Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Five Go Down to the Waterfront
This afternoon I finished my tutorial and wandered down to the coast for a board meeting.
Wandered down to the coast. Sounds so windswept and interesting. The truth is, the coast was a rather domesticated groyne. Also, I knew this meeting would end after dark, which is why I walked. My car's alternator is charging like a 3 am taxi driver - per headlight minute.
An easy equation to understand for those who have clawed their way out of welfare or lawn mowing rounds sufficiently enough to afford new cars (but have still actually lived a bit) is: every single headlight minute = one less start = ringing up someone with a jump starter/fortuitously encountering said person in supermarket car park/pushing the car down the road eventuating in loud cheers and puffs of smoke, etc etc.
It was hot today. A northerly started blowing in, about right for this time of year. A few days of a premenstrual barometre around here and you just know the system is gonna blow and start raining soon. I walked to the sea and put my feet in the water. At the back of my neck, my hair was wet with sweat. If it were not for the meeting in a few minutes I would have just ... fallen in.
A station wagon pulled up. On the back window, a sticker: "Stop the Toad!" This is a reference to the feral cane toad entering Western Australia. A young man jumped out with his black dog. He walked down to the shore, where I was standing in the water.
"Gidday." The dog, bristle-maned, greying, gnarled face, kelpie origins (I just love this. Every real Albany dog has a bit of kelpie blood) scooted in manic circles around his owner's legs, yapping, rounding him up.
The man pulled a towel out, and then a snorkel and goggles.
"You going for a swim?"
"Yeah. I go every arvo.
"D'you reckon she's flushing yet?" I asked him.
"Yeah, I think she's okay, so far."
"Seen any fish?"
The flushing thing was not a rude question. Going to the foreshore in town right now means navigating a brand new marina and groyne. There is no more tidal beachfront seething with flounder, seagrass, cobbler and herring but a stylised arrangement of blue granite and floating jetties. The granite sea walls are designed to hold the water back, to foil all her dastardly, natural intentions, to discourage the sea from taking back what was rightfully hers.
I know European cities have made successful incursions into the sea but I have always felt that reclaimed land is difficult to work with, both physically and psychically. Its existence is only due to the demands of real estate agents and 'waterfront' developers; at least in this country with so much space to spare.
Tonight at the board meeting, we organised the itinerary for the Big Day.
"(So and so) will do the Welcome to Country."
"What does that mean?"
"It's a formality. It means that we acknowledge the traditional owners of the land that we are standing on."
"But the land we are standing on used to be the sea."
After the meeting we stood with a glass of wine, looking over the unfinished marina. Thousands of seagulls returned on their mission from the town dump to the brand new car park. I said, "I hope they don't put a big fuck-off gate over those jetties. Anyone who can afford these mooring fees must own the kind of boat they don't want the rabble near."
"There won't be fishing boats anyway," said the old fisherman, gloomily. "I doubt I'll be able to pull up here to offload mulies."
I thought about the bloke and his dog. "Swimming?"
"No swimming. There's a camera up there." Nick pointed. Sure enough, there is a CCTV camera on one of the brand new light towers. "The Rules. Well, you can swim, but only between here ... and ... here," he marks out exactly half of the beach with a sweep of his hands.
The beach is about fifty metres wide. It is not even a real beach; the sand has been brought in and it feels, when you dig your hands in, like proper sand hills sand, full of lime that gets into the cracks of your fingers, straight from the truck. I know the feel of this sand well because we used to surf it as kids, on sheets of cardboard, out near the maximum security prison. It is now the only beach on the whole northern side of the harbour.
It is all very pretty though. Walkways guide the potential people through neat delineations of commercial nursery-sourced gardens and designer concrete tiles. The last of the wild reeds that hung on over the last hundred or so years of port development have been ripped out and their corms paved over. The sun still sets an obligatory red during the bushfire season, behind the windmills in the west ... and the groyne has stopped that Sudden Ocean from its waterfront rapine: stopped it dead.
Image: Nik Rolph, Enid Blyton