Bearings to a New Island Life By Wendi Bradshaw
Around this place time is in flux. Like the thoughtful quiver of a compass needle it can move slowly, long damp days of stilling sea mist. To swing and spin back in sudden bursts of purpose, quick vibrant snap flashes of memory, live and clear. Until again the west wind of waves and madness slows, turning back toward the dim south of the soul. Cyclical time, in flux.
Despite always having a passion for the sea, it took over half my lifetime to live near it. My new husband and I still can’t believe our luck in finding our tumble-down home, on Carrum Island. In centuries past the only other islands in the area were the Wannarkladdin Isles in the middle of Carrum Carrum Swamp. “Fine eels are caught here, in abundance, by the local Aborigines” states a locality map from 1874.
Over the years the swamp was drained. Local Indigenous tribes were unceremoniously ousted to Elsewhere. Later, wetlands were exiled, land was infilled and waterways created. Today Carrum Island perches quietly at the top of the Peninsula, one of the smallest suburbs of Greater Melbourne. The Island is bounded by Patterson River to the North, Patterson Lakes to the East and Eel Race River to the South. Port Phillip Bay slumbers to the West, spilling into the great Southern Ocean beyond The Heads.
The island may be new but the land remains ancient and layered. Large-scale coastal erosions crumble over decades and sand drifts on the beach ripple and shift between tides, geology in motion. Generations too are raised and settle, either happy to stay put, or to move along to Elsewhere.
While the sea isn’t visible from any of our windows, on windy nights I fancy I can hear the rhythms of the surf hurling itself onto the shores. In reality, it’s just a bit beyond ear-song.
Yet it pulses saline and sure as the moon through my being. And before most dim early morning drives to work, I have to wiper salt-sheen from the windscreen. Time is in flux but the sea remains.
Many years ago in a stifling summer’s far-flung suburb, the heat demanded escape. With two small boys and a swim negotiation, I headed for the beach. Not really planning where we’d end up, when the sign pointed to Mornington, something old stirred within and the car seemed to decide by itself.
My grandparents had lived here with their babies, at the outbreak of World War Two; and although I’d been a few times, it was unfamiliar territory.
At that point I recalled someone saying that at the end of the village there was a shipwreck playground with a view. The boys were keen.
At a nearby fish and chippery we bought lunch, and the only thing missing was a swimmable beach. However, the afternoon slowly turned and when a cool breeze blew in, I had my book and the kids were too ensconced in pirate play to care. Several hours of adventurous fun later, a dark sky-wave rolled over us and the heavens dumped. We just made it back to the car.
“What do we do now?” Asked the eldest.
“Well, we should probably head for home.” I started up the engine, checked my bearings and decided out loud that we could drive back, maybe in the other direction first along the coast road. And so, we set off.
“Look at the bay”, I said, “you can almost see the city from here! Check out the water – it’s beautiful!”
“Aren’t we going the wrong way?” The older, Mr Vigilant asked.
“Yes, but we can cut back to the highway, somewhere near here, I’m sure. Look, the rain’s thinning.”
After a few streets I turned around, now heading homeward. Took a right, then a left. Came to an intersection, turned right, no – left, again. A quiet, suburban street with no cars. I paused.
“Do you even know where we are?” Consternation from Mr Vigilant.
“Oh no, we’re lost!” The younger announced.
“Hmm, I’m not quite sure, but we can look it up, there’s another small park here – and the rain has stopped! I think I see swings. Hop out and play for a bit and I’ll check the map.” Sudden glee, and off they whooped.
I was actually more off course than I realised – a navigational element I frequently encounter, not just geographically. Yet the highway wasn’t far.
Momentarily deep in their own playful world, the boys were happy shoving each other on the swings, demanding push-turns. I looked around and noticed rose bushes, colourful and bright despite the damp, along a path surrounding a monument.
How sweet, I thought wandering over. Casually walking around the memorial, I started reading the names. Somewhere near the top I recognised that of my grandfather. He’d survived a long stint in a distant dry desert only later to succumb to battle in the muddy humid jungle of Kokoda. He was 33. Twice the age of the youngest soldiers listed.
“What are you reading?” My youngest demanded.
“Meet your great-grandfather” I offered, and explained the memorial.
“Whoa! Mum, you’re way older than he ever was!” Said my eldest, insightfully.
“I hate war, war sucks” scowled his brother.
“Funny”, added the first, “that’s how old our Dad was, when he left”.
The cerulean air was now smooth and clean, and we were done with dead reckoning. Realigned, we began the drive back to that ambient present, long gone. Once again the warmth settled in, as we sailed passed waving palms and calm waterways.
How wonderful it would be, I mused wistfully, to live here, near the sea.