I ARRIVED in Far North Queensland in the middle of a massive flood in early 1981, and had to be transported across the swollen Tully River on a high clearance trailer pulled by a farm tractor. It cost $40 to get across, which seemed a better option than turning back to Townsville to find accommodation. Everything was already booked out in Cardwell and Ingham, as hundreds of travellers waited for the flood waters to subside.
I was on transfer to Innisfail with the Education Department, and it was an eye-opening introduction to North Queensland wet seasons, with 144” (12ft) of rain falling in Innisfail in the first 28 days of January.
While sitting in the queue, waiting for my turn to be carried across the river, I chatted with fellow travellers and heard wild stories about unusual barra captures during the floods. One of the best tales was about a barra and an umbrella, and I recently heard it again (over 20 years later) from someone who was actually present when the barra was captured. His name was Maurice Andrejic, the son of the angler who captured the barra, and he emailed me copies of his father with the barra and a cartoon that appeared in the Cairns Post following the incident.
I then tracked down the man himself – local Cairns cane farming identity 80-year-old Kuzie (Kuzma) Andrejic. The Andrejics are a long established cane farming and business family in Cairns, and the incident happened on Kuzie's cane property at Freshwater, about half a mile from the Barron River.
It all happened when the Barron River was yet again in flood. Kuzie, his wife Pat, and then 10-year-old son Maurice were walking the cane headlands, checking the damage as the waters subsided. Kuzie was about 10 yards ahead of the others when he heard Pat scream, “Crocodile! Big thing!” Kuzie raced back to see this massive creature, which at first looked like a stingray, in about 9” of muddy water.
Closer inspection revealed it to be a massive barra laying on its side, as the water was too shallow for it to swim upright. Kuzie instantly recognized a feed for his family and charged the barra with his umbrella, but the fish was too quick, taking off through the shallows on its side until it started to run out of water.
Kuzie gave chase, this time approaching from the back and driving the steel point of the umbrella into its gills. He pushed the barra up out of the water into the cane with the umbrella. Pat took off her heavy-duty rain coat and they pushed the barra's head up into the armpit of the rain coat and wrapped it up, then started the 1 1/2 mile walk back to the farmhouse.
On the walk back they heard the sound of a motorbike approaching and stopped to rest. A very excited Angelo Zanetich, who still works on the farm to this day, proudly stopped to show them a 9” fish that he had captured in the receding floodwaters. Kuzie and Pat promptly unwrapped the raincoat to reveal their capture, and Angelo fell off his bike in surprise.
The long walk back to the farmhouse was quite a struggle, with the barra struggling free at least half a dozen times and poor Pat getting covered in mud as the barra tried to escape.
Kuzie figured the unusual capture would make quite a story for the Cairns Post, but the phones were down so he went around to the house of local journalist George Lisha and knocked on his door. After telling George that he had caught a big barra, George replied, “That's not news.”
But when Kuzie responded with, “I caught it with an umbrella” George exclaimed, “Now that's bloody news!”
The photo appeared in the Cairns Post, along with the story of the capture. That week, local cartoonist Ian McAlpin sketched the cartoon, and thus was born the story of one of the legendary barramundi captures of the North.
At the family BBQ that night the massive barra fed 36 people and there was still some left. And to this day Kuzie's old mates ask him whether he's caught any barra lately!
At the huge party thrown for Kuzie's 80th birthday, the family took turns at telling stories about his life, and you guessed it – Maurice told the story about the “barra and the brolly”.
1) The photo that appeared in the Cairns Post of Kuzie Andrejic with his huge barra.
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