THE BUSH MEETS THE BAY

Like so many others that have come to inhabit the seaside towns of Callala Beach and Myola, I was drawn to the beautiful balance between nature and community. A long stretch of beach with a vista across Jervis Bay. Large sections of beach fringed by bushland. Natural corridors for animals. For those who dwell or frequent this place, a sense of needing to nurture the environment becomes inherent. And this, in turn, generates a sentiment of harmony.

Let me take you for a stroll through Myola, the bush and finally onto Callala Beach.

Walking along the northern end of Catherine Street, Myola, an understory of burrawangs line Currambene Creek. Their spiked form may be why they are one of the oldest living plants on Earth, dating back to the age of the dinosaurs. They are survivors. Long rooted systems search for water and fire makes them multiply. Their wisdom holds the banks of the creek in place, while creating an avenue of antiquity along Catherine Street, up the dirt track, and all the way beyond the boat ramp.

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Burrawangs on track

Turning away from the creek, the burrawangs thin out and the eucalypts dominate. Rough bark, broad trunks. Others are mottled, smooth and straight, reaching for light. A grove of thin saplings among larger satiny hues of greys and greens imply a history of felling. Nobby apple gums with blackened bark expose an age of fires. Strips dangle like ribbons. Elsewhere, bark flakes like crazed paint. Each of these gums has its own timeline, while continuing to add its annual layer of protection. Stories are housed in amongst those branches. Animals and birds have depended upon them. The branches that once brushed against an arm, across a face, now tower above.

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The bush thickens and the sky becomes less visible. Dappled sunlight filters the track. The voices change. High above gusts shiver through the leaves like a quivering tambourine. The calls of hidden birds create the higher notes. The distant drumming of waves, the percussion. The rich smell of moist humus. An amorphous matter that feeds the forest.

Filtered light 2

Meandering on, heading towards the beach, the path changes to sand underfoot. The endangered Bangalay Sand Forests. Once so many. Now so few. The old man banksias bend in various gnarled and misshapen forms. Serrated silver leaves and woolly seed pods adorn their branches. Little mouths like a hungry clutch of chicks gape at those who pass by. A glossy seedling amongst blades of grasses, a hopeful sign of regeneration. And now as the last undulation is encountered, twisted trunks of tea tree hold the dunes in place.

Old Man Banskias

Banksia mouths (2)

Twisted tea tree (2)

 

An opening… You have arrived. Point Perpendicular and Bowen Island ahead. Salt spray carried on a southerly. Where ever you look- sand, bush, sea. Ponder the simple beauty of it all.

Listen.

Feel the connection.

Breathe it in.

the opening

 

Spirit of the Bay

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.

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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.

They inspire.

(*names have been changed)

Spirit 3

A Chance to Dip Their Feet by Rowena Sierant

I Name Thee…

The Currambene Creek is often referred to as a river because of its sandy bottom and wide bends that lead out to Jervis Bay. Each time I journey through its channels on my kayak or walk along its shores, I am greeted by nature’s astounding brilliance. At this very moment, I am looking through the burrawangs, watching the tide flow. An egret is picking its way along the tidal zone on the opposite bank. When the air coils, yacht halyards clang like wind chimes.

Traversing this waterway has brought an interesting distraction; the reading of boat names. Not only the names of vessels which are moored along the Currumbene’s channel but those that go past our house on the back of trailers, towards the boat ramp. Many of these are humorous. There is one in particular that does a great job of drawing your attention with its bright green one hundred dollar bills splashed across its hull. It is aptly named, ‘In Debt’! Others that have brought a smile to my face are: ‘Weekend Detention’, ‘No Excuses’, ‘Sassea’ and ‘Angler Management’. Lists of humorous names can be found on the Internet such as: ‘Beeracuda’, ‘Devocean’, ‘Nauti-by-Nature’, ‘Seas the Moment’, ‘A Wave From it All’, ‘Sail La Vie’ and ‘Marlin Monroe’.

The naming of boats began thousands of years ago and was based on superstition and fear of the unknown. By naming a boat after one of the great gods it was thought that protection would be given. The ancient Greek sailors would also pray to the sea god Poseidon for a safe journey.

The Romans ships often carried two ornate and decorative wooden carvings. On the prow (the forward-most part of a ship’s bow that cuts through the water) was a figurine or figurehead that represented the ship’s name such as a lady, a swan or an eagle. On the back of the ship was the tutela. This was the god or talisman that provided protection. The Vikings were also fond of using figureheads on their boats but these were menacing looking dragons that were also believed to give protection. Christians named their boats after saints so that the sailors were kept safe at sea.

We have all heard of the famously named ‘Titanic’. The largest moveable manmade object on earth was a show of confidence. In the battle for steamship supremacy, the world was told that it was unsinkable. It came to a crushing end when it hit an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean on its maiden voyage, over a century ago. The word, titan, comes from Greek mythology. The Titans were a race of giant gods who ruled the Earth until they were overthrown by Zeus and the other gods. The Titanic symbolised strength and power but perhaps the human hubris (self confidence and extreme pride) offended the ancient Greek gods who often punished those with such a trait.

And so, it is considered bad luck to change the name of a boat because legend has it that the gods of the sea, Poseidon and Neptune, personally know each and every vessel’s name as it is recorded in the ‘Ledger of the Deep’. A renaming ceremony can involve the invoking of Poseidon to de-name and rename the boat, the hiring of a celebrant and the drinking of lots of alcohol, preferably good champagne! A very good example of a boat renaming ceremony can be found at this website:

Boats have traditionally been ‘christened’ with the use of alcohol. This again harks back to ancient times when wine was poured over the vessel as an offering to the gods.

Another tradition is to give boats a female name. Even if a boat has a masculine name, it is usually referred to as a ‘she’. Some theories suggest that many boats were named after goddesses. Others say that sailors found comfort in a female name as they depended on the boat for life just as a child may depend on its mother. The sailors were cradled and protected by the ship. Or perhaps it goes back to the captain’s love for his ship. Contemporary explanations are not so kind. For example: It takes a lot of paint to keep her looking good; It’s not her initial expense, it is her upkeep or When coming into town, she always heads for the buoys.

So the next time you are travelling on or near a waterway, keep an eye out for the names of the boats rocking on the current and remember Poseidon may just be lurking beneath the surface, keeping an eye on them too!

Boats on the Currambene by Rowena Sierant

Boats on the Currambene by Rowena Sierant

The Rhythms of Summer

It was late Spring, early in the morning and the temperature was heading towards thirty five degrees. As I rambled along my favourite bush track towards the beach, I heard that very Australian sound of cicadas beginning their synchronised song. However, it only lasted a few moments and then stopped as quickly as it had started. One word popped into my mind – Summer! I stood in the shade of the eucalypts and waited for more of their performance but they were just teasing me…giving me a tiny taste of summertime.

As I walked towards the sand dunes, still hoping for more, a series of warm thoughts evoked powerful memories . For me, cicadas have always been the sound of Summer and as a child we rummaged at the base of trees to find the holes that traced the cicada’s long underground nymphean history. From there we followed their journey to discover their vacated shells clinging to stringy bark. We scaled trees in order to catch these creatures with their bulging eyes and ‘diamond’ encrusted heads, only to hold them for a few moments, feel their vibrating voice and release them again. Summer days seemed to last an eternity, spending endless hours playing outside. Time seemed to slow.

I look forward to Summer because we tend to ease the foot off the accelerator of life and wind down the year. Not only is it a necessity to slow down as the Aussie sun turns everything golden but Summertime also encourages us to relax more with friends and family, as barbeques and outdoor gatherings become a regular pastime. There is nothing like a Summer get-together whether it be at the local park, in the backyard or at the beach. We lather ourselves in sunscreen during the day and mossie repellant at night. In Summer, us Aussies like to snooze off our Christmas lunch, wait for the southerly to cool things down before we start up again with a few coldies.

Summer is bare skin, slipping on your thongs and wearing your swimmers and a sarong all day long. Summer is swimming until your skin prunes. Summer is going on holidays and getting a suntan. It is salad and ice cream. Then there is the fruit the Summer sun creates: mangoes, cherries, peaches, nectarines and plums. Summer is all about getting outside, sweating, then rehydrating. And of course we can’t forget about Summer reading. Who doesn’t love lying around in Summer and catching up on all those books you have been wanting to read?

And now, living in Jervis Bay, a new set of memories are evolving. Going to the beach early when the bay is calm and the water so clear you can see your toes in the deep. Kayaking on Currambene Creek and rolling off the side to cool down. Seeing the hermit crabs emerge from their Winter hibernation and bringing the knowledge that the warm currents are here to stay for a while. Then there is the promise of the local dolphin pod surfacing to follow the length of the beach in search of prey. The sunrises and sunsets of Summer that fill you with wonder and awe. The freedom of living in a place that seems to make the sands through the hour glass trickle at a slower pace.

So, I can’t wait to walk down my track and hear the beat of the cicada song because for all that Summer is, does and makes us feel it has to be good for you.

©Rowena Sierant

Cicada Selfie! Photograph: Rowena Sierant

Cicada Selfie! Photograph: Rowena Sierant

SAND FLOWERS

I was once a city girl. Nothing could persuade me to live anywhere other than the inner west of Sydney. Newtown and its surrounds was where I worked, walked, swam, ate, partied, shopped and…… saw my first Flannel Flowers.

Yes… it was in 1991 and I was heading up King Street to the one and only fruit and vegetable shop back then, to buy mangoes. I could almost smell them as I entered the shop but on this day my mango mission was brought to a sudden halt by the sight of Flannel Flowers bunched up in buckets on the floor. My hands immediately reached out to touch their velvety fronds. It was as though they were pleading with me to stroke them. Their softness brushed my face as I searched for a fragrance. My nose was given nothing but a gentle tickle. It was sight and touch that rejoiced in the beauty of these silvery-grey treasures from nature.

The owner, who knew me well, watched my delight. He anticipated my question and offered, ‘Flannel Flowers.’ I repeated the words as though I was testing my ability to speak in another language.

Some twenty years later, I find myself a Sea Changer who has happily left the big smoke behind in search of life by the water at Jervis Bay. The exhilaration I felt when I first saw Flannel Flowers growing in nothing but sand near our house threw me back in time and filled me with the same delight I had experienced two decades earlier.

I have since discovered that they are also called Sydney Flannel Flower or Eastern Flannel Flower due to their native habitat around Sydney. A selection of these flowers were also sold as Federation Star as it was chosen to be the New South Wales emblem for the centenary of Federation (1901-2001). Its botanical name is Actinotus helianthi, which comes from Greek and means rays, spoke of wheel or sunbeam. Very fitting. And here’s a fascinating fact – this daisy-like flower is in fact related to the carrot!

In addition, the early colonists also fell in love with this flower, as seen by its use in Colonial art. Check out The Sydney Living Museum’s blog: http://blogs.hht.net.au/cook/26-january-1888/ for a lovely example of Flannel Flowers used on the State Banquet Menu to celebrate the first hundred years of Australian European settlement.

A beautiful story belonging to the D’harawal People tells of the flower that is shaped like a star. It demonstrates the need to care for all nature and how flowers are important to other living things. The story describes how it is the first flower to bloom after the ice has melted and that is why its soft petals are covered in fine fur to keep it warm. This story can be found here: http://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/education/Resources/kids_zone/stories_and_songs/the_flannel_flower_story

Today, the Flannel Flower is used as a symbol by Mental Health Australia for it is a flower of resilience and survival and as humans we need to develop coping strategies in order to adapt. I believe that due to the Flannel Flower’s very tactile qualities this plant also makes a lovely symbol as it encourages you to reach out and touch it. Perhaps more of us in today’s society need to reach out to others…

It never ceases to amaze me how something so unique and exquisite can grow in such sandy soil, under a thick canopy of gum trees. I know where and when to find Flannel Flowers in my little seaside community. And there is one place that I find incredibly special. In a valley formed by scrubby dunes and dense with twisted Ghost Gums and Old Man Banksias, a carpet of Flannel Flowers blanket the undergrowth. They flourish in the dirty sand, get very little water and sun, yet they are in abundance in this same place every year.

There is something almost ancient about this location. The Flannel Flowers here seem to mute all sound. They are a quiet flower. They are Spring. They are joy.

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Flannel Flower photograph taken by Rowena Sierant. The special place that Flannel Flowers grow.

SCULPTURE BY THE SEA?

Sculpture by the Sea?

Sculpture by the Sea? Photo: Rowena Sierant

Every time I walk past the sculpture made from flotsam and jetsam on Callala Beach, I stop to see if any newly found objects have been added. I know he puts a smile on so many faces, including my own. I see tourists stopping and snapping a holiday photograph as they loop an arm over his woody shoulders. I think of the objects that have become his substance. A fisherman’s cap blown off by a sudden gust of wind and lost in Jervis Bay. Sunglasses that have been casually left behind on a beach. A body surfer’s flipper ripped from his foot as he was pounded by a wave, gasping for air.

A diver’s wetsuit gives his body the most sculpted impression. His long tendrils of sea weed hair remind me of Bob Marley’s dreadlocks. Beside him are tennis balls in case he gets bored and a rusted gas bottle if he wants to have a barbeque. In addition, there are extra t-shirts, hats, goggles, thongs and even a car tyre that he can use as a personal flotation device.

I often wonder who started this community sculpture. But what I speculate about most is this: Is the sculptor sending us a deliberate message? Of course, we can see the humour in the comical form of Mr Flotsam Marley. However, it also makes me feel melancholic. So much marine debris just on this 5 kilometre stretch of beach that tourists flock to each year because of its whitest sand and most lucent water. Yet, these fragments that have been carelessly cast or lost are contributing to the demise of many species of marine life. They could also be making their way to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Currents and great gyres carry human litter to the North Pacific Ocean combining with collections in the Eastern Garbage Patch near Japan and the Western Garbage Patch near Hawaii. Like a great vortex (it is also known as the North Pacific Trash Vortex), it accumulates non biodegradable materials, mostly plastic. As these pieces never decompose but instead break up into even smaller pieces, humans are producing a murky soup that has become so very appetising to marine life, such as the Loggerhead Turtle and various Albatross species.

It is estimated that what we are seeing on our beaches comprises only 15% of marine debris. 70% of it ends up on the ocean floors and the remaining 15% is what is found floating in our oceans. The old adage,’ Just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there,’ holds very true.

So I would like to thank the Callala Beach sculptor for inspiring me to ponder about Mr Flotsam Marley and his unique looks. Art can provoke thought and sometimes make people take action. That debris has been personified and stands there on my beach as a reminder. I say thank you for motivating me to think more about the reckless rubble of human consumption. Thank you for encouraging me to delve into the subject of marine debris. It may only be one person who changes but I now carry a bag while out walking and make my contribution to easing the flow of waste and making that sordid garbage patch that tiny bit smaller.