Southport. Father’s Day, 10.15am
‘Chet! Get in the bloody boat now!’
Chet doesn’t move.
The speedboat was nosed into the beach, but is now drifting away. Shortly, the water will be too deep for young Chet – who is about seven or eight – to wade to the boat and climb aboard.
But Chet doesn’t like the water. Once his shoes were wet, he froze. He just stands there at water’s edge, trapped between his father’s rising frustration and his fear of the water.
Poor little bugger. He’s scared. Suffering. And why is he the last to board?
I have no answer to this question. I’ve just arrived at this tiny beach on the Spit at Southport. Despite the father’s grumpy belligerence, the roar of jetskis and the accelerating death of the oceans, I’m enjoying a meditative maritime moment. My sunnies are on, my shoes are off and my feet are frolicking in the cool water.
Well, they’re frolicking on the inside. I’m standing ankle-deep in the water, hands clasped behind my back, checking out the moored yachts. My lack of movement may suggest my feet are not frolicking, but, under the water, toes are wriggling like mad things.
It would be pretty uncool to have overtly frolicking feet here. If I were to dance about with some killer Michael Jackson foot action while humming Beat It; if I were to embrace my inner connectedness to my submerged soles with a yogic sequence of 10 foot mudras; if I were to do a submarine two-step shuffle, splashing up a watery storm while waving my hat; people would look at me as if I were a weirdo.
In these parts, in these times, fun requires a toy, not joy. This is the Gold Coast, after all. Now, if I had an electric paddle board…
I like this spot on the Spit. I like to look at the yachts parked here. There’s a lot of money bobbing on these waters; a lot of hope that stuff will bring joy to the lost tribe.
‘Marie!’ yells the father to a woman sitting aft, next to the outboard. Beside her is a little girl dressed in pink. They’re both hatted, zinked, sun-screened and uncomfortable.
‘Do something about your son!’ the father shouts as he spins the steering wheel, hoping to turn the boat’s bow back into shore. But it won’t happen without the motor running, and it’s way too shallow to lower the outboard. Stuff can be so exasperating. I try a little underwater moonwalk.
Marie calls out to her son. Chet takes a tentative step towards her, but then stops, his hands going to his face, his chest heaving with sobs, his socks sucking salt. Marie gets to her feet, but the pink girl screams, latching onto her leg.
It’s tough being a kid. They’re vulnerable. They’ve yet to thicken their skin, lower their expectations, curb their generosity, dull their days – essential skills of modern living.
I think of the children who have bombs blasting their homes, drought burning their crops, seawater choking their gardens, religion murdering their fathers, a gutless government turning their boats backs.
Compassion is not calculated. It’s not a transaction. It’s not born from potential profit or political positioning or national interest. It’s being human.
If your heart doesn’t reach out to suffering, you’re already dead. You may have your Quintrex 520 with a Mercury 75 on the back, but you’ve lost your children. And your seas. And your joy.
The father grabs a neatly coiled rope, one end tied to the boat’s bow, and hoists his ample frame onto the bow.
‘I’m coming, Chet,’ he says in a softer voice.
And jumps into the shallow water.