The tiny coastal villages of Callala Bay, Callala Beach and Myola sit side by side on the shores of Jervis Bay. Today, their combined population is approximately three thousand. In amongst those inhabitants dwell some of the most remarkable women I have ever met. These are women of resilience and determination. Qualities that have been forged from adversity. Meeting them has made me consider what matters in life.
Dora, Shelley, Fredreka and Bernadette* share common stories. They all came to Jervis Bay when these towns were on the verge of development. A time when few houses dotted the undulating sand forest. A newspaper from that era advertised, ‘magnificent new lots’ for sale from ‘$695 each – $20 deposit – easy terms’. I can’t imagine it would have been too easy. They moved to an area with few residents, jobs were scarce and little infrastructure was in place to carry out day-to-day life.
The advertisement described, ‘the crystal clear waters of Jervis Bay must be seen to be believed.’ My conversations with these women have told me that they were all drawn to the bay because of its natural beauty. It was isolated. It was difficult. But it was beautiful. Dora came from Wollongong, Shelley from New Zealand, Fredreka from Germany and Bernadette from Ireland. All felt so incredibly lucky to have found the place called Jervis Bay.
Each of these women started their new life on the coast with a husband. However, another common thread shared amongst my fearless four is that they all outlived their partners. They have each lived for three or even four decades on their own. All but Bernadette’s husband died an early death. Bernadette’s story is slightly different in that she refused to return with him to live in Ireland. He did not share her love of Jervis Bay and pined for his Irish home. She did not want to leave. She never saw her husband again.
And so, all of these women stayed on in the bay. Alone. Did they feel the pain of loneliness? I am sure, at times they must have felt so isolated. But they stayed, impressively independent. Family members tried to lure them back to the cities where there were doctors, hospitals …nursing homes. They declined, feeling like they had all they needed. A modest home. Enough money to pay the bills. Friends. However, they had two other things that held them here. A community and Jervis Bay.
The small communities that hug the bay can also huddle and protect their elderly. So for these women, it was not an option: to lose the chance to dip their feet in that splendid water, take a walk along a bush track or a quiet street, listen to the waves and the birds, smell the salty air, be up early to watch the sunrise, have a chat to a friendly face, feel safe. They each felt connected to this place and its people.
I am so grateful to have taken the time to stop and be that friendly face that talked to each of these women. I have been allowed to share a little of their lives, to drift through their stories. I have watched their bodies become frail, admired their strength of mind. They fill me with a sense of belonging. And so, I hope that people and places continue to connect so that this community spirit survives.
My fearless four endured life during a time when the political and social structure of the world changed. They raised families and cultivated communities in these emerging towns. These women lapped up their days on the shores of Jervis Bay, enjoying the simple things. In hard times, they became buoyant, like driftwood. Aged, worn, but beautiful. They found a way. They did not sink. They survived. They flourished.
(*names have been changed)