Wagga Wagga, NSW
In 1993 I received information that the CSIRO in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, had begun research into a breeding program involving freshwater pike from the UK, Mangrove Jack, and European carp. Details at first were sketchy. The informant demanded anonymity. Some years later he vanished while on a fishing trip in the upper reaches of the Murrumbidgee.
Early in 1994, working under cover, I infiltrated the Wagga CSIRO Inland Waters Branch. I discovered the program had been designed to create a freshwater fish that would eventually breed prolifically and wipe out the European carp. Hundreds of thousands of fingerlings were released, however things went badly from the outset. The Waggas, as they were soon called, bred to huge proportions and caused havoc to native fish. They became so ravenous they also learned to kill ducks and wading birds. There is no evidence yet, but it seems there are a number of fishermen whose disappearances have not been explained. Waggafish could even be heard, late at night, their call a guttural sound, a low and gnarled N a r a a r a r a a ah.
As juveniles, they are a dark pink. Fully grown they are blood red, and live in the deep channels and holes of our major rivers. It seems only the largest, most vicious Waggas have survived. Sightings are rare. The fishing Doctor, David Green, contends the Waggas have adapted to salt water. In the ocean they are territorial, and have been seen but never caught off Rowley Shoals. It is believed they have a symbiotic relationship with barracouta and dogtooth tuna.
My cover was blown in 1996, and for the next six months I spent my time, more or less, on the run. I lived in a number of halfway houses and oyster-farmer shacks. The dust eventually settled and I have re-entered society.
Eight years later, December 2004, I was sent an excerpt from a letter written by Anthony Lawrence of Hobart, to Robert Adamson of Mooney Mooney. The letter was photocopied by a friend at the manuscript department of the National Library of Australia, who recognised the strong scent of lemon zest rising from a manuscript folder. Zest is the only known substance to deter and, on occasion, kill Waggas.
This letter contained information that disturbed and elated me. Two Australian poets were on the trail. Their investigations had led them to a man known as the Red K, a poet who had turned his back on the world, and who was now working hard with those who wish to see the Waggas flourish to bring down lyricism and emotional content in poetry. I'm not a great reader, but this letter left me hungry for more.
The Waggafish Letters are a rare beast: engaging, humorous, and they offer, along with the saga of the Waggas, insights into the world of Australian poetry.
David W Foster