Thursday, 13 October 2011

The great shark hunt

When Hong Kong was terrorised by an alleged tiger shark back in 1992, there seemed only one thing for it: summon Vic Hislop, shark-hunter and all round ocker nutjob. The chaos that ensued became the talk of the town ...

Shortly after taking up residence in Hong Kong, I awake one morning to find Vic Hislop, notorious Australian shark hunter, in my bed. Fortunately, I am on the sofa.

In happier times: Hislop catches
 the world's biggest great white
He staggers out into the living room; short, stocky, smelling vaguely of stingray and absent-mindedly scratching his nuts. Vic has just flown in from Queensland, and we’ve put him up for the night in the house my friends and I have rented in Sai Kung, a fishing village and expat hangout in the New Territories.

Nearby Clearwater Bay has been terrorised by a spate of shark attacks and The Hong Kong Standard newspaper, on a brilliant wheeze from my flatmate and uber-journo Hedley Thomas, has hired Hislop to catch the suspected tiger shark. The night he arrives, we dine on the Sai Kung waterfront as he regales us with tales of monsters pursued and killed. It becomes apparent at once that he is quite mad, possessed of a monomaniacal hatred of sharks not far short of Captain Ahab’s obsession with the white whale. What sticks in my mind from the evening’s conversation, however, is not so much the gorily graphic accounts of maneaters hooked and shot and clubbed and knifed, but an encounter with a pitbull terrier in a friend’s backyard.

Ball tearier
“Shit mate, yeah, this bastard dog just comes out of nowhere, eh,’’ he recounts in a nasal ocker whine. “And he’s coming right for me. I look around, but there’s nothing I can pick up to defend meself. I know I’ll never make it to the fence if I run. So as the fucker jumps at me, I get under him and grab him by the balls. And he lets out this yelp like he’s just been shot. He’s trying to bite me, the bastard, but I start swinging him around faster and faster, and then I let him go. And that does the trick, eh, he just lies there looking at me, and I jump over the fence.’’

From there, it’s all downhill. In short order, a lurid logo is whipped up, featuring a gaping man-eater that would do a Peter Benchley novel proud, under the rubric “The Standard’s Great Shark Hunt’’. While the snobs at the South China Morning Post, the Standard's tonier cousin, turn their noses up, the stunt becomes the talk of the town. We procure a junk – the Great Shark Hunt Mothership – and arm Vic with all manner of fearsome hooks and lines and sinkers. We scour the wet markets of Sai Kung for suitable tiger shark bait; stingrays and groupers. We print t-shirts that will go on to become collectors' items. From this point on, Vic, thankfully; will sleep on the mothership as we begin a futile and ill-fated two-week search for the shark.

Fangs for the memories 
I am charged with penning his daily dispatches and succumb to a creeping lunacy, inventing all sorts of wild rubbish to keep the story going. As I milk the Ahab angle, Vic falls ill with a virulent flu. After a couple of days, he begins to question what’s being written about his efforts. So I take to hiding his glasses so he can’t read the paper.

Hong Kong’s piranha-like pack of Chinese newspapers gets hold of the story and soon the hills of Clearwater Bay bristle with telephoto lenses as the waters around the mothership are buzzed by reporter-laden motorboats. We dole out access to Vic like jealous parents.

It soon becomes apparent that the shark has left town. Despite Vic’s best and increasingly desperate efforts, the stinking, rotten stingrays are left unmolested, the groupers ungutted, and eventually the circus leaves town too. Vic is sick and defeated, whimpering like a bull-terrier with crushed nuts, as we stick a cheque in his pocket and push him onto a plane.

Bee-el-zee-bub has a devil
put aside for meeeee
Back at the Press Club in the seething heart of Wan Chai, bathed in blinking neon from the short time hotel on the floor above, toilets awash with acrid eddies of urine, the story has taken on a delirious life of its own. The Standard’s sub-editors, a notoriously louche and drunken bunch, won’t let the thing die. For months afterwards, when sufficient brews and shots have been quaffed, they run up and down the length of the bar, hands held aloft like dorsal fins, shouting “SHARK! SHARK!’’

Hislop, however, from reports received, has never been quite the same since. The great destroyer of great whites, the tigerish killer of tiger sharks and macho crusher of pitbull balls, is a sad, bewildered and broken man, hoist on his own reeking petard, lashed to the mast of failure. The ultimate victim of the Great Shark Hunt, ironically, is the great white hunter himself.


  1. Vic hislop the biggest douchebag of the century...

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