Friday, April 26, 2013

Why you should leave your child on an island

When I was sixteen and desperately vacillating between Bananarama and Bob Dylan, my Dad suggested we should kayak from Emu Point to Breaksea Island. It may have been because I was the oldest child/icebreaker/every parent's freakouter -  or maybe part of the fitness training for the Avon Descent during a drought of white water down south. Not sure. Probably all of the above, bless him.

Anyway, we set off from the fishermans' jetty in the early hours while the water was still glassed off. He had one of his friends travelling too, so there were three of us. We paddled through the channel and into the Sound, along the rocks below Mount Martin and then out to Gull Rock.

By the time we arrived at Gull Rock the swell had come up and I was exhausted (fucked). Dad has this theory about body trauma that he picked up from his army days. If you are in great pain but have no available roadside assistance, then you meditate on the pain, give it all of your attention until you can formulate it into a shape. Then give it a colour. So you have a throbbing, red triangle, right? Make that red triangle the whole existence of your pain. Now, visualise changing the triangle into a circle and change the colour to blue.

It works. It does. But that day I had no visible bullet wounds nor shrapnel. I was a very ordinary, adolescent wreckage on that rock-of-seagull that is called an island. We shared some boiled eggs and water, then slid off the rocks into the sea and set out for Michaelmas and I was already hurting. It is a surging, often nasty channel between the mainland and Michaelmas Island, fraught with swells that roll in from the south and a cranky back slop. When we made it to Michaelmas, I saw him make an executive decision to leave me there.

"We'll go on to Breaksea and come back for you," he said, and I nodded, glad.
Dad and his friend walked their canoes through the water until it was deep enough for them to climb in. The last thing I saw of them was their saggy-balled underpants wriggling into the cockpits of their sea kayaks. They wove their way around the rocks and into the open sea. The back of Dad's shirt was light blue, with dark blue ribbing around the neck and arms. His shirt was pocked with a boilermaker's ladders and holes.

For three or four hours I was left alone on Michaelmas Island.
"It was probably a formative experience," I told a friend today. I was trying to persuade him to take his teenage son out there. "And it wasn't the hard yakka to get there, it was the island. It was being alone, by myself on Michaelmas Island."


  1. I've left Stormboy on islands. I asked him tonight what he thought about that.
    "I didn't to hang about fishing with you anyway" he said. (He gets sea sick.)
    "So, did you mind?"
    "Nah, it was great!"
    "So you knew I was coming back for you."

  2. God, I think I would have been traumatised. You and StormBoy must be pretty well adjusted - me with my abandonment issues would have stressed myself sick at that age. BUt I agree, being left alone is critical. many many people would benefit if they just stopped distracting themselves and remianed 'present' for a while. Constant chatter, thinking, doing stuff and the distractions of digital media are quite harmful to mental health. That's why so many of us are depressed and slightly insane in an unhealthy way. Go the island cure....

  3. I think the main thing is to be certain your Mum or Dad is coming back! And to stay off the black rocks ...

  4. I also use colour and shape to remove pain and you are correct it does work.

  5. Sounds like a formative experience to me ... and you are right about the black rocks.

  6. It was, Barbara. Those few hours taught me that it is quite okay to be completely alone. I loved it!

  7. Lovely, island girl. I have added a more extensive comment by means of my blog just now. I think it's too long for a comment here. Thanks for the reminders- free ranging is the best childhood freedom when it is emotionally safe, but there is physical and mental challenge.