Letter from Rye Back Beach


The first casualty was Claude. He was the largest and by far the oldest resident of the pond. All the other fish used to follow him around.

I heard our two-year-old son, Enzo, shout, "Claude's broken, Dad!"

Sure enough Claude was floating on his side, flapping ineffectually. I assumed he was gravely ill and would soon be dead, but this sideways flapping went on for days and then weeks.

Google told me Claude had a common condition called Swimbladder. Apparently mashed peas would set him right. So we mashed some peas and hand-fed them to Claude. We encouraged him to hide himself under a rock ledge instead of flapping in circles and making himself an easy target for kookaburras. But he didn't seem to understand, and in any case he had very little control over his movements.

Each day we hoped to see some improvement but nothing changed.

He would flap in the palm of my hand, groping spasmodically for his mashed peas. Then one day I accidentally flipped him over. On his underside there was a large, kookaburra beak-shaped chunk missing from his flesh. I could see his spine, the poor bastard. His desperate eyes beseeched me to put him out of his misery. I'm no doctor but I realized then and there that mashed peas weren't going to solve anything.

That night I lay awake and wondered how to go about euthanizing a goldfish. I've caught and killed fish before, of course, by various brutal methods including snapping their heads off with my bare hands. But I couldn't do this to Claude, even if he wanted me to. It was a great relief when the next morning, I found him finally at peace.

Enzo and I buried him under a big moonah with minimal fanfare.

There are a lot of kookaburras on the Peninsula lately, especially at our house. A family of them like to hang around in the tree above the pond. Which is bad news for the dwindling family of goldfish, who have become extremely paranoid and reclusive, even for fish.

Their lives are a living hell.

Just this morning Enzo dropped his toast and pointed out the window. A kookaburra was standing in our driveway in the dawn light, a big orange thing dangling from its beak. I think it was Esmeralda, one of Claude's young widows. When the bird was sure it had our full attention it did a little dance, slapping Esmeralda on the pavement - left, right, left - then it flicked her into the air and swallowed her whole.

Simon Juliff,
September 2013