Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 18, 2013

Salt Story (2013), by Sarah Drummond

Salt StoryI don’t eat much meat, but I’m rather partial to fish, so I was very interested in this book which humanises the small-scale commercial fishing industry that brings the bounty of the sea to those of us who can’t go fishing ourselves.

Sarah Drummond is a ‘deckie’ for ‘Salt’ – not his real name, but he is a real person, and this collection of brief vignettes about their adventures together is all the more interesting because Sarah is a woman in a mostly male industry complete with quaint superstitions about women aboard and so on. 

Salt Story doesn’t romanticise the lifestyle: it’s a hard and often dangerous life, and rising at the crack of dawn doesn’t sound like much fun at all.  There are also other unpleasantries that I had never heard of:

I sat on a warmed rock at sunset.  I sat there as a prospective mutineer, a female Fletcher Christian of the Deep South.  I can handle all sorts of things.  I can handle live sharks, cobbler, getting scared, getting wet and stingrays.
I can’t handle that damned onshore whore – that incessant summer easterly – or sea lice.  I get hysterical when sea lice drop off the fish and bite the webbing between my toes.  There is nothing quite so gross.  Salt has laughed at my screaming lice dance before but he grew quiet when I said they would crawl up his legs and into his bum and eat him from the inside out. (p. 29)

But Drummond has a dry sense of humour to counter the wet and the cold.

I have to remind Salt often that I am a fairweather fisherwoman but these reminders rarely carry much authority.  (About as much authority as a fisherwoman has in the Microsoft spellcheck universe it seems.  Word has it that I am not a fisherwoman but a washerwoman).  (p.31)

While Drummond likes the ‘Hemingwayesque element’ of her work, ‘that beautiful interplay of art and labour, the cerebral marrying the physical’  she also appreciates the beauty of the environment in which she works:

Standing in the starlit dark with the moon gone and a white glow on the eastern horizon, the place made me feel like I’d crossed beyond an earthly threshold, with those surreal water lights and discovering my other life as a river boy.  The wind had ceased its harrying but still the swell thumped outside the bar.  Fish torpedoed away from our boat leaving comet tails of phosphorescence in their wake.  Salt rowed and rowed, straight past the stake holding fast the net and out into the centre of the inlet and none of us dreaming fold even noticed.  (p. 128)

Like anyone else who depends on the catch to make a living, Drummond is passionately keen about the need to ensure a sustainable industry.  She’s also a powerful advocate for the preservation of a way of life among these coastal communities.  She is unequivocal about the populist and often misleading campaigns of recreational fishers who want the sea and its bounty all for themselves and their friends.  As sea-changers and the leisure industry grows, small-scale inshore commercial fishing is being targeted and governments are caving in to those bumper-stickers which proclaim ‘I fish and I vote’.  In the competition for inshore and estuarine fish,  research shows that recreational fishers often take more than small-scale commercial fishers do, but the recreationals supply only themselves and their friends whereas people who can’t go recreational fishing have to rely on commercial fishing for lawful access to seafood.  It’s hypocritical of recreational fishing groups to attack their small-scale rivals over the sustainability of the catch when large commercial ocean-going fishing boats can have more of an impact on fish stocks.  (p194)

For myself, I just like a feed of fresh fish as part of a healthy diet, and so I hope this book gets a wide readership, to make people realise that there ought to be room in a sustainable fishing industry for these small operators who bring their catch to market for anyone to buy.

Check out the review at Kill Your Darlings too.

Author: Sarah Drummond
Title: Salt Story, of Sea-dogs and Fisherwomen
Publisher: Fremantle Press, 2013
ISBN: 9781922089069
Source: Review copy courtesy of Fremantle Press

Fishpond: Salt Story: Of Sea-dogs and Fisherwomen


  1. I read SALT STORY and loved it. I’m acquainted with Sarah via our blogs and am lucky enough to be her upcoming guest/visitor in Feb next year for the Perth Writers Festival. She is going to show me her world and I can’t wait. I love fish too but I hope this book is widely read not only for the politics of it but more for the gorgeous prose and entree to what sounds like a truly special part of the country.


  2. Yay Jen! It will be so good to see you in the west.
    Thanks Lisa for a lovely review of my book.


  3. It does sound a bit Hemingwayesque. An interesting book – glad to see that the author approves of your review!


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