It’s been a long time coming but finally there will be proper boat ramp access to the Mary River at Shady Camp. Tomorrow or early next week, Fisheries Minister Ken Vowles will be officially opening the concrete boat ramp. “The ramp will be a welcome piece of infrastructure for fishers that will improve access to the world-class Mary River Barramundi Fishery,” Minister Vowles said. “The tender for the work was awarded to local company Aldebaran Contracting Pty Ltd, creating jobs for 20 Territorians, including six Aboriginal employees and eight apprentices,” the Minister said. The new $2.3 million boat ramp is 60 metres long with dual lanes and a slip-resistant concrete surface for safer launching. The Recreational Fishing Advisory Committee prioritised the construction of the ramp in its advice to the Minister. It’s something that I personally have been lobbying for some time. The original concept of building a ramp much further down the Mary River would have cost upwards of $10 million due to the all-weather road work required. This ramp would have provided access to water year-round on any tide, but there was no rock to brace a construction, which also added to the prohibitive cost. Given that Shady Camp is mainly visited by anglers during the wet season and the runoff, and not much at all for the rest of the year, the cost could just not be justified. However, to me it was a no brainer that all we needed was a raised concrete ramp at the end of the Shady Camp Road below the barrage that simply extended well out into the river. Now that it has been built at a fraction of the cost of the abandoned project, no longer will we have to back our boats and vehicles up to 30 metres into the shallow, fast-running water during and just after the wet season. No longer will we risk smashing gear boxes and ripping propellers on hidden rocks in the shallows. More importantly, no longer will we need to run the gauntlet of Shady Camp’s potential man-eating crocodiles as we hang on to our trailer boats in the churning water. The way the ramp has been constructed pointing downstream means that it will be a cinch to drive your boat off and on the trailer, and without your 4WD blowing bubbles with an exhaust underwater. I asked AFANT President, Warren De With, what he thought about the new ramp. “It’s a great thing because it dovetails into the dollars spent by Government on reallocating the resource to recreational fishing only,” Warren said. “This is just enhancing the infrastructure access to this world-class fishery. “It’s also making sure that people launching boats are not crocodile bait. “The Recreational Fishing Advisory Committee was very supportive of getting this project up; it’s an absolute winner at minimal cost, and a long time coming. “It’s going to allow people to fish in that build-up period too, so it just adds more opportunity to access those bigger barra later in the year,” Warren explained. Minister Vowles rightly said: “The Territory is already a world-class fishing destination, and we need to continually work to improve and enhance the experience.” “Already we’ve seen a wireless closed circuit television (CCTV) system - designed and installed by Territory company, Security and Technology Services (STS) - installed at Dinah Beach boat ramp carpark. “As well, construction of a block of three unisex, semi-automated toilets in the Dinah Beach boat ramp carpark is expected to be completed by November, and upgrades to the boat-ramp carpark at Middle Arm are also underway. “These projects are part of the $50 million infrastructure investment and have been prioritised in consultation with recreational fishers to ensure this job-creating infrastructure will have a big impact on local and interstate anglers fishing in the Territory,” Mr Vowles said. ……………………………………………………………………. On a sad note now, the Top End angling scene has lost one of its true fishing and outdoors adventurers with the passing of Viv Thistlethwaite last week. Many would remember Viv from his days as part owner of In and Outboard Marine which he started in 1981. Many too knew him well from the several Barra Classics he competed in mainly in the 1990s. Viv was always an adventurer, fishing and hunting every chance he had, and we spent many a time together on the water. He left the business in the mid-90s and started professional guiding, mainly for barramundi. He did this both locally and in Arnhem Land, working together with legends in the NT guided fishing industry, Les Woodbridge and Russell Kenny. I remember his plans to buy a mothership to operate his guided fishing business. “You can get boats that will accommodate 14 guests,” he told me. And that’s what he did, purchasing the MV Swordfish in 1998 and bringing it to Darwin from the east coast. He sold the boat and the business only this year, and he had been battling his health since the middle of last year. In fact, in very poor health, he did three trips this year simply because he didn't want to let his clients down. I first met Viv at Browns Creek on the banks of the Daly River in the mid ‘80s. In those days, all the Daly River regulars would camp at “Browns”. Sharing a beer around the camp fire, I told the story of two blokes who had been camping at the South Alligator River just below the bridge. It was before the boat ramp had been built there, and explained how they had tied their small tinny with a rope leading to the tow bar. “These blokes were enjoying a drink after a full day on the water battling barra,” I said. “But they ran out of grog and decided to belt down to the South Alligator Inn,” I explained. Some of you would remember that the Inn was just a little bar and three-table bistro back then. “When these blokes arrived at the pub 2km down the Arnhem Highway, they discovered that their tinny was still tied to the back of their 4WD. “The outboard leg was gone and the boat was practically ripped to pieces,” I related with a chuckle. But Viv wasn’t laughing. “You got that mostly right, except that the rope was tied to the bull-bar not the tow bar, and the driver’s door couldn’t be opened because the rope was tight against it,” he said. “How did you know that?” I asked. “Because I was the driver,” Viv said, and then he did laugh! This column expresses its sincerest condolences to wife Helen, sister Liz and family and friends for their loss. PHOTOS: The new Shady Camp boat ramp is an absolute winner for Top End anglers, offering much-needed safety when launching and mostly eliminating the risk of damage to cars, boats and trailers.
Viv Thistlethwaite with a barra caught during his early guiding years.
Viv Thistlethwaite will be remembered as a true Territory adventurer and an icon of the fishing tour industry.