Burleigh Heads. Monday, 8.15am
I’ve come about as east as I can go in this wide browning land. No, I’m not in Byron, which is a bit more east than here (and as far east as you can go without getting your thongs wet). I’m in Burleigh on the Gold Coast (where it’s easier to get a park).
Behind me is Australia – the expanding wastelands radiating out from Uluru, the whispering songlines, the villages and towns bouncing from drought to drought, the mines, the farms, the forests, the suburbs, the cities.
Behind me, the day begins. The Burleigh streets are eddying with school kids in noisy packs, office workers in unsensible shoes, manual workers in high-vis shirts, retirees in large sunglasses, and tourists with branded shopping bags.
Behind me, it’s all bustle and business, fuss and phone, but here, on the headland, people sit quietly. The sea has that effect. In contrast to the congestion and clutter of the modern mind, the ocean is open space where the turbulence of mundane thinking is smoothed by a sea of silk, sequined by the sun and stretching to the sky. Blue on blue. Limitless.
Skyscrapers to the north squint into the morning sun. A helicopter whirs from north to south. In the nearby park, a man with his hair tied in a bun stands on a picnic table and directs a tai-chi class. Prams with babies are parked in a group by the water fountain and guarded by two young fathers in boardies, while mothers in lycra do ‘white crane spreads wings’.
Here, on the headland, a small group of us just sits and stares eastward. An older woman claims a park seat and unwraps a sandwich. A group of girls chats softly, soon drifting into silence. An old bloke with no shirt and with skin tanned like leather, checks the tide. We share this morning moment. We are connected. There is a calmness where land meets sea. It’s a respite. A meditation. I sip my coffee, and lean back on my elbows.
‘How’s your lactose-free latte?’ I ask my companion.
‘Good,’ she says. ‘How’s yours?’
‘Good,’ I say.
Conversation is not the primary activity here on the headland.
Being is the activity. The beach is where people are able to just be. This fragile border between ocean and continent facilitates a reverie. Words are waves that hiss pleasantly at the fringe, while greater contemplations rise and fall, silently, like the tide.
A woman in lycra tights, peaked cap, sunglasses and sneakers jogs into our sunny space. She wears a phone on her arm. White cords hang from her ears. Her energetic entry creates a minor disturbance to the headland serenity. She stops, jogging on the spot, tilting her head from side to side. Then she properly stops, takes a deep breath and sits on the grass. She pulls the earphones from her ears. The headland returns to non-action. She is joining us in our organic meditation. Hello.
‘The lycra look is everywhere,’ I say, rising to a sitting position to take another sip of my coffee.
‘Active wear,’ says my companion.
‘What?’ I say.
‘Active wear. That’s all that lycra and running gear.’
‘Oh,’ I say. ‘Active wear.’
In these active times, where the ping of an arriving email or the chime of an incoming message garners more attention than the birdsong of a rising sun, the beach is our reality check. The beach asks that we feel the pulse of life, that we participate in real-time existence.
Here and now, the sun, lifting from the sea, touches my face, warming me.
The jogger, takes off her sweater and lies back on the grass.
‘Yeah, good coffee,’ says my companion.