My coastline offers varied beaches, sometimes miles long, and sometimes, like this one, curled neatly around a much smaller distance. Bar Beach South backs onto the Wagonga Inlet, and is enclosed by a breakwater, built between 1976 and 1978 to reduce bar-crossing problems.
Historically, the Inlet was quite busy: by 1905 there was a service from Sydney every fortnight, bringing cargo and passengers from Sydney and taking timber back: between 1910 and 1920 there could be four ships at anchor at once. The bar has always been dangerous, or at least cantankerous. There were many delays and founderings in the old days, as coastal steamers headed out to sea loaded down with cheese from south coast dairies and timber for ship building. There were six wrecks between 1865 and 1888. The Comet, (no date) carrying 50 bags of onions, cases of early peaches, and bags of oysters had to wait a month for a favourable wind. In 1921, the Wee Clyde, built on the shores of Wagonga from Gulaga spotted gum (Corymbia maculata), was trapped a number of times with shipments of cheese and timber. The Bodalla ran aground in 1924, losing a cargo of furniture, sugar, salt, liquor and kegs. The Pilot station, built about 1902, now base for the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol, used to raise a black ball to indicate that the entrance was closed when crossing the bar was too dangerous.
It can still be dangerous: heading out to Baranguba on a tourist boat you have to put lifejackets on to cross. Even now there are drownings, especially in the holiday season. However, the water is tranquil as I walk along the beach towards Narooma township and the pilot station cottage on the hill. The beach is shark-netted and sheltered: it's hard to believe this is where my daughter launched me onto surfing waves all those years ago. From many points you can't even see the opening of the bar.
I walk along the sand, and veer right at the bright pinky-purple pigface to return to the car via the road. I look across Wagonga Inlet – in the foreground spiky grass and wattle; then the pines in front of the caravan park; and along the horizon the low form of Gulaga reclining.
This post owes debts to
- Tish Farrell, who always knows the history of her place, and W.G. Sebald to whom she introduced me.
- Laurelle Pacey, a local historian who knows how to write, from whose book Narooma's Past – steamers, sawmills and salmon (2001) I drew my information about Wagonga Inlet's history.
- My former self, the one who was a meticulous researcher for two years ten years ago, and who wrote notes that my present self recovered, on p. 68 ff of Notebook 1 of 3, contents of page written in red at the top!