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.
Finally I have the study clear, and it's beginning to seem like a pleasant place to be, sun and light pouring in, and the faint sound of the sea. The living room? Now, that's a different story! Chaos is its title. So I escape into the morning to walk along my beach for the first time since the beginning of the year, and indulge in the soothing pastime of shell-collecting. I can't resist feather, lichen, rocky sand shelf, sand ripple and reflections in the creek either.
PS For a great whale shot click here.
Drawn by the need for a dog-walk, we returned to Duesbury’s Beach on a very different day with different cameras – my iPhone and my old 3 megapixel, genius at colour and closeups. I headed straight for the rocks at the south end of the beach and found a treasury of delights. The tide was low, the rocks were deeply honeycombed; rock pools sheltered shells and glimmered towards sea and sky; colonies of shells arranged themselves perfectly in rock crevices; rocks were striated with white, lined with quartz, ridged with sharp brown raised lines.
A few days after I returned from Warsaw, the walking needs of our son’s dog, currently in J’s care while said son is visiting a mate in Panama, took us to a beach I’d never set foot on before. I’ve passed it many times, driving the coast road to Narooma. It’s a rare beach where you can walk dogs all day every day. So we put the hair-shedding canine in the car late on a dull Sunday.
Duesbury’s Beach is contained by low rocky headlands, composed of 450 million-year-old, tilted metamorphic rock. Although the road runs right beside the ocean, it disappears once you’re on the beach, and you can only see the backing of bush, unseasonally luxuriant eucalypt green in the aftermath of a wet summer. There is also a bike track parallel to road and beach.
I’m not used to my beach walks being shaped by a dog. Like the twins, the dog is a bit much for me to walk on my own in my ageing feebleness, and his obedience level just about matches theirs. He loves chasing a ball, and he too has mischief in him: his favourite game is to run the ball down the beach into the ocean so it has to be plucked from the water by an obedient human. When another dog appears on the beach, our walk takes a 180 degree turn, so we put distance between him and his new desperately desired best friend.
The walk is short, but it gives me my beach legs and beach-urge again, albeit briefly. Barranguba reclines low on the skyline; ti trees lie at an acute angle on the cliff-top, their tops flattened by savage sea winds. I reprise favourite beach subjects: shells, rock patterns, foam, horizon. I’ve always had a liking for dull days when I’m out with the camera. In Night street, novelist Kristen Thornell writes in the imagined voice of Clarice Beckett, an Australian artist of mist and fog and early morning and dusk, praising what others see as poor weather: “the quiet sumptuosity and moody turbulence of greys … the lowered light of overcast skies … rain or fog making it easier to distinguish tonal differences … the bones of a landscape …a low twilight throb”. I don’t photograph with Beckett’s painting skill, but I recognise the perceptions.