"HAVEN'T seen a dog around these parts, have ya, mate?"
I'm parked at the end of Punchbowl Road, San Remo, window open, radio turned to the cricket, half asleep.
He’s pulled up alongside me on a farm bike. Looks part farmer, part truckie. I'm to learn later he’s both.
"Sorry cobber, what sort of dog?" As soon as the words leave my mouth I think what a stupid response. If I haven't seen his dog what does it matter what it looks like.
"He's a beagle, run off after a fox an hour ago. Haven't seen him since."
By now my new-found friend has settled himself on top of the farm bike, back to front, feet up on the rear carry platform. The radio is off, we’re in for a chat.
I'm good with that, there's lots of time. I'm waiting for the return of a young couple of visitors who are doing the George Bass Coastal Walk for the first time. They’ve gone off hand in hand and may take as long as it takes to find a beagle. They’re in love and I feel the beauty of our coast may be lost on them.
"So you farm close by?"
"Yeah, just back down the road. That bit where the hay bales are is where I start."
"Too good. I figured I'd get 250 bales and it cut 590."
When I express surprise that too many bales could be undesirable, he tells me he has two problems: overload on the budget to pay the contractor and looking for extra storage space. The bales are not wrapped so not weather-protected.
I turn the conversation back to beagles and foxes. Since I’ve been told there are few, if any, foxes on Phillip Island, I just assumed they may be thin on the ground around San Remo. My farmer friend soon puts me straight.
"The worst bloody year ever. I shoot professionally with a couple of mates and this year we’ve got 290. Not all round here, of course, but we didn't have to travel far to collect that many."
At $10 a scalp I figure it helps pay the bills.
He says he also drives trucks to make ends meet. Long hauls to faraway places. Mining towns like Marble Bar, Kalgoorlie, trucking in conveyor belts and other bits and pieces. To say he travels interstate seems a gross understatement. To me this is frontier stuff, full of romance and adventure.
"What's it like? Do you enjoy it?"
"God no. It's the worst job on the planet; the money's good but."
This man's life is never going to be dull. Born in the region, the dangerous rocks below were his childhood playground, not for fishing but for exploring and for daring with school mates.
I look out at the stunning beauty of this coast and my mind wanders off to a recent conversation I had with a local Wonthaggi resident. A keen walker, she has never done the Punchbowl, though it has been open to all, I am told, since the mid-1990s. What a treat awaits her.
My young friends have just come into sight over a rise and are not far from the walk’s end.
My farmer/ truckie friend kicks his farm bike into action with the flick of a switch and waves goodbye.
As we drive out of Punchbowl Road we pass and exchange waves again.
I never did find out his name – or meet his dog.