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August 09 Edition Cover

The gondolier’s song

31 Jan 2019

The gondolier’s song Image

By Rhonda Dredge

A gondola stands out among the yachts moored on the river, its dark archaic bow suggestive of pleasure, palaces and song.

Gondolier Darcy Rankin doesn’t sing to customers but he does tell them stories of the Yarra.

He is attracted to the might of the river and being out in the middle of it.

“Originally it would flood six metres,” he says. “It formed the biggest wetlands in Australia to the west. The city would have been inundated. That’s why Melbourne Water did all the changes.”

The maritime environment is in Darcy’s blood. He grew up on the north-west coast of Tasmania and went sailing on Bass Strait.

“It’s not that rough,” he said, gesturing instead towards the Yarra mouth. “The bay’s getting bad.”

He likes the freedom of the job. He can go out on the gondola at any time.

“It’s quite casual for me. I’m generally around on summer evenings when it’s getting a bit cooler.”

He’s been working on different boats at Victoria Harbour ever since arriving to go to university. This is his fourth year as a gondolier with Venice on the Yarra.

Time gets away from him sometimes. He hasn’t brought a watch or phone to work and he discovers that he has to do a wedding photo in five minutes at the Exhibition Centre.

There are preparations to be made.

He’s brought a bag of ice down to the docks on his bike and a change of clothes for the part.

First he fills the ice buckets and puts in the champagne. Then he spreads out a fancy tablecloth and attaches a lantern. Now it’s time to change into his black outfit.

It gets hot on the river, dressed all in black, he said, and not everything is to his liking.

“I don’t like the run off and rubbish from the streets. Often I can’t go out because there is so much rubbish in the river.”

Today he is positive as he gets ready to paddle beneath the Webb Bridge. You get the impression that the idea of the river is just as satisfying as the reality, something that can’t really be tamed.

“I love the river,” he admits. “If you go down a bit in the gondola it’s a good way to view the city. You get a bit of a look at Melbourne. It’s quiet in the middle of the river. You think of how the river always flooded through this piece of land.”

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