Sunday, January 27, 2008

Australia Day 2008

Williamstown beach. There are no waves, not even a lick, as far as the naked eye can see.

The only movement in the water, apart from the thrashing and splashing of humans, is a veil of ripples on the surface, shimmying endlessly under the sun.

The bay is busy with swimmers, paddlers and loafers of all ages and races; all sizes, too.

Teenage girls in bikinis wander in clusters, waist-deep. They don't swim or wet their hair, but stand and talk, surveying the crowd. I'm not sure if they're watching or beng watched. They're probably not sure, either.

Small children play in the shallows. They wear brightly coloured bathers and caps to match. They kick and squeal and revel in the water.

Surf boats patrol the deeper waters, their humming motors providing a backdrop to the soundtrack of squeals and shouts.

Women in patterned headscarves and long sleeves hover at the water's edge. They peel clothes off small children as if shelling peanuts and watch them disappera into the sea. One of the women bunches her ankle-length skirt above her calves and paddles in the sea, turning slow, thoughtful circles in the water. The other rolls up her trouser legs and pads away across the sand.

A surf patrol boat slows at the furthest edge of the swimmers. An Indian man swims towards them expectantly. A blonde lifesaver in long-sleeved red and yellow leans forward. She throws him a football. It bobs between them in the water.
'Can you get that?'
He nods and swims for it, giving a grateful wave first. His companions laugh.

A patchwork of umbrellas and tents spreads across the sand. Towels, eskies, bags.

A ponytailed brunette lies on her stomach, facing away from the sea. She wears lemon yellow bikini bottoms and enormous sunglasses. Her bikini top lies open beneath her.

A brown dumpling of a man, his skin leathery as a reptile's, sits perfectly still at the edge of the rock jetty. His legs dangle in the water below black Speedos and a bulbous belly. His hair is steely grey, his eyes closed, his sleeping gaze directed at the sun.

The headscarved woman in the trousers returns from across the sand, now wearing a sleek, black, head-to-toe swimsuit covered by a short skirt. It's kind of like a wetsuit with a built-in scarf, or Cathy Freeman's running outfit. She strides into the water with gusto.

Fair-haired twin boys teeter along the concrete pipe jutting into the sea. They jump off the edge into the water, one by triumphant one. Then they do it all over again. Their mother watches attentively, hands on hips, toes brushing the water's fringe. She is crisp and fresh in an apple-green floral dress, tied with a sash at the back.

A flash of lightning, quick and unexpected, pierces the clouds. The sky growls in response.

One of the twin boys starts to howl.

A blonde girl in short-shorts walks along the sand, trailing an Australian flag.

The headscarved woman in the skirt leads a naked child out of the water and towards a towel, holding her small hand tight.

A baby roars beneath its hooded black pram.

The clouds gather, dirty grey, high over the water. Charcoal mist streaks from the sky to the horizon, grey shadows against a fading blue sky and glowing white clouds.

'Oh my GOD, I saw LIGHTNING! I SWEAR I saw lightning!' The teenage girl, wrapped in a towel by the toilet black, is right.

'You know, I don't want to go here, because there's too many wogs,' comes a voice from the footpath. It's a well-muscled Maori man, stocky in his bottle-green football shorts and thongs with black socks. His spiral curls are held back from his face in a ponytail. His female companions argue and he eventually moves to the sand, frowning. The women carry a stroller between them, a toddler perched happily inside. Another toddler trails behind them in a nappy and beach sandals. 'There's too many wogs,' the man repeats, sullenly.

A blonde boy enveloped in a towel stands smilingly in the middle of a large Asian family arranged around an eskie. A birthday card is thrust into his hand.
'There is NO WAY you're taking a photo of me with my hair like this!' says one of the girls. A teenager, of course. Another girl passes around wedges of birthday cake.
'PLEASE let's sing Happy Birthday!'
'I don't think you UNDERSTAND about my hair. I CANNOT have a photo taken.'

More thunder crackles overhead.

On the street, a car drives up and down along the beach, blaring Hindi music from open windows.

On the other side of the road, away from the beach, men play a game of cricket in the park, dressed in regulation whites.

A girl in an Australian flag bikini and matching board shorts hovers by the ice cream stand.

It's time to go.

I cycle the long way into the centre of Williamstown, the part where the ferries go to St Kilda and the city. I follow the curve of the sea.

I pass two picknicking families as I leave the beach and pass the adjacent parks, on opposite sides of the road. They are each gathered around old-fashioned wooden benches and a table, a barbecue beside them. One is a Muslim family, the women in headscarves; the other is Indian.

Then, there is just the road and the sea. Black rocks border the road and the water, a rolling expanse of grey-blue under rumbling clouds. Another streak of lightning rends the sky; this one bright silver, a visible leak of electricity. It is thrilling.

A family is poking among the rocks. A man and woman, two children. They are laughing. They are alone.

A tattooed man cycles towards me, long hair straggling down his back. He is somehow eating fish and chips from a paper tray as he rides.
'Hey mate!' he shouts as we pass.
'Sexy mate! Sexy babe!'
I am cured of giving strange men who shout greetings the benefit of the doubt.

I round another curve in the road and the city rises to meet me, tall buildings beckoning from across the bay. Here, an ice cream van is parked by the footpath, selling soft-serve and sprinkles, hot dogs and donuts. A small beach, no wider than a verandah, no longer than a few houses, appears. A bare-shirted man sits on the sand, staring out to sea. A few people are sitting on benches facing the water, eating ice creams. The only sound is the humming of the ice cream van's idling motor.

I stop the bike and sit with my notebook. Fat drops of rain melt into my open page. They are cool on my shoulders and as they soak through my dress. The sky flashes. To my left, the city looms. To my right, there is only sea and sky, fringed by black rocks.

Later, after I have eaten tacos and splurged on a gelati, as I shelter under the rotunda on Nelson Place, I watch a small girl in a peacock-blue headscarf and Converse sneakers moonwalk in the rain, the lawns and the playground and Port Philip Bay stretching out behind her.


genevieve said...

Your moonwalker reminds me of Look Both Ways, for some reason. I think it is the colours in this piece. Good stuff, and Happy New Year!

meli said...

oh, lovely. your last post was, too.

Watershedd said...

Whenever I read your posts, I want to move home. After 17 years as a nomad, I seek the stability of familiar sights, sounds, streets, family and friends. I know the places you speak of intimately. I may get there yet, but dare not hope. This perverse universe keeps moving my goal posts!

davey said...


Watershedd - I second that.

Penni said...

I wish someone paid you to blog every day.

Ariel said...

Thanks guys ... *blush*

Peeni, I second your wish! Of course.

Ariel said...

PENNI, not Peeni ... sorry, that's awful.

eleanor bloom said...

Love it, love it, love it.