BEFORE rice grass and oysters, the banks of the Tamar estuary was a series of little weed-free coves with soft river beaches perfect for boys in home-made wooden boats to come ashore and play carefree boys' games.
``I had a six-foot punt with an old broom handle for a mast - and you'd go with the tide and then paddle like crazy back again,'' says Geoff Lyons, happy with the memory.
The Bass Labor MHR grew up at Gravelly Beach on the West Tamar.
``We spent our entire lives in or around the river,'' he says.
``We were either playing footy in George Henderson's paddocks or on the water.''
It was a carefree childhood that taught him to be self-reliant and set him up for the rough and tumble of federal politics.
Despite a reluctant entry into the public glare of politics from the last election, the former hospital public servant has grown into the role and is keen to take on another term.
``It's a great honour, it's a great privilege to be in this job,'' he says.
In a rare personal interview over an early morning coffee, Mr Lyons talks of a life that has kept him grounded.
He was born in Sydney while his father, Frank, and mother, Pat, were away working.
But it was so long ago that he can't remember life outside Northern Tasmania.
``Elphin Rise [at Newstead] was my first school but I grew up at Gravelly Beach - Mum and Dad moved there when I was in grade two or three,'' he says.
The Lyons family was one of the few at the time from the river valley to commute to jobs in Launceston.
``Lots of people worked in the area - in orchards or places like the post office,'' he says.
His father was a pastry chef but worked at a variety of jobs.
His mother, who died before the last election, worked at the former giant Launceston textile factory Coats Patons.
``We'd travel into town each day in the Ford Prefect ute - Mum, Dad and me,'' he says.
Mr Lyons' first business venture taught him about hard work.
He was already working as a junior clerk at the Launceston courts when he married Sheryle.
They bought the Daisy Dell cafe, at Exeter, to help boost the coffers as they saved for a home.
``We were so broke that we didn't have enough money for a house so we lived at the shop,'' he says.
``Sheryle worked there doing the day shift and I'd come in at night.
``In those days there were no freezer chips, they were all made in a shed down the back.''
Mr Lyons, a talented sportsman, played for the local football club but didn't take a playing fee.
He was ``paid'' instead in the rocks which he and a couple of mates picked up from a farmer's paddock to use to build the French drain that was required for the chip-making shed out the back.
Sport has dominated Mr Lyons' life since he erected his first broom handle boat mast.
As well as playing senior football and tennis, he become heavily involved in surf lifesaving at the highest level.
His first club was the Low Head Life Saving Club which he joined in 1969 with his best mate from school, Robert McNabb.
``I wasn't a good swimmer at that stage - I used to jump off the Gravelly Beach jetty and swim to shore,'' Mr Lyons says.
It was during a posting as a senior clerk at the Burnie courts that Mr Lyons really got into the sport.
``It was easier at Burnie,'' he says with a grin.
``I remember the first day after training there was a hot shower at the club rooms - there was a cold shower outside at Low Head.''
The North-West clubs were at the top of their game during this era.
``At the time Somerset, Burnie, Penguin, Ulverstone and Devonport were all [national] semi-finalists quite regularly,'' he says.
``At one stage we had three Tasmanian crews in the top 12 crews in Australia.''
Mr Lyons became concerned that despite its high performance the state was not well represented in the sport's national administration.
So he got involved - as a referee and administrator across all areas of the sport.
He was on the Surf Life Saving Board of Australia with people like former Olympic swimmer Dawn Fraser when the board signed a $3 million sponsorship deal with Kelloggs - huge at the time.
It's one of the few pursuits that he has managed to keep going while living the fly-in, fly-out lifestyle of a federal politician.
``I still do surf patrols - I'm in the Launceston club now,'' he says.
``We do patrols for schools, public events, picnics, triathlons - we did 26 events last year . . . and well over 100 rescues.''