He’s got a job and lifestyle many young men dream about. He owns cool boats, cool trucks and drinks like a fish. He also happens to earn a living under the water, rather like a fish. But he assures The Captain it’s seriously hard work (the drinking, that is).

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Grant Shorland’s riotous laughter cackles through the tin shed of the Mallacoota Co-op. He’s sitting on fish bins between his green-and-gold Cootacraft Gun Shot and a steely black Formula 233 called The Office. He’s telling yarns and sinking beers, two of his favourite pastimes. He’s also pretty handy at abalone diving.

Grant is one of the lucky divers in Mallacoota. His abalone licence was passed down from his father, Grant Sr. But he’s not taking the good fortune for granted. “I was lucky enough to be born into it. The old man was lucky enough to walk into Mallacoota and get into the industry and it’s been very good for our family, and many others as well. I’m very thankful for it.”

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Grant reckons having an abalone licence means nothing without putting in the hard yards. With his deckie, he dives 56 days a year to collect 26 tonnes of abalone, five of which he has licence for (his father owns the remaining quota).

“There’s money in everything — in all fisheries. But you’ve got to put the work in; you’ve got to put your arse on the line. If you want to earn money, you’ve got to work for it.”

Grant Sr, known as one of the hardest-working abalone divers in Mallacoota during his diving stint, is also his boss — and his greatest inspiration. “If I could become half of what he is in this day and age, it would be unbelievable,” says Grant Jr. “We’re best mates, we fish, we get on the piss, we have adventures — good dad shit. He gives me a job and a lifestyle, so I’m pretty stoked.”

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According to Grant, diving isn’t the only skill required to dive for abs in Mallacoota. “A good ab diver is one who can stay until after 2am in the pub and then go out and get 500kg the next day.”

Grant describes Mallacoota as “the final frontier”, and he wouldn’t want it any other way. “We’ve got a good lifestyle. I can look out my window at the lake and ocean at the same time. If I want to go to the beach, I go to the beach. If the weather is good, I can go ocean fishing. If it’s bad, I can go up the lake and I’m still catching fish. If I want to shoot deer or go dirt-bike riding I can do that…”

Grant’s train of thought suddenly slams to a halt. “I don’t really want to sell the place too much because I’ll get more people coming here, and it’s not what I’m about.” Grant has had his fair share of drama, but it didn’t involve the bends (like his father) or even a shark. It happened on a calm (or so he thought) day. His Cootacraft Gun Shot, Pearl Moon — the boat he helped build from start to finish — was almost crushed on the rocks and scattered around the ocean floor with the sea snails he hunts.

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“It was a bit of a stuff-up. We had 2.5 tonne to catch and were behind schedule. It was a dead-flat day and we only needed three more boxes to get 600kg. I cruised into the bommie (bombora) and was about to go backwards through the dive door when the deckie shouts, ‘Look out!’

I turned around as this wave came over the back of the boat and threw me forward. Boxes of abs went everywhere — it was panic. Then another wave smashed us. It was a three-set and bang! — we were hit again. I yelled, ‘Hit the bilge pumps!’ but the deckie yelled back, ‘The hoses are caught around the motors’.

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I screamed, ‘Just cut ’em! Go, go, go! We’ve gotta get out of here!’ The motors seized on the third wave. It was all over then and I couldn’t believe my boat was sinking. I started chucking boxes of abs over the side then jumped on deck. The water was coming in through the dive door and I told the deckie to abandon ship.” Before any tow ropes or safety gear, they got their cameras out!

Grant and his deckie were now treading water next to the sinking boat. They had no flares, no phones, no EPIRB — just the packet of rollies his deckie was holding above his head.

“It was one of the best survival tools we could’ve had. We could have just climbed on the rocks and smoked durries until we were rescued.”

There was no need. Fortunately, just when Grant’s boat started crunching, another dive boat rounded the corner and spotted them. It was ZEK, another green-and-gold Cootacraft, skippered by Dale Winward.

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Grant continues the story. “I said, ‘We’ve rolled, give us a tow’, but before any tow ropes or safety gear, they got their cameras out! By now I could hear everything smashing and breaking, so I rang Mark ‘the Russian’ (head honcho of Cootacraft boats) and asked him, ‘What’s the wait on a new boat?’ He replied ‘Two years’. I decided we were going back for this one!”

The boat was eventually towed out and rebuilt with a new wave-breaker, new running gear and new twin 90HP Suzuki motors he services himself. They’ve never missed a beat, Grant reckons.

“It’s a grouse commercial boat — love it and wouldn’t have anything else. It’s easily towable; you can’t break them — I’ve tried. They’re super-soft, a big small boat, there’s nothing compares for its size. We load ’em full of abs every day and get back (almost) every day — we’ve put 1200kg in it.”

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Whether diving or fishing, Grant loves being on the water, and it wouldn’t be an understatement to say his gamefishing exploits are establishing Mallacoota as a marlin destination — at least by Facebook standards. In the past few months (February and March), he’s been putting up numbers that would make commercial operators blush. He fishes in a Grady-White Journey 258 known as Cubin’, fitted with twin 150HP Yamaha four-strokes.

On choosing the smooth-riding American hull, Grant says, “I was going to buy an Edencraft Formula 233 and use it as a workboat and gamefishing boat, but I’d be out there in my work boat going, ‘This is shit — no roof, sunburnt, no seats and a dead abalone somewhere in the back’. (With the Grady-White) I just hook it up, press buttons and gaffs come out. It’s chalk and cheese.”

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BASTARD SEA URCHINS

Despite his carefree, fun-loving nature, Grant still concerns himself with the sustainability of the abalone industry — sea urchins in particular. “We’ve got dramas with the sea urchins. They live in the same areas as abalone and compete for the available food supply. Once they come through, they turn everything to ‘barrens’ or ‘white rock’. Abalone don’t come to areas where urchins have fed.”

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Grant says they are culling sea urchins to get the ground back. “It’s been a major project for us, largely funded by the licence holders in the Eastern Zone, stretching from the NSW/Victoria border to Lakes Entrance. We don’t cull them out of the feed line in the weed, because that’s where the sea urchin guys harvest.”

He reckons that because it’s all happening underwater, the powers that be don’t give a rat’s arse about the abalone industry.

“When the abalone virus was around, no-one cared. It was a bit different with horse flu — as soon as a horse got a cold, there was a person at every NSW/Victorian border crossing making sure an infected horse didn’t get in, because it affected everyone’s pockets through punting. There are a lot of things going on behind the scenes and we’re trying to get government funding.”

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Grant Jr is also facing more personal challenges. “I try to stay out of the pub as much as possible,” he says. The Captain is, as always, sympathetic. “We hear you, mate. Wanna beer?” Nek minute, we’re at Lucy’s Noodles sipping Peronis and Coronas and chowing down on the best Chinese food that’s ever passed The Captain’s lips. And yes, abalone is on the menu.

NO REST FOR ABBA-GRABBA

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Visitors to Bastion Point are probably familiar with the green-and-gold Shark Cat 23 known as Abba-Grabba. It sits behind an old red Massey Ferguson tractor not far from the boat ramp. On calm days you can see it lumbering down to set crayfish pots. It’s the same ab-snatching, race-winning boat that was once owned by Grant Shorland Sr. (The green-and-gold colour scheme was his trademark livery, possibly inspired by Bruce Osborne’s BP service station that had served him so well.) This proud 23 is now in the capable hands of John “Blackie” Black. Blackie’s pretty handy on the abalone, too. He used to trade abs with his local restaurant for a feed before raising the bar to two shillings a pound. Then he hit his commercial straps in Mallacoota in the late ’60s, earning the big bucks. These days, Blackie hauls crayfish pots from the big twin-hull, continuing the fine tradition of Shark Cats in the Mallacoota region. You can read all about Blackie’s adventures, including his record spearfishing feats, in the next issue of The Captain.