Thirroul. Sunday, 11.15am
‘Men may not be ready yet for any great change. That does not make the change less inevitable.’ – Willie Struthers in Kangaroo by D H Lawrence
You can feel the sun birthing cancers on your skin. I’ve seen the ads: black blobs are already proliferating like devil spawn in my epidermis, grooming my good-natured melanocytes into unpredictable events that may well destroy me.
Normally, I don’t expose my body to the sun, but the day was so hot and the ocean was so near I couldn’t resist a dunk in the sea.
The beach, of course, is crowded. It’s the school holidays and Australia Day is approaching. On the sand, there is barely space to put your sarong and hat between the plastic beach tents (which turn the silver heat into blue-tinted saunas) and the almost naked couple lying on Aussie flag beach towels, pegged down by their earphones, the skin between tattoos roasting in the furnace of an angry sun.
It’s a fine line between pleasure and pain, as Chrissy sang back in the days before the heat was on (mid-eighties, I think). There is a limit to how hot the days can get before it becomes impossible for humans to exist. Unless you have airconditioning, of course. And stay inside. Or go from one airconditioned space to another in your airconditioned car. And look out the car window at a landscape spiralling into uncertain climate, while you inevitably relocate to Facebook
There is a crowd in the water too, pressed into that space between the flags. I’m on the very edge of the flagged area, trying to get some bodysurfing space while still remaining eligible for lifesaver rescue if I get into difficulty. Getting into difficulty is unlikely, however, because I’m in knee-deep water surrounded by children in rash shirts and surf hats, with faces so heavily layered with Pinke Zinke and limbs so heavily oiled with sunscreen lotion that rainbow-glinting oil slicks trail from them.
I see a small wave forming and wade quickly towards it.
I’ve been coming to Thirroul for a few years. I attend the Illawarra Folk Festival down the road at Bulli and have been billeted to the same generous Thirroul couple for five years. Thirroul means ‘cabbage tree palm’ in the language of the Wodi Wodi people. There used to be many cabbage tree plams around here but not so many now. (There used to be many Wodi Wodi people around here, but not so many now…)
When Europeans settled here about 150 years ago, they chopped down the palms and used them as fence posts to demarcate the land they took from the Wodi Wodi.
I catch the wave and ride it for about a second before smashing into legs. Small legs. Finding my footing, I grab whatever I’d hit and lift it from the water. It’s a small girl in matching pink swimmers and bonnet. Strangely, given the colour coordination, her Pinke Zinke is yellow. She’s startled and looks ready to cry. Her father, a big bloke with a crew cut, takes her from me, saying nothing when I mumble ‘sorry’.
A lot has happened in Thirroul. In the late 1860s, the Wodi Wodi’s country was taken from them and its coal began fuelling the change we’re living today. In 1922, D H Lawrence stayed in Thirroul and wrote a novel. In 1992, Brett Whiteley overdosed in a motel up the road. In 2018, there are no Wodi Wodi swimming here today as their country, once so hospitable, toys with the limits of habitability.
I decide to stay longer in the sun to chase a wave. I move to the less crowded space outside the flags, where only surfboarders are.
What the hell; these are dangerous times.