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Mayor Jim Simmons and Yaegl elders welcomed Shag Islet Cruising Yacht Club members to the Clarence River at McLachlan Park, Maclean, last Friday. Images: Geoff Helisma

Vice commodores aim to be shaggers on an islet

Geoff Helisma

The Shag Islet Cruising Yacht Club (SICYC) boasts a global membership of around 7,500 people who have created “a social network for like-minded boaties [to] get together, share stories and experiences and enjoy a drink or two”.

Last Friday afternoon at McLachlan Park, Maclean, Yaegl elders and the mayor, Jim Simmons, welcomed various crews from around Australia.

Following Lower Scottish Association member Gaille Sheehan’s bagpipe display, Aunty Lenore Parker told the visitors about her people’s connection with the river and Ulgundahi Island and that two “young emerging leaders”, William Woods and Isaiah Breckenridge, had joined the Yaegl welcoming group, along with Aunty Elizabeth Smith and Yaegl Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation CEO Billy Walker.

Marking the end of National Reconciliation Week (May 27 – June 3), Mr Walker recalled how he “shared stories” and became “friends to this day” with a Ballina Shire Council (BSC) mayor during negotiations with Bundjalung representatives. He said it was a “hello” moment that illustrated what the reconciliation process can achieve.

“Education is the key to our future,” he said.

Meanwhile, SICYC’s members, who like to be known as ‘shaggers’, were excitedly looking forward to exploring the river and its towns.

The Independent spoke with one shagger, Vice Commodore Colin Alleck from the Lake Macquarie area, who said somebody had reported his boat to NSW Maritime.

“Actually, every SICYC member is a vice commodore,” he says, pointing out that everyone sported the classification on their shirts.

“When we were leaving Yamba, apparently someone reported a boat towing a duck.

“We tow a duck behind our boat, because when people see the duck it makes them smile and they come up and ask, ‘What’s the duck about?’

“It’s a conversation starter – the duck’s been to many states around Australia. It’s been out to Lord Howe Island, as well, and it came up the Clarence River two years ago.

“So, Waterways [NSW Maritime] responded with their patrol boat, to inspect this heinous crime, and once he came around to the back of the boat he realised it was a plastic duck … so all was okay.”

Local shaggers Glad and Rick Smith organised the Clarence River sojourn.

“We’ve been involved with Shag Islet Cruising Yacht Club for about eight years,” Glad says.

“The clubhouse is at Shag Islet, which is north of the Whitsundays; so every year during the last weekend of August there is a big rendezvous up there; it’s a little island at Gloucester Passage.”

Around 200 vessels usually turn up for “four days of fun and frivolity” … but owning a boat is not a prerequisite for membership.

“We’ve had people with caravans and camping vans come along every year – in fact we’ve got someone with a camper van coming along with this event,” says Glad.

The club’s Clarence River visit is part of SICYC’s 2021 Season of Sail, which started in May and culminates at Shag Islet (August 26 – 29).

Glad says sporting the vice commodore title on members’ t-shirts comes in handy at times.

“We used it once when we were in the Philippines. We went to yacht club, and they said, ‘Sorry, members only.’

“We said, ‘Oh, we’re vice commodores.’

“So they let us come in and gave us a free beer … because we are vice commodores.”

But it’s not just all fun and games; SICYC members raise awareness of prostate cancer and fundraise on their way to Shag Islet.

“We raised $120,000 one year,” says Glad, “$90,000 another. Last time we had the [Season of Sail] here we raised $1,400.

“I keep a tally of what is spent in the community, too; and last time it was $14,000 spent in the community, from Iluka to Grafton and back again.”

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