The raw prawn

It’s the quintessential Queensland nativity scene: a bunch of travel-weary folks crammed under a thatched Bali hut in the baking heat, cooing over a bowl of prawns.

Nothing beats prawns when it comes to bringing people together this time of year.

At least, that’s what seafood retailers would like you to think, as you shell out something like $50 a kilo to have these strange, spiky aliens adorn your Christmas table.

But far from bringing people together, prawns drive them apart.

How else to explain the hostilities that erupt in the presence of this particular shellfish?

Every Christmas, without fail, there’s some issue, with someone, about something to do with the prawns.

“I thought YOU were bringing the prawns?” “Why did you get kings instead of tigers?” “The smaller ones are sweeter.” “Why didn’t you take the tails off?”

And always, always, there’s some dispute about deveining.

One year, an auntie took umbrage at my casual “It’s just grit” philosophy and took matters into her own hands.

So determined was she to remove every last trace of the prawns’ miniscule intestinal tracts that they emerged looking like mincemeat. My neighbour mistook them for cat food and fed them to Fifi.

Prawn-inspired fracas extend beyond my twisted little branch of the family tree. Multiple disputes involving prawns have found their way to court.

In Tyson v Cook [1973] 1 NSWLR 300, a fisherman trawling for prawns barrelled down the river, practically mowing down a second fisherman. He was subsequently prosecuted for “causing a nuisance in enclosed waters (with) no statutory right of way.”

Sounds a bit like Streets Beach this time of year.

The case of BBB v RAB [2006] QDC 080 involved, in part, a couple’s argument over one party’s failure to devein the prawns prior to them being cooked. If only my auntie had presided over their kitchen. Instead of going to court, they could have just gone hungry.

In 2009, a supermarket manager’s suspicions about the whereabouts of half a kilogram of green prawns led to claims of defamation, injurious falsehood, assault and battery, “harassment”, “intimidation” and false imprisonment.

In this case, Coles Supermarkets Australia Pty Ltd v Clarke [2013] NSWCA 272, a man was allowed to keep a $50,000 defamation payout after the manager of his local store came after him “like a pit bull”, accusing him of consuming the prawns as he cruised the aisles.

The man claims the manager berated him in front of a tut-tutting group of staff and shoppers, saying things like, “You have been stealing prawns,” “’I will keep you here until I see those prawns,” and “Open your leather jacket and let’s see what’s inside.”

Fortunately there were no sushi lovers on Singapore’s Downtown Line in October this year when laughing commuters watched live crustaceans make a daring escape from a plastic bag.

“One almost managed to alight at Little India MRT station,” an eyewitness reports.

There is some debate over whether these critters were prawns or crayfish. Personally, I’m going with prawns. They’re nothing but trouble.

A version of this story was published in The Courier-Mail on 02 January 2018.

© 2022 Denise Cullen