Muddy Waters – A Sibling Adventure

Standing knee-deep in mud in the pitch-dark is not the usual way I spend a Saturday night, but I was with my younger brother and that explains everything really. We both lead responsible lives, but on the rare occasions we do meet up, an element of playfulness and even recklessness can ensue.

Childhood trauma can link siblings in strange ways. Being with each other is a reminder of past events and can be triggering, but there is also comfort and solidarity in knowing that no-one else in the world shares these same childhood experiences.

A few years ago, we made a pit stop at Hervey Bay while travelling to visit our elderly parent in full-time care. Our mother has had schizophrenia for most of her adult life. During my childhood her condition was untreated. After I left home, she was finally diagnosed and placed on medication to help reduce symptoms. 

My mother on the far left sitting on Daisy, the dairy cow.

It’s always emotionally challenging to visit Mum. She may not have died, but there is ongoing grief at what this serious illness has stolen from her. There is also anger and sadness about what else she has had to endure. Before her condition arose, she was molested as a young child by a church member, a close relative, and in her teens by a much older man in her first job. Being married to a with an alcohol addiction, and having a child born with serious heart abnormalities and a severely limited life span, only exacerbated her mental anguish. My heart breaks for her.

Some sketches from my mother’s youth.

My brother and I also feel grief for how mum’s illness has impacted our own lives, and also for how it has limited Mum’s relationship with our children. That’s why when we share these visits to Mum, my brother and I try to offset our sadness with a little frivolity and adventure. On this occasion, we went fishing. I should clarify. My brother went fishing for fish. I went fishing for birds.

Now I have to admit that fishing is not on my list of favourite activities. My brother though, should have been born a seal. He never goes anywhere without a fishing rod or reel in his car and he can’t help but evaluate any creeks or rivers we drive past as potential fishing locations. In my case, I was born permanently attached to a camera. Some may call it obsessive, but it gives us pleasure and helps distract us from worries.

Eli Creek flows into the sea at Point Vernon in Hervey Bay and is a place of mud, mangroves, and sandflies. When it comes to his big sister though, my brother is fine-tuned in the art of persuasion, and with a simple sentence had me hooked,“You can take bird pictures, Janey!” Our only other sibling is buried at a cemetery close by, so in a way it was like we would also be sharing our adventure with him.

Now this was a perfectly good plan except for one thing. As often happens, we got caught up in conversation over a meal, and by the time we arrived at Eli Creek, the sun was already setting.

In my “other” life, I prepare for every scenario. After all, you never know when an apocalypse might hit. On this occasion, I was uncharacteristically nonchalant. I neglected to bring appropriate shoes, a torch and mosquito repellent. Luckily, my brother had a head lamp and strode ahead. He was a man on a mission!

The mud was still as muddy as I remembered and the sandflies were just as ravenous. Snowshoes would have been more useful than flat canvas slip-ons, which I kept losing every time I tried to lift my feet.  I was too nervous about broken glass and jagged shells to remove my shoes and hold them though.

My brother was having some fun as well…

The surface was also uneven, scattered with depressions left by resting stingrays.

It didn’t take me long to lag behind. My brother has much longer legs, and I was also pausing to capture photos of the birds, shellfish, and sky before darkness descended. As you can see, there was a dearth of avian subjects to be found at this late hour!

A stunning sunset helped block out thoughts of sharks, sea snakes, deadly stone fish, stingrays, and jellyfish. Yes, despite loving the sea and living by it for a good portion of my childhood, I am fearful of its depths.

I have a friend from my teens to partly thank for this anxiety. We were at the Urangan Pier at Hervey Bay, when he alerted me to a few ripples in the sand below and proceeded to hook up a deadly stonefish concealed beneath the surface. He then pointed out all the other marks in the sand, indicating there was a whole congregation of them. Thanks for the nightmares, Ian!  

I also spent part of my childhood at Yeppoon where we survived mainly on a diet of shark fillets and cheap locally-grown pineapples from a roadside stall. There was never a shortage of sharks for my father to catch. Seeing them surround his little fishing boat was not a highlight of my youth, even though I do think they’re majestic creatures. Watching the movie, “Jaws,” as an impressionable child probably didn’t help my galeophobia.

It was also in Yeppoon that my brother and his friend were stung badly by jellyfish. I still remember his screams, “Something’s biting us!” while I was swimming close by. The sad demise of Wildlife Warrior, Steve Irwin, from a stingray barb, has me wary of this beautiful marine creature as well.

Back to the trip now before I contribute to phobias in my readers. While being sucked into the mud, I managed to take a million shots of this mollusk.

I hadn’t seen live ones like it in Hervey Bay before, and couldn’t remember what venomous cone shells looked like. Were these the highly deadly cone shells? I might as well add another fear to the growing list.

A solitary mangrove leaf distracted me briefly from these nightmares.

Eventually, I reached my brother. He’d found plenty of bait with his yabby pump and was eagerly awaiting a nibble.

It wasn’t to be my brother’s lucky evening though, and we turned towards shore with empty buckets.  It was only then we realised we had a new problem to contend with. It was too dark to confidently know which direction to head to our parked car, and by now my brother’s headlamp was dimming.

Then it went flat. A moonless night didn’t help our situation. Darkness encourages the imagination. My brother may not have had any nibbles on his line, but something small and fishy was enjoying the taste of my submerged toes. In some countries people pay a lot of money to have their feet cleaned by fish, but in the dark, the tickling sensation was disconcerting. Above the water, mosquitoes drained blood.

We tentatively picked our way through muddy mangroves and flowing streams created by the incoming tide, while trying to head towards a faint group of lights in the distance.

I’m still not sure how we made it back to the right spot as we are both directionally-challenged. No fish may have been caught, but plenty of fear-tinged fun and laughter was had.

The next morning, I woke early in our motel room, but decided to let my brother sleep. I tip-toed downstairs, opened the back of the station wagon to pack the car, and nearly fainted from an overpowering stench. A hot Queensland summer night in a locked car had hastened the putrification process of the shrimp remains in the bucket and yabby pump.

We spent the next hour cleaning the juices out of the yabby pump and car before continuing our long drive. Even with all the windows down to blast us with fresh air, the residual odour kept us “alert.” I suppose it’s a novel alternative to caffeine to keep us awake on a long trip. Another memorable sibling escapade to store in the memory banks!

On a later trip with my daughter to visit my mother, we stopped off at the other end of Hervey Bay – the Urangan Pier – and managed to “catch” a few birds.

In my youth, the pier was much longer and ended with dilapidated buildings smelling of urine and fish entrails. Many of the boardwalk planks were rotten or missing. It was a favourite haunt for die-hard fishing fanatics, including the teenage friend I mentioned previously. We would sit in quiet companionship, legs dangling over the sides of the pier, while he fished for lunch.

The revamped Urangan Pier is still a favourite of fishing fanatics and it was here that I added to my “fishing for birds” album. With so many rods and reels cast, the pelicans and seagulls were an easy catch. The pier even has stainless steel tables for scaling and gutting.

I’m extremely fond of pelicans. Their cheeky faces are endearing. I especially enjoyed the almost smug expression of this one, who foiled attempts to stop it roosting.

I’m not sure why authorities need to place spikes there to stop birds nesting or roosting, but I was amused it hadn’t worked in this case. 

Seagulls are not my daughter’s favourite birds, possibly due to a Hitchcockian-style attack on a Byron Bay trip with me when we tried to eat hot chips. I still admire their sleek silver and white lines though.

A tethered dog on the pier could only look on enviously as distant canines splashed with delight.

Fishing is so popular at the pier that some have even made fancy fishing gear bicycle trailers.

And when you need to follow the fish, a fully equipped kayak makes for an eco-friendly alternative to motorboats.

New since my days as a Hervey Bay resident are these signs. Hervey Bay used to be a sleepy little seaside town when I was young, but it is now recognised as an international whale watching tourist destination.

It is also known for being the gateway to World Heritage-listed K’gari Island, the largest sand island in the world. “K’gari” means “paradise” in the language of the Traditional Owners, the Butchulla people. For a while it was known as Fraser Island as a tribute to Eliza Fraser, which was extremely inappropriate given that her narrative led to the massacre and dispossession of the Traditional Owners. One day I hope to return to this island of lush rainforests, heathlands, stunning freshwater lakes, long golden beaches and towering sand dune formations. I’ve visited K’gari twice in my youth but barely had time to appreciate its treasures.

Some of you may still be curious about the mollusk I saw on the mud adventure with my brother. Was it deadly? After returning home, I contacted the Queensland Museum’s helpful identification service and was rewarded with a rapid response. It wasn’t the dangerous cone shell of my imagination. I must admit, I was a little disappointed. It was confirmed to be Nassarius dorsatus, a snail that is a great scavenger of dead crabs and fish (or whatever). They have a fairly wide Indo-Pacific distribution and are common in Queensland.

Even though my many fears were unfounded, they did contribute to a more exciting experience. Fears arising from traumatic life events such as my mother experienced can be extremely debilitating, but a few fears on an adventure of one’s own choosing can be fun. That’s what I tell myself anyway when my imagination starts to dance…

40 thoughts on “Muddy Waters – A Sibling Adventure

    • Thanks very much, Tony. I’ve been wanting to share a little more about my mother, but have hesitated because there is quite a stigma around schizophrenia. Some people find the topic difficult to handle and don’t know what to say. I’m pleased that you appreciated my words about her life, as well as my adventures with my brother. We feel she deserves to have so much more and wish I could change her situation. Best wishes. 🙂

  1. Thank you so much for a another wonderful piece; for your fun and enlightening words and awesome nature pictures.

    How about publishing a book/ebook? So you have your collected works together.
    (I wrote a diary on my Kilimanjaro trek and afterwards, just for myself, compiled all day-notes in a PDF (ebook). But when I “published” it, other people read it, too …).

    • Thanks for that encouraging and generous feedback, Marina. You are so kind. I’ve actually been trying to complete a book (or two) for a few years now but need a publisher. I have a lot of other stories written but they don’t really belong in my blog. They are probably much too personal. I’ll probably end up writing an E-book about my adventures as you suggested and publishing something myself. As you experienced with your Kilimanjaro book, sometimes when we compile something for ourselves, we can find out that others want to read it too. That’s wonderful about your published e-book. I’m sure it’s a fantastic read and very inspiring! Thank you. 🙂

    • Thanks for your enthusiastic support, Brian! This is the first time I’ve mentioned the specifics of my Mum’s illness in my blog and was a little nervous how people would react. I spent a while trying to incorporate it into a story that might also offer some humour to offset the sadness. I really enjoy spontaneous activities like my mud adventure with my brother. It gives us the opportunity for some childish fun. We all need to let our hair down sometimes. I noticed you’ve had lots of rain down there. Wonderful. I hope you get enough to fill the dams. All the best. 🙂

      • I sensed that that was a difficult part but it read easily and well. The off the cuff stuff is what life is for…..fun and adventure. You were lucky the snail wasn’t going to kill you. Lots of soaking rain so tanks and garden are happy and overflowing but not much run-off for the dams 🙂

  2. Jane, Wow! The emotion in this post has me speechless. My heart breaks for your mother; the antics with your brother had me giggling, and that last paragraph how you tied it all together has me breathless. All of this and the amazing photographs! Thanks for sharing your imagination. May it long dance.

    • You always know just the right things to say, John! Thank you for your constant kindness and encouragement. A day doesn’t go by without me thinking of what my mum has been through. I wish that I could make everything better for her. Some things are beyond our control though. I’m lucky that I gain joy from the natural world and have people who love me. I also appreciate having an imagination, even if it does lead to a few fears. Haha. These things all help offset the sadness of Mum’s situation. I’m so pleased you enjoyed what I had to offer, John. All my best. 🙂

  3. Your daughters aversion to seagulls had me in stitches as I remembered my younger brother being chased by one back in the day,.. and the Japanese tourists filming it and laughing. I hoped he was on japans funniest home videos! Lol. A really beautiful read Jane. Even the sad bits about your mum and her tough life. You write so eloquently. X

    • Haha. I still laugh when I remember the seagull incident with my daughter! I think I wrote about it in a Byron Bay post. I’ve still not been able to convince her of their delights. That’s hilarious about your brother being chased and filmed, Anna! 😀 You made me laugh. That reminds me of when my eldest son was a baby and he was a VERY chubby bubby with big round cheeks. A large group of Japanese tourists found him highly amusing and spent 10 minutes photographing and giggling at him at a wildlife park in Brisbane. I wonder where those photos of him are now. I’m relieved and pleased that you enjoyed this post which was much more personal than usual. Writing about such things can make me feel a little vulnerable. Thank you for such supportive feedback. I hope you are able to have many wonderful adventures with your daughter as she grows older. The memories are priceless! All my best. x

  4. Ik heb te doen met je moeder. Ze heeft geen gemakkelijk leven en jij en je broer ook niet. Gelukkig is jullie verhaal goed af gelopen. prachtige foto’s en een heerlijk verhaal. Dank daarvoor.

    • Bedankt voor die vriendelijke woorden over mijn moeder en mijn broer en mij. Ik waardeer je gedachten. Het is altijd goed om te weten dat anderen om ons geven. Ik hoop dat je veilig en gezond bent, MaryLou. De beste wensen uit Australië. 🙂

  5. Excellent post, Jane. I was amply worried when the head lamp went out! And your experience with the dead shrimp reminds me of a time when I gathered some beautiful seashells in Malindi, East Africa, not realizing that they were still occupied. Our little VW bug was smelly for a week. –Curt

    • Thank you very much, Curt. I’m pleased my little adventure with my brother entertained you. We may not have caught any fish or seen much birdlife but we certainly had fun (and fear on my part). 😀 I had to laugh at your smelly VW bug story! Reminds me of when I was a young child and collected a bucket of soldier crabs. My parents were unaware I’d collected them until the smell! I didn’t realise at the time they couldn’t survive away from the sea. I felt terrible that they’d died as well. I hope all is well where you are. All the best. 🙂

  6. Wow Jane what an amazing story, you always have so much to give my friend ! So sad for your mum and family, it is a challenge when there is mental health problems in the family, I experienced similar with my dad, and in those days they did not know how to deal with it or even diagnose it, but it sure destroyed families, but as you shared and my brother and I have found, in our older years, it does make us stronger and somehow bind us together as we share our past. Loved your story and photos, and thought I was reading a novel with photos in it, it was so well told. I love your story telling skills. Thanks again my friend, and so glad you have fond memories of your mum, and your brother and you can enjoy some youthful frivolity, my brother and I are known for our dancing at weddings, 🙂

    • Thanks for such generous feedback, Ashley. I appreciate your very kind support and encouragement. Thank you also for sharing your own experience with your father. That must have been very difficult for you and your brother and can have knock on effects through your life. It can be very hard when the person who is your caregiver is not able to perform that role due to serious mental illness. My brother loves to dance and when my back wasn’t damaged, so did I. It is such a great tension release and loads of fun. I can’t say that I can actually dance well though! Haha. I’m pleased that you have a sibling that you can have a relationship with now. It helps if there is someone who understands where you’ve “come from.” It must be isolating for people who don’t have that. Thanks again, Ashley, for opening up about your own experience. When a parent has cancer or something like Parkinson’s Disease, people seem more able to seek support from others, but when a parent has a mental illness, it tends to be kept secret which only increases the sense of isolation that children may feel. All my best. 🙂

    • Thank you very much, Tom. You are always so kind. It gives me so much pleasure to know you enjoy my posts (even when they are seasoned with some sadness.) I lost a lot of confidence in recent years and developed a bit of social anxiety. Usually writing helps me but even that became stressful. I think I may be starting to get back on track again. I really love pelicans. I find their faces with those hilarious big bills and black eyes very appealing. I really had to hold myself back and not share the 100 or so shots I took of that one on the pier. Haha. I’m pleased you appreciated my efforts. That makes me smile. All my best. 🙂

  7. I was fortunate that my grandparents on both my mom and my dad’s side revealed mental health issues that existed a few generations back, and carried on with each generation. The trauma and PTSD that resulted (even in my generation) helped me understand the enormity of mental illness and how it affects not only our immediate families but all of society. I feel for your mom, and for you and your brother. It’s wonderful that you continue to do your best to help, however you can.

    You know me, I got seriously tickled when your headlamp went “flat”. I myself would have been panicked – I have terrible night vision. I had another good laugh about the stench in the car the next morning. And, I fell in love with your pelican photos. Their faces are so comical. I’d have taken a hundred images of them too! We need these silly moments to lighten our hearts and minds, and to remember life is very good.

    • Thank you very much, Lori, for sharing the past history of mental illness in your family and how much it can severely impact future generations and society as a whole. I really appreciate you being open about it. It is comforting to know that others understand. I also feel for what you have gone through due to your own family dynamics and history. It’s a challenge. My daughter’s latest hospital rotation is working in a mental health unit which treats people with severe mental illness. I was wondering how triggering this would be for her due to her grandmother’s condition and what she has experienced of her behaviour. It has been interesting to me though how much of a relief it has been to finally be able to have more medical based discussions around Mum’s illness. There was always some niggling doubt and guilt about whether the diagnosis was wrong but hearing from my daughter that she sees patients just like my mum was strangely reassuring. One of the difficulties we faced trying to get support for mum is that people didn’t believe us or they didn’t want to talk about such “distasteful” topics. There is still a great lack of funding for research and treatment for severe mental health conditions and even less support available for families of patients. The situation is similar for drug and alcohol addictions which can often result from mental illness. We saw both in our parents. The repercussions are still felt today in my life and that of my children’s. Intergenerational trauma certainly exists. Mum never received any justice from childhood incidents. It is ironic how her strict insular church did not allow any form of dancing and yet did not kick out or report the behaviour of the man who molested little girls in the church despite complaints being made. That incident as well as others were kept secret. I was not made aware of this until recent years. Mum had to live with those memories silently for most of her life. Secrecy about many things can lead to and compound much mental illness. I now understand how those experiences affected some of her behaviour towards us. I’m glad your grandparents were able to reveal the history of mental illness to you so you could have that understanding of how trauma and PTSD is created and transferred. It helps with your own healing and allows you to nurture yourself.

      I was thinking of you while I wrote about this misadventure with my brother. 😀 I thought you might find it amusing. I have very poor night vision too. I can look back at it as a fun memory now but it was rather nervewracking at the time! Haha. Yes, it’s important to let one’s hair down and do something spontaneous and silly sometimes. I rarely did that as a child but seem to be making up for it in my middle age. Better late than never! All my best, dear lady. xo

      • I recently read the book, “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., and I think you would enjoy it immensely. It really resonated with me, and opened my eyes, helping me actually have understanding and compassion for others who I might have judged harshly, or situations I thought someone should just tough it out like I did. I have struggled greatly with my sense of “justice” – angry that justice is never really served the way I think it should be! It’s one thing to understand why I am the way I am as a result of what I suffered much of my life, but realizing the social implications is paramount for all of us to create a better world.

  8. I laughed out loud as your wonderful warm, late-arvo light-splashed images faded into complete black! You had us all worried!

    Another beautifully-written piece (on many levels), accompanied by the usual magical photos.

    Wonderful!

    • Haha. I’m so pleased my little mud adventure with my brother gave you some laughter, Rob. 😀 We all need a bit of fun in our lives sometimes, especially of late with climate change, the Pandemic etc. I don’t think my brother was as nervous as me about getting back to the car safely. He’s used to fishing in interesting conditions. It had a positive ending though so I can look back on it as “fun”…I think. 😉 I’m not sure it can compete with your cyclonic ghost fungus expedition with Harry though!
      Thanks for your generous praise, as usual. I really appreciate your continued support, Rob. All the best. 🙂

    • Thank you very much, Susan. It often seems to be the case that my brother and I find ourselves in a bit of a pickle. We’ve accidentally gone off track while on a walk on a few occasions, with one very memorable trip at White Rock some years back which ended up being around 30km by the time we found the right way back to the car. We were so hot, thirsty and weary that we didn’t even react when a venomous brown snake crossed the path close to our feet. Thank you for your continued kind interest in my blog posts despite my erratic publishing. It always gives me pleasure to see your name in my notifications. You have been reading my blog since the beginning and those continuing connections can in some ways feel like being part of a family. 🙂

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