THE SEAT BY THE SEA by Geoffery Drewe
She read in the local paper, while sipping her favourite Earl Grey tea that a recently positioned channel marker with pulsating, green eye that swayed with the current had broken free of its tether, jumped the treacherous bar and was at liberty somewhere in the Tasman Sea.
It was Elsie’s daily ritual to stroll down the walkway constructed solely by volunteer labour each day at 4pm. She was as regular as clockwork in the warmer months. Stopping to talk to neighbours watering plants, Elsie would point her silver-tipped walking stick in the direction of the subject being discussed. Invariably the conversation would turn to what Tuross was like in the past when it served as an out-of-the-way seaside holiday spot. She could remember the old stone bakery, the general store at Bergalia and the original boat shed with its coloured clinker boats moored in the still waters of the lake. Elsie knew everyone. Her stories were laced with speculation about what happened to locals who moved away, who stayed and the nefarious goings on up river. There was always an animation in her speech when describing how the neighbourhood shaped her life.
Some places are noted for their insularity and isolation. Often it is a singular beauty, an aesthetic that distinguishes it from other places- a curiously shaped headland, unique tree species, the whiteness of sand. Then there are memories of family get togethers in camping grounds and rented fibro bungalows when the summer days tick over like the shuffle of an elderly walker. Out on the sand bars with the bait pump, fishing off rocks on the incoming tide or chesting a breaker on the vast expanse of sand and kerosene sky arcing out to Bingi Point.
And they watched from the steel railing on the estuary the tide’s tug-of war. The small vortexes of water almost noiselessly wrap themselves around small islands and oyster shoals.
“Watch the water long enough and you begin to understand life” Joe, Elsie’s daily walking companion, told her. That goes for birds and rabbits at the back fence.” He was a repository of wise saws and modern instances.
What makes a tourist turn of the highway based on a road sign? I first saw “Tuross Heads” and another one within 200 metres reading “Tuross Head.” That alone made me curious. The narrow ribbon of road with empty paddocks sloping down to two distinct lakes. One, a wild, windswept body of water in motion. There is wind over there as the white caps suggest. The other is full of secrets. Islands, channels, corridors of mangroves leading to always-new discoveries. And always trying to reach the sea, the water’s ultimate goal, to reach the bars that over the centuries have been ether a fortress or conduit.
The sea appears as a series of little coves until it is lost in an expansive curve of rocks and dunes. Migratory birds from the Arctic Circle lay their eggs on the ever-shifting islands of sand, pluckily defend their young and are gone. “I’ve never understood how they do it. 12,000 miles with a brain the size of a pea. They come back to the same place they come each year, you know” “It’s the dogs the tourists take out there at low tide that do all the damage”. Elsie was in no mood to forgive the wanton disregard of signs asking people to avoid the nesting areas.
The two would then reminisce about how residents were self-sufficient back in the day.
“Everyone grew their own fruit and vegetables you know. There was a barrow man who came on Tuesdays in the spring and summer.
“I had a deal with my neighbours,“ Joe replied, “We all had fruit fly pods out, ‘cause if just one of you didn’t have one, you’d have no stone fruit for the whole season.
“”Bottling jars were the go”, Elsie interrupted, “if you had spare fruit, you’d just leave a bottled peaches, nectarines or plums on someone’s verandah”
“Well, I’d better be getting back. Ellen has a made a casserole for tea. I’ll see you next time, Elsie”
Elsie and Joe are long gone now. I wonder how each of them would react to a familiar landmark like that channel marker that they would have passed a hundred times on their daily routine of walking, sitting and talking. Joe had time to prepare for his own passing. He feared death and was visibly shaken by it, lying in his hospital bed. In that respect, he was like that buoy out there in the ocean, set adrift in insecurity, not wanting to leave the safety of that sheltered shore of family and friends. Elsie would see its absence merely as the passing of time, of things moving on to their destinies. She later died quietly in care. They never saw each other except on those regular as clockwork walks.
I can still see them sitting on that polished wooden seat near the river. Some places recall natural beauty, others inimitable personalities. There are some of us who are fortunate to live in a tiny corner of this planet that possesses both.
That metallic float was found and used somewhere else replaced by a sleeker model with secure fastenings and a more powerful light. Silent witness to hundreds of conversations near the river mouth. Observing aubergine storm clouds gather over Potato Point and the seven-second throb of the Montague Light, swaying to the rhythmic push and pull of the sea. It listened in on conversations about life, deaths, marriages, local bowls tournaments, recipes and how to deal with rabbits raiding the vegetable patch. Stingrays and countless shoals of fish have circled and then passed the saucered keel.
If you listen carefully, you will hear voices in the gentle suck of eddies on the tide.