The Neon Riddle! 1971

Last Friday KDKH asked whether l had any experience with Tropical Fish and  Guinea Pigs, the former is first, the latter later this week ……….

I only have one tale of tropical Fish albeit, quite a detailed response. At my own concession l have quite a phenomenal memory [long term] whilst my short term memory is how shall we put this … mm, can l get away with ‘shot to shit’, or shall l just settle on ‘shot?’, either way the reader understands where l am coming from, but the point is, that l can remember what l am about to describe quite clearly.

The only fish l have ever known to own as ‘pets’ and this is loosely defined, as they were not so much pets but more of an ‘aesthetic’ decoration to the house where l lived many, many years ago. For this episode which is not so much humorous in consideration to more of reminisce of a past life.  This as a memory digs very deep into the archives of my mind and serves equally also as an excursion into my yesterdays.

I have a series planned for later in the year entitled Postcards which will look at my very early days in Malaysia.

During the years of 1968 – 1971 my Father was based in Butterworth, Penang in Malaysia, l was 5 going on 8. My Father had opted for a transfer to better his career and to live a different way of life in a very different culture to that of Australia if only for a short while. He was an NCO for the RAAF aka Royal Australian Air force, and was also in command of the military police for the actual airfield in Butterworth itself.

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Where l used to live in Robina Park, Butterworth 1968 -1971 – the smallest figure to the far right is my Sister.

We lived in Robina Park, Butterworth, and looking at Google maps today that is now gone from the Robina Park l remember as a child and has as it should progressed with the years. There are many things however that l do fondly recall about living in Malaysia during those times and one of the most significantly colourful is the overall vibrancy of the country at the time through young eyes. I have attached some very old photographs – not of tropical fish sad to say for these did not last very long in our household not through human error but purely due to the very nature of living in a tropical climate and the difficulties of doing so back in the later 60’s


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As a family we never kept Koi Carp but they were a very popular and a beautifully intelligent and amicable fish that l used to see scattered throughout Penang and Kuala Lumpur on visits in ponds and fountains. What we did try to keep was in fact typical tropical fish that Dad bought in Penang, despite the fact that on the beach perhaps 100 yards away from where we lived, the monsoon drains which to the unknowing were an incredible source of all sorts of life and species and l remember very clearly and dearly netting beauties from within the depth from highly colourful frogs to all manner of beasties, some not so nice.


Pixabay Images

You could stand on the top of a monny drains that crept out into the seas like a long snake and armed with a net capture hundreds of little fish such as neon’s, as they swam in close to feed off the debris that leeched its way out into the ocean.


The funny serpent thing is a monny drain.

But l wasn’t allowed to do that, and whilst many of the RAAF kids did do exactly just that, my parents forbade me to do so, as the monny drains were filled with harmful bacteria that ‘could kill’ if consumed – but even l wasn’t that stupid! I used to wade into these overly large drains with the locals from the Kampung and together we would dredge out to our hearts’ content, always wary of snakes. I had an incident once with a cobra inside one of the drains, who was swimming past during the monsoon itself. My Mother hollered at me, however the snake saw me as no threat, and only wanted to get to dry land as quickly as possible, whereas l simply wanted to hunt frogs which l could sell to my friends who were not allowed in the drains, quite possibly due to the very presence of such snakes!!

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Playing on the beach with Sister 1969

In truth l wasn’t allowed in the drains either, but what your parents didn’t know and didn’t kill you, mattered not in my books. These impressive structures were a valuable source of learning. In many ways l am very lucky that l didn’t catch malaria.

However, frogs, toads and snakes and other not so attractive issues are not tropical fish.

We tried on several occasions to keep our small aquarium contents alive, but it appeared every five days or so, everything died from ‘natural causes’. Dad would become increasingly annoyed at the fish sellers but still bought more fish and together we would try and read what we could to keep them alive. All to no avail, it was in fact one our own amah’s that solved the neon riddle.

In the later 60’s living in Malaysia, one of the things that could most assuredly kill you was malaria. I remember every night, l would have to go to bed and my parents would tuck me in, and cover the beds with netting, the mosquito coil burning sombrely by the side of the bed. Nightly l would take two tablets the size of 10p pieces, to ensure my life continued. I say that, as l knew of one of my friends’ Dads who died of malaria whilst we lived there … it was deadly.

However, what also used to happen was the DDT man [Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane]   would visit nightly and spray around the house, and the buildings for pest control and it was this which actually killed our little tank of life. No one ever thought of covering the fish tank, no one ever said to NOT keep fish – simply put – no one ever said anything, except our amah Sharon who enlightened us.

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Sunsets, where these photos do very little justice to.

Once we learned that, we stopped keeping tropical fish, and we never ventured down the path again, even when we moved back to Australia.

They were a pleasure to watch, very relaxing and soothing, however l could content myself with other things instead, like watching the mudskippers off the beach when the tide was out, or the horseshoe crabs, whom were most peculiar. You could never walk barefoot on the beaches there and especially in the surf as puffer lay beneath the sand, l found this out once when l stupidly took off my thongs and walked barefoot in the tidal surge only to be stung, but that is another story all by itself.

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On the Malaysian beaches there was a number of different sights, the lights across the bay of Penang, the scents of the night, the most astonishingly and strikingly beautiful sunsets that even the photographs here do no justice, the sounds from the local Kampung, the acrid and biting pungency of the prawn drying factory – long long tables filled with the days catch drying in the heat. There was also the sadness of those beaches, when you might see a washed up body usually of an infant.

Not the most adventurous tale of tropical fish l am afraid KDKH, but a nice memory to bring back up after all these years have passed, so my thanks for that. Hope you enjoy the photographs, my apologies for their condition, but they are 50 years old and long before digital images and also these are so fragile in some respects as they still sit within the old style of album.

9 thoughts on “The Neon Riddle! 1971

  1. My grandfather kept Koi in a pond the size of a swimming pool. I always resented those fish because I would have loved to swim and splash around. Just one of the many things I wasn’t allowed to do or touch at my grandparent’s house.

      1. It wouldn’t have helped then…my grandparents were grouchy and full of rules.
        Interesting bit of info though. If Ben ever tries to jump in a Koi pond, I’ll let him. 🙂

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