull myself up the mooring chain and clamber on board. From the deck, I could see other kids across the river waving to me. I waved back, then explored the boat. The cabin was padlocked. I couldn’t see anything through the narrow windows along the side of the cabin, as they were painted over with rough white brushstrokes, and through the spaces between the paint I could see thick curtains and nothing more. I’d always wondered how the boat got there and whose it was. I never saw anyone go out to it. Dad had said it was concrete, and I remember wondering how it could float. He told me. It was white and red. Though it was large and rose a long way out of the water, there wasn’t much room on the decks. I sunned myself on top of the crusted and wet bird poop on the cabin roof. I needed to get my breath back and build up my strength before swimming back—it was a long, tiring haul, and I was at my limit in reaching it. I am not a stupid kid. Heading back to the shore, I wanted to do a spectacular dive, but I knew I wasn’t up to it.What’s more, those other kids 186 j o h n k i n s e l l a playing on the far shore wouldn’t see it unless I dived off their side of the boat, and that would put more swimming in the way of getting home. And I really didn’t want to make a big scene of it, since maybe the owner lived in one of the mansions across the road from the river’s edge, and I’d cop it. So I just tin soldiered in on “my” side and swam slowly but steadily back to the shore. Crawling out of the water, I said to myself it’d be a long while before...


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