To visit most beaches, I just hop out of the car and step pretty well straight down onto the sand. This time I walk through a vast bush camping area shaded by spotted gums and graceful red-barked mahogany, and brightened by the jewelled fruit on pittosporums. Some of the campsites are on the edge of the cliff, and I can feel a camping urge coming on me. The air is warm-crisp. I’m delighted to be walking through bush and predisposed for love.
Enticing tracks take me right to the edge, looking out over unexpectedly rugged rocks to the blue ocean, rock islands and strips of distant sand.
I walk somewhat gingerly along the rocks and find myself looking down into a most unexpected gorge, steeper and deeper than the photo shows. The auguries for love are looking good: surprise is an aphrodisiac.
I reach the end of the camping area and find myself entering Eurobodalla National Park, the same park that surrounds me at Potato Point – a long, reclaimed, “non-contiguous” strip stretching down the coast from Moruya Heads to Tilba Tilba Lake. I encounter two families with small children, reminding me that Billy’s is billed as child friendly. And then there it is …
… a small serene beach with a view out to Mother Gulaga’s son, Baranguba. I don’t hesitate. I head for the sunny end, wondering what it will offer me. Underfoot is the scrunch of large grey pebbles and shells. My first impression is of rather undistinguished grey rock, creating uninteresting rock pools. The possibility of love retreats.
And then my eyes are opened, suddenly, as they often are in love affairs. They’re drawn to large rock faces, rather than close up patches. Everything is on a grand scale.
Already smitten, I stroll 200 metres along the beach to the other end, anticipating further delights and I am not disappointed. Other people have been here before me, delineating the meandering lines in the rock with white pebbles. The cliffs tilt and present a range of colours and patterns. The rockpools are vivid.
I realise I’m more than smitten. I’m deeply in love. I look back along the beach and out beyond a rocky outcrop to the sea. I’d stay here in solitude, soaking up the sun, but I’m meeting a gang of friends from my children’s childhood. Love has to give way to friendship, even fresh love. I walk past a huge dune of gravel, back to the wooden stairs, where I sit briefly, revelling in a new amour.
I’m prepared to share my new love with special people, bits of it at least, this time specifically Gilly who has shown an interest in plants and their foothold in rock. For you, my friend.
This morning I think I’m visiting a beach, but the sign tells me it’s a “facility”, the use of which may be hazardous. It’s likely to dish up rough surf, rips and currents, deep holes and gutters and submerged rocks. However, the tide is low, the ocean serene and I’m not planning to enter the water: I’m in more danger walking down the rotted wooden stairs to reach … the facility.
Enough quibbling over bureaucratic word choice! I survey the coastline from the lookout: south (where I beachwalked last) and north (where I’m beachwalking today). I take a brief memory detour via Menindee Lakes, transported back to weekend camping trips by pink and green hop plants very like the ones that grew in the landscape of my desert walks. Finally I access the beach and begin my gasping-with-delight tour of the southern end.
The rocks here are knobbly, honeycombed, patterned in pink and blue, seamed with thick bands of gold, and host to rockpools. But my delight is equally the pastel sky and the rocky outcrops stretching darkly into the sea. This morning, mutterings of delight are accompanied by questions centring on the geological history of the rocks. The facility provides no answers.
In fact it generates more questions when I reach the other end of the beach and find smooth rocks lying like beached whales, spotted with dark grey patches and the tracery of barnacles and the lively black of tiny mussels. I climb the flanks somewhat gingerly and peer down into rounded crevices.
I’m tempted into a kind of mythic storymaking by geological ignorance: a return to the ancient response in the face of something mysterious. So …
Long long ago not far from the beginning of time, a primeval competition between two sculptors in rock to see who can create the best beach end. The competitors represent two aesthetics that match their appearance: one suave and debonair, smoothed to featurelessness, spare and minimal: the other gnarled and pitted by life, with mysterious dramatic episodes. They set to work, these two mythical beings, proto-Henry Moore and proto-Alberto Giacometti, beginning with the same landscape and invoking wind and water, and possibly tectonic plates, to help them shape it to their individual delight. They take a long time, eons in fact, and they haven’t finished yet. The Great Judge eyes off their handiwork so far, and with a fanfare of trumpets and a roar of sea horns announces his judgement: “They are … different.”
I decide I’m not much of a myth maker, so I venture into the field of allegory, at least I think that’s what it is. Maybe I can construct an allegory of the self: myself. Behold the rough hewn self: filled with secrets, inconsistencies, discontinuities; lunging from intention to intention. And yet in all this a richness of variety. Then there’s the smooth bland self, that offers always what’s expected, covered in barnacles and clams, non-intrinsic beauties, gifts from outside that are the personality. This self is still capable of the odd blush.
There are people about today: playing in teams with some kind of throwing thing on the beach; splashing in the water where Mummaga Lake enters the sea with a rush; fishing placidly from the rocks; clambering around with bucket and spade; picnicking on the grass; watching an infant take her first steps; and staggering around watching every footfall amongst the pools and slashes of rock poking out of the sand, camera at the ready.
This beach is just in front of a caravan park, still occupied by school holiday makers. It’s the peak of low tide, so the rocky platform is exposed and the sand firm. This is my third unfamiliar beach in a week, and they couldn’t be more different. What is the essence of this one? Shingle consisting of bigger shells than I saw at Plantation Beach, or McKenzies. Rocks piled up into a rounded turret or weathered to the shape of Opera House sails. Seams of white quartzlike rock wandering their way through the surface and crevices of their host. Narrow vertical ridges. Gleaming mustard-yellow slabs with smooth hollows. Rockpools, and rock-dimples filled with shells.
That’s my narrow world, at noon on a particular day. But there are other worlds here too.
Geology has been busy for eons, shaping the shoreline and its beauties, making it unique. Weathering and the repetitious action of the sea are co-creators of all the shapes and patterns that have given pleasure to the tiny dot in the universe that is me.
Yuin Elder, YIrrimah evokes the Aboiginal world: “We’ve got totems here. Our sisters swim through the rocks. The whales, the seabirds, eels, crabs, they’re our family.” An information board lists Aboriginal names: maara maara, waagal, junga, yannga, bimbulla, wondarma, mingo. (What whitefellas call sea mullet, blackfish, octopus, lobster, Sydney cockles, appleberry, grass tree.)
Migrating Humpback whales come in close to shore on their long journey north to breed in the tropics in winter and then back to the Antarctic summer feeding grounds. If you’re lucky you can see them spouting and breaching, sometimes mother and baby playing together.
William Mort brought the whitefella world of sheep and dairy cows here in the 1880s. He settled land behind the beach and along Mummaga Lake, now State Forest and the suburb of Dalmeny, named by him after his Eton schoolfriend who became Lord Dalmeny, an obscure British Prime Minister.
Intrepid camping holiday-makers began coming in the 1920s, although by then Narooma just down the coast was a holiday destination with some pretty classy guest houses. This influx continues: a number of people I meet holiday here for years before they make it their retirement home, and the population swells dramatically over summer.
And then there are the current holiday makers, grabbing the last of the warmth, and me on my mission to visit every beach in the shire.
Dalmeny is the next beach down from Potato Point: to access it take the Tourist Drive turnoff from the Princes Highway about 8 kilometres south of Bodalla, until you reach the caravan park. There’s some confusion about the name. My coastal bible, Beaches of Batemans Bay and the Eurobodalla Coast by Peter and Manuela Henry, calls the northern part Brou Beach with Dalmeny in brackets: and the southern part (where I photographed for this post) Josh’s Beach. Names in this coastal strip seem to be mutable.
For the first time since I came home, I need my spotted gum walking stick as I feel my way down the narrow track to this beach of boulders. It’s like no other beach I’ve seen on my coastline: the rocks are large and chunky, with only occasional patches of sand, shingle, and shell debris. Some are rounded-rectangular, some smooth and eliptoid, some pitted and honeycombed, some patterned with apricot shapes or whitish splotches. Many carry an embedded line that wanders over gaps. Sometimes oyster shells cling to their undersurface, or a dead crab lies orange and exposed. It’s low tide and I clamber cautiously out onto the flatter slabs closer to the sea, where green weed grows luxuriantly and a living crab scuttles for cover.
I return to the track, uneasy through grass. It’s steeper than I remember and paved with elegant interwoven droppings of Norfolk pines. As I walk back towards the car, I realise I’ve edged my way north and staggered up a different track. I walk into a plantation of grand pines, not exactly natives, but providing pleasant deep shade and wonderful bark. My son tells me such trees were used as navigation markers for ships at sea.
This post is for Jude. Happy birthday!
This week I went beach exploring with an old friend from my early days on the south coast. She was unfamiliar with the coastline north of here, so we headed out to Bingie Bingie Point where we were blown off our feet by a very brisk wind. We retreated to the sheltered Dreamtime Track behind Kelly’s Beach (also known as Bingie Beach North or Meringo Beach) heading for Grey Rocks. We could hear the roar of the sea on one side, and water glimmered through the trees on the other. When we reached Kelly’s Lake, the walking track signpost was up to its knees in tea-coloured water. We negotiated the steep cut-away sand drop, me barefooted for the first time this spring.
The beach was firm and the sun strong. Inviting rocks stood in the gleam of departed waves. Some were clothed in weed, delicate pink fan shapes white-dotted on the end of the fronds. In one of the deep fissures I spotted movement which resolved itself into a large crab, orange, purple, green and fierce-pincered. A shell, covered in garish green moss, drew attention to itself in a pool on top of a rock. In another rock pool were the delicate circles, almost submerged, of sand anemones. The sea had been busy creating its subtle sand patterns tracing its receding flow after full moon tides.
We rambled amongst the tumble of rocks: a tilted flat one like an ancient altar; a smooth vaguely phallus-shaped one; large rounded rectangular ones – tilted, separated by dark crevices and covered with orange lichen; smaller gibbous orbs; rocks with the waxy smoothness and mottled look of marble patched with obsidian-black; a thick band quartz-like band of pink, grey and browny-orange running through speckled grey rock. One day, I’ll know the all their names.
We left the beach pleasantly sun-warmed and rock-tired and reached the car in spitting rain.