t was a sad loss to the Northern Territory and in particular the Top End angling community last week with the passing of Garry Simpson.
Known to his friends and associates as “Big Foot”, the words “larger than life” only just begin to describe this true Darwin legend. I first met Garry in 1982 not long after he arrived in Darwin with his partner Julie Mallise. Like so many of us back then, we were lured to the Top End by the fishing, and in Big Foot’s case it was not just barra fishing. He was one of the pioneers of billfishing in the Top End, catching sailfish on a regular basis, and the occasional marlin too. In the early days, I sold him my Yellowfin boat, and didn’t that see some action under his command. In 1987, he barged it to Gove for the Gove Game Classic, and then we drove my new boat, a 7.3m Cairns Custom Craft mini-gameboat, right around the coast to compete in that event. Kenny Veal was with us and it was an epic voyage that was planned to take just three days, but took a week thanks to strong winds from the east. I remember we holed up in Malay Bay and all the rime we heard weather reports on the old HF radio that the winds would abate east of Maningrida. We refuelled at Croker Island and took off in the morning against a 40 knot wind, getting smashed as we crawled to Goulburn Island. The next morning, we set off again but it was just too hard and too dangerous so we veered right and bashed into the King River. There we started flicking to both sides, pulling in mangrove jacks as I drove. We holed up in the King for two days, wondering whether we’d get to Gove in time for the tournament… and all the time the weather forecasts from the Darwin marine centre that the winds would abate east of Maningrida kept our hopes up. We took off in desperation and, once east of Manigrida, the winds strengthened and Big Foot declared: “If we make it back to Darwin, I’m going to pay that forecaster a little visit”. At 190cm, and strong as Timorese buffalo, you don’t want that sort of visit from Big Foot. Finally, we made it to Gove just hours before the Game Classic started and Big Foot jumped in his Yellowfin with his team and hooked up on some beautiful marlin. Later we were partners in one of the Territory’s first fishing tour camps, operating out of Port Essington. He and Julie ran the show on the ground and it was there that he learnt so much about that part of the coast. As the years passed, his boats got bigger, and trips to his beloved Port Essington happened every year. With his partner Angus, he ran a very successful form-working company in Darwin, but his goal was always to finish up with a boat big enough to live on and travel far and wide with Julie. In recent years, he certainly did that and only just recently returned from Indonesia where he and Jules spent nearly two years. Some of my fondest memories of Big Foot were the annual Darwin Game Fishing Club monthly competitions on the South Alligator River each February. One year, he and Jules came racing down the river to find me. He’d caught a big barra on a 20cm soft plastic, and that was back when no one else was doing it. “Al” he called out as he approached, “there’s only one bloke I want to see for a photo when I get a big one.” We weren’t measuring back then, and barra were weighed in game fishing comps – I reckoned it was about 115cm. “Did you weigh it?” I asked. “Yep mate, it’s forty and a half pounds,” he said proudly. For years and years after that, we ribbed him about the half pound. Big Foot was an incredibly practical man and had his own measure on life and how to live it well but with a sense of fairness and true down-to-earth, say-it-how-it-is honesty. He loved a chat and a laugh, and was always a wealth of knowledge which he imparted unselfishly, especially when it came to fishing and game fishing in particular. He was highly respected by his friends and peers, and he deserved that respect. There are so many stories of how he helped people over the decades, and how he reacted quickly in emergency situations and saved the day. He was far too young to leave us, and he will be missed by so many people. This column offers its most sincere best thoughts to Julie, Jack, Bryce and the family on the passing of a true one-off human being who contributed so much to the Northern Territory in his own very special way. Goodbye Big Foot my old friend.
Newspaper shot: Garry Simpson, AKA Big Foot, was a pioneer in the Darwin game fishing scene.
Big Foot was always catching great fish right to the end.
Garry Simpson with his great mate Phil Hall and another ripper marlin.
Early days of the family fishing together: Julie Mallise, Bryce, Jack and the big man with his barra.