Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

The rhythm of craybobbing

Family excursion: Cray bobbing near Armidale. This is the first in a new series on domestic life and the rhythms of childhood  

For many of us, to grow up in New England is to leave because of lack of jobs. But we all retain memories of the place that was.

Each place in New England has its own unique rhythm, the pattern of life that reflects that large world we saw as children and young people. This is a story of one such rhythm, a war over words..

It’s an Armidale story, but one that would apply to many other places.

It all began innocently enough. In a comment on a post in the Armidale Families Facebook page, I said that we used to go yabbying in the dam on the old police paddock.

This led to an immediate riposte. It should, multiple respondents said, be called cray bobbing. Others came to my defence saying yabbying for ever, although we were a little outnumbered. But in all this, what did come through were the memories of child hoods past.

As the comments came in, I tried to map the favourite yabby holes across old Armidale.

There was the police paddock with its stream and dam. There were the old brick pits, the dam in the east now occupied by Bunnings. There was a dam on the eastern side of the golf course, the dam off Donnelly Street where Autumn Lodge now stands.

So how did we catch and eat then?

Some like my brother and I just used a bit of string or cotton thread with meat at the end. Others used the same technique but added a net to catch the yabbies at the end. Still others used more sophisticated techniques.

One was using a drum or kerosene tin with holes punched in the bottom. You added some meat to this, submerged the drum or tin, then pulled it out of the water.

And what did you do with the yabbies once you caught them. We had so few that we used to just throw them back. Others followed a different approach.

Over at the brick pits, some would just throw them in a billy of boiling water and then eat them on the spot, muddy taste and all. Others would soak them in cleaner water first before cooking.

One respondent would rough rinse them and then take the haul for her mothers to cook in the laundry copper. Now there is a blast from the past.

Today we have washing machines. Then there were laundry coppers, containers with a fire underneath.

You would add water, light the fire, add soap and clothes. then stir the clothes around with a stick as the water boiled. Once washed, you might wring them and then carry them to the line in the backyard.

I wonder. Do kids today still catch yabbies? And what are they called, yabbies or craybobs?
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 25 April 2018. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here  2017, here 2018 

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