Working quietly on his garden in Wynyard, Tasmania, you wouldn’t pick Col Meyers as a survivor of shipwreck, racing motorcycle crashes and a brush with the Bougainville Revolutionary Army.
“Rees, my ever-loving wife, insisted that I call myself Captain Col Meyers, as a bit of a piss-take, even though I am a grade four sea captain.
“My ticket, lapsed now, allowed me to drive vessels up to 85 metres. I never did, I drove around in small, leaky fishing boats instead.”
Col wrote a book, Trawl Tales and True, about his 33 years in fishing. It is full of big personalities and tales of adventure, some tragic, most funny.
“The book took years and years because I only wrote when I bloody well felt like it,” he said.
Meeting Rees, an author (through a dating website at age 60) got him focussed on the task of telling his many great stories.
From a long line of land-lubbers, Col was shearing at 16 but in his 20s headed to Papua New Guinea to farm copra (coconut meal) and cocoa.
“I was ambushed at one stage by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army. Closest I ever went to being dead,” he said.
“We stumbled into their secret headquarters. It was the early ’70s, they soon became a heavy duty organisation which fought off the Australian and PNG armies.
“I had a mate visiting and I was big-noting myself about how I knew people in remote villages. And I took a wrong turn!”
Disentangling crocs from nets
The two Australians were hauled before the BRA leaders. Col decided they should make a run for it.
They took off down a steep hill, expecting to be shot from behind.
“They didn’t have the confidence they had a year or two later so they didn’t shoot,” he said.
“We laughed about how our bodies had been at cross-purposes running away.
“The legs were trying to take 30 foot strides while the arse-cheeks were squeezed together at 2000 psi, expecting to be shot.”
Col started his first fishing job soon after, a deckhand on a crayboat in South Australia.
He and his first wife, Diane soon moved to North Queensland where Col spent 33 years fishing for Spanish mackerel, prawns, even barramundi in the Gulf.
There he learned how to disentangle saltwater crocodiles from nets.
“Even after you’ve done them a good turn, crocodiles remain ungrateful and still want to kill you!” he said, with a laugh.
“The biggest we dealt with was probably 2000 pounds [907 kilograms]. Nearly had a divorce with my first wife!
“She was calling me Harry Butler – a ‘mini Harry Bottler’ in fact. I just didn’t believe in killing them unnecessarily.”
The fishermen of North Queensland revelled in the freedom of the sea and a climate that required only ‘Stubbies’ shorts and sometimes a shirt.
“We worked mostly at night and a stereo going full bore was bloody great.
“AC/DC blasting out or ZZ Top. And we’d sing along! You cant really offend anyone when you’re 50 nautical miles out.”
Sometimes the solitude was terrifying, as when Col ran aground on a remote part of the Great Barrier Reef.
“It was 55 knots of wind — I reckoned that I’d be breathing the Pacific Ocean before daylight,” he said.
The next day the tide washed the boat off the reef and I thought ‘what do I do now?!’ I had no plan because I hadn’t expected to live.
“I thought well, bugger it, I’m alive and the boat’s functional, I might as well go fishing.”
Col’s worst experience of the sea would come while he was safe on dry land.
Lucky to be alive
He lost his livelihood when the trawler Dalias E rolled over and sank in 1992.
“I wasn’t on it at the time and my crew were very, very lucky to survive. But survive they did, thankfully.”
The Dalias E is now a recognised deep dive site, 50 nautical miles off Townsville.
“I’ve been there to see it. It’s got more fish in it now than it ever did when I skippered it,” he laughed.
Over the years, Col made some notes as well as keeping up skippers’ logs.
“When all you wear is Stubbies shorts, you can only really keep one of those real little notepads in the pocket.
“I retired to Tasmania to write this bloody book I’ve been threatening to write for years (Trawl Tales and True) – and to race motorbikes.
“My worst crash was the one that ended that. I was 60 years old in 2006 and I came off at 240km/h. I did not bounce!”