Sunday, February 26, 2017

Your world turned upside down: motoring in Gippsland.


WE climbed into the car and headed south-east, the four of us just last week. I drove, frustrated at times on the journey to one of our favourite haunts, Gippsland. Frustrated because I was outvoted and had to listen to the strident voice of Adele for much of the way. She’s bitter, it seems, over broken relationships.

Still, it didn’t take as long as I expected. Wilson’s Promontory- specifically, Squeaky Beach. M has always wanted to go there, often asking if it really squeaks. We snacked at Fish Creek (Alison Lester, author, has a bookshop there). The weather was ripe for our swim. We followed some German travellers to the shoreline. They spoke of crocodiles. I told them the story of the bright red fingernails found in a crocodile’s belly several years ago in the NT.

We stripped off. Children straight in. Me, holding back like I seem to do more and more these days. Is it my sight? Some newly formed trepidation. The water, up to my thighs, was incredible though. S wanted to go deeper and deeper. She watched the ‘boogie boards’. Her mind ticked over. M was in shallower water. They both sat down at times, making the waves rise to impact their body, and make the waves feel bigger than they were.

I looked over my shoulder and took in the lovely, large boulders and distant mountains. It occurred to me that this must be one of the world’s great beaches. Perfect crystalline white sand. Translucent, sheer, silken water. Tiny dark fishes. Sans seaweed and sharp shells.
I walked over to the marble-like rocks and stood between some, in the deep little watery gullies that they formed. I met a boy that told me there were giant crabs underneath. A man with an impressive-looking camera was taking portraits of his girls adjacent to the rocks. In some shots the thin horizon was behind them, and then he turned them around, and had the mountains as a backdrop, in the opposite direction.

I focused on the smooth, rocky ground and the magnificent boulders. Marvelling at the colours, I called M over, and to my delight she also found them fascinating. The rocky bed beneath our feet was predominately gold. The sides of some of the rocks were a reddish rust-brown in colour. M and I talked about where we had seen that colour before.  We couldn’t, however, remember. Was it on a horse?
S came over to see what the fuss was about and posed for pictures. We began to leave, reluctantly. I thought about other great sea adventures of my own. Cornwall, UK, 1987. After a long journey by train from London, I arrived in the late afternoon at Bodmin Station. There was barely anybody there. It was a Sunday and a camp leader allowed me to return with him to a nearby camp consisting of young adults. The alternative was to be stuck at the station until the morning, and sleep there. I shared a lovely evening with them, and then the same man drove me to Wadebridge in the morning so I could connect with a bus heading west to see my friends who had organized a little yellow cottage called ‘Wave’s End’ at Port Isaac.

I arrived, at around dusk, in an exalted mood, buoyed by my camp experience and fellow kindness, and the sheer beauty and expectation of being in Cornwall. A short distance from our cottage was the bay and shoreline of Port Isaac. A heavy anchor lies beside the water. You can see it in the original series of Poldark, and apparently in the current show called Doc Martin.

This must be what paradise is like.

One night- it must have been the first night- or hang on, I think it was the second- it was by moonlight, just after the period we call dusk. We were there in winter, January 1987. It was pretty cold, especially by Australian standards, which is of course what I was used to. The adrenaline flowed as I stepped outside the door, and I ran the 400 or so metres down to the inlet madly and exalted. I stared out at the calm, black water, and the dark green mountains surrounding I, and felt the crashing winds.  I thought of my childhood dreams which were all centred around Cornwall. Books, mythology, adventure, smuggling. I could scarce believe where I was standing. The old, ancient and rusted anchor on my left, I thought about the centuries lived in that very spot. The majesty of the scene made me blink back tears. Not long afterwards, I wrote a postcard to my English aunt in Melbourne, and told her, with absolute sincerity, that Port Isaac was the most magical and beautiful place I had ever visited.

I thought about all this as I looked at the mountains and smooth rocks of Squeaky Beach, Victoria. The crystal clear water, yellow pristine sand. Beware of the power of moods. It was the night time and coldness and wildness and ruggedness that made me love Cornwall. But in a different mood, and at a different time, I could see that Squeaky beach could be the most magnificent place on Earth as well.
We left, reluctantly, all four of us, and headed off to east Leongatha- our home for the next two nights- Walnut Farm Cottage. Lovely gardens filled with avocado trees, five gaggling geese, and a run down but adequate tennis court.

Next day, the dawn was a brilliant fiery red.

Somewhere in Gippsland there lives a man who ‘owns’ about 60-70 dogs. He sells them not too long after they are born, sometimes for several thousand dollars. They are housed in concrete runs and bark excitedly when you put your fingers through the metal grate. He has one small pup with an unusual blue tinge in its fur. He says there is something rare about it, and that he might get a bit more for it.

The dogs are all associated with poodles. The letters ‘…oodle’ are all in their breed. A man with 60-70 dogs, the number increasing by the day. A man with about 60-70 dogs. All ‘oodles’. You could say there are ‘oodles’ of them. He has 60-70 dogs. He sells them when they have grown up a bit. They are being born every day. The poodle influence is everywhere. He has 60-70 dogs, which he regularly sells as new ones are born. You can see the poodle influence in them. And the cavalier… dogs everywhere held up for inspection for potential buyers. He has at any one time 60-70 dogs, and this number might grow. The dogs have soft fur and kind clear eyes. There are a good number of them. For sale.
At the pub near Foster. A young girl is dressed up as the main character from the film ‘Frozen’. Families are inside sitting at tables waiting for meals. They are mostly over 65, 70, probably retired. I don’t like this pub much. There are more people outside. They look like they haven’t a care in the world. A much younger crowd, drinking and smoking, and swearing. For someone from Melbourne’s suburbs it’s a different experience. They are probably nice people. There is just something about their casualness and indifference to everything which is slightly repugnant. Difficult to put your finger on. I’m thinking of farms and cattle and utes with kelpies in the back. I don’t know if I am ready for this lifestyle, but at the same time I don’t like the city much. I am in no man’s land. Everything seems wrong, somehow.

The meal comes. It is supposed to be pork medallions. It might be pork, ugly and hard and burnt as it is. And flavourless. But it certainly ain’t medallions. They are supposed to be round. The waitress comes, and I am alert and expectant. But she doesn’t ask the customary ‘how was your meal?’ She must think better of it.

Inverloch is nice, on a barely bearable hot day. How lucky we are to find that park. How skilful we are at getting in our bathers either inside or beside the car. The waves are inviting and cool. But I had that scare years ago. I don’t go far in. Still, it’s beautiful. S and I stay in for eternity. Magnetised. The sky and the horizon are worlds away. We are just little dots in an expansive ocean, boogie boards flying harmlessly around us. Will we ever feel ready to get out of the water. I have had this feeling on other trips, wanting time to stand still. Bobbing and drifting like we are self-contained little boats.

Cars fly by in the traffic on the way home. In the heat of the car, our bathers slowly dry. It’s my turn for music and I listen to live Van Morrison. He is covering an old song by Sam Cooke and the charm of the words make me smile:

Eyes turned away, I know
And music soft and slow
With someone you love so
That's where it's at.

Your world turned upside down
You're making not a sound
No one else around
That's where it's at.

Yeah, let me tell you
Your heart beatin' fast
You're knowin' that time will pass
But hopin' that it lasts
That's where it's at.’ 

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