Photo by Toby Forage.
Another university assignment that involved me going to the beach on the first day of winter this year. I actually dislike travel writing immensely. I find it incredibly tedious and quite boring – why read about someone else’s thoughts about a destination, when you ought to visit it for yourself?
I really can’t be screwed typing out my thoughts for this one, but am posting it here for your perusal.
I suppose it was the perfect time for me to go. I’d seen it grace my television screen five nights a week, fluctuating between the Diner and the high school, arguments between the major characters on the beach, teenager-infused beach parties and under-aged drinking, and really, with tonight’s episode possessing the requisite cliff-hanger, how could I resist? Rolling waves, pristine sands, and a chance encounter with the cast of Home and Away perhaps? Who was I to deny such an opportunity?
Not one to be fussy with directions, as well as lacking the ability to reverse in manual, I let him do the driving. I sat with the street directory in my lap, deciding which of the main roads would be best travelled, and I wondered whether the year ‘1997’ on the bottom left hand corner of the directory was something to worry about.
In some ways, I started to worry when we began venturing into bushland, the tarmac road winding and stirring before us. A traffic pile up on the Lane Cove called to mind a fearful premonition of the long trip back. We kept an eye out for street signs, or rather he did. I’d forgotten my glasses.
The car endeavoured up a hill, turning and weaving in between the trees. It was a terribly windy, so we kept our windows up a fair bit. Traffic lights seemed to dwindle, and the shops became smaller and sparkled less of the commercial sheen that dominated the city. The trees seemed to open out as we drove, revealing parts of the ocean sewn by the horizon to the clearest blue skies. They were punctured by the grey steel barriers along the road, no doubt to keep the travellers from losing themselves completely in the beckoning fragments of utopia.
We exchanged good-natured profanities as the multi-storeyed houses came into view. It seemed amusing until the last bend. I found blanket of blue, picturesque to say the least and breathtaking to be the most. He took his time parking and I quickly thrust the required amount of coins into the ticket machine, imagining the granules of sand seeping between my toes as I got out of the car.
I stepped onto the sand that weaved a path through the grass toward the beach. Vegetation and ocean backing, I concluded vaguely, noticing the council men a fair way up ahead with their whipper snippers roaring. It was faint, but I found myself irked by the noise as I slipped off my shoes.
I used to shuffle a path through the sand when I was a child, digging my feet beneath the warm surface and feeling the cooler sand shock the nerves in my toes. I was rusty in my shuffling today, I remembered there being a certain art to it. Or at least the art that comes when one is six years old. I very rarely went to the beach, which is why I found it almost amusing that I should visit one on the first day of winter. I walked closer to the water, hopping as I went along in a struggle to roll up my jeans. My feet came to rest by the line on the sand where the waves washed up.
There came that moment of clarity. I stood watching the ocean, scrutinising the horizon, cursing the break caused by the yacht in the distance. It was white as usual, a jarring entity against the backdrop of blue that commanded the seascape. I wasn’t sure if it was bobbing or not, but I assumed it to be. There was also a faint black mass resting on the water in the distance.
My friend had since come up to stand a fair way behind me. He refused to take off his shoes, and the familiar green alligator embroidered on them seemed to chuckle and I wondered how long they would last with the tide. He was dressed top to toe in high couture street wear and I amused myself matching the whites on his jacket with the fourth storey balconies perching high on the cliffs behind him, overlooking the beach. I wondered what the black mass was in the distance. Thoughts in my head tossed up between an oil liner and a black whale, thought I was pretty sure it wasn’t the latter.
There was little wind on the beach and I was surprised. Waves lapped at my ankles and I found myself cursing my shadow. It rested on the orangey yellow sand, a black mass which grated the sand and the water. It moved like I moved, swayed like I swayed.
I began walking along the coastline, letting the waves chase my ankles. I wished that my shadow would just disappear. It seemed so jarring travelling along the sand beside me, at times, disturbed by the waves that came up to meet it, though it was the other way around more often than not. It seemed to destroy the peaceful nature of the beach, and I found myself dwelling.
A friend told me a story once that if someone didn’t have a shadow, it meant that they’d sold their soul. It made sense once you thought about it, and I couldn’t help but wonder what price you had to pay to gain any semblance of a property in the area. All the houses seemed incredibly vast and virtually impossible to obtain.
I continued to walk along the side of the waves, steering myself closer to the water each time I miscalculated how far the wave came and moving further away as the bottoms of my already rolled-up jeans began to drip.
He, on the other hand, continued to avoid the water, meandering as close as he dared and jogging slightly each time a wave came to close to those white, white shoes.
I counted nine other beach folk apart from myself and him. Apart from that, I realised there weren’t very many people around. We’d driven past an RSL and a golf club on the way in. Both had their dominant share of mature-aged patrons. High rollers and retirees I’d concluded. It seemed to breach the edges of the beach itself, nudging it with a certain darkness, and not just because of the dim lighting within the establishment.
There was a lighthouse up on a hill, and I noticed the enormous flight of stairs leading up to it nearly overgrown by the grass. I liked how it seemingly disguised itself from visitors, perhaps belonging to the earth one day, whereas the lighthouse continually flashed its presence.
Against my will, I decided against climbing up to it because of my time constraints and the commitments I had back home. It was difficult to pick up those memories though. The place had a certain microcosmic air, a natural bubble unimpinged by the rest of the world save for a few houses here and there. The roads were narrow and simplistic in their signage with their ‘Beach Road’ and ‘Ocean Road’, and curved all around the natural establishments. Natural process, I called it.
I stepped into the footprints of recent joggers, commenting on their foot size, how much they might’ve weighed by judging the depth of their feet. Sand had a way of doing that, measuring the worth of someone by the way they walked and ran. I looked back at my own prints and saw the faint outline of my feet and I wondered what that said about me. My friend’s prints did not follow mine in such a straight line, diverting at angles each time the wave came too close. I found it hilarious.
There was a shell in the sand and I picked it up, washing it in the surf. I noticed him doing the same, and we swapped our findings. They were similar in shape and texture, scallop-like, but their colours were starkly different. His was black in shades, whereas mine gleamed white.
He and I had grown up together from completely different households. I suppose in many ways, we’d grown up together and were close when sandpit wars were the main terms of negotiation. Somewhere down the track, we lost touch with the workings of each others’ minds, and although much time had passed, I believed that we were still the same.
I stood with my back to the waves for once and raised my head to look at the selected houses sitting on the side of the cliff. I remember reading somewhere that Lleyton Hewitt lived here. I amused myself wondering which one could be their house. These houses irked me in a way I found difficult to pinpoint. It all seemed so hierarchical. The trees that surrounded each house provided shade despite the morning sun and I amused myself thinking that perhaps they bought the trees to shade their empty human shells.
There was a certain dichotomy about Palm Beach, I realised as I got back into the car. There was no mistaking the calmness of the beach, and the pure stillness that came with it despite the ominous cliffs that shaded it. But there was this feeling that I couldn’t shake off. I guess in some ways, there would always be a kind of bleakness during the natural process. Human beings and their vices. I wondered if that would be escapable.
I realised he’d driven us to Star City for the second time in a week and parked in the same parking spot just outside the Pyrmont branch of Channel Seven studios, where, from my extensive knowledge of Home and Away, they filmed the majority of their programs. It was then that I knew that escape was an impossibility.