LyreBirds, Whales, Eagles and Strange Dreams
Did you know that over 55 percent of Australian beaches can’t be reached by road? That many have quite likely been neverwalked upon, and aren’t named? I find this both unbelievable, and quite credible. The majority of our population cling beachside, and camp by it on holidays, but it’s a vast, vast coastline. Sitting on the beach at Mimosa Rocks National Park in NSW we marvel at the incredible diversity and beauty of our Australian beaches and how many we’re yet to visit. On this night, we’ve lucked upon a great campground for the night at Annangu Campground, nestled in amongst wizened trees and cyclads at the end of a dirt track. Within minutes of arrival we see a lyrebird, something I’ve never seen in the wild even though I’ve visited many places they populate and heard them too.
Not ten minutes later we see a pod of dolphins and the sprays of blue whales spouting in deep beyond the rocks. No matter how many whales you see on a trip, you still feel a sense of awe. There was a time as kids we thought that blue whales were extinct so even now we’re overcome with a child-like wonder that these huge beasts still exist. On dusk we see a humpback breach, the huge splash marring the surface of the sea. We hoot like it’s fireworks or lightening – it’s fast and magnificent.
Mimosa Rocks are named for a paddlesteamer that crashed into the rocks in the 1800’s. The fact that a paddlesteamer came along this coast at all is bizarre, but it’s just another story of another shipwreck and a wealth of drownings along this coast.
The real story of this coast belongs to the indigenous people who still use this country. It’s their story I respect the most, and I’m conscious of being on their land in the way many White Australians conscious of indigenous histories might. The area is of huge significance for indigenous people. A boardwalk stretches across a huge midden (a midden is a kind of a rubbish ground, containing discarded shell and bone, botanical remains, ash and charcoal, and are often evidence of thousands of years of indigenous land use) and, spying abalone shells in fire pits, I think of how the land still provides it’s uses to people whose ancestors have used this country for far longer than we have. Everything becomes a dreaming here, but a living, continuing one – the wedgetail eagle we spy soaring above, the oyster catchers with their deep red beaks, the goannas who lay their eggs in termite mounds, the lyrebirds – all have a story attached to them, a value far beyond their ephemeral existence in this moment as they dart across the track or circle in the sky.
We’re here in Winter, but in the way of the great Australian campground tradition there are huge concrete firepits under the trees and we light a fire made with wood we’ve brought from home (you aren’t meant to collect fallen firewood because the tendency is for environmentally minded campers to cut down what they can) and snuggle up with a 30 year old sherry we were gifted, that tastes like dates and slides down our throats to warm our cockles. That night we both have nightmares – ones of murder and running away or towards things where we are hindered at every step. It’s not the first time I’ve had nightmares on country – in fact, I often do, perhaps tapping into some echo of the past that rises off the land, of dispossession and brutality. Jamie describes it as a ‘weird energy’, but I take ‘weird’ to mean ‘different’, as if there’s an adjustment to be made before you can feel wholly comfortable in a landscape that’s clearly notyours. A kind of unconscious dreaming ritual or initiation of sorts. I wonder if my unconscious mind is tapping into the guilt felt by many White Australians for what was done to this land in our history – and what continues to be done, and that violent energy fizzles up in dark dreams. Or whether I'm just adjusting to different stories that the landscape is speaking to me - a kind of communication with a new land I'm trying to figure out and listen to as it speaks to me.
On the second night, I dream of pods of dolphins and sucking on honey grevillea, and the tumbling rocks beneath my bare feet on cool rocks as the tide recedes, exposing molluscs and tiny silver fish in the shallows.
In the damp morning, fuelled by coffee and salt air, I breath in, and feel at home.