A Perfect Swim at Bubby Beach

The tide was nearly full, the water calm, greeny blue and crystal clear. I waded in, up and up crept the water, cold to the top of the thighs, cold to the waist and above, no more! I pushed off, ducked my head under and rolled onto my back. The water was crisp and cooling, my scalp felt cool. I backstroked out a bit ,enveloped by the panorama of small dunes on my right, the faded green lifesaving clubhouse to the centre and the banks of tree rising to the left; banksias, teatrees, melaleucas, wattles, a whole range of greens, and finally, the rock platform and pool to my left with the boat ramp and cliffs further on.

The water was deeper and colder. The sandy bottom flickered with undulating sunny golden reflections of the tiny surface ripples. Out to sea and the open horizon, the water deepened to a rich blue in gradations from the greeny water I was floating in. I just stood and floated in the water, idly kicking and waving my arms to stay afloat.

I was immersed in water, weightless yet supported. I could taste the clean saltiness. The sky reflected the blue of the sea, the dunes were a soft gold, the marram grass a dusty grey green, just like the club house set back amongst the sand, grass and trees. The trees were a dense mass of different greens and their rounded canopies balanced the spikiness of the grasses on the opposite side of the little bay. Enclosing me on each side were the two arms of the rock platforms which made Bubby Beach bay so safe and calm to swim in.

And with a flip, I could gaze out to the indigo horizon with only water between my eyes, so low, between me and it.

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Dirt Roads

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One day earlier last year (April, 2013) we opened the mail to find that Bass Coast Shire Council, under Special Charge Scheme No. 27, planned to charge us $32,700 to seal, concrete curb and channel our dirt road and lay a concrete footpath. About 450 houses in the heart of Cape Paterson have been similarly afflicted because we choose to live on the original unsealed roads.

Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I love dirt roads.

We were very pleased to find a block of land on a dirt road. We didn’t want to live on a suburban style subdivision with a vista of dark grey asphalt, white curbs and white concrete footpaths, white concrete driveways and neatly mown grass nature strips planted with trees at measured intervals. We didn’t want the rigid geometry and hardness of such a scheme.

We wanted the irregularity of gravel merging into the surrounding soil and vegetation. We wanted remnant trees from the original subdivision to remind us of the land as it was before us. We liked the large overgrown planted trees and gardens which sprawled onto the roughly mown grass stretching to the edge of the gravel. We liked the natural curves of vegetation and road and the lack of a single straight line.

Our lives tend to be dominated by metaphorical straight lines: rigid timetables, appointments and deadlines from which we have little escape. Coming home to the informality of a dirt road offers a rest from structure. It’s a clear marker of change and the opportunity to refresh and rest.

There’s a visual quietness about a dirt road. If you’re lucky enough to have local gravel, it sits softly in the landscape, almost merging into the land from which it came. Imported gravel soon settles with rain, fallen leaves and use. On our road at the moment, I’m enjoying walking across smooth old crushed bricks emerging through the top layer of gravel and wondering about where they came from and I’m pleased that they have been reused. There’s a connection with the earth and a suggestion of old paths walked by many feet.

Our dirt roads are shared. Families walk on them to the beach, kids practise their bike skids, people ride bikes to the shop, the beach and their friends’ houses. Dogs get walked, prams get pushed and cricket games are played on the quieter roads. Cars travel slowly on the dirt surface as they expect to share the space. Walkers feel safe because the crunch of gravel gives plenty of warning of an approaching car.

I like living on a dirt road because it brings back memories of playing on the road back at Eaglehawk. Our house was on a curve and there was a wide sweep of ‘ non-road’ on the outer curve which gave us a gently sloping gravel playing area. In summer, we would play cricket out there till we could no longer see the ball, and in winter, a seemingly endless game of kick the kick with a sodden bloated football.

Years later, as parents of young children, we sought refuge from the hot footpaths and sealed roads of the inner suburbs and chose to live on a dirt road at Warrandyte for twenty four years. Again, I loved the informality, the safety of slow driving, and the sense of sitting softly in the environment.

There, actually more so than here at Cape Paterson, with summer, came the dust. A cloud would rise after each infrequent car passed and would hang in the air before it settled on the roadside bushes and occasionally, inside. I feel sorry for the plants but that’s summer, it’s just part of what the season is about.

And with winter, rain will come if we’re lucky and the leaves will be rinsed off. Roads will damp down, some puddles appear, water will soak into the soil and replenish the groundwater. Some roadside drains will fill and not empty immediately but they generally dry out before too long. We’re built on sand here and usually no water lies around for very long, especially if the Council maintains its surface drains regularly.

There’s a pleasing feeling of the roads looking after themselves and the environment without too much bother.

We love our dirt roads because there is a sense of fit with their small, quiet village environment. They are calming, aesthetically pleasing and safe.

Rural Councils can use Special Charge Schemes to standardise all roads to a ‘one size fits all’ urban model. However, small coastal communities have a particular character which should be respected, valued and preserved.

The fear is that one day these special neighbourhoods might be declared extinct.

Post Script. April, 2014.

After a vigorous year long campaign from the community based Preserve the Cape group, the Council was forced to abandon the Scheme because of a 64% ‘Against’ vote from affected ratepayers.

Big and Little Cricket

I’ve watched and heard a lot of cricket this summer. I probably saw at least a bit of every day of the Ashes and often much more. It works well to do the ironing with the cricket on. However, by the time the series finished in Sydney, some cricket weariness had set in.

There was a decent pause before the One Day matches started but I found it hard to get interested in the first one at the MCG. It seemed an anti-climax after the subtleties of the five day game. But then, up jumped the finish of the second one at the Gabba. There was a count-down of runs and balls, magnificent sixes right up into the stands, the white ball floating high through the night sky, and then the final four to win the match. It energised the end of yet another hot day.

I used to play cricket in the street as a girl but have actually only followed it since 2005. It’s been interesting trying to work out what qualities make a One Day player or a Twenty Twenty player as compared to what’s needed to be successful at Test level.

So, that’s been the Big Cricket.

We’ve had varying degrees of little cricket on the park down here at Cape Paterson. Just before Christmas, we had the annual Pirates versus the Turbines match, a work Christmas break up event, complete with banners at the ground and slung up at the entrance to the Cape. Big blue eskies dotted the ground and it was a loud, roaring day.

There have been groups of young men, their girlfriends, family groups of varying ages and sizes and dads bowling patiently to kids wielding plastic bats. The boy from up the road, would walk down with a plastic wicket over his shoulder to have a hit with his friends after dinner. People drift up the gravel roads, come on their bikes or load into cars with babies, chairs, eskies and dogs. The dog can be an important fielder.

The common factor in all these games is the intensity: the roar of the bowlers and fielders, the shouted instructions, “Get it, Nana!”, and the huge sense of fun. Even though we don’t hear all this on a televised match, we see the shouting and I’m sure it’s pretty much what we hear from our house across from the oval.

I just heard a shrill cheer and looked up to see through the trees a boy in blue shorts, arms in the air, running down the concrete wicket. There’s a brown corgi walking sedately through the middle of the game. I think this is the third match played out there today.

You can see a thread drawn from the game played with plastic bat and wicket through all forms right up to Test matches. It’s the same link between hitting a tennis ball against the wall and the Australian Open, Sabots and ocean racers, kick-the- kick in the street and the AFL Grand Final. There’s a very simple starting point whose elements are still at the core of the most complex form of the sport. The development from innocence to experience is accompanied by the same enjoyment, excitement and hope that’s in every park, beach or backyard game ever played.

Dog Walking Man

Today I saw a perfectly balanced duo crossing Rouse Street. One member was stooped and took short, stiff, bow legged steps as he negotiated the distance between the median strip and the footpath. He held a dog lead in his left hand. The other was on four long articulated legs and was tethered by his collar and lead to the old man. The late afternoon sun highlighted the muscles moving under the satiny, grey coat of the Weimaraner as he paced slowly and with restraint, keeping his lead slack. The pair crossed the road and walked the twenty metres to their apartment block. They mounted the stairs even more slowly and moved to the entrance keypad, still moving as a relaxed unit.

I felt the dog was walking the man with respect and patience. My heart went out to the pair of them.

Penguin Hunt, Lagoon Pier, Port Melbourne

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The line of brown sludge on the horizon separated the grey of the Bay from the grey of the sky. Was this the smoke from the open cut fire at Morwell sent up to us on the humid easterlies we’ve had for the last day or so?

The sea was flat and almost uniformly grey. There were some shimmering lighter strips out in the distance. By contrast, the sky was full of things happening. A deep solid grey mass to the east was separated diagonally from the tumble of clouds directly beside it. Bands of showers slanted across the horizon in the distance and behind me loomed a deep violet cloud over the city. Above, was a confusion of tumbling but unthreatening shapes in a variety of light greys.

The water was so still as I waded out, that there seemed to be no surface and I could see directly through to the bottom. Ah, there are the stripey underpants belonging to the strip of waist elastic I’d picked up earlier on the beach to put in the bin. They lay on the bottom like a sort of solid jelly fish or confused manta ray.

A flock of seagulls floated crisply ahead of me as I continued wading out, still thigh deep only. Suddenly, a blocky, fishy shape surged just under the surface towards me. It veered to my left and I saw a beak and feathers. It was a bird. It looked like a penguin but brown! The head surfaced a couple of metres away nearer the shore, bobbed and dived again, only to resurface within a few seconds. The seagulls paddled around me to keep up with it, encircling it very closely.

I realized that they were very intent and focused on hunting and harrying this bedraggled bird. A couple of seagulls would lift from the water to spy on it and then settle in front of the continuously diving and surfacing penguin. The remaining flock then paddled up and surrounded it in front and behind. I felt totally helpless as I stood in the water and watched the agitated penguin and the very calm sea gulls zigzag their way around me.

Then the penguin changed direction and starting heading out to sea. It seemed that the gulls lost a bit of interest at this stage and didn’t pursue so intently. But the penguin made a right hand turn and started moving towards Lagoon Pier. This enlivened the gulls and they fell into pursuit again. The advance party settled on the railings, the flock crowded up and…it all slowed down. The gulls gradually dispersed and the water was empty. What a relief to see nothing living between me and the horizon.

I was disturbed and powerless to be a witness of this drama. I thought the penguin looked panicky as it rapidly surfaced, bobbed its head around and dived again for such a brief time. Its plumage was a brownish and uneven, not sleek like an adult, and I felt for it in its isolation from the St Kilda colony. The gulls were unhurried and working as a group to tire their prey and perhaps force it onto the beach.

It was a relief then to walk out to the deep water, duck my head under and float peacefully in the centre of the gathering weather.