I first got to know Sarah Drummond by lurking around her blog, A WineDark Sea, which she accurately describes as "ripping yarns, beautiful lies and a few home truths". When I mention this to her she laughs the kind of laugh that can only come from someone who smokes rollies. Somehow this is reassuring and the interview flows so easily that I forget to take notes. Afterwards I find myself sitting at the kitchen table scribbling furiously while trying to remember the salient points.
Salt Story, her book, is rather like the interview: easy, flowing, and charming. It tells of Sarah's time as a deckie, an apprentice fisherwoman working with a small-scale commercial fisherman - the Salt of the title - in the inlets and bays of the south coast of WA. Salt, a Falstaffian character (only grumpier), has a pithy turn of phrase peppered with expletives which adds to the authenticity and charm of the book. A memoir, a series of anecdotes and observations, it is also a cultural history of the inshore and estuarine fisheries and a celebration of the land/seascape of the Great Southern.
Although no longer a fisherwoman, Sarah admits to missing the way of life and the culture. As an alternative she has taken up sailing - yachties just being fishers who like to stay clean. Given her obvious affection for the sea and the fishing, was there the risk of romanticising the lifestyle and the people? "Romanticism and the beauty of the small-scale fishing industry has to be countered with the realities, " she says. "Fish stocks are under pressure, some folk flout the law and then grumble about the consequences, and none of us smell real good."
It is this honesty that lies at the heart of the book. The people she writes of ring true; they are characters, not caricatures. Importantly, they are written of with fondness and humour, even the Fisheries officers. "The Department of Fisheries and commercial fishers are the Montague and Capulet families of the ocean, " she explains. Despite this, Sarah freely admits to harbouring a guilty lust for Fisheries officers - something to do with the uniform, apparently. She even invited the local Fisheries officers to the book launch for Salt Story, "which started at five-thirty so they'd come straight from work and turn up in uniform". Although this didn't happen, as "they were all too busy tagging great white sharks or something frivolous like that".
I ask Sarah what she hopes the book will achieve. "A greater appreciation of the fishers and the pressures they are under.
"Working close to shore, estuarine fishers are very visible to the public and they come under pressure from people, beachgoers and real estate developers, with different ideas of what the coast should be used for. There are campaigns against them by anglers wanting to shut them down. I feel that small-scale fishing operators - their culture and way of life - should be respected as part of our natural culture. It's in their interests to be sustainable, to keep the fish stocks healthy for the future, to be able to pass the business on to their kids."
If it's a greater appreciation she is hoping for, Salt Story certainly achieves that. And not just an appreciation of the fishers, but the landscape, too. I got lost in this book in the best of ways. Lost in the estuaries and bays that are written about so evocatively and with so much love. The fishers are fortunate indeed to have someone so erudite and with the experience and sensitivity to write of them so eloquently. Atrocious puns aside, I'm hooked.
Salt Story is published by Fremantle Press ($25). Sarah Drummond will be a guest of the 2014 Perth Writers Festival.