California is still setting trends on its beaches and coasts. Okay, the Beach Boys are still playing in Monterey in early January but look behind the scenes.
The black and white birds with the long red beaks and legs are telling, but so very quietly. Taxonomists call them Haematopus longirostris. Bundjalung, the pipi-birds, leading people to beds of shellfish. Anglos, pied oystercatchers or, from the 19th century, ‘sea pies’.
Crowds are still cheering how the sea floods 250 hectares at Steart on the mouth of the River Parrett, UK. This is the latest of five national ‘coastal realignment’ projects. Environmentalists worked with the local townspeople to undo a hundred years of hard seawalls with ‘soft engineering’.
From the viewing platform at The Pass, the onshore wind is fierce. I brace myself and scan the sea, as if this hour were my turn on the watch of a ship. Ahead I see the blows of five or six humpback whales. Next, their great splashes.
This waterway on Tallow Beach is still open to the sea. Nearly in tears, I stare at the pelican strutting in the cross currents. The lump of knowledge chokes in my throat and I am lost for words. The camera with its telephoto lens holds the image better than memory.
Sometimes, when I look across the Bay, I glimpse the global cinema epic. I see us all as bit players in the crowd scene. The lead characters are outrageous. The magnificent Sea, whatever the turn of plot, has its way every time.
Day after day, I watch the sun rise. Light glitters on the clear crystal surf as well as the smoky quartz Tallow lagoon. These different water jewels crown two parks, Arakwal and Cape Byron.
‘These birds recognise us,’ says my friend. ‘See them? They are waiting for treats. They’ll fly ahead to where we usually stop.’
Cavvanbah was name the Bundjalung people used for what is now Byron Bay. The word is translated as ‘the meeting place’ but could well describe a location where fresh and salt waters meet.
Billions of people tally their lives according to the Christian calendar, one of nine in use today. But apart from these is still another practice in timing: tracking cycles of seasons.
Three types of surface waters flow in Byron Bay. The first is rainwater. The second is the sea. The third is the water flow that we rely on now that we have given up on using natural springs and wells: our tap water and sewerage system.
The growth plan for Byron Bay? To be economically viable, I am told that we need to expand from village to town. The NSW government definition of ‘town’ has a population over 20,000. To my mind, 20,000 koalas is ambitious.
Tracking large sharks sounds good on paper, but what’s required for the sake of beachgoers, to stalk these marine predators and report their whereabouts?
The number of the long-protected gannets today are increasing, but their new knack in diving for small fish baited on long lines, and being snagged and drowned there, suggests their future is still uncertain.
Like anyone with a Leunig calendar, I flick ahead to read all the cartoons. I stop at the one with the character walking a bike by the cliff edge, who smiles at the grand view of a mountain range.
The 50 or 60 species of flying fish actually glide through the air. Accelerating underwater at a speed of more than 30 body lengths per second, they dart forward and up, spreading their wide fins like fans. Their tails beat the water 50 times a second.
Back in 1841, Clement Hodgkinson described the coast of the northern rivers as ‘extensive swamps of many thousand acres in extent, whose verdant sea, of high waving reeds and sedge, stretches away to the base of the distant forest ranges.
‘I grew up on a dairy farm on a ridge between Byron and Lennox. We always knew when there was a whale in the Bay. We heard the boom from the harpoon. When they shot one, it echoed all around.’
For Banksia, breeding is a drawn-out affair. None of the hurly-burly of the usual vegetables, in the ground one month and producing seeds the next.
I brought home the roadkill. The raggedy dead butterfly is called a Common Crow, perhaps a female. But imagine: alive she might have migrated along the coast from Moreton Bay fig trees to frangipanis.
In some daring moment, you may have proclaimed ‘the world’s my oyster!’ But exactly what is an oyster’s world? Salty wet morsels on a half shell, what sort of life leaves them finally exposed on a plate at a fancy dinner?
Have you heard about the Ocean Shores photographer who discovered a new species of jellyfish, which he found at high tide in the Brunswick River?
My hiking companion is ahead of me, searching for the old drain which runs through the Cumbebin wetlands. We are in the ‘regrowth’: closely packed paperbark trees some fifty years old.
The soundscape changed. Startled, I looked up from my book. For weeks, I’ve listened to the wind freshening and soughing around the house. But this was a new deep hum, close, at the front door.
Mary Gardner These past few weeks, the waves drop and surfers are becalmed. As the days lengthen, the spring flush of phytoplankton, the free-floating mass of single-cell life, makes the water a murky green. Visibility closes in for me and... Read More →