Current Issue #479

Good Country:
Fishing for Kiss around Port Lincoln

Kiss in Port Lincoln
Michael X Savvas

A fleet of boats anchored off the Eyre Peninsula to steal a glimpse of facepainted giants of rock n roll Kiss is about as strange – and kind of awesome – as you might expect.

You’ve heard the accolades about the Eyre Peninsula city, Port Lincoln. It’s Australia’s seafood capital. It has a ludicrously high concentration of millionaires. Yet who could’ve imagined that Lincoln’s millionaire ranks would swell by three when legendary rock band Kiss stayed there recently. Why? To perform a concert from the back of a boat to sharks. Of course.

For an Airnbnb promotion, eight tickets to this surreal event were released worldwide, selling out within seconds. Adventure Bay Charters would take the lucky eight to Neptune Islands, a roughly 2.5-hour journey from Lincoln, and Kiss would play on a nearby boat. Vibrations from the music would attract the sharks. Kiss member Paul Stanley’s illness forced the cancellation of the band’s farewell Australian shows, making the Lincoln gig possibly the last Australian concert ever. I had to be there.

Fishing Boat, Port Lincoln
Michael X Savvas
Fishing Boat, Port Lincoln

After some startled knockbacks, I found a Lincoln skipper who sounded confident he could take me to the Kiss concert. I chartered his boat. The captain was Brenton Hage, a former tuna diver who used to handfeed 20 kilogram tuna to sharks through tuna nets. He’d hold onto the tuna tails and feed 16- to 18-foot white pointers. “It felt pretty awesome,” he said. “One shark would eat 15 tunas.”

On board were JW, a veteran yachtie; Tony Kidman, a relative of cattle king Sir Sidney Kidman (“Didn’t do me any good,” he joked); and my lovely fiancée, Margarita, a descendant of Russian tsars.

After spending a pleasant weekend in Lincoln – a super-friendly place where the restaurants serve atypical breakfasts such as eggs benedict with Hiramasa Kingfish – and gathering our intel, Margarita and I were ready.

We left the harbour early in the morning. Hage knew he’d reach the destination before the Kiss boat, Strictly Business. A calm and sunny 30-degree day, conditions were perfect. We were in the waters where Western writer Zane Grey fished for sharks in 1939 and the Taylors filmed shark footage for the movie Jaws in the 1970s.

We arrived in the serene bay of North Neptune Island, and the Adventure Bay Charters boat arrived soon after. We watched sea lions play on the rocks of the unspoilt island and in the impossibly blue water. While we waited for Kiss, the skipper made us coffee. Seagulls screeched and hovered. A curious sea lion swam over to our boat.

Neptune Island North
Michael X Savvas
Neptune Island North

JW opened up. He knew all about sharks. But he hated them. A shark had killed his son, who was surfing outside of Elliston. JW asked the fisheries department if he could remove the killer shark, but they refused. JW wanted his son’s remains so that there could be a proper burial. JW said, “We should have the right to take out one shark to review the remains … We’re humans and they’re not.”

While Margarita and I try to process this tragic story, JW received a call from a useful contact. Apparently, the Kiss boat wasn’t heading to Neptune Islands (as previously announced). We were duped. Hage guessed where Kiss may be going instead: Williams Island, 40 minutes away. Missing the half-hour concert became a possibility. We weighed anchor, and Ngaarru increased speed to 18 knots. Skipper grinned like a kid at Christmas. Kidman peered through binoculars. Ultimately, JW exclaimed with joy, “We got ’em!” as we entered the bay.

We secured our spot, 30 metres from the wobbly stage. Apart from us, three other ‘pirate’ boats had found the secret venue. Matthew Flinders had encountered Williams Island a little earlier in 1802. It was later used for mining guano. Aptly, the island’s shape resembles the horn symbol that Gene Simmons made famous.

Kiss concert ticket winners Max and Mark Pannenburg
Michael X Savvas
Kiss concert ticket winners Max and Mark Pannenburg

With the unlikely backdrop of Williams Island (and more sealions), and the spaceman, cat and demon in full costume, the power of the most theatrically engaging rock group ever hit me with full force. The bizarre setting worked. No sharks appeared, despite Kidman’s observation about the spaceman’s silver jacket being a good lure. This was fortunate, as a teenage fan jumped in the water near Kiss. Gene Simmons said, “What’s your middle name? Lunch?”

We returned exhilarated to Boston Bay. Hage summed up Port Lincoln and surrounds: “It’s good country, good water.”

Later, Margarita and I debriefed at the wonderful Port Lincoln Hotel. I ordered coffees. Someone interrupted. I shot him a dirty look and then got a photo when I realised it was Tommy Thayer, the spaceman from Kiss. And then in the foyer, we met … Gene Simmons. In Port Lincoln. I’ll say that again.

Michael X Savvas

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