NOOSAVILLE'S living piece of history, Len Ely sits outside the O Boat "shed" he built not far from the "Tree of Wisdom" where the fishing families once chin wagged and declares: "I don't have sleep, I have dreams".
At 94 years of age, Len just has to shut his eyes and the glory days of Noosa River fishing, and the putt-putt boats he first built to help people get amongst the big catches, all come back as if they never went away.
His sharp memories cast back easily to when fish were always on the bite and not even passing swaggies went without a feed.
To times when the canny fishing folk in the Ely family and their friends could catch fish using a line of cotton and some dough.
Len is the original O Boat Hire man - he used to run the local shop with his wife Betty and then bought some dinghies, before building one himself. It was the start of a business that is still going strong today.
He was Noosa's bait and tackle man, a local prawner and mackerel catcher, working alongside the other commercial fishermen he shared a healthy rivalry with as much as a good yarn.
Len would catch his own bait including sea gar and the holidaymakers would love it as "bait was hard to come by". He even supplied to stores in Mooloolaba and Brisbane.
This week his daughter Marg Golder, who grew up on the river, brought Len back from the Burpengary nursing home he now stays at, to conjure up the old days with the present O Boat owners Brad Gray and Rod Baker.
One of Noosa's most nostalgic river haunts still does a fair trade at Ely Park alongside Gympie Tce.
Len always had a good eye for business and eventually sold the family store, starting up O Boats possibly in 1948 after serving in the Australian Army.
He was second-generation Ely born in Noosaville after his grandfather John Snr came by boat to Australia.
"Long before I had the boats I was in the shop and they used to go across the river and catch fish wherever they like.
"Anybody could come here - anyone travelling through - the swaggies...and you couldn't starve.
"You could catch a fish off the bank. It was good back then - now it's not fished out, but not as good."
Brad and Rod have benefited greatly from the pioneer entrepreneurial spirit of Len and they value the tales of the olden days as much as the great tourism experience he created.
Visitors would come from Brisbane and surrounds and stay a month. Many would rent boats from Len for 25 shillings a week.
"I spoke with Len years ago and I have all his diary notes as home," Rod said.
"When Len dropped in here with his daughter the other day, I thought it would be great to tap into so much living history. A lot of people think the O stands for Oldsmobile motor, but it wasn't that, was it Len?"
"No," Len confirmed last Tuesday, "I just like the O for the British (insignia) on the planes during the war."
But Len's first inboard motors were built in Maryborough at Olds Engineering and Len recalls the single cylinder motors were made out of old Holden parts.
"I got these dinghies and we used to rent them out - I first bought three boats...two strokes - and then I built one."
Len with first-up help from his uncle Joe Ely worked from plans to build his eventual fleet of boats under family house across the road - Len and his family still own a house in nearby Elizabeth St. Even in the late 1980s Len would still have his old boat the Billy O - named after Bill Old who built the motors - on a trailer by the river.
"War broke out in 1939 and I went on a short holiday (courtesy of the Army)."
He said on his return his bought his boats back of Sid Johns and the rest - as proved true - is history.
Before the O Boat shed came the jetty built by Len.
"I built the jetty and then I built it a bit better," he said. Marg suggested that her dad's business skills were imparted during a scholarship to Brisbane Commercial College.
"No," Len said, "It was bred into me - the river bred it in. My father was a boatman and a fisherman.
"The worst thing was if it was like today - raining.
"Back then we used to get a lot more cyclones and it would rain for a week - we'd have to rip all the boats over to behind Goat Island and eventually I had a mechanised pump, but you still had to finish bailing them all out."
Len said he was never afraid to move with the times - he introduced the outboards motors - 9hp, 6hp and 3hp - and later fibreglass river kayaks.
"People used to hire the new outboards, but not as much as the inboards. It was fishing, fishing, that's what it was all about."
Len eventually sold out and the business changed hands again after that, before O Boats became the domain of another great river character in Tom McCart for more than two decades.
"I started work for Tom McCart in 1989," Brad said.
"I was there for 10 years, then left for about three years and came back and bought the business with a couple of others in 2004. They left after a while and Rod bought in.
"Lenny used to come down here to the (big weeping fig) tree and talk to Tom and the prawners who had trawlers at the next jetty. They used to call it the tree of wisdom."
Among them was local Billy Ryan who would repair the outboards, but Len used to do his own repairs to the inboard motors .
"If they needed new rings he'd send them back to Maryborough," Marg said.
Brad said the Olds engines are still made to this day. Len still loves what the river gave him - something way beyond the boatloads of fish and a good, honest living.
"I had good friends - not people who were looking for something for nothing, they just used to help out.
"And there was competition - you have to have competition to live.
"There was always the prawning and I had the bait business - I wouldn't change a thing - I had no regrets."