the light side of flickering moods
summer doldrums wakened by dawn
the light side of flickering moods
what makes a man
pugnacious, loves books and beer,
seeks to please, dancing boy
loves the rain
The road is wet and slippery from the fog as I descend from the highlands toward Wollongong. The sun is starting to come and makes the road shiny on this Saturday morning.
Wollongong spreads over a coastal lowland from Albion Park in the south to the sea cliffs near Royal National Park. The green landscape gives way to urban areas that spill into the shallow valleys that run down the sea. Wollongong is Australia’s seventh largest city, with its development based around coal mines, steel works and shipping port.
Originally this region was covered by rainforest from the coastal plain to the escarpment. A search for new pastures brought the early European settlers and led to the establishment of the south coast dairy industry. But it was the discovery of coal seams that attracted the most interest and meant that Wollongong – based on an Aboriginal word for ‘sound of the sea’ – grew into something more than just a small fishing port.
Much of the growth in population in the region happened from the 1950s to 1970s to create a string of suburbs that housed workers for the steel mill as well as Sydney commuters. It is this blend of working class, agricultural and urban landscape, I think, that gives Wollongong its unique atmosphere.
I find my way through the traffic to the University of Wollongong. My destination for today is to attend a writing workshop and I am impressed with the clean, modern look of the uni. I think I could spend the rest of my life just studying at different universities! The workshop today is on ‘Reflective Writing’ and as I park the car I’m looking forward to learning some new skills.
I have half an hour up my sleeve so time for a quick coffee and write a blogpost then off to find the lecture theatre!
For a shopping spree this week I choose Picnic Clothing, a fresh and modern fashion store in Perth, Western Australia. Their styles are relaxed and contemporary and perfect for an autumn picnic.
Enjoy your week in fashion
I do try
to accept the truth
because of them;
my heart is black, childish,
average teenage connections
shrill and clatter, watching;
for nothing is new,
just common sense,
power to transform, divide;
this madness relationship,
nascent eyes focus, run
with ancient yearning;
digital natives plan revenge,
legalised brains, free minds
cannot accept a teenage lesbian.
Every morning after breakfast during the holiday I went to the beach with my sisters and I played in the sand and read my book while they swam in the surf or sun baked. I didn’t like the taste of the salt water or the way the sand would get pushed into my bikini bottom by the waves, so I was much happier building sandcastles on the beach than swimming.
After I had built my sandcastle up nice and high, I used a stick to draw patterns and pictures in the sand around it. I pretended I was an artist working on a painting, but every morning I would have to start all over again because the wind and the waves washed some of it away overnight.
Sometimes I just sat on a sand dune and read my book, getting lost in the world between the pages. The words would float past my eyes as I devoured every sentence and eagerly turned each page to find out what happened next.
Then I would put my book down at the end of each chapter for a rest and just gaze out to sea. The beach curved away for miles to the south until it was lost in a haze of salty seaspray. The other end of the beach ended in a rocky headland that stood tall above the curve of sand. There was a pathway to the top of the headland but I had never been allowed to go up there. Mum always warned me that it was too dangerous and I could fall off the cliff into the sea if I wasn’t careful.
As I looked out to sea, I could see yachts sailing across the bay, gently moving against the waves with their white sails flapping silently in the breeze. There always seemed to be yachts coming or going from somewhere, always just sailing out of my reach.
Seagulls high overhead called out to me, and as I looked up I wondered what it must be like being able to fly so high above the beach and look down on my sisters below as they played in the surf. I could hear the girls screaming every now and then from my spot on the sand hill as they jumped in and out of the waves.
I went back to drawing pictures in the sand, dragging my stick through the golden grains to make swirling clouds that followed the little wave patterns. I was intently drawing a sailing boat in amongst the sand clouds, when a shadow suddenly blocked out the sun.
I looked up and got a fright when I saw a boy standing there.
“What ya doin’?” he said.
I was so scared that I didn’t know what I should do. I quickly looked down the beach to see how far away my sisters were, but they were all in the water and a long way off.
“Nice drawing,” the boy said, “Don’t ya talk?”
I just looked at him with wide eyes, hoping that he would go away and leave me alone. Instead, he squatted down on his heels. “I like your boat. You’re pretty good at it, you know.”
I looked down at my sand drawing then looked at the boy again and he grinned at me.
“My name’s Shawn,” he said, “What’s yours?”
I was still too frightened to answer so I just looked away.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to do anything,” he said, and then sat on the sand and hugged his knees. He was wearing blue shorts and had dirty knees and hands. “I just want to watch you drawing.” He grinned again and I could see that he was missing a tooth. It made him look a little lopsided and funny.
I thought if I went back to my drawing he might just go away, so I picked up my stick again and started to add some sails to my boat.
“Why don’t you draw some fish?” he said suddenly, and pointed with his chin to where I was drawing.
I still didn’t answer, but I thought for a moment about how to draw a fish. I curved a couple of lines together in the sand until my fish took shape and then added a tail so that he could swim. He looked like a great big fat fish swimming just below my boat.
“Beaut fish. Do you wanna play with me?” the boy suddenly said.
I looked at him and shook my head slowly.
He rested his head on his knees and kept looking at me for a few moments, before he stood up. “Okay, maybe I’ll see ya tomorrow.”
He walked off into the sand dunes and disappeared behind a banksia tree. I quickly picked up my book and towel and ran down the beach to where the girls had left their bags and waited for them to come out of the water so we could go back to Grandma’s house.
The traffic was busy on the freeway heading south of Sydney. Once this area had been all farms and scrub but it is now one of the fastest growing satellite urban areas in Australia.
When I was a baby my family lived for a short while in the village of Menangle. My earliest memories come from here – the hallway in our house by the railway line; walking with my mother as we took my sisters to the small school near the hill where the church looked over the village; trains rumbling by through the night and the light throwing shadows on my bedroom walls.
This area was one of the first settled by Europeans in Australia. Its rich soils provided verdant pastures that made the area a food bowl for the young colony. John Macarthur was granted land here in 1805 and even today there is still a strong colonial presence in the names of the villages, roads and farms in this region.
At first I missed the turn toward Menangle after leaving Camden but I soon found my way back to the correct road. The spring sunshine was warm and I took my time to enjoy the scenery. Before long I was at Menangle and after parking the car near the old corner shop I found myself walking toward my old home.
Menangle is an Anglicised version of an Aboriginal word for place of swamps. Not far from here there had been bitter skirmishes between the settlers and the Dharawal people on the banks of the Nepean River. Governor Macquarie ordered troops to the area and they soon opened fire on a group of Aborigines, killing men, women and children.
I bought a pie from the corner shop and sat outside to enjoy my lunch. It felt strange to think that I had once been in this very place as a baby. By my family had left here a long time ago and new people call Menangle home. As I climbed back into the car I realised I hadn’t found what I was looking for here. The essence of who I have become must be somewhere else.