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Close encounters with the sharks of the Coral Sea

JOHN GRANT | The Australian

Shark fishing PNGTHE SUN SEEMED TO ALMOST spank my body that morning. It was my first full day at Hula village, 150km southeast of Port Moresby on the coast.

The night before, in a bamboo and palm-leaf house on stilts, I had worked hard to convince my hosts that I should go fishing with the men.

"Sharks," they had declared. They gestured I couldn't go out there because of the sharks. Ha, I'd seen sharks - just black shapes in the water. She'll be right.

Working in a sheep and wheat town as I do in South Australia breeds dreams of exotic adventure. So I booked a two-week outrigger canoe tour of the Louisiade Archipelago.

My plucky buddy Mandy was due in Port Moresby in a week to join me, and an adventure tour organiser sent me to his Hula village friends.

Six of us boarded a four metre dinghy and motored into the Coral Sea that sparkling January morning. My sense of self-satisfaction and daring bubbled inside.

With the bright blue sky pressing from above and the transparent aquamarine water sliding below, the reason I should not be there seemed ridiculous.

One of my long legs dangled into the water. Suddenly the calm men became frantic. They pulled in trawl lines with an explosion of energy I could scarcely reconcile with their usual pace.

Big shining tuna started landing, thrashing on the floor of the tinny. When a neatly bisected fish landed, the serrations through its flesh suddenly made chilling sense.

A jolting thud from under the aluminium boat announced the first shark. The outraged fish were splashing blood over the side of the tinny.

Within minutes I could count 16 tiger sharks, jaws snapping and teeth flashing, jostling the boat. The fishers carried on business as usual until a horrible metallic noise tore the air.

They were amazed that part of the outboard motor's propeller had been taken off. The Coral Sea turned pink under us.

At dusk, while the locals cooked their tuna in palm leaves on open fires all around us, in accordance with my status as a guest and an Australian, we feasted on Sao biscuits with Vegemite and canned mackerel from the Philippines.

The night's hilarious entertainment consisted of seemingly endless impersonations of me. Take that, Bali.

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