Skip to main content

'Captain Col' Meyers reflects on shipwrecks, bike crashes, crocs and running for his life

Col Meyers at home in Wynyard
Col Meyers and the jaws of a tiger shark

ABC Northern Tasmania: Rick Eaves

Working quietly on his garden in Wynyard, Tasmania, you wouldn't pick Col Meyers as a survivor of shipwreck, racing motorcycle crashes and a brush with the Bougainville Revolutionary Army.

"Rees, my ever-loving wife, insisted that I call myself Captain Col Meyers, as a bit of a piss-take, even though I am a grade four sea captain.

"My ticket, lapsed now, allowed me to drive vessels up to 85 metres. I never did, I drove around in small, leaky fishing boats instead."

Col wrote a book, Trawl Tales and True, about his 33 years in fishing. It is full of big personalities and tales of adventure, some tragic, most funny.

"The book took years and years because I only wrote when I bloody well felt like it," he said.

Col Meyers, at left, a young man in Papua New Guinea
Col Meyers, at left, a young man in Papua New Guinea, about to run into the Bouganville Revolutionary Army.

Supplied: Col Meyers

Meeting Rees, an author (through a dating website at age 60) got him focussed on the task of telling his many great stories.

From a long line of land-lubbers, Col was shearing at 16 but in his 20s headed to Papua New Guinea to farm copra (coconut meal) and cocoa.

"I was ambushed at one stage by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army. Closest I ever went to being dead," he said.

"We stumbled into their secret headquarters. It was the early '70s, they soon became a heavy duty organisation which fought off the Australian and PNG armies.

"I had a mate visiting and I was big-noting myself about how I knew people in remote villages. And I took a wrong turn!"

Disentangling crocs from nets

The two Australians were hauled before the BRA leaders. Col decided they should make a run for it.

They took off down a steep hill, expecting to be shot from behind.

"They didn't have the confidence they had a year or two later so they didn't shoot," he said.

"We laughed about how our bodies had been at cross-purposes running away.

Col started his first fishing job soon after, a deckhand on a crayboat in South Australia.

Col Meyers untangles a croc
Col Meyers untangles a saltwater crocodile from a fishing net in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Supplied: Col Meyers

He and his first wife, Diane soon moved to North Queensland where Col spent 33 years fishing for Spanish mackerel, prawns, even barramundi in the Gulf.

There he learned how to disentangle saltwater crocodiles from nets.

"Even after you've done them a good turn, crocodiles remain ungrateful and still want to kill you!" he said, with a laugh.

"The biggest we dealt with was probably 2000 pounds [907 kilograms]. Nearly had a divorce with my first wife!

Col Meyers needing some sleep
Col Meyers at the wheel of a fishing boat, looking in dire need of a good sleep.

Supplied: Col Meyers

"She was calling me Harry Butler — a 'mini Harry Bottler' in fact. I just didn't believe in killing them unnecessarily."

The fishermen of North Queensland revelled in the freedom of the sea and a climate that required only 'Stubbies' shorts and sometimes a shirt.

"We worked mostly at night and a stereo going full bore was bloody great.

"AC/DC blasting out or ZZ Top. And we'd sing along! You cant really offend anyone when you're 50 nautical miles out."

Sometimes the solitude was terrifying, as when Col ran aground on a remote part of the Great Barrier Reef.

The next day the tide washed the boat off the reef and I thought 'what do I do now?!' I had no plan because I hadn't expected to live.

Col Meyers in motorcycle racing mode
Col Meyers went from the thrills and spills of fishing to the equally dangerous world of motorcycle racing.

Supplied: Col Meyers

"I thought well, bugger it, I'm alive and the boat's functional, I might as well go fishing."

Col's worst experience of the sea would come while he was safe on dry land.

Lucky to be alive

He lost his livelihood when the trawler Dalias E rolled over and sank in 1992.

"I wasn't on it at the time and my crew were very, very lucky to survive. But survive they did, thankfully."

The Dalias E is now a recognised deep dive site, 50 nautical miles off Townsville.

Dallias E, which sank off Townsville
The prawn trawler, Dallias E, which sank 50 nautical miles north east of Townsville and is today a recognised deep dive site.

Supplied: Col Meyers

Over the years, Col made some notes as well as keeping up skippers' logs.

"When all you wear is Stubbies shorts, you can only really keep one of those real little notepads in the pocket.

"I retired to Tasmania to write this bloody book I've been threatening to write for years (Trawl Tales and True) — and to race motorbikes.

"My worst crash was the one that ended that. I was 60 years old in 2006 and I came off at 240km/h. I did not bounce!"