Endeavour and Eden

This town called Eden is just as green and picturesque as the name suggests, but how that wind blows! On the hill north of Twofold Bay, where a hilly outpost of the town is separated from the rest by a narrow, low spit of land between bay and ocean, the wind tears in from the south. The water of the bay is ruffled and bright in the sun.

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I am here in Eden with the Endeavour replica and her dark heavy rig stands out against the water of the bay. Yesterday 660 people came aboard the ship to see her and imagine something of life in Cook’s time. This interests me less than the sight of the ship herself and the way tall ships are so entirely unique in filtering into their background of wave or bush and seeming so at home yet centuries out of place.

I remember coming back to Endeavour in the RIB when we were on the Hawkesbury River in September and losing sight of the ship against the headland behind her, so well did she blend into the bush.

On Endeavour, I often think of Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance and the way he describes a ship from the point of view of a young indigenous boy coming into King George Sound in Albany in the nineteenth century, folding away its wings like a pelican coming into land. (I don’t have the book here so I can’t check the accuracy of my memory of the image.)

I thought of Scott’s image as we passed Botany Bay on Endeavour on Tuesday last week on our way south from Sydney. As I wrote on the Australian National Maritime Museum blog for Endeavour, I imagined Botany Bay as it might have been in Cook’s time. I did not expect to see the cranes of a major commercial shipping port silhouetted against the sky on the far side of the bay.

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Pelicans coming into land in a bay… and pelicans floating on the wind above us today in Eden. Seventeen pelicans, seeming to move diagonally rather than forwards then circling and wheeling before returning to a formation of sorts then ascending away from us to the south.

It’s been a while since I wrote anything on this blog, but in my absence I have been writing more than usual – for the ANMM’s Endeavour blog, not my own. So far, I’ve written about four voyages on Endeavour and there is one more to come. In some, I could have written many more words of reflection and imagery of the sea, the ship and the wildlife. This post captures just one small element of that which has not made it onto Endeavour‘s blog.

I hope there will be more to come when I am back in Fremantle, with the ocean just visible from the kitchen window.

Summer

Last year, summer was defined by the presence of the pontoon at South Beach in South Fremantle. It was there when I arrived back in WA in mid-December (I wrote about that in “On coming home”), but one day in February I went to the beach for a morning swim and it was gone. The water was, once again, unbroken from groyne to rocky groyne.

This year I’m a long way from that beach, and from that type of summer heat: in Perth it stretched on in the mid-30s, unbroken for nearly two months but tempered each day by the sea breeze. Melbourne heat feels much more oppressive, and on a really hot day I feel stranded amongst the solidity of the city: it feels so far from the sea. I could jump on a tram or a train and be looking across the bay within half an hour, but on these beaches I am still a stranger. Nowhere do I feel so far from ‘home’ as on a hot summer’s day in Melbourne.

Today is different. It’s sunny and breezy and not too hot, and outside the window where I write there is a fernery, cool and damp and growing riotously after the spring rain. The light is full of gentle colours, green and cream and the palest hints of blue sky. It is a new year, but in that artificial setting of a day and a date as somehow crucial to our lives, there has been no momentous event or shift in feeling. The past year unfolded with an endless steadiness; it was a year where the time always seemed to be running away, because of what lay ahead. The seismic shifts, the things that happened that changed everything, happened with a surprising inevitability.

They happened on days and dates that followed no pattern, and so the beginning of a new year is just a minor shift in comparison: an excuse to hang the new calendar and to realise, in the days immediately after, that writing 2/1/2011 or 3/1/2011 looks correct but isn’t. There is always a sense of dislocation in that: looking at the date and realising you have transported yourself back one year, yet have remained exactly where you are, caught in the new one, with new numbers to signify your place in time.

In spite of this, when I imagine the days, weeks and months ahead, I am ever so happy to be here, with the year opening up ahead of me like the fresh blank pages of a new diary, waiting to be filled.

First glimpse

Olympus OM-1N, Kodak BW400CN

First sight of the sea, first roll through the Olympus since it came into my hands. The camera travelled across the world, inherited from a sand dune ecologist in Olympia, near the northwest Pacific coast of the USA. Grains of sand clung to the body. I took the camera to the beach for a glimpse of the Southern Ocean. Perhaps it was a homecoming.

The above image was exhibited and sold in Unsensored11.

Four polaroids of the sea

Four images of the ocean and its edges, in various guises and moods. Peaceful, the tide out, so that light and figures reflect off smooth wet sand. Hidden on impossible film, so it is less the ocean you see and more the curve of the hillside beyond; you can only see the sea if you know where it is. Down by the breakwater, the waves will always break against the rocks, brought up short by them unexpectedly. And out to sea, a rainbow spears from the cloud and into the ocean, mirroring the multiplicities of colour that break and refract through the spray of the waves as they roll, curling, curving, crashing, a flurry of whitewater and sunlight, in towards the shore.

Kodak from the eighties

At the Box Hill camera market earlier this year we picked up a few random films, including a roll of Kodak Gold that expired in March 1989. Standard, run-of-the-mill film back then, but twenty years on it produces something quite different.

The risk of expired or cheap film is that sometimes there’s decent shots messed up by too much grain or strange colours. But then sometimes there’s a few that turn out alright…

This one was taken in South Fremantle in July, and I like the graininess in the colours of the sky:

And there’s this one, looking up the bay towards Melbourne from Brighton. I know, lots of ocean photos… They are hard to resist.

And then for something quite different, no water in sight, there’s this one shot by No Fixed Address on the same roll of film:

The other beginning – and The Sea Around Us (1951)

Originally written 27 November.

Last week I finished reading The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson. This week I’m reading The End of Nature by Bill McKibben. Both are outdated, published in 1951 and 1989 respectively. In terms of the facts, it matters. In terms of how these works make me feel, time makes no difference.

The Sea Around Us is a beautiful piece of writing, though perhaps it could be considered old-fashioned in style. I write about the ocean all the time and so I am susceptible to reading about it. But Rachel Carson’s writing is unique. I open it now and instantly I can imagine the richness and fullness of the ocean, in terms of the images that Rachel creates. I can see the currents curving around the edge of continents, the seabed rising abruptly into the Atlantic ridge, the weather systems of Australia’s eastern seaboard responding to the air over the Pacific.

Rachel wrote about geological time – long time spans where mountains are built and eroded, where islands come and go. Bill McKibben on the other hand stressed that not everything takes a long time to change: he was writing about the global climate change. In 1989 what he wrote would have been periphery to most people’s concerns. Today it occupies politics around the world. So much has changed.

And yet not everything has changed. Bill argues that nature is dead, because no place on earth is unaffected by humans, as a result of the changes to the atmosphere that our societies have caused. But I don’t think he’s right. I think we’ll cling on to a sense of nature, and maybe we’ll change our understanding of it in order to keep up with a world that is changing. Nature will – or has – become something that clings on to its ‘naturalness’ in the face of human impacts reaching everywhere. But it’s still there. It holds on, like a tree growing crooked on a windy cliff, or a lonely tuft of grass sprouting half way up a sheer cliff. It will be changed by what we do, but it will not die, not as long as this planet continues its slow revolution around the sun.

For me, as I begin to experiment with new forms of writing, The Sea Around Us plays on my mind. It is an example of so much that is important to me: the ocean, the land, the environment, and of course good writing. It is imbued, by its existence and its context, with the politics of environment and of the place of women in society. It is written with passion, creativity and scientific accuracy; it reminds me that the humanities and the sciences belong together, not in opposition as many thinkers would lead us to believe. Bound in the 59 year old cover of this book is a story about the earth. It is majestic and humbling, and full of a sense of wonder. I hope that I never forget it.

Another beginning

The idea of a beginning gives a false sense of security. It feels like an artifice of fiction, the tidy division of events into chapters for a novel. But beginnings are only a human construct, useful for bookending a story, a stage, a journey; as though a life or a journey can be neatly marshalled into a tidy shape.

But athough I distrust the notion of beginnings, I hang onto them all the same. I often think about the beginning of a love affair with the ocean. It seems important, to think about how this began.

Ironically, it feels as though the love of the ocean arose because of a love of the land and of horses. This love led to early mornings when racehorses skirted the waves on the beach, day after day. On these mornings the ocean became unexpectedly important, though perhaps you didn’t notice this until later. From there, the rest is inevitable: the first voyage on a tall ship, the movement of the ocean ceaselessly in your thoughts.

Yet before all of this you had sailed on the ocean unaware, lacking conscious memory, part of a different beginning. And before that there was the ocean itself, stretching back to its own distant ‘beginnings’, far far away in geological time.