Saturday, May 19, 2007


It is a hot, still morning, and the water in the harbour is like glass. Except it doesn't make any crunching sounds as our boat cuts through it. We head out from the Snapper Jetty. Kylie and i nurse hangovers, our eyes narrowed against the glare of the morning sun. I ask the man standing on deck next to me, Carnarvon's solar farm owner, independent political candidate, accountant and resident bagpipe player, if scattering ashes on the ocean counts as a Burial at Sea.

Or do you need an actual body, i ask.

Our vessel burbles past a line of blue and white trawlers, and they rock silently at their moorings. He frowns.

I don't believe so, he says. We once had a Burial at Sea where we used a couple of sandbags. They'd accidentally cremated the body.
But generally speaking, you need a body and a coffin?
Yes. The scattering of ashes is what one would call a Memorial Service.
I ponder this. As we leave the harbour, we pick up a few knots.
I don't suppose you even need a coffin, for a Burial at Sea.
He raises a quizzical eyebrow.
Just thinking outside the box.

We head out past the Lead Marker toward the point where poor Asger drowned. Asger, the Danish merchant seaman who jumped ship with a mate in Whyalla all those years ago. Three other longtime Carnarvon residents drowned alongside Asger after their boat struck a barge in the dark. It was a terrible business. The Norma Jean struck the barge amidships at speed, scraped along the side, and sank.

Kylie points to some sea creatures breaking the surface of the glistening green waters off the port side. Yeah, those are dugongs, i say casually. You get them out here all the time. (Of course, i have never seen a dugong before in my life. But i do know one thing for certain. In Italy, a dugong is called a dugongo. Valuable information, which will probably come in handy one day.)

Poor Kylie. I'm not sure what she expected, coming to visit me in Carnarvon, but going out and scattering a Danish mariner's ashes at sea was probably not the first thing that came to mind.

Eventually the lead boat of the flotilla drifts to a halt. We are at the site where the Norma Jean sank. The boats form a circle, and wreaths are laid on the surface of the sea. The radios Asger used in his volunteer sea rescue work are committed to the deep. We stand, silent on the deck, as his ashes are scattered. Then the parachute flares are let off. They blast their thin trails directly into the azure sky, high, high, high, before a thin pop sees them burning brightly and slowly downward. It is a very solemn moment.

On the bow of each boat, men stand holding flares aloft, like little Statues of Liberty, in silent tributes to Asger. It is sombre and serene. Fucking hell! Comes a shout across the water. Kylie and i look across and see that one of the boats appears to be on fire. Smoke billows from the deck, as flares shoot in all directions. Suddenly we are all lurching about the deck like drunks at a disco as the skipper powers our boat around in a quick arc to assist. It seems they have fired a flare upside down, directly into a box of flares. Another flare shoots sideways out of the boat. And another. Flares are firing randomly in all directions, as a couple of figures scramble about in a thick cloud of smoke, pouring seawater onto the base of the fire.

Our skipper cuts the throttle and we all stagger forward like drunks towards a bar.

Another flare fizzes off across the water, but the smoke is clearing. A hand emerges from the smoke, and gives us the thumbs-up. The wreaths have been upturned by the wash, and good old Asger's ashes are mixed in with the ancient salt of the sea. The Memorial Service is over.

We head back into the sun, back into another day in Carnarvon.


Anonymous said...

Isn't that an Iron Maiden song?


Mark Roy said...

Probably. Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote it. He also wrote Xanadu, the Olivia Newton John Song. He may have also written a few Burt Bacharach lyrics and tunes for Shannon Noll.

Lex Fullarton said...

True story. We nearly had a sinking and a cremation at a memorial service. Ahh Carnarvon knows how to put on a service. Nothing like a re-enactment. Frank and Asgar would have appreciated the irony.

See you at the Pearly Gate Tavern.

Mark Roy said...

Yes there were very nearly some extra ashes scattered about after those flares went off!

Re beer with St Peter - I'm sure you'll see me around the Narv for a drink before then!