Read This and Be Smarter

‘Sharks’ by Chris Newton

Westerly is the premier literary journal of Western Australia, publishing since 1956. Westerly produces poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction from around the world, with a focus on the voice of Western Australian authors. Westerly publishes two print editions a year and digitally year-round.

At the time of publishing, Chris Newton was a Melbourne writer and language teacher.

‘Sharks’ was published in Westerly 43.1.

First Shark

Patrick barely remembers. He and his mum and dad were walking on Point Lonsdale Pier. The shark was lying there with the blank eyes of a Roman statue. The mouth was like one of those theatre masks, the frowning one. His dad said the skin was rough as sandpaper and Patrick wanted to feel it and see but he said no it might still have a go at your hand. There was a pinkish trail of blood out of the side of the mouth. The fisherman was leaning on the railing of the pier looking at the horizon and licking his cigarette paper and Patrick’s dad asked him what kind of shark it was and he said ‘Seven Gill’ and didn’t look around so you could barely hear him. He counted with his fingers to see if this was right and it was; there were seven. The shark died while the end of a symphony played on his mum’s trannie. He was hooked.


The Sharkphone came in a huge box with a picture of a white pointer on it. It was so heavy that Patrick could barely hold it up long enough to read what it said on the side:

This box contains on revolutionary Sharkphone! The ultimate in form and function. This life-sized shark’s head and phone, completely modelled on the notorious white pointer, will make your standard telephone receiver look fishy. Just follow the step-by-step instructions and install your Sharkphone yourself. Watch the jaws of the shark move up and down as your friends and relatives speak. Yes, this man-eating mouth (actual size) will realistically lip-sync all callers and comes with all the features you’d expect from a standard phone—but with a difference! Please read the safety notes carefully and do not try to remove the protective panel.

The diagram made it really easy because it started by showing everything that you should have in the box. Usually when Patrick got something like this there was something missing and nobody could be bothered taking it back and it would lie in the shed and everyone would forget about it. But this time everything was there and everything fit together perfectly.

One of the best things about the Sharkphone was that the eyes of the shark were the actual buttons for receiving a call or hanging up. When it rang Patrick had to press the right eye and when he wanted to end the call he had to press the left eye and the simple push-button dial folded out of a console from the lower part of the head.

Paul ran back to his house to give Patrick his first call and soon there was this white pointer in his bedroom speaking in his best friend’s voice. Unreal! Then Patrick forced his mother to go to the local phone box and the shark took on her voice and from deep in the mouth Patrick heard the sound of traffic too.

Bum Eater

After Patrick saw the Seven Gill (Notorynchus Cepedianus)at Point Lonsdale he pestered his father to tell him about sharks. He had to know. Patrick’s father was from Queensland and had been a lifesaver at Burleigh Heads. He told Patrick a story about a shark called the Bum Eater.       

One day the members of the surf club were practicing for a big surf race and they were swimming back towards the shore and they were all trying to catch a wave because whoever got the first wave would win the race. But some of them used to play a trick. If anyone got a wave and somebody was behind them, that somebody would pull at their togs to stop them catching it. So, as this guy took off on a wave he felt his togs being pulled back, so he swam really hard and managed to get the wave right to the shore. He got out all wrapped that he’d won his heat. Then he looked at his leg and saw a red line meandering down his calf.

It turned out he’d had his whole bum bitten off by a shark and he hadn’t even noticed until someone pointed it out and he went white and fainted. They just managed to get him to hospital before he bled to death or died of shock.

A day later a local fisherman hooked the shark. They knew it was the one because they found shreds of the man’s togs in its gullet—no bum though. This man has two legs attached to his back. He can still sit down.

Paul’s Theory

By his twentieth birthday, Paul had developed a shark attack theory which he explained to Patrick while they were bodysurfing not really between the flags because there weren’t any at Fairhaven. They were waiting for waves and Paul reckons that being attacked by a shark is really unlikely if you look at the statistics (which Patrick had) but nonetheless something that’s always in the back of your mind. It’d be special if it happened, not only because you’d be down in the history books as a victim but also because this would be the most radical thing that could ever happen to you and it’d be so horrific that all your attention would be focused and centred on the shark as your life passed before you and you’d know obscurely that you’d be on the news that night and maybe on a memorial plaque at the beach. You are being eaten alive! What else could be more important? Nothing. Nothing else in the world would matter. It’d sort of be really relaxing.

The Red Sand

There was a beautiful bay with soft white sand, like cream around the feet. This beach was the favourite swimming place for young women, who would take off their clothes and let the water slide into all the parts of their bodies.

For some time, the girls could swim in safety but one day a girl went swimming and she was never seen again. This was distressing, but her friends said she was a bad swimmer and should not have gone alone. When this was almost forgotten, another girl disappeared, this time a strong swimmer. Again, it was not until this was forgotten that yet another girl was never to be seen again.

There was a local fisherman with thin wrists who had been watching the beach since the disappearance of the second girl. He had seen a mysterious looking stranger hanging around under the palm trees but each time he had tried to approach him, the stranger vanished. This fisherman with the thin wrists decided to go with the girls when they next went swimming. He took his sharpest spear and stayed close to the bathers.

Soon enough a shark came circling and finally swam straight for one of the girls. The fisherman raised his spear and bent back his waist. The girl saw this and it reminded her of a sudden kink in one of the trees around the swamp near her home. His wrist was brown and shone in the sun, then it flicked forward and drove the spear through the shark’s gills. The fisherman dragged the shark onto the white sand, which soon became red with the blood of the big fish. Shortly after this, the fisherman with the thin wrists returned to the palm trees and found the stranger under the trunk of the biggest tree, dying of stab wounds. He did not speak, and when he died, the fisherman left him there and went to get some friends to help carry the body back to the village. When they returned, the man was gone and there was a large rock in the shape of a tooth or a blade.

The State Library of Western Australia promotes literacy for all ages. To this end the ‘Read this and be smarter project’ has been developed, providing a short piece of writing from Australian publications every Monday to Friday to read on your commute or lunch break.

Westerly acknowledges all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as First Australians. We celebrate the continuous living cultures of Indigenous people and their vital contributions within Australian society.

Westerly’s office, at the University of Western Australia, is located on Whadjak Noongar land. We recognise the Noongar people as the spiritual and cultural custodians of this land.

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