Crusty’s Swim of Death at Manly Dam

Road Tales By Kelly Ashton

ALL MY mates were mad way back when they were young: M-A-D, mate! As blokes growing up on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, we had nothing to do except to ride motorbikes, go to raging parties, drink bulk piss, chase lots of lovely ladies, and rock on to some of the best Aussie pub bands thumping out their music at some of Sydney’s most laid-back pubs. It was pretty good, I suppose.

And even though every bastard I knew rode a motorbike, some of us had cars as well, which was great, for quite often, more than one poor prick couldn’t ride his bike for one reason or another. Maybe a breakdown, maybe a broken leg, maybe the bike was pinched by some lowlife arsehole, but the most common excuse was a lost licence, usually due to pissed riding, speeding or both.

One particularly boozy night, a broken right leg made me the designated driver and four pricks without licences made them my designated passengers.

Me, Crusty, Blind Keith, Kevo and Boonger lobbed at a great party at Raewyn’s place at Harbord Beach. Rae was a good Maori girl, and by about 4 am, her and her cute flatmates had had enough and asked us to leave.

We still had beer so via a pizza joint, rocked over to Manly Dam to kick on. Those familiar with Manly Dam will know there’s a citizen side and a scumbag bikie side. The southern shore is littered with barbeque areas and carparks while the northern side—the bikie side—is rough as guts and only accessible by motorbike via Allambie Heights. The council kept putting more and bigger gates and even tried dumping huge truckloads of dirt to block access, but I think history will prove that motocross racing was invented by blokes on Harleys, Beeza and Trumpies who were so desperate for a quiet drink by the waterside they’d ride right over the top of dirt mounds placed by councils to block their entry.

But we were in a car so it was the citizen side for us this time.

After much singing, burping and farting, the sun was up and we were still kicking on strong.

Crusty, who was in actual fact a very clever bloke, had no problem in displaying his stupid side at fart o’clock on a Sunday morning. “I used to be a swimming champion at school,” he declared between gulps of beer. “I think I’ll go for a swim.”

“Crusty, old mate, old pal,” I began. “You know that in 80 percent of all adult drowning deaths where the adult in question could swim, alcohol was a major factor in the drowning death.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Crusty chided. “And 94 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot.”

Continuing the argument would’ve proved fruitless, as when Crusty got an idea in his head, he just wouldn’t let it go. Besides, he’d already stripped down to his Reg Grundies, and believe me, white Y-fronts on a very white man is not a good look.

“I reckon I’ll swim to the bikie side of the dam,” declared Crusty, “and if I feel up to it, swim back. If not, I’ll walk back via the dam wall.”

The responsible adult part of my brain was thinking this was one of the stupidest ideas ever conceived, while the drunken arsehole part was making my mouth say “$50 says you don’t make it across the first time.”

“You’re on,” spoke Crusty. “Double or nothing?”

Crusty and I had a running bet of $50 which never had to be paid, as we’d alternate between winning and losing on really stupid bets made while one of us was drunker than the other. It had started years before when I lost a bet to him on the lyrics of Elvis’ Little Egypt (I’d missed a crucial verse). Then I won the next bet on the weight of an Iron-head AJS 500 cc engine (with carburettor and magneto) and the bets went both ways from then until this particular day. I was still into him for the last $50 bet and was on the horns of a dilemma: Could I really let my mate swim to a certain drunken death just to even the ledger? The answer was a resounding yes! Those days, $50 was worth a lot more than it is now.

Crusty set out from the first rocky outcrop west of the wall and flailed determinedly off into the shimmering distance.

Because we’d arrived by car, Crusty’s dog, a corgi, had accompanied us and was furiously barking from the outcrop. The poor mutt had a lot to deal with, what with the impromptu parties most Friday and Saturday nights when a mob of boof-headed bikers would lob at Crusty’s for after-party drinks, or the times when Crusty was without a licence, the dog always seemed to be there for the partying.

The sun had just risen enough to make vision on the dam’s surface impossible. I’m sure our beer goggles weren’t helping things, either.

The dog was barking even more frantically now, the pitch changing from that of a stern warning to one of a terrified bleat.

We were starting to worry, too, as we had no visual on Crusty, and short of stripping down and diving in after him (which wasn’t going to happen; you know the story—rescuers needing to be rescued, etc) there was nothing we could do.

The dog’s incessant yapping had changed to a mournful howl and we were really worried about our mate, Crusty the adventurer. It was a tense five minutes or more.

“Is that him?” someone yelled, pointing towards the dam wall another 300 metres east of where we were.

It sure was, and we ran down to see what we could do to help. We saw Crusty doing his damnedest to clamber onto a rope hanging down from the railing on the dam wall. 

It turns out Crusty, who had probably gotten more than halfway across the Manly Dam of Death before deciding he couldn’t make it, and spotting the rope hanging down, swam for that. The poor bastard didn’t realise until he got there that the rope was just tantalisingly too short for him to reach from the water. He had no illusions that he would be able to climb up it, but just wanted a hang on and rest for a spell, but it never occurred. So he pushed on to the shoreline next to the dam wall.

He was really struggling for a champion swimmer, and as it got shallower, the reeds got thicker, so he struggled even more. The closer Crusty came to the shore, the more trouble he seemed to be in, thrashing about and yelling obscenities. In between blubs and glubs, we could pick out the odd bit of decipherable English, mostly consisting of words like ‘absolutely’ and ‘rooted.’ And then he just gave up the ghost in about one foot of water and sort of lay there, face down and still.

Boonger began rolling up his jeans and removing his desert boots. I didn’t have that luxury. Although my leg wasn’t in the full-length plaster cast any more, I still had a metal brace which was hooked into a leather-soled Dad shoe. 

We waded straight in to pick Crusty up, but just as we grabbed an arm each, the most amazing thing happened—Crusty started vomiting while his gob was still underwater! It was a fascinating sight to be sure, but our rescue efforts were delayed because Boonger and I just about pissed ourselves laughing at the sight of a man chundering chunks of ham and pineapple pizza underwater. 

Once the mirth-fest subsided, we figured we’d better drag him to dry land quick smart. Crusty lay face down in the mud for a while coughing, spluttering and swearing, before gathering the strength to drag himself to his full height and start swearing at us—his rescuers!

It was a pitiful scene: a shivering Crusty, wearing only baggy Y-fronts, dirty as hell at me because I didn’t owe him $50 anymore. 

His dog was still 300 meters away on the rocky outcrop—Crusty’s departure point—and still howling mournfully. As we wandered back to our drinks station to retrieve Crusty’s clothes and dog, I mused over the fact that this whole debacle started when I egged him on by saying he couldn’t do it, compounding the guilt when I placed the revolving $50 bet on the table, therefore committing him to the ludicrously dangerous attempt. I gotta tell you, I didn’t feel too proud of myself at the time, but I’ll also quite proudly say that I witnessed a man vomiting underwater, and that’s not something you see every day.

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