IT WAS MY BOAT OR ME
By BELINDA SCOTT
TED Durie's unexpected dip on Friday almost turned him into flotsam.
Yesterday, the Bellinger River oyster farmer was laughing about his adventure in the flooded river, but at the time he risked losing his boat at the best and losing his life at the worst.
About 5pm on Friday, with the river swollen by torrential downpours and dotted with flotsam, Mr Durie took his punt down the river to rescue some of his oyster rafts from the floating debris.
Tree trunks, branches, timber and other rubbish had been caught between the moored oyster rafts and the shore, forming a dam which was gathering more and more debris and threatening to tear the rafts from their anchorage, carrying away his precious Sydney rock oysters.
The oyster farmer wedged the nose of the punt into the mass and climbed onto the solidly packed debris to free a log to create a channel, but the raft moved and the debris shifted, throwing Mr Durie into the river among a morass of debris alive with lizards, spiders, ants and other insects.
The movement also pushed the unmoored punt back into the river and Mr Durie just managed to catch a trailing rope before the current carried the boat away.
Although he had a lifeline to the boat, Mr Durie, who has had two knee reconstructions, couldn't get back into it.
"I thought I could swim to shore, if I was willing to lose the punt," he said.
Just at that moment a big log floating down the river wedged itself against the boat and Mr Durie was able to scramble onto the log and into the punt.
Jumping back into the river debris yesterday to deal with another pile of logs, branches and nameless rubbish, Mr Durie was cheerful about his ordeal.
A former professional skindiver who has been in, on and under the river for nearly 30 years, he began collecting and then farming oysters as a hobby 'to get the sawdust out of my ears' while managing a sawmill.
Mr Durie was the first grower to successfully farm oysters on the Bellinger and he and his Bellinger River Oysters shed have weathered many floods. This weekend's flood simply cleaned out some timber and other material left underneath his Bellinger River oyster shed.
But in 2001 he suffered a serious blow to his business when he lost 16 of his 48 oyster rafts to a flood so he takes to the river in all weathers and all times of the day, to protect his gourmet oysters from flood debris.