I walk on the headland frequently, so frequently I often set off thinking “I’ve seen it all. There won’t be anything new.” But there always is. Usually the new is animal (lizard eggs nesting precariously on the beach steps), vegetable (a schelhammera spurting pollen under the ferns) or mineral (the oranges, ochres, blue and pale crimson of the rocks at the end of Jemo’s beach.)
This Tuesday, past days flow out of my memory bringing their ghosts with them to people the tracks and coves and beaches.
Right at the tip of the headland there is a twisted casuarina. There we are, J, me and 4 children, pitching our Christmas tent one long-ago New Year’s eve. The ground slopes and my foot throbs with potential tetanus from a rusty nail in the market garden. But the Pacific Ocean crashes, splashes and rumbles just below us and we’re having an adventure. A bustling man appears. He spits out officious words: “No camping allowed here.”
Below the casuarina is a secluded beach. Two women are scrambling down the steep track, one of them exercising excessive caution. She slowly submerges herself in the channel between the rocks. The other one is much more at ease. She frolics and cavorts and splashes. A young man with a bucket, a fishing line and a white dog hangs off the cliff heading for the rock platform in another cove.
A palimpsest of women haunts the forest of twisted spotted gums near Brush Lake: A on the look-out for hyacinth orchids; B who has a passion for splotched trunks in grey and cream and green and apricot; R, in a fawn raincoat with a camera round her neck, on a rainy day. Or M, alone, reading in her chair. She looks up startled by the scrunching of dry leaves. Two emus circle, closing in until she moves, and then thumping away until she settles back to her book.
The long beach stretches south to Dalmeny. A brown figure moves along the beach, clothes bundled up in his arm, a casual trail of footprints, a hat pressed hard on the head against the wind. Or a straggle of people appear. They aren’t speaking much, but are obviously together and interested in the landscape in different ways. A man picks a bright pig-face and kneels to offer it to one of the women. The ocean rolls in behind them.
Three women, caught up in the whirr of desultory coversation, move close to the dunes in an unsteady line (crocs, boots and joggers) until they see a track through the dunes. They follow it along the edge of Brush Lake through swamp mahogonies, careless of time and destination. As the afternoon fades they reappear on the beach and straggle back to the village.
A distant figure is coming along the beach in early morning light. He occasionally breaks into a stumbling jog. S, I think. He’s been partying in Narooma and decides walking home along the beach is a better idea than driving.
Then it’s M again, sitting on the headland watching the sun make its pathway across the sea. She seems to be there at sunrise most mornings for a year. Often during the day too in the cooler weather.
A Marine Park signpost appears smack bang in the middle of the view and she stops visiting. The portrait studio and chat space shuts down too. The photographer no longer brings her friends there to be photographed against the background of Gulaga. Nor does she lie there talking to her niece from Singapore or her colleague from work or her mate from third class, while a sea eagle soars lazily just above their heads.
It’s Tuesday now and time to stroll back into the present. But ghosts and memories are hard to quell. A stranger with red hair sits in her camp, washing her breakfast dishes. My grandchildren play in the casuarina cubbies on the edge of the cliff, and I struggle with my extra height to join them. My surfing sons and their mates shiack in their camp amongst the banksias above the creek.
And a diamond python slides off the track and into memory as my footsteps disturb him.