Saturday, August 28, 2010

Faith


My mother had no faith in the sea’s trustworthiness. She panicked whenever the ocean, sea, tidal inlet or even a sluggish river were in close proximity. This became apparent to me as an 11 year old when we spent a holiday with relatives who lived by the sea at Littlehampton in Sussex shortly after WW2. We stayed a in a village a tidy walk from the town and the sea itself was still a distance from the shops. The beach was flat and mostly sandy which was where most people congregated close to all conveniences such as the ice cream parlours, the tea rooms, the amusement arcade, the putting greens and of course the public conveniences.
My father was more adventurous and on hearing of a deserted beach on the other side of the river that ran through the town decided on an expedition to this haven from the hoi polloi, in order that games, picnics and sea bathing could be enjoyed without the need to jostle for space on the main beach, trip over others belongings and join hundreds of others in the an almost religious dip into the ocean akin to bathing in the Ganges. Mother approved the plan and we found that to reach the unspoilt pristine beach we would have to be rowed across the river by a boat plied by a boatman. This was exciting. The boatman himself was a gnarled weather beaten old salt that said little and merely did his job whilst smoking a old pipeful of rank tobacco that sent up a cloud and stench so foul no other water craft came near us. I do remember his hands though; great brown knotted clumps of flesh on the ends of his arms that gripped the oars and seemed to me to epitomise immense strength.
I could see the panic on my mother’s face as we and several other hardy souls intent on exploration also clambered into the boat. The charge per passenger was 1d and for this we were ferried a few yards across the River Arun. This comparatively short river rising somewhere to the north of Arundel was extremely fast flowing. At Littlehampton this was quite evident when the tide was out. When the tide was in, as it was this morning, the basin filled and the water was sluggish so rowing across to the other side was simple, much to the relief of mother. Thus it was when we crossed for the first time and safely delivered on foreign territory we trekked the few hundred yards to the beach and spent the whole day there, exploring, eating, playing and even bathing. Mother however merely donned her sunsuit and had no discourse at all with the sea.
With all the food eaten, burnt by the wind and the sun, tired out from so much exploration and hungry again we made our way back to the ferry crossing. There was a queue of customers as the journey seemed to take longer this time. The tide was going out. No that is not true it was racing out and the pair of ferry boats in use were making very heavy weather of the trip. When we finally boarded and pushed off the boatman with grim determination immediately turned the craft and rowed with a steely look on his face in what appeared to be wrong direction upstream and continued that way painfully slowly. Only when the berth on the opposite side seemed totally out of reach did he carefully swing the boat around and drift down with the current. The craft seemed hopelessly out of control until some yards from the berth did he nudge the boat into the waiting hands on shore to quickly fasten it and unload the passengers on dry land. Now we boys and Dad certainly had faith that all would be well. Mother on the other hand did not open her eyes until she was helped out of the boat on the other side.
Postcard of the tiny ferryboat in middle of photo crowded with faithful trippers c.1950

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dangerous Sea



The wind swept over the dunes and blew the fine particles of sand in the air. Beyond the dunes lay the beach desolate now, devoid of birds, people or any other activity save for the relentless breakers roaring in from the ocean. Crashing, pounding, spraying millions of droplets of a fine mist of sea water over everything. Ragged kelp blew along the shoreline, ripped from the ocean bed and tossed carelessly by the sea out of her care. The storm raged on.

The man had ventured out not out of willingness to battle the elements but for the need of his family. The foul weather had lasted for days and the need to gather food was urging him on to combat the elements. He ploughed his way through the tussock that in its uneven growth gave him occasional moments of respite from the gale but the battering returned with full force as his body emerged from the dip in the dunes.

He had to get down to the beach and at least dig for a few shellfish at the waters edge. He carried a digging tool with him fashioned out of an oyster shell. Slung over his shoulder was a rudimentary bag of woven grass. This was his woman's and she, still sickly after the birth of their child was barely nursing the infant on the poor pickings of food that he had gathered these last few days.

He strode now with purpose across the beach blown this way and that, barely able to keep his feet as he approached the shoreline. The waves were angry and moaned with evil intent at his approach. He had played this game before and as he neared the surging foam he crouched down and plied the shell to dig where the wet strand was bubbling with creatures making their presence known safe from the elements. He dug and scooped up the pitifully small shells into his grass pouch. The wind shrieked with annoyance at his bravery and the sea pounded thunderously roaring her anger at his incursion into her territory. More and more shells fell into his bag and he sighed with relief that today they would all eat.

That was his mistake for just the shortest of moments he glanced at his catch and took his mind off the waves and missed the sight of the mighty breaker heading for him and him alone.
"Come to me my brave man. You are wasted on that tranquil land where you know not of true danger. I want you resting in my bosom from whence you came a myriad years ago. You have lost the fight and will forever rest with me."

With that the sea rose up and broke over his pathetically small body and sucked him back into the ocean. No one saw his leave the shore.

The next day, the storm spent, his woman and child ventured forth into a calmer day. She scanned the shore for her man with the infant suckling at her breast. She searched in vain from the rocky outcrop above the beach and cried tears of fear and sorrow. "I will not give up I will search for you till the end of time" she vowed. Maybe she would.

Photo by Dr. Dénes László

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A mother and child's view



Just off the beaten path, close to a jumble of rocks and tussock at the edge of the sea, stands an outcrop of granite. Beaten and weathered and rounded by a thousand storms, cold driving rain, salt spray, and the never ceasing wind. This clump of stone stands fast. Facing the Southern Ocean, constantly watching out to sea. The granite is worn into unlikely shapes, squat rounded forms, cracked and weathered over and over till now they seem like two figures keeping a silent vigil. To some they look like misshapen loaves of bread, to others giant marbles stacked in an unlikely position but to me they look like a mother and her child.

Walking in the late grey dawn of winter, no life on the shore, wind whistling in the rocks, salt spume in the air, I come close and see them there.

"Where are are you my husband?" She seems to say. The child, no arms fashioned from stone, stands close by weeping the salty tears of loneliness. Looking out beyond them to the sea, I too search for a sign that their long lost spouse and father will return. The sea relentless in its boiling way gives no clue or assurance to his whereabouts. Constantly on the move, now grey, green and cold, indifferent, uncaring.

The two figures on the shore now both are crying and I alone mourn with them. Who was he, so mighty perhaps that legend may have wrought these stone relics to ever search for him. Or perhaps he was no more than one, such as you or I, that by cruel fate was torn from his kindred in a simple fishing trip, then sorrow and despair turned even mere mortals to everlasting form.

I go back there often and must confess that I have spoken many times to these remnants of the long lost family.

"Was he a loving man?"

"Did he play with the child?"


"How was he lost so long ago? A storm at sea? A shark perhaps? Was it an argument with his mates that ended in tragedy?"


"Maybe it was his time to be called by the great spirit of land and sea and sky?"


None of my questions are answered, and ignoring me she searches constantly for a sign of him in the waves. Then when she is left alone, she seems to gain comfort by being close to the child figure by her side.

It was during the spring that I last saw her. What a fine day that was. The warm sunshine had brought tiny white flowers to bloom in the grass, the lightest of breezes moved through the air wafting scents of new life around me. The tide was out, far out, and the endless breakers of a few months back were barely visible in the swell.

"Hello,"
I hailed her like an old friend even though she had never acknowledged me, except to show me her face streaked with dried tears. As I looked at them both they seemed in better spirits. It was probably the sun reflecting from the granite. But no, there was something about the way they stood; it was as though they were leaning forward in anticipation towards the sea.

I looked out too, Beyond the shoreline and I could see what they saw. The swell of the sea, not green but aqua and now deeper blue, The water barely rippling with the light wind showed me why things were different this day.

There it is now, on the low tide just as the swell passes. In the trough I could just see a rounded knob of granite just coming to the surface.

Her man is coming home to them from the sea.

Photo by the author of rocks at Port Elliot, South Australia

Sunday, August 8, 2010

If only you would meet me half way.

No one could remember when it started. It must have been a very long time ago. He had been born of heat and passion, of crushing weight and hardness of heart. He was a rock. She on the other hand was created from gentler, softer liquid and gaseous things that clung together in love. She rocked the life she had in and on her. She was the sea.

They were so different, he was the strong silent type, powerful and durable and cared for no one. She loved to dance and sing and caressed and cared for everyone. The they first met on a silvery strand of beach. When she saw him she loved him straight away and wanted to possess him and wrap him up in her arms. She couldn't reach him and he looked down on her and thought "What a silly skittish creature, If I could speak I would tell her to go away."

The sea was sad that she couldn't reach him. So she waited a little way off, lapping at the little grains of pure white sand that separated her from her desire. She fidgeted with forlorn fondness for the rock and warmed her little wavelets on the sun bleached shore.

The moon saw the sad sea sighing and the arrogant rock on the shore. She called to the sea, "Come listen to me, my friend the sea. I'll help to make him yours."
So the moon came close to the earth and the sea rose to hear her advice. But she couldn't catch what her friend was saying. The moon passed across the sky and was gone over the horizon. The sea collapsed back into her bed and cried some very salty tears of disappointment.

Each night when the moon came out she tried in vain to listen for the words of wisdom, only to be frustrated each time. She looked up at the moon.
"Beautiful Moon, why won't you help me?"
"Courage, you restless creature, can't you see that you can reach him now."

With that the moon slipped away from view again. The sea went back to the shore and saw the rock sitting there as usual.
"Rock, I want to touch you." He ignored her.
She came a little closer, "I want to kiss you." But he still had no eyes for her.
She came right up to the edge of the rock. "Come and join me, I want to be with you forever."
The rock, was furious. How dare this wavy, wavy, watery waste, talk to him as an equal.
"You are beneath me," he thought as strongly as he could, which was a pity because just at that moment, the sea had made a supreme effort to reach him and a tiny finger of water touched him, and she felt what he had thought immediately. She recoiled with emotion. Her feeling of shame was so great, that she hurried away to conceal herself. But she couldn't hide, especially now that the moon was helping her. She had to meet him every day. Her shame was turned to bitterness, and she became very angry indeed.

He was resolute. On no account would he have anything to do with her. From that day on they knew they were enemies and forever waged a constant battle by taunting and teasing each other. He was made of granite and sat with pride on the edge of the land. He stood out from his brothers and faced the ocean. He was arrogant and mocked the waves as they broke over him. The salty water came first as a trickle, then a flood, then a torrent of liquid. Splashing and separating into a hundred, a thousand, then tens of thousand droplets, all over him.
"What are you," he thought, "You that break to pieces so easily." But she didn't give up.

One day she enveloped him, she wrapped herself about him and pushed him and pulled him, but he stood firm, nothing daunted him. She tired of holding on and left him. But she called out to him, "I hugged you. I kissed you. I'll be back tomorrow," and she laughed in her rippling way. He said nothing, but he knew she had told the truth. Her kisses were still wet on his face, and he longed for the sun to dry him.

She returned again and again. Sometimes she would tickle him, but he refused to laugh. Later she came back and was so cross that she beat and whipped him with her waves, but she was no match for him, he smugly bore it all, he was granite. Everyday she returned. Everyday she had the courage to approach him. Everyday he ignored her, as if she meant nothing to him. Everyday he emerged from her onslaught, his head held high with a stony expression.

She loved to tease him, her fingers of creamy suds and foam washed him and scrubbed him again and again. But then finding herself too high up the beach rushed back over the sand, with a whoosh and a sigh.
"I am invincible," he thought to himself.
"We'll see, we'll see," she whispered.
For many years they challenged and chided the other, the rock put his hard face toward her every time she attacked him, and she sought the help of her friends, the winds, to mount stormy attacks on him. But neither won.

It must have been that their old mother, the Earth, who saw them arguing and turned away from her children in disgust. For when she did so the whole world tilted and the seasons changed. The sea no longer could bask on the warm sand and the rock found it harder to dry off the sea's kisses. And it was getting colder and colder. It was so cold that after the sea had smothered the rock with her wet embrace one day, the water never dried, but froze right on the surface of the rock that night. The next day it took a long time for the frozen water to melt.

The following day, the sea water made the rock wet again and when it froze at night, it hurt the rock. He couldn't remember ever having been hurt before. And it was only after the sea had bathed him that he felt better again. Every night the same thing happened, the tepid water of the sea soaked into the rock, and hurt him very much when it froze at night. He longed for the sea to come and tend to his smarting skin. One day while the sea was a little way off the frost in the rock hurt so bad he felt he could burst. And he did. Some tiny chips of rock broke loose and fell down beside him. He felt a little better but was not completely himself. But all was not over, the sea came back every day to see him and bathed his wounds, but with each touch he knew that when the frost came back, he would suffer again. And he did.

This torment of the rock went on for days and weeks and months and years. The sea could see what was happening and everyday rushed in to comfort him, all their enmity forgotten. But in doing so she made things worse. One day the water had got right inside him and the frost was particularly cruel. Before the night was out the rock spoke for the very first time. The sea heard him, and the sky heard him and the moon as well. He moaned out aloud, "Help me." and shattered into several pieces.

Yet the damage was not complete. Every night it was the same. His body was split up by the cold and the water freezing within him. In a little while all that was left of that proud rock was a pile of little stones.

The sea didn't mind, she looked after him. Every day she went back to see him and played with him. She raced him up the beach and dragged him down again and he got smaller and smaller and smaller. Until he too, was just so many grains of sand on that sloping shore.

Now the rock and sea are always together. As they dance in the shallows of the surf you can hear them singing. Just listen as they rush up the beach and back down again. Now when you look at the sea in the setting of the sun, I am sure you can see her winking at you, as if to say, "I won, I won."

Monday, August 2, 2010

Thank you Uncle Dusty

"Where do you want me to look up?"
"Bordertown of course for Mabel's birthday card." My wife laughed her tinkling little laugh, and went on, "Have you found it yet?"
I thumbed through the small print. "Bombo, Bondi, Bonnie Hills, Booleroo Centre, Borambil. Ha! Here it is: Bordertown 5268."
"Thanks", Chrissy said, and addressed the envelope with a flourish.

I continued to stare at the postcode listing. Booleroo Centre. I felt a shudder of fear go through me. After all this time I hadn't forgotten. How could I? Forty years or more ago we lived in that delightful country town of Jamestown in the state's mid north. Win, Jack and me were all born there, in the District hospital. Well I know that now, Mum always said she found me down by Belalie creek, just past Humphries mill and fodder store. I believed her for many years and thought I was privileged to have such an unusual beginning. The thought of being abandoned by strangers down among the big red gums there, where the scent of eucalypts was so strong in the summer's evening and where kangaroos could be seen at the creeks edge excited my imagination. I had surely been the offspring of bushrangers on the run, despite it being 1947!

Our family was spread right across the northern towns, from Port Pirie to Yunta. Uncle Eric lived at Laura and worked on the railway there. Mums sister Auntie Viv lived up at Booleroo Centre with her husband, Uncle George. His nickname was 'Dusty'. Being the youngest I called him Uncle Dusty which made everyone laugh, especially when I politely said, "Thank you, Uncle Dusty." Auntie Viv however was a mysterious character that we saw very rarely. Mum would make excuses for her by saying, "Poor Viv, she's had such a lot to put up with."

Uncle Dusty, was little better as I remember. He was portly and walked with a slight limp. What sticks out in my mind was his habit of saying, "Damn and bugger it all," at every opportunity. This phrase peppered his conversation regardless of subject or necessity and I can see Mum's face now as he said it in front of us kids. She would give out a little sigh and turn to Dad, as though he could somehow help by erasing what had just been said.

Uncle Dusty and Auntie Viv lived right on the main street of the town in funny little cottage next door to St. Mary's, Church of England church. Just outside the back door was a brick domed well. It wasn't really a well, it was a big underground rainwater tank. On one side of the brick dome was a timber frame and a small door about two feet square which was used to access the piping that drew the water out of the tank by means of a hand cranked pump. The door had a hasp and staple with a short piece of fencing wire slipped through it for security.

On the few occasions we went up to see them, Dad would drive us up there in the old Pontiac that had seen better days. When I was smaller I sat in the front between Mum and Dad, but later as I became more fidgety I had to sit in the back with the other two. There we would fight, scream, and bounce up and down to our hearts content. Mum and Dad didn't seem to mind so long as we didn't pester them. Although Mum did sometimes yell out to Win and say "Stop that hollering Win. Your voice is just like a cross cut saw."

Dad would drive with one hand, the other would be leaning out the drivers window, with his fingers curled up over the roof gutter. Mum said it was because he had to hold the roof on if we did more than thirty. I believed that too!

Apparently Auntie Viv was not a well woman, Win told us once in confidence that she had been informed that Auntie had suffered terrible with her insides. I could only imagine that all the pipes in her body had been joined up wrong thus causing her this distress.

It must have been quite serious because one evening after we had come home from school, Mum gathered us all together and told us that Auntie Viv had died the previous night. Death had never touched us children before. We had poked at a bloated and stinking sheep's carcass in Farmer Brooks paddock, and the usual procession of pets from the goldfish all the way up to Rastus the cat had been buried with due ceremony when they could no longer endure our harsh treatment. But they were not real people like Auntie Viv.

Mum cried a lot, cause it was her sister I suppose. Dad didn't joke and laugh quite so much. He did however say "Thank you, love" to Mum at mealtimes which was bit unusual! The three of us meanwhile discussed the whys and wherefores of such an event. It was Win that said there was something terrible about her dying. Jack was sure she had been murdered. For me on the other hand it was all so new I had nothing to say, but took quite a lot in.

Only Mum and Dad went to the funeral. We were dropped off at Laura to stay with all the other children, who were assembled there. We had lots of cousins, six alone belonging to Uncle Eric and Auntie Lorna. Dad often said he didn't know when Uncle Eric had time to go to work as he must spend all his time in bed. I only ever saw him when he was up and dressed though. These cousins were mainly older than us and had organised lots of games and things to do whilst the adults were up at Booleroo, saying 'Goodbye to Vivian', as Mum put it. This confused me somewhat because I was sure they had said she had died. We were collected later and all the way back in the car Mum and Dad didn't say a word, so I guessed they had had another row.

The next weekend Mum got Dad to drive us all back up to Uncle Dusty's place, to give him a hand. The hand consisted of a casserole and a fruit cake.
"It's the least we can do," said Mum.
"And where's my cake this week?" asked Dad, but he got no reply. But I heard him mumble "Thank you very much".
When we got there, Mum set to, organising.
"How you feeling now, George?"
"I'm managing."
"Have you gone back to work yet?"
Uncle Dusty looked up at her and shook his head wearily. Mum turned to us kids and said, "Now off you go outside and play."
As we slipped out the door, the conversation turned to the doctor's opinion and whether Father Weeks had been any help.

The garden was just the same and it wasn't long before we were tearing about as usual. During the afternoon Uncle Dusty had to use the outside toilet which stood in isolation some way from the back door. When he came out I was running over the top of the brick well. Still fastening his trousers he let out a yell and started chasing after me waving his fist. I was petrified.
"Keep off. I don't want you to go near there." he shouted.
I stood still, confused and blurted out, "Why, is Auntie down the well?"
I had never seen a grown up man cry before, and I didn't like it. Uncle Dusty just sat down where he was and bawled his eyes out. I stood there fixed to the spot. Win could see what had happened and ran in to get Mum.

My small mind must have shut out that incident for years, no one ever mentioned it till we were all grown up. Then it was a source of mirth to others but an embarrassment for me......I was day dreaming; Chrissy was saying something.
"Pardon?"
"I said, what's the matter with your eyes? Are you all right?"
"Yes, Thank you very much." I said wiping away a tear.