At 4.00am the surface of Jervis Bay is flat like glass, bounded by a thick blanket of stars, a rocky shoreline and a darkness just beginning to be punctured by the emerging dawn. Everything is quiet, accentuating the voices of my fishing companions and the click-clack of trailers reversing down a boat ramp.
My ten year old son Lachlan and I are on a fishing trip with eight men and two boys from our church. We climb into the boats, engines roar to life and we set off at speed across those glassy waters until we reach our fishing spots. Rods appear, hooks are baited, lines cast into the water. For two glorious mornings we share the bay with a pair of whales and an enormous seal and pull in snapper, flathead, mowong, slimy mackeral, yellowtail, rock cod and small sharks.
Around 10am engines roar to life and our inbound journey reverses the order of events we traced earlier. Boats are hauled onto trailers and we head back to our caravan park to wash them down, clean the fish and share lunch. Four giant stingray, the largest maybe two metres across, patrol the shallow waters of the Huskisson river that flows right outside our cabins. They feed on the unwanted pieces of fish carcass that are thrown into the river during the fish cleaning process.
After lunch some head for the comfort of their beds, while a few of us jump into my tinny, navigate to the mouth of the river, beach the boat and fish from the shore for bream. Wading knee deep into the water we cast our lines into the channel, where fish fed in the fast flowing current.
As darkness descends in the evening the twelve of us squeeze into the living area of one of the cabins we have hired. Dinner consists of curried snapper, barbequed flathead, sausages, lasagne and raucous laughter as we share stories of the day just passed and poke fun at ourselves and each other.
Over the course of these four days what transpires is so much more than fishing. The fishing is great fun, but the real pleasure comes from sharing time with each other. I experience men caring for each other in very practical ways – some cook and clean up, some rig fishing lines and show novices what to do, some jump waist deep into cold water to hold boats while trailers are fetched. Amid the gentle mocking and exaggerated discussion of ridiculous topics I hear words of kindness, encouragement and affirmation. I witness friendships being strengthened as new experiences are shared. I take great pleasure in the Australian habit of ripping off those you consider your friends.
I am humbled and thrilled at the way these grown men include my ten year old son. He is listened to, cared for and feels completely at ease among this group of adults. He witnesses manhood at its best. Here manhood is not defined by boorish behaviour, drunkenness or the denigration of women. It is defined by respect, kindness, appreciation, laughter and faith.
Returning home I feel relaxed, refreshed and utterly convinced of the value of men spending time together, enjoying one another’s company and the world God has made, affirming one another, building bonds of friendship and modelling healthy manhood to the boys in their midst.
I suspect the others feel the same, for there is universal and enthusiastic agreement that we make this an annual event