Friday, March 25, 2011

SHANGHAIS IN THE BLUE MOUNTAINS

* a collection of stories and memories, in no particular order, from the life and times of John Clarke, who served as a policeman in the Australian Police Force, a great practical joker, he also had a great affinity with people and wildlife, was a champion swimmer, snooker player, loved golf, still loves fishing and is also an artist. I hope you enjoy his recollections - cheers, karin (his daughter)

This story is courtesty of my father's childhood friend, Neal.  Thank you Neal, a very entertaining story!
After reading Dad's blog, Neal recalled the shanghai stories and sent this typewritten to him via snail mail.

As kids at Katoomba, we almost always carried catapaults (shanghais).  It wasn't just a craze we went through.  Shangais were considered long term necessary equipment.  We felt rather naked without one stuffed in the back pocket and rocks stuffed inside pockets.  They weren't the type you can buy these days (if you break the laws prohibiting dangerous weapons) which are made of steel and surgical rubber.  Ours were made out of a forked branch of a tree, strips of rubber cut from car tubes, a piece of leather which was usually the tongue of an old show, and some pieces of copper wire.

We all had our own design preferences.  Clarkey (John Clarke) reckoned that the longer the rubber, the raster the rock would fly.  When the rubber was fully stretched out, Clarkey had both arms almost fully extended, a bit like a scarecrow.  This made aiming difficult, although I must admit Clarkey was very accurate.  Clarkey recently claimed he was able to hit a bird on the wing.

Sometimes we had a contest to see whose shanghai was the most powerful.  We would on a given signal all shoot a stone as close as we could to exactly vertical and then wait for them to return.  The owner of the one that landed last was the winner.  Keeping track of the owner of each stone, and then avoiding the stones when they came hurtling back were both difficult.  It was great fun.

One day, Pricey (Glyn Price) and I decided we would make the biggest and best of all shanghais.  It would possibly fire half a house brick.  We got a particularly big fork and cut some especially wide rubber.  However it proved to be far too big and strong for one person to handle.  We thought we could make it a 2 man operation.  One could face the target with the fork held in front and braced against the shoulder while the other pulled back the rubber.  Obviously the poor kid at the front was in serious danger so we gave up on the idea altogether.  No heart some might say.

We used our shanghais for chasing wild parrots but we would walk along potting at just about anything just for the fun of it.  We became excellent shots which such a lot of practice.  Sometimes we broke the rules and a lot of other things.  I remember one day we were walking home just on dusk and the street lights suddenly came on.  I fired a quick shot toward one which was a long way down the road.  I got such a shock when it shattered, we scattered in all directions.

There were lots of parrots at Katoomba, Mountain Lowrys (Crimson Rosellas), Kingies (King Parrots), my favourite the Gang Gangs and others.  Our aim was to catch them to put in our aviaries.  Our technique was pretty simple; walk to the berry trees etc., where we knew the birds would be, sneak up on them, shoot, and when they fell race up and grab them before they gained their senses.  I think they fell mainly from shock as they always quickly recovered and we often got bitten.  Being bitten was very painful but we no doubt deserved it.  For kids all this was fantastic fun.

Most kids had aviaries.  Once a person had one bird at home in a cage it would call others down and we could then trap them.  We made automatic traps out of fruit boxes.  I had about six Mountain Lowrys.  One in particular was very tame and would come close when I walked up.  I really loved those birds.  However one morning I came out to find the door of the aviary open and the birds gone.  It was probably far better that way.

Sometimes when we were chasing birds we ran out of rocks.  Then we substituted.  Acorns were popular but I remember Clarkey firing pennie s(coins) on one frustrating occasion.

The skill and thrill of making and using shanghais seems permanent, a bit like riding a bike.  Clarkey was recently bemoaning the fact car tubes are now not made of latex so are not suitable.  He has however found a substitute in surgical rubber.  It seems most members of the group have passed the art and love of shanghais to their offspring.  It is comforting to know it will not go to the grave with us.

I still have a shanghai in the garage, it needs new rubber.  I think I'll fix it up and I'll give those bloody Minah birds a bit of hurry up!

Neal

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