Who pays the ferry master?
JOHN Gallagher could have the best job in the world.
His "office" has ultimate water views and so he spends his days (or nights, depending on the shift) taking in the beautiful scenery of the Richmond River.
He also gets to meet "heaps of interesting people" while keeping an eye out for dolphins, sharks and fish.
Mr Gallagher is a ferry master on Burns Point Ferry at Ballina.
It's a job the 67-year-old has been doing for 10 years.
"I was a commercial fisherman for 45 years, but when I sold my licence back to the gov- ernment I wasn't sure what to do," he said.
"Then this came up and I've been here ever since.
"Getting this job was like something from the gods.
"I love it."
Ferry drivers, particularly those qualified to operate wire-drawn ferries like the one at Burns Point, are few and far between.
Drivers are required to have a unique set of skills, such as a licence to operate as a master or engineer of a vehicular ferry in chains, or a Marine Engine Driver Grade 3 licence for restricted vessels in chains.
Ballina Shire Council's human resources manager, Kelly Brown, said the council was now looking for casual ferry drivers to help relieve drivers during the busy holiday peri- ods.
"We need our staff to be able to take leave," she said.
"So there are positions available.
"But yes, because the skills required are unique, it can be difficult to get people to fill those jobs."
Mr Gallagher said working on the ferry was an ideal job for people who loved the water.
He said it was also good for people who enjoyed variety in their work.
"I had one lady, about five years ago, who was giving birth in an ambulance while I was driving the ferry," he said.
"There was also a break-in at one of the caravan parks once, and the police rang me and asked me to keep an eye out for these three fellows.
"I had them on the ferry and when they realised the police were waiting on the other side of the river, they were about to jump into the water.
"Then the policeman yelled out, 'I wouldn't do that if I were you'.
"The fellows got handcuffed to the ferry railing ... it certainly kept the ferry crowd entertained."
Mr Gallagher loves the ferry and hopes a bridge is never built to connect South Ballina to Ballina proper.
"I don't see this (ferry) dying for a long time yet."