ANGRY OCEAN- THEME MUSIC FOR A REDISCOVERED PAST.
Angry ocean- theme music for a rediscovered past.
The sea is a wild and threatening soundtrack to our lives tonight, as each of us finds space in a corner of our two wheeled hut. Just outside there is a continual hiss punctuated by muffled thuds as the storm angered South Pacific crashes into the coast only perhaps 10 metres below the perch of our clifftop campsite.
While the sea is constant, there is another sound sporadic and variable: swinging from timid to urgent and sometimes to bombastic. It is the rain on our old caravan’s aluminium roof. This is the coast north of Sydney which was smashed and deranged by the storms of a week ago while we were catching the tail of them further south on the New South Wales coast.
This weather has followed like a bad thought since we left Melbourne more than a month earlier. We move to try to escape it and it follows us, becoming benign at the places we have left. The beach below our campground now is normally a popular board riding spot, but for days it has been abandoned, except for determined dog walkers. The waves are mighty, relentless and seem dangerous enough to flick a human like a match stick.
We came here thinking we would arrive as the stormy weather had blown itself out, but strange things are happening to our climate and another semi cyclonic low pressure weather system formed further north, this one smashing and flooding Brisbane before moving south to the northern New South Wales coast, where last week end we had planned to visit Jill’s brother and his family. This should not be happening in May.
Just like we copped the tail of last week’s storm we moved north only to cop the tail of this one, so we have decided to sit it out, at this place called Toowoon Bay, between Sydney and Newcastle.
Where we are parked is just south of a town with the prosaic name, The Entrance. It could just as easily have been called The Exit because it performs depending on the tide, both bodily functions for a large body of water called Tuggerah Lakes. But people who bestow place names like to be up beat, so I’ll bet The Exit was never considered, probably a bit too glass half empty.
These lakes do look tempting for us to explore in our kayaks, but the boats stay locked by cables to a steel strut behind our van, the inclement weather disinclined to clemency. We have decided to wait here because the Weather Bureau is forecasting clemency next week with a string of sunny days.
There is another reason to stay here. Jill refers to our trip as “henna nomading,” a refusal to accept she is really a grey nomad under hair dye. Not long before we set off on our henna nomad trip a month ago, I got a phone call from a piece of my past I thought was gone forever. My earliest childhood friend, who I had know since we were three, phoned me after more than half a lifetime of silence. It proved as good a reason as any not to remove our home phone number from the directory, despite nuisance calls with Indian accents.
I had lost all track of David after last visiting him when he was living in a shed behind an old farmhouse west of Sydney 35 years earlier. He managed to track me down after developing an interest in genealogy. Finding online some of the articles and columns I had written before I retired from journalism, he read one I had written a decade earlier on our Melbourne suburb, then via the directory he found our number.
”You might not remember me,” he said as an opening remark. How could I forget him, he and his family, whose backyard ran behind ours were one of the most formative influences on my young life.
For one thing his parents had been brave enough to be communists in early 1950s Sydney and then been brave enough to break away to become what the party loyalists termed ”members in poor standing,” after one of their friends visited Stalin’s Soviet Union and reported back to them the real conditions of the Soviet people. This friend then went into hiding.
Even after their split from the party, David’s parents maintained by the standards of the age, fairly radical beliefs. Despite abandoning party communism, they were still socialists, a concept I did not understand, but more importantly they were atheists, something I understood as David not having to waste, as I did, a good part of his weekend at dreary Sunday School.
In their spare time his parents also performed a mime act, at pubs and other live venues, doing a comedy take on popular songs. They were joined by a male friend but David’s blonde and highly theatrical mother with her home made costumes, wearing even a mini skirt before they were fashionable, was the central figure. They were sometimes known as ‘The Lost Chords’ and other times as simply ‘The Act.’ I think his mother was the first woman I ever had a crush on.
They even had a canoe which I envied, and my memory of it probably subliminally got me to take up rowing at my Brisbane high school, and in recent years kayaking.
His parents seemed people prepared to think for themselves, compared with mine who were conservative and highly conformist- my church mouse mother and loyal, hard working, underpaid father who helped to enrich a succession of employers, but was left with nothing to show for it.
I realised David’s parents were probably very difficult to live with, so I didn’t envy him, but they did influence me.
From his out of the blue phone call, I discovered for most of the half lifetime since we last met, he had been living on the New South Wales coast near where we were planning to visit. It was only a question of finding a dog friendly caravan park.
Of course we had both aged, both of us suffer arthritis, but his voice I would know anywhere and some of his gestures have not changed since I first moved out of his life, when at 13, my parents took me to live in Brisbane.
We met his partner Cheryl, who he teamed up with a few years after our last contact. I found we had travelled to many of the same places overseas and on many things still held similar values. We seemed to know each other so well we could finish each other ‘s sentences. He found old photographs of our childhood and we resurrected names of people long forgotten.
We even held a little dinner party in the caravan, where I pressure cooked steamed Chinese style sesame flavoured chicken and then forgot he was gluten intolerant when I added flour to the sauce. I remembered just in time before serving.
So now we are both old and wrinkly, and half a lifetime later we have caught up again. Is this what they mean by life coming full circle?
We decided to stay here another week because of the weather and wonder whether its cause might partly be due to the line of empty coal bulk carriers that line the ocean horizon as they wait for their turn in the queue to fill up at Newcastle. At night they sit on the dark water lit up like pretty floating candles, but I know their existence is much more insidious.
The black combustible stone they wait to carry contributes so much to global warming and possibly our altered weather. Australia is in the hypocritical position that it can export so much of this stuff which provides us profit, yet when it is burnt, is tallied up against the emissions from the country where it is consumed such as China, India or Japan, not the country that digs it from the ground.
It is part of our lazy self serving attitude to climate change.
It is an attitude I feel guilty about every time I pour the cheapest fuel I can find into the car that is hauling the caravan on this trip.